The 2023 William Sloane Coffin, Jr. Peacemaker Awards!
On October 23, 2023, New York peacemakers gathered at the 16th annual William Sloane Coffin, Jr. Peacemaker awards in New York City. This year, Peace Action Fund of New York State (PAFNYS) was pleased to honor Amy Goodman, Host and Executive Producer of Democracy Now!, and Afghans for a Better Tomorrow with the award. Peace Action Geneseo, the student Peace Action chapter of SUNY Geneseo, was also recognized for their organizing work in the 2022-2023 schoolyear with the Don Shaffer Student Peacemaker Award.
This year’s event – Telling Our Story to Build Our Power! – focused on the importance of centering the experiences of frontline communities in advocating for peace worldwide. Now more than ever, it is crucial to honor the work of communities who are speaking truth to power while building an inclusive and powerful anti-war community.
"As we accept this award, let it be a symbol of unity and a call to action. Let it be a reminder that the work that we do is interconnected, and our collective power lies in our ability to amplify the stories that often go unheard," said Halema Wali, Co-Founder & Director of Community Engagement at Afghans for a Better Tomorrow, while accepting the award on the organization's behalf.
"We are all in this together, and it’s up to the media to provide a platform for people to speak for themselves. There is nothing more powerful," said Amy Goodman. "I see the media as a huge kitchen table that stretches across that globe that we all sit around and debate and discuss the most important issues of the day, war and peace, life and death, and anything less is a disservice to a democratic society."
After the awards presentation, Amy and Halema sat down with PAFNYS Board Chair and moderator, Kate Alexander and PAFNYS Student & Campaigns Coordinator, Margaret Engel for a discussion about the power of storytelling in movement-building, the necessity of supporting a media landscape where all voices have space to be heard, and the importance of building a peace movement that is inclusive and rooted in empathy.
Answering a question about how to maintain accountability in advocacy, Halema made the point that "advocacy is a two-way street" in sharing how AFBT approaches its community organizing work, emphasizing the importance of letting the community they serve lead the conversation. To a related question, Amy spoke about the incredible importance of independent media as a forum for diverse voices to be heard and for audiences to connect with the humanity of others. Margaret spoke about the inspiring work of PAFNYS Campus Organizers who are bringing new perspectives to the peace movement, committing to the hard work of organizing, and challenging institutional inertia on important issues.
After the program, guests gathered upstairs at the venue, Scandinavia House at 58 Park Avenue, for a reception to celebrate the 2023 honorees and to connect with fellow New York peacemakers. A highlight of the reception was the delicious food catered by Eat Offbeat, a social impact food company featuring a menu conceived and prepared by a team of refugees and immigrants who now live in NYC.
Every year, the William Sloane Coffin Jr. Peacemaker Awards event is a special gathering that brings the many faces of the peace and social justice movements in New York and beyond together. It is also critical in the annual fundraising efforts of Peace Action Fund of New York State. We are so grateful for the continued generosity of our event sponsors and supporters, whose contributions help sustain our public education campaigns and Campus Organizing Program.
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About the Honorees
Amy Goodman and the Democracy Now! team have, since 1996, been telling the stories of the people affected by war, peace, climate change, poverty, and discrimination. Many of us go to Amy Goodman’s superb daily news program to hear directly from those who understand and explain the impact of our own country’s policies.
Afghans for a Better Tomorrow is organizing the Afghan diaspora community for political power to build a better future for Afghans in the US and abroad, whose lives have been uprooted by the legacy of US militarism. This organization bridges direct support and political advocacy to directly aid recently resettled refugees in the US, including in New York City, and to advocate for more equitable US migration and refugee policies, all while leading interventions to make sure the experiences of Afghans is not written out of the history of the impacts of US militarism in Afghanistan and the entire Middle East region.
Peace Action Geneseo — the first-ever student chapter in the PAFNYS Campus Organizing Program — has proven the ability to form strong coalitions and engage their peers in peace and justice organizing. With a focus on global climate justice, solidarity, and education in the 2022-2023 schoolyear, Peace Action Geneseo organized two marches on campus and hosted a "dishes and discourse" series, creating space on campus for important conversations.
About the Awards
The William Sloane Coffin, Jr. Peacemaker Award is named in honor of the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr., a Christian clergyman and long-time peace activist. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church and later received ministerial standing in the United Church of Christ. In his younger days, he was a superb athlete, a highly talented pianist, a CIA agent, and later Chaplain of Yale University, where the influence of Reinhold Niebuhr’s social philosophy led him to become a leader in the civil rights and peace movements of the 1960s and 1970s. He went on to serve as Senior Minister at Riverside Church in New York City from 1977 to 1987. Coffin started a strong nuclear disarmament program at Riverside, and hired Cora Weiss, with whom he had worked during the Vietnam War. In 1987, Coffin resigned from Riverside Church to pursue disarmament activism full-time. He became president of SANE/Freeze (now Peace Action), and retired with the title President Emeritus in the early 1990s.
Annually since 2007, in his honor, the Peace Action Fund of New York State has presented the William Sloane, Coffin Jr. Peacemaker Award to outstanding individuals who, in his words, “stay on the stony, long and ofttimes lonely road that leads to peace.” Previous awardees have included indigenous activist LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, climate activist Bill McKibben, voting rights activist Desmond Meade, and Nation publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, among others.
The Don Shaffer Student Peacemaker Award congratulates an outstanding student chapter on their work and leadership in peace education and activism within their community and amongst their peers. In 2007, Don Shaffer took on Peace Action New York State as his personal project, recognizing the importance of having a strong NY presence in Peace Action’s national network. He mentored the NYS leaders, recruited his friends’ support, connected PANYS to other leaders in the progressive world of NY where he cut his teeth, and brought prestige and seriousness to everything he did. In 2011, he convinced a friend to kickstart the student organizing project of Peace Action Fund of New York State with a grant that allowed PAFNYS to hire a part–time student organizer to launch the student organizing program. Starting with just one chapter in 2012, the student network has continued to grow and flourish, reaching 24 chapters in 2020. Our students carry forward their legacy of Don and his wife Doris in their own peace activism.