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Economic Activism Summer School

Students explore strategies for taking on corporations

Azani Creeks, Davi Sherman and Trinisa Fung
From left, Azani Creeks, Davi Sherman and Trinisa Fung Photo: / AFSC

During July and August, the AFSC Economic Activism Program held our second annual Economic Activism Summer School with a select cohort of 38 participants, including 11 service learners. Our participants came from a variety of backgrounds in research and organizing, from campus organizers at Swarthmore and Georgetown, to team members of Candide Group and Adasina Social Capital, to representatives from local organizations like BDS Boston and DSA North Texas.

The focus of this year’s course was corporate research for economic activism campaigns. The program aimed to increase the capacity of organizations to create and lead successful campaigns targeting companies on issues ranging from the occupation of Palestine to mass surveillance and the militarization of borders and policing.

While most participants in the paid service-learning track completed projects related to the Borders section of AFSC’s Investigate database, those with more extensive backgrounds in prisons or occupation took on different work. One added to our prison labor research project, and two AFSC Palestine Activism Program Fellows complemented their summer internships with research on companies involved in the occupation of Palestine.

Focusing on corporate research for economic activism campaigns, the course immersed students in presentations and interactive Q&As with guest speakers, training sessions on corporate research, lessons on divestment and boycott strategies, and more. Speakers emphasized the importance of stepping outside our comfort zones to create community with people of different backgrounds, thereby building solidarity and leveraging our collective power for change.

In small working groups, students planned mock campaigns targeting companies involved in prison labor, immigrant monitoring and surveillance, weapons manufacturing, the Israeli occupation, and workers' rights abuses. One group worked on a fossil fuel divestment campaign targeting Harvard University’s endowment fund.

A small working group plans a mock campaign.

Service learners completed new company profiles that are currently in the process of being published on Investigate. They were divided into three groups, two of which focused on immigrant justice issues—namely, immigrant monitoring and surveillance.

The students created content for the Investigate website, including profiling companies such as AeroVironment, Aware, Cellebrite, John Deere, and Magnet Forensics. Others wrote new, or updated existing, profiles on companies involved in the prison and immigrant detention industry, such as Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, and Cardinal Health.

The third working group focused on military industries that supported the Israeli attack on Gaza in May, and investigated weapons and military equipment companies such as Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon. This quarter, over 25 new or revised company profiles will be added to Investigate thanks to our wonderful service learners

On our last day of class, students presented their mock campaigns, participated in a virtual graduation ceremony, and reflected on what they learned from the course. Many shared that the course taught them new technical skills—for example, how to successfully navigate financial statements, how to use previously unfamiliar research databases like USASpending and OpenSecrets, and how to create campaign maps and action plans.

Students learned that “FOIA,” or the Freedom of Information Act, is a tool used to assist activists in viewing and understanding government contracts with private corporations. By using FOIA, we can discover how companies rebrand to improve or recover their reputation by changing their names and mission statements.

Many students also felt that they left the course with clearer ideas of the various strategies to use for different types of campaigns and how to implement these strategies in their own organizing and activism. They also learned the value of patience, as creating social change can feel more like a marathon than a sprint.

Beyond the research and campaign planning skills that they learned, students told us that they felt inspired and reenergized by the course. “Knowing that there are so many of us tackling different parts of the beasts of militarization, incarceration, borders, surveillance, exploitation, and more, makes me feel like beating all of these systems of oppression is possible," one student said.

About the authors

Azani Creeks is a student activist, researcher, and organizer. A first-year student at Harvard Divinity School, Azani is pursuing a Master of Theological Studies degree. Before starting at HDS, Azani worked in the Strategic Research and Campaigns department for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in Washington DC, where she is currently located. As an undergraduate at USC in Los Angeles, Azani organized with community members and other students on campus to hold USC accountable for its participation in gentrification and worker’s rights abuses. At Harvard, she continues organizing through the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign, which has benefitted greatly from AFSC’s Investigate database. During her internship with AFSC, Azani is researching companies invested in the US-Mexico border and systems of immigrant surveillance, detention, and deportation to contribute to the immigrant justice divestment movement. In her free time, Azani enjoys reading long articles, hiking, and trying new recipes (more Nailed It than Chopped!).

Davi Sherman joined AFSC in Spring 2021 as an Investigative Research Intern with the Economic Activism team. Davi recently obtained a Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) where she researched the criminalization and policing of unhoused individuals in post-war England. After returning home from London, Davi interned with Restore Justice, an organization based in Chicago that focuses on youth and emerging adults in the criminal [in]justice system. She worked closely with formerly incarcerated individuals sentenced to Juvenile Life Without Parole (JLWOP) on developing an online video dialogue series highlighting the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on people in prison and their loved ones. During her internship with the AFSC, Davi has been researching companies invested in mass incarceration/the prison industrial complex, focusing specifically on incarceration and detention facilities, services in facilities, prison labor, and supervision and monitoring. She enjoys gardening, hiking with her two dogs, cooking (or at least attempting to cook!), and reading. 

Trinisa Fung is currently a third-year student at Grinnell College majoring in sociology and psychology. Her interests include international affairs/relations, decision-making processes in public policy creation, and immigration and civil rights. Her experiences include serving as a peer mentor in Grinnell’s Global Kitchen and as a Questbridge Social Outreach Coordinator, where she helped create a virtual mentorship program for first-generation and/or low-income first-year college students. She spent the past year studying from her home in the suburbs of Houston but is now back in the beautiful cornfields of Iowa. Speaking of corn (which is one of her favorite veggies), Trinisa describes herself as a huge foodie with interests in gardening and ethnic fare.