Named after the noted socialist, union activist, and war resister Abraham Johannes Muste, the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute (AJMMI) was founded in 1974 by a group of pacifists who sought to promote “nonviolent radical change” by “providing the movement for peace and justice with practical, concrete support.” In its early years, AJMMI was run entirely by volunteers who worked at a borrowed desk in the New York City office of the War Resisters League (WRL). In 1978 the Institute purchased, from WRL, a three-story office building (dubbed “The Peace Pentagon”) in downtown Manhattan to serve as its permanent base of operations.
For many years, AJMMI rented out office space in this building to likeminded organizations. The Institute subsidized the rental fees for these tenants, using income derived from several commercial storefront rentals. Among the tenant groups based in the Peace Pentagon were: Deep Dish TV; Paper Tiger TV; the War Resisters League; the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (Metro NY Chapter); the Socialist Party USA; Global Revolution TV (which provides live video coverage of “the protest movement that began in Tunisia and Egypt, took shape as ‘Occupy Wall Street‘ in New York City, and is quickly spreading around the world”); the Granny Peace Brigade (which seeks to educate the public about “the threat and cost of war”); the Met Council on Housing (which fights for the rights of tenants); the National Committee to Reopen the Rosenberg Case (which disseminates information about judicial misconduct and constitutional rights in the courtroom); the New York City Organizing Project of New York State United Teachers (which organizes new union locals in colleges and educational non-profits); and the New York State Youth Leadership Council (which works to improve access to higher education for illegal immigrants). Other noteworthy tenants at the Peace Pentagon included the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York, Not In Our Name, and the Socialist Party of New York City.
In 2016, however, AJMMI sold its “Peace Pentagon” building to developer Aby Rosen for $20.75 million, and all of the organizations with offices therein had to relocate.
Over the course of its history, AJMMI has awarded grants and sponsorships to hundreds of grassroots projects around the world which identify one or more of the following as their objectives: “end war and expose the military-industrial complex”; “oppose nuclear power and halt environmental racism”; “stop the death penalty and curb the prison industry”; “defend labor rights and build economic justice”; “fight for racial and sexual equality [and] immigrant rights”; and “promote the use of nonviolent action.” These grants are awarded under the rubric of AJMMI’s 5 major philanthropic programs:
1) The Social Justice Fund (SJF) makes 8 to 10 grants (of up to $2,000 apiece) each year to grassroots activist projects that seek to advanvce the AJMMI priorities listed above.
2) The Counter-Recruitment Fund makes 30 to 50 grants (of up to $1,500 apiece) annually to support grassroots efforts aimed at informing young people about “the realities of war and military service and alternative non-military work and study options.”
3) The International Nonviolence Training Fund makes grants (of up to $3,000) to teach people outside the United States (or “within Native nations in the U.S.”) how to “collectively use the theory and practice of nonviolent action as part of ongoing campaigns or programs for social justice.”
4) The NOVA Fund has supported “active nonviolence work” in Latin America since 1999.
5) The Adalys Vázquez Solidarity Travel Fund makes grants (of up to $1,500) to help base-level activists from Latin America and the Caribbean attend regional conferences and meetings.
In addition to the foregoing grant programs, AJMMI administers the Harrop A. and Ruth S. Freeman Peace Internship Endowment (named in memory of two lifelong peace activists and close personal associates of A.J. Muste), which was created in 1996 to provide stipends to interns in the War Resisters League’s national office.
Among the many recipients of AJMMI grants have been organizations like Deep Dish TV, Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Holy Land Trust, Kairos/Plowshares New York, the National Lawyers Guild, the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York, Peace Action-New Mexico, the California Prison Moratorium Project, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, the Sojourners Neighborhood Center, Philadelphia SUSTAIN, the War Resisters League, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
A member organization of the Peace and Security Funders Group, AJMMI has used its own tax-exempt status to serve as fiscal sponsor of a number of likeminded organizations that are not tax-exempt, thereby enabling the latter to receive tax-deductible contributions from the public. The Institute has extended its fiscal sponsorship to such groups as the Coalition for the Human Rights of Immigrants, the International Solidarity Movement, Kairos/Plowshares, the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York, School of the Americas Watch, United For Peace and Justice, the War Resisters League, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (NY Metro branch).
On December 20, 2014 — the very day that two NYPD officers, Rafial Ramos and Wenjin Liu, were murdered, execution-style, by a gang member from Baltimore — AJMMI chose to decorate its building in downtown Manhattan with banners, bunting, and graphics celebrating the infamous cop-killer and leftist icon Mumia Abu-Jamal. In a fundraising campaign the following year, the Institute used a funding appeal written by the same Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Also in 2015, AJMMI hired a new executive director, Heidi Boghosian, who previously had served as executive director of the National Lawyers Guild and had a clear record of support for Fidel Castro‘s Communist regime in Cuba.