Nearly 45 Years of Making NH more Peaceful and Just: AFSC-NH Continues to fight for Peace and Justic
Updated: Jun 9, 2019
by: Barbara Peterson March 30, 2019
“Activism is my rent for living on the planet,” a quote from novelist Alice Walker adorns the homepage of their brochure: 40 Years of Social Change. And it’s a thoroughly apt quote to describe the attitude, work, and commitment American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) members have toward building peaceful communities in an environmentally sustainable world.
AFSC is dedicated to developing peace programs at the local, national, and global levels. They are a Quaker organization that believes in the worth of every person and has faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice. The organization was founded in 1917, and the New Hampshire Program (AFSC-NH) was founded in 1975. Their work in NH for nearly 45 years has been impressive. A few of their projects are discussed below, which can be read about in their brochure (whose URL is listed below).
One of the first endeavors initiated by AFSC-NH was providing nonviolent action training for the Clamshell Alliance, a group protesting the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. After three years of educating the public about the dangers of both nuclear power and nuclear weapons, the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island inspired AFSC-NH to collect over 10 thousand signatures opposing nuclear power and weapons. While each poses a very different sort of threat, they are both objected to for the unnecessary risks they impose on our lives and the wellbeing of our plant.
Understanding the unprecedented disaster with which nuclear weapons threaten people throughout the world, Arnie Alpert of AFSC initiated the NH Campaign for US-USSR Nuclear Arms Freeze, which two years later, in 1983, became the independent organization now known as NH Peace Action. Furthermore, recognizing that nuclear weapons are only one aspect of the undue destruction of unnecessary violent conflicts, AFSC-NH also called on the US government to end its military support of authoritarian, non-democratic regimes in Central America. In 1983, for example, AFSC-NH protested against the US invasion of Guatemala. Then, a year later, they objected to the US giving aid to the El Salvadoran government who were killing their own people. In 1985, AFSC-NH participated in demonstrations against the US National Guard engaging in atrocities against the popular left-wing Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
In the final decade of the 20th century, AFSC-NH tried to stop the US from entering into the Persian Gulf War, and when the war commenced despite massive protests, AFSC-NH helped collect aid for war refugees and military veterans. With the beginning of the 21st century, AFSC engaged in several protests against the US involvement in the Iraq war, including bird-dogging presidential primary candidates in 2003; they participated in an activist retreat at the World Fellowship attended by teens; they held workshops on nonviolence; and they held and attended anti-war rallies.
AFSC also worked for years in getting New Hampshire to officially celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1988, they joined the Martin Luther King Day Committee, which Arnie Alpert coordinated, to campaign for a state King Day. Two years later, NH created a “Civil Rights Day,” and with the continued pressure led by the Martin Luther King Day Committee, in 1999, the New Hampshire legislature adopted Martin Luther King Day.
Homelessness in New Hampshire is also a significant problem, and AFSC has worked for years to address this. In 1989, for example, they organized a sleep-out protest they called “Gimme Shelter,” and they participated in the national Housing Now march on Washington. A few years later, AFSC’s Martha Yager led a campaign to support Concord church as an emergency shelter on cold nights. The following year, AFSC helped reinstitute money spent on Section 8 housing, expand cold-weather shelters, and register homeless people to vote. In 2014, due in large part to the continued efforts of AFSC-NH working with the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, Concord adopted a “Plan to End Homelessness.”
Another prominent issue AFSC in New Hampshire continues to work on is prison and criminal justice reforms, including opposing the privatization of prisons and eliminating NH’s death penalty. In 2000, the NH legislature voted to abolish the death penalty; however, the measure was vetoed by Governor Jean Shaheen. The House again voted to abolish the death penalty in 2009, but failed to pass by a tied vote in the Senate. Most recently, in 2018, a new bill to end the death penalty passed both House and Senate but was vetoed by Governor Chris Sununu. Working as a member of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, AFSC hopes that in 2019 there will be enough bipartisan support for repeal that they can successfully override the Governor’s veto should he choose to do it again.
Fair banking practices is another issue AFSC-NH has tackled over the years. For example, in 1993, they opposed the merging of Shawmut and New Dartmouth Banks, and organized the Granite State Community Reinvestment Association to put pressure on banks to improve their service to low income people, for example by investing in affordable housing projects.
AFSC-NH works tirelessly on issues of economic justice in areas other than with fair banking practices. In the 1990s and early 2000s, they educated the public and engaged in protests against sweatshop labor in such places as Guatemala, and they raised awareness about international trade agreements such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). In 2001, for example, they sponsored a “Free Trade Reality Tour,” which brought speakers from other states and countries to New Hampshire to educate communities about the harmful impact of agreements like NAFTA.
Although they work on a myriad of issues not mentioned in this article (such as raising the minimum wage, access to affordable health care, fighting for environmentally sustainable practices, just to name a few), the last thing covered in this profile is AFSC-NH’s work to promote the wellbeing and security of immigrants. In 2005, they worked to help end discriminatory practices by the DMV such as requiring undocumented residents to renew their nondrivers licenses and to be identified on their licenses as immigrants. AFSC-NH helped at least 8 immigrants receive wages that were withheld from them by their employers at a construction company in Durham in 2012. And three years later, AFSC members joined the United Church of Christ in organizing a visitation program at the Strafford County Corrections facility, which contracts with the federal government to jail immigrants threatened with deportation.
In 2011, AFSC began publication of a newsletter, “State House Watch,” which goes out by email every Friday when the legislature is meeting to inform people about pending bills. The purpose of the newsletter, and the associated radio show, is to make the legislative process more accessible to people who care about social justice and human rights.
AFSC's New Hampshire program supports the growth and development of an effective, sustainable New Hampshire peace and justice movement. The program works toward that goal by providing resources, training, and assistance to grassroots groups and coalitions, and by providing information and a Quaker perspective to the general public. They work to improve community practice, local policies, and state legislation through a series of education, advocacy, lobbying, and activist work. For the past 45 years, AFSC in New Hampshire has been committed to working with others in advancing the ideals of peace, justice, interconnectedness, human rights, equity, and sustainability.
People can support New Hampshire AFSC by offering donations through their website listed below, where they can also subscribe to “State House Watch.” They can also help support their work by volunteering their time to participate in their broad array of projects and actions throughout the state.
Members, Affiliations, and Contact Information
AFSC New Hampshire is part of Granite State Organizing Project, MLK Coalition, NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Housing Action NH, Concord Coalition to End Homelessness, Raise Up NH, NH Immigrant Rights Network, Seacoast Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition, NH Immigrant Solidarity Network, and NH Voices of Faith.
40 Years of Social Change: https://www.afsc.org/sites/default/files/documents/40%20Years%20of%20Social%20Change-AFSC-NH%20Chronology.pdf