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Witness for Peace: A Storied History and A Prophetic Future

“The most important thing Witness for Peace has done is to stand with people in Latin America in their most challenging times,” says Gail Phares.

Gail has dedicated her entire life to working for social justice with Latin American people. She first traveled to Guatemala as a Maryknoll sister in 1968 and is one of Witness for Peace’s founders. So when Gail talks about Witness for Peace’s history, people listen.

“Witness for Peace has stopped funding for war. That is an amazing feat,” says Phares. “But more important has been training thousands of people in active non-violence and taking them to war zones to stand with people.”

“Witness for Peace was at the center of a national debate on the Contra War in the 1980s,” said Ben Beachy, a former WFP staffer and current Research Director with Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.
But Ben suggests that perhaps WFP’s greatest contribution has been as a “university of the movement.”

“Tens of thousands of people have been transformed on WFP delegations. Members of the International Team have learned about the impacts of policy abroad, taken that to heart and gone on to work on social justice issues,” said Beachy. “Organizations can say they got a large number of petitions signed or a bill passed by Congress and those are important accomplishments. But not many can say they have changed hearts and minds.” WFP can.

This year at Witness for Peace we are reflecting on 30 years of accomplishments, 30 years of policy change, 30 years of struggle, 30 years of dreams, 30 years of protests, 30 years of great gifts and so much more.

But as we kick off this special anniversary year, we cannot focus exclusively on our past. Now is a time to build a greater vision for our future.

Gail Phares warns that age—of a person or an organization—can lead to becoming risk averse. “Witness for Peace needs to continue to take risks for peace and justice,” Phares says. “WFP needs to be prophetic.”

All those who have had a hand in the important social justice achievements have taken great risks through prophetic action. And that is exactly what we at Witness for Peace believe we need to do to tackle the great challenges to peace, justice and sustainable economies in our next 30 years. When we combine effective strategies to educate people, motivate them to work for change, provide them with the skills they need to be advocates for justice and invite them to join prophetic actions calling for peace we are on the right track.

But even with all of the above, there is something else; something that has made Witness for Peace unique in the movement for 30 years.

Having staff based in Latin America—sharing space with key human rights activists, standing shoulder to shoulder with community leaders, providing protective accompaniment to peace leaders under threat—that connection is what makes Witness for Peace special. Those relationships ground Witness for
Peace and ensure our work is accountable to our partners.

As Witness for Peace embarks on the next chapter of our work, we believe that four things are going to be pivotal for peace, justice and sustainable economies in the Americas: immigration reform and immigrant rights, just trade policies and corporate responsibility, a transformation of the approach to drug policy and nonviolent action against war and human rights abuses.

But Witness for Peace’s future would not be possible without the foundation built over the past 30 years by our members, friends, and partners—our compañeras and compañeros.

In those 30 years, we have seen dreams of peace and justice come true. We have also seen lives destroyed by war and injustice.

Nicaraguan farmers following a dream of learning to read and write, building a vision for a new economy, were killed by U.S.-trained and funded death squads. Mexican corn farmers had their livelihood pulled out from under them by NAFTA’s false promises substituting small farming for manufacturing in Mexico’s heartland.

But dreams do come true thanks to Latin Americans’ tireless work for peace and justice. We celebrated alongside Guatemalans ravaged by war when they were able to return from refugee camps in Mexico after peace accords were signed. We supported and rejoiced with our partners in Nicaragua’s free trade zone when the first union was recognized and negotiated a contract.

What dreams will come true in the next 30 years? There is no telling what we can do when we work together, with activists across the U.S. and partners across the hemisphere.

We want to hear your voice. What are your hopes for Witness for Peace’s future? What are your favorite memories about the past? What do you miss? What do you want to see moving forward? Tell us at or on Twitter @witnessforpeace.