Advocacy & Grassroots Organizing

Advocacy & Grassroots Organizing

United States

CWS President and CEO the Rev. John L. McCullough (left) at the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C. in April 2017.

Climate Change

Against the backdrop of the dramatic, post-election shift in the U.S. Administration’s positions on climate, environment and energy, Church World Service stepped up all areas of its advocacy work. In a bid to both protect existing pro-climate policies from being reversed and further build public awareness, CWS collaborates with traditional and new allies in the United States and beyond. Working with faith partners and backed by our supporters, our team has called for continued Congressional engagement for climate solutions, reached out to freshmen Members of Congress with an interest in environmental issues, urged public action and witness, led educational workshops, promoted climate messages through social media, and written to the Administration to call for compassionate policies that focus on the people who are impacted. We continue to appeal for funding for climate adaptation and mitigation for the most at-risk countries, in opposition to the proposed draconian budgetary cuts. In summer 2017, CWS joined an international campaign to urge the World Bank – to which the U.S. is the greatest contributor - to cease its investments in fossil fuels initiatives around the world, in accordance with the 1.5-degree target agreed by 195 countries in the Paris Agreement.

On Saturday, April 28, 2017, CWS staff members joined more than 300,000 people around the world in the People’s Climate March to raise awareness and call for action on the global climate crisis. In Washington D.C., the Rev. John McCullough led our Interfaith Climate Change Vigil, at which representatives of a range of faiths stressed the urgent moral need for people of all faiths to stand in solidarity with those most at risk. As evidence continues to emerge of the growing threats of climate change, the message about the moral imperative for strong U.S. policy and public engagement is more critical than ever.

Foreign Assistance Addressing Global Hunger & Poverty

During the U.S. 2017 fiscal year, our Office of the President Advocacy team called for increased U.S. commitment to eliminating hunger and extreme poverty throughout the world. We advocated for robust Congressional funding for global food and nutrition security, water and sanitation, and addressing climate change, in addition to development, disaster and refugee assistance. The United States government provides $24 - $26 billion a year for these poverty-focused and humanitarian programs, which complement CWS program activities in saving lives and helping bring hope to tens of millions of people.

The remarkable successes of international aid by the U.S. and other governments are too often untold and unknown. But in the past 20 years the number of hungry people has been reduced to 805 million while mortality of children under five years old has been reduced to 5.8 million annually from more than 12 million. While this progress has been encouraging, the remaining deaths are tragic and almost entirely unnecessary. This is why CWS continues to advocate for increased U.S. and global commitments.

CWS leadership of the faith community – including CWS Member Communions -- in advocacy on foreign assistance helps ensure that the United States provides robust agricultural assistance for small-scale farmers, emergency food aid, water and sanitation support, refugee assistance, climate adaptation, global health care and basic education for vulnerable people in low-income communities around the world. In the face of demands by the current Administration to cut international aid funds this year, our efforts helped preserve most of this funding and helped achieve an increase in some key accounts, including development aid and nutrition assistance.

Normalization of U.S.-Cuba Relations

CWS has led the ecumenical community’s effort for the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations for many years. We especially advocate for the lifting of restrictions on religious travel and U.S. church pension payments to Cuban pastors. The Obama Administration acted to remove these restrictions in its first term. The fruit of decades of continued advocacy culminated in 2015 with the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. However, we continue to work for the end of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba and the full restoration of normal relations.

The Trump Administration announced a reversal of some of Obama era measures in June 2017. These still appear to be minimal in practice, but our team continues to wait for the final regulations to be issued. Diplomatic relations, freedom of religious and other specialized travel and most other important Obama Administration policies on Cuba remain in place.


This year, our team continued to advocate for development policies that encourage full participation of the Haitian people in the country’s development. As a result of a growing food crisis following Hurricane Matthew, which decimated much of food production in the country’s southern region, CWS advocated for greater international support to the government of Haiti – and particularly the Ministry of Environment - to address Haiti’s extreme climate vulnerability. In January 2017, CWS and the Haiti Advocacy Working Group hosted then Minister of Environment Simon Dieuseul Desras and others in their visit to Washington D.C. The delegates met representatives of the U.S. Congress, State Department and Treasury, as well multilateral donors to advocate for funding for climate adaptation. In February, CWS Executive Vice President Maurice Bloem and members of the Haiti Advocacy Working Group traveled to Haiti at the invitation of the Ministry of Environment to further expand CWS’s understanding of Haiti’s environmental challenges.

As co-chair and fiscal agent for the Haiti Advocacy Working Group, CWS continues to advocate for United Nations action on cholera, gender equality in all areas of Haitian government policy, special attention for victims of gender based violence - including children - and for direct support to local farmers so that they can promote sustainable food production and address hunger.

During this year of unprecedented challenges, the CWS Immigration and Refugee Program advocacy team has been rebuilding bipartisan support for refugee resettlement, preventing policy changes that would negatively impact refugees and immigrants and mobilizing refugee leaders, people of faith and other diverse allies to make their voices heard to local, state and national policy makers.

Defending resettlement & Demonstrating support for refugees & Immigrants

From rallies in immediate response to the refugee and Muslim ban executive orders to media coverage articulating the consequences of discriminatory policies to mobilizing thousands of people of faith to stand with refugees and undocumented youth, CWS has been a clear, reverberating voice in opposition to anti-refugee and anti-immigrant policies. The IRP advocacy team has mobilized the CWS network and partners through timely statements, letters, events, talking points, action alerts, webinars and conference calls. We have continued to convene partners from across the country to prevent state and federal anti-refugee and anti-immigrant legislation from becoming law and have successfully secured bipartisan support for pro-refugee letters, resolutions, public comments and events.

Leading by Example: Moral Courage & Radical Hospitality

CWS’s leadership in the Sanctuary Movement has helped bring more than 800 congregations to support and offer sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation orders. Our team works with immigrant leaders and people of faith to highlight the powerful stories of individuals facing deportation and the solidarity of community members. This includes expressing moral outrage at the raids, detention and deportations targeting unaccompanied children and their caregivers. We are also working with U.S. senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle to urge the administration to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and extend Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, Somalis, Syrians, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans and other nationalities. The IRP advocacy team has also focused on building bridges to expand the diversity of partnerships, increase intersectionality among engaged supporters and connect networks, which have helped stop legislative efforts to curtail health care coverage for vulnerable populations.

equipping refugee leaders to make their voices heard

By equipping refugee leaders through Know Your Rights webinars, leadership development, civic engagement and community organizing trainings, CWS is actively changing power dynamics in the advocacy space. Teams of refugee leaders in Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia are lifting their voices against anti-refugee and anti-immigrant proposals; winning concrete, positive changes for their communities; and demonstrating that refugees are constituents and community members who should be listened to. CWS is also collaborating with the Refugee Congress to expand refugee-led team building and community organizing across the country. Through this work supported by Unbound Philanthropy, The Carnegie Corporation, Open Society Foundations, USA for UNHCR, and the Four Freedoms Fund, CWS is serving as a catalyst for sustainable change in how refugees are treated by the media, the public and policy makers.

By strategically combining policy analysis, media outreach and grassroots organizing in solidarity with immigrants and refugees, CWS is defending refugee resettlement; winning positive policy changes at the local, state and national levels; and strengthening relationships between policy makers and impacted communities.