Marking 25 Action Hours for a Cease-fire

Last Friday marked 25 Action Hours for a Cease-fire held by the American Friends Service Committee. Like many others on our weekly calls, I’m exhausted and frustrated that more than six months into a genocide, we’re still calling our members of Congress to make the same demands. And yet, I’m incredibly proud of the community we’ve built over 25 weeks. The Action Hours are representative of the best of what the movement for Palestinian rights has to offer to the world–dedicated and unwavering support for peace with justice. Thank you to all who have joined us. 

On Oct. 9, the Director of the Palestine Activism Program, Jennifer Bing, and I were on tour in San Diego with Yousef Aljamal, a Palestinian writer from Gaza and contributor to our anthology Light in Gaza. Glued to our cell phones, unable to tear ourselves away from the constant stream of news, it became increasingly clear that the devastation that Palestinians in Gaza were subjected to–U.S. made and financed bombs dropped by the Israeli military–was not going to end without a serious and sustained effort from the grassroots community. Particularly those of us living in the United States, the largest provider of military aid to Israel, needed a way to act effectively on our moral convictions.  

We began the Action Hours thinking that like us, there might be others across the country feeling powerless and in need of an action-oriented community. The response has proved us right. Each week our community comes together for a moment of reflective silence and updates from Gaza. Together, we call our members of Congress and take other actions like writing letters or signing petitions.  

In January, we added breakout rooms, which our lovely staff in the Palestine Activism Program and the Action Center for Corporate Accountability, particularly Erin Polley, make possible. Now, every other week, we reserve the second half of our calls for small group discussions, giving those on the call the chance to connect and share fears, joys, hopes, and anxieties with others across the country.  

In March, Women’s History Month, we first featured regular guests, inviting a more diverse set of voices into our space. Among others, we’ve been joined by Laila El-Haddad, a Palestinian author and activist, Sahar Vardi, an Israeli activist and refuser, Rabbi Alissa Wise, one of the lead organizers of Rabbis for Ceasefire, and Sandra Tamari, executive director of the Adalah Justice Project. Over the last 25 weeks, our guests have also included representatives from Defense for Children International-Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and a Delaware state representative on hunger strike outside the White House.   

By far, what makes the work of organizing our weekly calls well worth it are the people who attend. While we started with around 80 participants each week, we now have 130 people joining us every Friday and over 4,000 people have registered since October. Action Hour participants are a dedicated group of individuals, some with long-standing ties to Palestine, and others coming to this work for the very first time. Even six months in, we have new folks joining every week.  

My favorite moment each Friday is when we take down the slideshow so we can watch each other call Congress. After 6 months, our weekly numbers calling Congress have only grown. Staffers and other DC policy insiders have told us that what makes this justice movement so impressive and hard to ignore is our dedication. Our staff members in Gaza tell us that the continued action of those in the United States and around the world is what keeps them hopeful that there will be a cease-fire and they can begin to rebuild their home.  

The magic that happens in the chat each week is almost as special as watching 130 people all take simultaneous action. Over 25 Action Hours, I’ve watched participants share with pride the creative actions they’ve taken in their communities, find and connect with others in their geographical area, feel validated in their experiences, get tips from others working on similar initiatives, share resources they’ve found helpful, and develop leadership, welcoming newcomers into our space.  

Here are just a few of the messages we’ve received in the chat:  

“I’m sitting in the Student Union Building at the University of New Mexico. I just called my member of Congress. Heads turning here to listen to me.”  

“Thank you for preparing these scripts. As probably not the only person with phone anxiety, this is super helpful.”  

“The letter I wrote during last week’s hour appeared in the Gettysburg Times on Wednesday.”  

“Is anyone here based in Boston? I would love to find some local actions here.”  

“Tysm for continuing to organize this space, we have to get going, yet look forward to coming back next week.”  

“Thank y'all. You give me hope in a difficult world.”  

“If you want to come to DC for the pilgrimage, you are welcome to stay with me.”  

While we convene the sessions each week, the Action Hours are not led by Jennifer, Erin, and me. We’ve built a community that has taken on a life of its own. Daniel Lakemacher, once just a participant on our calls, now works in the AFSC Chicago office. And on our 26th Action Hour, we’ll be joined by Yousef Aljamal–also now a staff member at AFSC–whose presentations on tour in San Diego were part of what convinced Jennifer and I that we needed a way to mobilize folks in the U.S. to action on Gaza.  

While I wish we did not have to gather each week to see the rising number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli military, to hear the stories that should have motivated those who claim to represent us in government months ago, so much beauty and joy has come from our weekly meetings. If you’ve joined us before, I hope you stick around so we can continue the work for freedom, justice, and equality even after a cease-fire. If you’ve never joined us, come see what it’s all about. You won’t be disappointed.