For my third co-op, I’m working as the Humanize not Militarize intern in the Chicago office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). AFSC, “a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice…nurtur[ing] the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social relations and systems,” has tons of national and international offices and programs, including a couple of separate programs run out of the Chicago office, and I’m working specifically under the umbrella of the Wage Peace campaign. My primary role is to provide project support for Humanize not Militarize, a traveling poster exhibit and youth film festival that examine the effects of militarism at both the foreign and domestic policy levels. Though it has many components, the project, broadly, asks one crucial question: how do we demilitarize society?
Because Humanize not Militarize has such a wide focus, I get to do a variety of tasks covering a broad scope of issues. Recently, I’ve been working on writing and designing a small booklet–what you’d call a zine if you weren’t working at a hundred year old Nobel Peace Prize-winning nonprofit–that explores the history and current focal points of the four main issues explored in the poster exhibit, linking policy agendas to an understanding of militarism. Those four main issues–policing, prisons, war, and borders–are nowhere near separate from each other, and the booklet I’m in the process of finishing makes a point to emphasize that.
Outside of the office, my coworkers and I attend various rallies and marches in downtown Chicago every week, and sometimes multiple times per week. Tonight, I went to the Chicago Teachers Union’s rally in Grant Park. Earlier today, I went to a press conference organized by Faith in Public Life urging Gov. Rauner to welcome Syrian refugees, reversing his earlier statement to make refugee resettlement harder at every turn. My boss (or really, my boss’s boss), Rabbi Brant Rosen, along with faith leaders from across the city, gave statements explaining why their faith traditions implore them to support refugees wherever and whenever possible.
It’s refreshing to work in a place with firmly-held and explicitly-stated beliefs. The most rewarding part of my co-op so far, however, has been working with 13 and 14 year old “gap year” students from Village Leadership Academy who are interning with Wage Peace three mornings a week. They work with us from nine to noon on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, in an intermediary program between 8th and 9th grade–it’s a little like they’re on co-op too. Lately, we together developed a “militarism scavenger hunt” throughout downtown Chicago to add to the Humanize not Militarize curriculum, read portions of Against All Odds: Voices of Popular Struggle in Iraq, and did a brief photoshop tutorial to prepare them to design solidarity posters in the wake of Spike Lee’s controversial “Chi-Raq.”
In October, we took some of the exhibit posters to a press conference outside of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Chicago headquarters, which, incidentally, is three blocks from the office and right where I get off the train every morning. My fellow (though much younger) interns Jakya and Alex’s reflections on the experience, and acute insight into the human side of immigration debates, made for great conversation afterwards. It’s not the global scope of AFSC’s advocacy that makes showing up to work every day exciting, though that’s nice too, but working with young people who are already incredibly insightful and dedicated to justice. I get mass emails every day outlining high-profile places where AFSC’s work is being covered, like this piece in The Nation, but overall, I’ve come to realize that while mission does matter, often it’s the interpersonal character of organizations that drives people to work hard and provide support for their peers. As I return to Antioch in the winter, I’ll make sure not to forget the people I’ve met in Chicago and the crucial work they continue to support.