Historian Scott Bennett writes in his 2003 book, Radical Pacifism: The War Resisters League and Gandhian Nonviolence in America, 1915-1963:
In 1945 those COs who believed strongly that pacifism offered the potential for revolutionary social change, and who were dissatisfied with the WRL, the FOR, and the SP, began communicating with one another about how to promote effective nonviolent political action.
Radicalized by their time in prison for refusing induction during World War II, WRL members including David Dellinger, Roy Finch, Ralph DiGia, and Albon Man were the driving force behind a February 1946 conference on Non-Violent Revolutionary Socialism. That conference founded the short-lived but influential Committee for Nonviolence Revolution (CNVR). Over two years the group engaged in actions that pushed WRL beyond being a registry for war resisters organizing polite demonstrations to one with a multi-issue agenda and more disruptive direct action.
But internal political debates stymied CNVR, and in April 1948 militant pacifists who wanted a stronger focus on U.S. militarism called a conference on More Disciplined and Revolutionary Pacifism. This conference led to the founding of Peacemakers, which absorbed CNVR and again included prominent WRL activists who made up much of its membership. Bennett writes that, “For the next several years Peacemakers was the most radical and creative pacifist group in the United States.” They advocated a non-hierarchical style of organizing, encouraging communal living and mutual support with a focus on war resistance and civil disobedience, particularly non-registration for the peacetime draft and tax resistance. The Peacemaker influence within WRL led to hot debates over direct action and war tax resistance and led to the resignations of “old guard” members.
Among the founding members of Peacemakers were Wally and Juanita Nelson, war tax resisters from 1948 to the end of their lives and among the founders of the modern war tax resistance movement. For the Nelsons, their pacifism led them to jobs where they could avoid any withholding and, eventually, to a self-sufficient lifestyle that would allow them to be as disengaged as possible from the government and a system that supports war. As Juanita said, “A lot of taxes and energy go into our war effort. I feel very strongly that I should go to the greatest extent to keep any money I earn from going to the government treasury”
The Peacemaker legacy and the legacy of Wally and Juanita Nelson live on in WRL and among hundreds of activists, some of whom have organized a gathering to take a deep dive into their philosophy and build community. The gathering begins on what would have been Juanita’s 100th birthday on August 17, 2023.
Click for details and registration: Activating Everyday Nonviolence: Juanita Nelson’s 100 Birthday Celebration and Gathering, August 17-20 in Deerfield, MA.
- blog post by Ruth Benn
Pictured Above: Wally and Juanita Nelson, Ernest and Marion Bromley, and Maurice McCrackin, founders of the modern war tax resistance movement, last met together at a New England Gathering of War Tax Resisters in Connecticut in 1991. Photo by Ed Hedemann.
Click on the image below to read Juanita's statement to WRL on its 60th Anniversary in 1983