Last month, American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the New York City-based nonprofit, international development organization, launched its D.C. Action Team with a party at Busboys & Poets in Mount Vernon Triangle. The new initiative in the nation’s capital will bring AJWS closer to the corridors of power in its mission to “realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.”
More than 80 people gathered to hear AJWS President Ruth Messinger speak about its current “We Believe” campaign to end violence against women, girls and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the 19 developing countries in which the organization works. Nikki Mawanda, an AJWS grantee from Uganda who advocates for transgender rights, spoke about the estimated 500,000 LGBT people who face life in prison following passage of the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014. Rabbi Jessica Lott, University Maryland Hillel’s associate director for Jewish life and learning, also spoke at the event.
“It was such a diverse audience of people who wanted to do something about global gender violence or what’s happening to LGBT people in Uganda, and so it was great,” Rebecca Wasserman, director of campaigns and organizing at AJWS, told Washington Jewish Week. “It was just a nice introduction to the broader community about what we’re doing and how they can get involved.”
Specific policy goals of the “We Believe” campaign include promoting passage of the International Violence Against Women Act and the International Human Rights Defense Act, as well as calling for the White House to appoint a special envoy for LGBT rights within the State Department.
“As the scourge of state-sanctioned discrimination and violence against LGBT people spreads, it is imperative that the United States take a strong diplomatic stand in demanding the equal enforcement of human rights,” Messinger said in an AJWS statement about a recent meeting at the White House to make the case for the special envoy.
In addition to Washington, D.C., there are AJWS Action Teams in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. Wasserman said the action teams were created to engage volunteers in different cities who wanted to do more to help various AJWS campaigns. The action teams are about empowering volunteers by creating “a space locally for people to take action and strategize and advocate around a campaign.”
Earlier this year, about a dozen volunteers started working with AJWS senior organizer Michael Salomon to plan what the action team could do in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
The D.C. Action Team “is going to hopefully be a unique space where people can work together, strategize, take action on a campaign and really make a difference on global justice, which is sometimes the issues that people feel that they care about but they don’t know what to do,” said Wasserman. “They don’t know how they can have a role to change things. And so we are hoping to have a place where they can feel empowered and make a real change.”