Activists urged to make an investment in peace

September 23, 1992|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

NEW WINDSOR -- Joan Hairston learned that she had to do more than rock the boat to get justice in her rural West Virginia community.

She told about 130 participants in a last weekend's peace symposium just how she "turned the boat over."

"No affordable housing has been built in southern West Virginia since the turn of the century," she said. "Basic necessities are considered luxuries by the rural poor. Their houses have no plumbing, wiring or protection from the elements."

Realizing that jobs, housing and education are tied together, Ms. Hairston said, she sought help form the American Friends Service Committee. Then, she formed New Employment for Women, a program to educate area women and get them into the only available jobs -- in the coal fields.

"Where we live, it's the coal fields or no field," she said.

Ms. Hairston and other project participants spoke at the "Invest in Peace" symposium, sponsored by the AFSC, at the New Windsor Service Center.

"Thanks to AFSC, we could show people they have alternatives," she said.

Other AFSC programs, including Jobs for Peace and Save our Cities/Save Our Children, which offer routes to economic justice through peaceful means, also were featured at the symposium. The event was part of the AFSC's celebration of its 75th anniversary, focusing on its history of non-violent alternatives.

"Our theme for the weekend was economic justice," said Virden Seybold, the AFSC's Middle Atlantic regional director. "We are struggling to change the violence of improper housing and education and no medical care."

During eight workshops, participants witnessed gripping personal accounts of injustices, righted through peaceful determination.

"The program is so diversified and offers ideas from people we don't normally hear about," said Mary Joel Davis of Towson. "We can see what other people are doing in their own neighborhoods."

Ms. Davis, who works with prisoners, said she frequently attends AFSC workshops and is always impressed with what the organization, guided by Quaker beliefs, has been able to accomplish.

"We deal with people who are invisible inhabitants, living their lives on the edge," said Ms. Hairston. "Many exist on a welfare check that doesn't put them in the range of affordable housing."

She presented "It Ain't Much But It's All I Got," a film depicting the dire conditions that face the residents in coal mining towns.

Barbara Smith, executive director of Philadelphia Jobs with Peace Campaign, conducted another workshop and also spoke on non-violent activism. Her organization advocates redirection of federal money to human needs.

"The glorious part of Friends history is the concrete experience of reaching out to each other," said Ms. Smith.

From her home and office in Mantua, a depressed area of Philadelphia, Ms. Smith said she moves "out there saving the community."

She has organized several campaigns, including "Up With Hope, Down With Dope," which became a national model.

Ms. Smith finished her presentation by encouraging Friends to continue working in communities, translating belief into action to help people help themselves.

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