American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Not Your Mother’s Peace Concert: Beats for Peace
Katrina Weber is a Peace Education Fellow in the American Friends Service Committee’s Peacebuilding and Demilitarization Program. She was one of the organizers of this spring’s Beats for Peace tour.
This is a review of something that is decidedly not your mother’s peace concert. In fact, the program I am talking about has it in mind to give the peace and justice movement a whole new perspective, to listen to and join with those who are the most affected by the social justice issues that the movement purports to address—youth, particularly youth of color. By now everyone knows that the “traditional” peace movement often gets stuck in the ruts of previous campaigns and familiar circles. If a social justice movement truly intends to grow and make change evident in the world, it must constantly be evolving and connecting, but how does one move beyond the well-loved choir to take up a new path and seek new voices? How does the traditional peace and justice movement re-connect with the energy of the young? And what would it mean for this movement to listen to and follow the youth?
In the case of Beats for Peace, the answer is deeply rooted in the socially conscious art and music of young people, ranging from hip hop and spoken word, to the music of traditional cultures and a range of dance and visual arts. The inspiration—and the lead organizing for our kick-off tour this past May which spanned six cities in six nights and brought together four months of concentrated organizing —came from Eric Wisa in AFSC’s Cambridge office.
Beats for Peace is a new program sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, which grew out of the need to address the widening war on terror and its effects on education, social security, and civil liberties, and the increasing militarization of society. Those who are most affected by and have the greatest potential to change these destructive realities are youth, particularly in communities of color. Beats is not seeking to bring the issues to the masses—the issues are already there—but is instead focused on using socially conscious art to support youth in expressing and organizing resistance.
The music of this particular tour was mostly hip hop and spoken word, though it was greatly infused by the talented and often off-the-cuff beats of Berklee’s Jazz Hip Hop Orchestra and mixed well with diverse local acts in each city (ranging from traditional Korean drumming to Filipino-American hip hop to jembe rappercussionism). The artists included high-school-aged youth, professional troupes that have performed with Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam, and everything in between. The audience was also diverse: people came from all over our cities, from culturally-based community groups and youth-led high school organizations, to community artist networks and the traditional peace circles.
Misconceptions about hip hop music
Reaching the people
Reactions were enthusiastic from everyone involved:
“They [the young people working with community artists in Northampton]
flourished... Beats for Peace allowed them to work in a contemporary,
hip context. I have never seen them more engaged or excited about their
A new model
These difficulties notwithstanding, everyone is looking forward to the next Beats for Peace event. Beats for Peace is focusing on more community and local workshop-based tours and may plan upcoming performance tours on the West Coast. We are all excited about learning to better support our goals of building and supporting relationships between community activists and community artists, educating about US policies of militarism and war, and increasing involvement and support of traditionally unrepresented groups such as youth and communities of color in the peace and social justice movement.
However, even the most excited organizers would agree that Beats for Peace alone is not going to solve the larger disconnect between the traditional peace and justice community and youth of color. Our commitment as a movement to youth, especially youth of color, has to go beyond this one program—and it has to be deeper than occasional economic assistance and perfunctory inclusion in event planning. To fully enact its spoken commitment to the inclusion of youth and youth of color, the larger movement must be willing to listen to and follow new directions.
This means a commitment to youth, especially youth of color, in leadership roles.