She Wove Us Together: Linda Marie Thurston, 1958-2021

Linda with raised fist

Linda Marie Thurston, who spent a lifetime forging connections between and among people, organizations, and ideas in peace and justice movements, passed away in her Brooklyn, NY home due to natural causes. She was 62 years young.

Linda was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on August 7, 1958, the oldest child of James Thurston Sr. and Barbara Thurston (née Oliver). She attended Classical High School and excelled academically, where, as she liked to tell it, a bet between guidance counselors led to Linda applying and being accepted to Harvard University. Linda graduated from Harvard in 1980 with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology where she was a student organizer against South African apartheid and was the president of the Black Community and Student Theater. After working for some years at the American Friends Service Committee, Linda took time out to attend grad school at Temple University where she obtained an M.A. in Sociology in 1994. 

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. As Director of the American Friends Service Committee’s National Criminal Justice Program, Linda worked with advocates and former prisoners on developing curriculum and organizing conferences, community forums, and workshops promoting prisoner rights and alternatives to imprisonment. Serving in this capacity, Linda edited the 1993 book A Call to Action, by the National Commission on Crime and Justice. As Director of Amnesty International’s Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, she coordinated their strategy to abolish the death penalty, and toured the U.S. to build their campaign. In addition to this advocacy, Linda steadfastly supported campaigns to acknowledge and free U.S.-held political prisoners, including her involvement in co-founding the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal in 1992. Linda also participated in the founding of Critical Resistance, a national organization working to abolish the prison industrial complex, supporting their work nationally and in New York City in the late 90’s and 2000s and, most recently, serving on their Community Advisory Board.  

One of Linda’s skills was effortlessly communicating her capacious vision across a wide variety of audiences: as a radio host at W.I.L.D, giving testimony on C-SPAN, and meeting with religious congregations, to name a few. But even deeper than public speaking, Linda communicated her abolitionist vision through the way she treated others, every single day. She held firmly to the understanding that people were “not all good, and not all bad,” and was able to hold the complexity of what it meant to be human without romanticization nor disposability. And it’s this energy that brought people together around her, and sustained relationships for decades, and in some cases helped cross-pollinate political ideas, such as the necessity to be both abolitionist and antimilitarist. As her cousin, Kristine Keeling, said, "Linda was committed, she was committed to her community, to the disenfranchised, the displaced, and those who struggled to be heard. She moved with grace, integrity and joy, regardless of the heavy mantle she carried."

In 1997, Linda first started working with the War Resisters League (WRL) as an organizer on a two-year project intended to make the links between the consumption of the Pentagon and unmet local needs. On October 24, 1997, local groups across the nation protested the swollen military budget at army bases and arms makers' offices. A year later, on October 19, 1998, WRL led a mass protest in the belly of the beast, at the Pentagon itself. Linda was a big part of why the day was a success: there were four days of meetings and seminars in and around Washington about militarism and its price, culminating in a rally with Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg as the lead speaker. In 2007, Linda joined the WRL staff fulltime as the Operations Coordinator and was responsible for maintaining daily operations, office space, website, and technology. She held much WRL history and institutional knowledge, and leaves a big void at the organization. 

Linda was an “infrastructure person.” Her life’s work was different from many who claim the title of “organizer,” though she had also been that. She built, maintained, and repaired material processes (including those that she herself might consider “mundane”) that were also essential to everyday functioning of the movement. Indeed, a key part of her work against war, the death penalty and the prison industrial complex was finding ways to make new technologies serve social justice organizing. 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.

Linda was a transformative mentor. While sharing historical perspective, she listened to and validated the views of the young people she mentored (whom she affectionately referred to as “Linda’s babies”) making their way through the mess of themselves and this world. She derived tremendous joy and sustenance from these relationships. She shared with others her love of science fiction (Linda was known far and wide as a Star Trek nerd) and magic. She diligently followed the phases of the moon and planetary positions. Linda laughed easily and made others laugh over the years with her wit and humor. 

Linda was preceded in death by her father, James Thurston Sr. She is survived by her mother Barbara Thurston, her brother James Thurston Jr. (both of Bangor, Maine) and his children Rachel and TJ, her sister Nicole Thurston Thibedeau of Rhode Island, Nicole’s husband Christian and their children, Caleb, Robert Journey and Armani, many cousins, mentees, and the dozens of organizations and hundreds of activists to whom she gave so much.

Linda was so dearly loved and will be greatly missed by all who knew her well. We wish her peace and love on the next phase of her journey through this universe and strength and comfort for those of us she left behind.