WRL shares greetings and wants to send you some news. These have been challenging times filled with much transition, loss and grief, and hope for the future. We share some of this below.
Our much-loved Operations Coordinator, Linda Thurston passed away suddenly in late May 2021, and it has been a painful and challenging time. (www.warresisters.org/shewove-us-together-linda-marie-thurston-1958-2021) “She wove us together” proclaimed her obituary, and we feel unraveled in her absence. “Linda was a visionary, intellectual, activist, and social weaver who committed her life towards ending the violence of policing, imprisonment, and militarism, and building systems that promote community restoration, reconciliation, accessibility, and invest in life-affirming resources.
Her contributions to the movement to abolish the prison industrial complex are vast and significant.” Linda connected us with so many over her more than 14 years with WRL. She understood the importance of WRL history and our archives and had been preparing for our 100th anniversary in 2023 for years. We are struggling to keep the threads together.
The outpouring of tributes for Linda was incredibly moving. People from around the northeast came together to mourn and memorialize Linda at the home going service in early June. We share some of those tributes and pictures of Linda with you here and hope you will take time to read and get to know Linda. WRL and Linda’s family are planning to hold an in-person celebration of her life next summer in New York City on August 6, 2022, the day before her birthday.
At this sad time, WRL also had to temporarily close its office on Canal Street as the 6-year lease with AJ Muste Memorial Institute expired. AJ and WRL continue to look for new space and we are hopeful that AJ Muste will find a new home for WRL and the other-co-tenants. Please note our new mailing address below.
For now, our office is temporarily housed in several locations. New England WRL staffer Joanne Sheehan has taken on the literature distribution, so the items in the WRL Store are still available. Consultants Sky Hall and Kristine Keeling, both experienced from previous WRL work, are managing all organization operations and coordinating with long-time bookkeeper Tom Leonard.
The WRL National Committee, Administrative Coordinating Committee and a number of subcommittees and task forces, continue to guide and engage in WRL’s work.
We find ourselves in uncharted waters, ready to dive in and steadfast in our commitment to anti militarism and nonviolence. WRL has committed to a strategic planning process and has begun the work of contracting with facilitators. In light of this work and the changes the pandemic has brought over the past one and a half years, we have decided to pause new program work as we grieve Linda’s loss and repurpose our vision in this process. We remain steadily committed to our mission, our members and our donors, and look forward to keeping you abreast as we navigate these new seas.
Thank you for your support and dedicated commitment. We will continue to work to end war and its root causes together.
WRL National Committee
The following are some words of memorial from friends and organizations:
CRITICAL RESISTANCE is a U.S. based organization that works to build a mass movement to dismantle the prison-industrial complex.
Linda will be remembered for her warmth, generosity and grounding ability to welcome organizers into the movement. [S]he did the hard consistent work of setting up the back-end systems and infrastructure that integrate and support everyday participation . . . She also worked to connect people . . . from local to national and internationally — often through her steadfast communications work and organizing.
Before CR, Linda demonstrated fierce commitment . . . to free political prisoners [as] a co-founding member of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal . . . Her commitment to internationalism spanned her support for the anti-apartheid struggle in the 80s and her work with Amnesty International to abolish the death penalty during the 90s, through her time with CR and the War Resisters League (WRL).
CR recognizes Linda’s role in helping to build Critical Resistance as an organization, [as] one of the coordinators of CR’s Northeast Regional Conference . . . in New York City in 2001, [which] seeded prison industrial complex (PIC) abolition as a strategy .. . Prioritizing the participation and leadership of people most impacted by the PIC, this conference helped launch Critical Resistance as an organization just two months later . . . More recently, Linda served on the Community Advisory Board for CR.
During her long, impactful career, Linda was also the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Coordinator of Education, Outreach and the Ella Baker Internship program, and worked with numerous organizations, including the Brecht Forum, Prison Radio Project, Funding Exchange, and Human Rights Watch. Her contributions were rooted in care for everyday people, with a broad vision of liberation for all.
In Linda’s own words, when honoring Malcolm X only a few days before her passing, “What is remembered, lives.
GREG PAYTON is an African American veteran of the Vietnam war, turned international peace activist with Vietnam Veterans against War, Veterans for Peace, War Resisters League, and Black Veterans for Social Justice.
What Linda meant to me, as a new member of the WRL. I remember my first NC (national committee) meeting in NYC, it was a cold February day, I opened the door of the event to a sea of white faces. I was the lone African American at the meeting. Trying to understand the culture of WRL, I wondered if there was anyone involved that looked like me. As time went by I heard that a woman was coming on staff, Linda Thurston. To my wonderment she was a Sister. What a communicator, an organizer’s organizer. As time went by we became friends and would share parts of our lives.
The respect I have for those who choose to dedicate their life to peace activism, not just “talk the talk but walk the walk.” And the sacrifices that are made have been mind blowing for me. And Linda is right at the top of the list.
I will say that all of us that want change in this world have to step up and do more to support those that are on the front lines of that change like Linda did.
Linda rest in “Peace.”
MANDY CARTER has a 54-year movement history of social, racial, and LGBTQ+ organizing since 1967. She was on staff with WRL in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Durham, North Carolina.
Linda and I first met in 2007 when she joined the New York Citybased WRL National Office staff fulltime. With a primary part of her organizing being her work against war, the death penalty, and the prison industrial complex. She was finding ways to make new technologies serve social justice organizing.
Our friendship had the common connection of our both being African-American women organizers on staff at the War Resisters League. In 2007 I was living in Durham, North Carolina where I had been on staff with the former War Resisters League Southeast Office from 1982 to 1989. I had joined the San Francisco-based WRL West Office staff in 1969.
During our 14-year friendship until her passing in 2021 I really appreciated Linda’s lifetime commitment of her forging of connections between and among people, organizations, and ideas in peace and justice movements.
The last time we saw each other was at WRL’s 95th Anniversary in New York City.
As someone said, “she moved with grace, integrity and joy, regardless of the heavy mantle she carried.”
CLARE BAYARD served on the WRL National Committee from 2006-2016 and continues to work with WRL’s International Task Force. Clare is a lifelong demilitarization organizer, cofounder of Catalyst Project and several other racial justice and antiwar coalitions and initiatives.
Linda embodied power, beauty, love. I think of how many people Linda taught over the years, the organizations she gave backbone, and how wide her impacts are.
Linda, once I called you “O Keeper of Organized Documents” and you kept that sign over your desk for years. I said that as a stand-in for how you managed to hold everything, track it all, even inside the chaos of a hundred-year-old organization. You always had the document, the context, the remedy at the ready. Disabled genius of access, tech and tools and the skilled labor of care. You helped everyone find their place and to feel belonging, purpose, and readiness. You had that most fundamental magic of caring for the people and the work in that way that makes it so obvious and clear that you cannot separate the two.
In the way that you moved through decades of movement work, at many organizations, training up and educating and mothering and aunty-ing so many, you offer this possibility model . . . You didn’t just bring us together, you built us together. You saw what could be possible if we did our best work and then you worked like hell to make it possible for us to all do that work together. Your stubbornness as big as your love. The deep knowing in your bones that you were made to work for a world without wars or prisons, and how you lived out those values daily
LEONARD PELTIER is an indigenous activist who has been held as a political prisoner by the United States for more than four decades and is one of the many incarcerated people Linda corresponded with over the years.
Let Linda’s family and comrades know I send my deepest condolences and prayers that Linda had a safe journey to the Spirit World. I remember the many letters we exchanged that made my heart sing as I enjoyed her great sense of humor. I wish her family well as I know how they are feeling as I have lost so many friends and relatives.
IN LINDA’S WORDS
“I guess I’ve come full circle after all these years realizing that we need the political analysis, we need the political education, we need the strategizing, we need more bodies, and we need resources. But we also damn sure better remember that we’re human beings and we need to support one another on all levels or we’re not going to make it. Sometimes our failure is as simple as calling a meeting at dinnertime and not having so much as a pitcher of water at the table. If we’re going to survive, if we’re going to succeed, if we’re going to win, if we’re going to free folks, we’ve got to get better at doing the human piece of building movements by building community."