Twenty years ago, on March 19, 2003, the U.S. launched the disastrous and deadly invasion of Iraq. With great hope and determination, millions around the world joined antiwar protests on February 15, a month before the attack.
In founding and then leading WRL for nearly 20 years, Jessie Wallace Hughan was supported by an impressive group of women, many having previously headed other women’s pacifist, suffragist, anti-conscription, and socialist organizations. Unusually independent for their time, most had graduated from prestigious universities, supported themselves with careers, and were engaged in romantic relationships with like-minded women.
When, in late 1979, Durham, NC-based lesbian feminist organizer Joanne Abel heard about the Klan and Nazi murders of five local leftists at a Greensboro march organized by the Communist Workers Party, she called a friend at the War Resisters League...
(This piece is intended as the first post in a series about WRL Southeast over the course of 2023)
One of WRL’s earliest known street actions was a demonstration marking the 10th anniversary of the World War I armistice.
On November 10, 1928, 27 pacifists and socialists -- including the Youth Division of the War Resisters League, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Union Theological Seminary, Young People’s Socialist League, Bronx Free Fellowship – marched from Bowling Green up Broadway to an antiwar rally in Union Square.
A Durham, North Carolina newspaper article on War Resisters League Southeast staff organizer Steve Sumerford’s arrest in Moscow’s Red Square during a War Resisters League-organized banner-drop in support of ending the nuclear arms race in both the US and USSR. A sister action took place simultaneously in Washington, D.C., September 4, 1978 (pictured here). The banner, in Russian, read “USA-USSR Disarm!”
Up until the first world war, peace and antiwar groups tended to be either religious (such as, AFSC and FOR) or women-only (Women’s Peace Society, Women’s Peace Union, Woman’s Peace Party, WILPF). Hughan sought to change that with the 1915 founding of the Anti-Enlistment League and its pledge to be “against enlistment” for war and against giving “approval to such enlistment upon the part of others.”
“History is not a collection of dramatic dates of great leaps from oppression to liberation. It is more often seemingly endless night broken by dawn. History is made by people as ordinary as ourselves, but extraordinary in that they have been seized by a dream for which they are willing to struggle and to risk a great deal – and to go on struggling and risking without ceasing. And so the Walk began. A lesson and a test, a way of learning the patience needed.”
“As you know, the establishment of social justice in our nation is of profound concern to me. This great struggle is in the interest of all Americans and I shall not be turned from it. Yet no sane person can afford to work for social justice within the nation unless he simultaneously resists war and clearly declares himself for non-violence in international relations.”
Founded 100 years ago this year as a secular militant pacifist organization, the War Resisters League is made up of people united in nonviolent opposition to all wars while seeking to remove the causes of war, including racism, sexism and all forms of exploitation.