We are at a critical turning point in our struggle for peace and justice. In the past six years, public opinion has shifted dramatically on key issues, not least U.S. foreign policy. While there is now overwhelming popular support for an end to the occupation of Iraq, an antiwar movement with the kind of people-power necessary to achieve real, concrete wins—short-term and long-term, against specifically the current wars and occupations or for a broader anti-imperialist/pro-social justice agenda—has yet to emerge, and seems out of reach. Why is that? What accounts for the discrepancy between popular opposition to the war and the lack of popular identification with the antiwar movement?
Like most movement organizations, War Resisters League has been wrestling with this and related questions: What are key opportunities in this political moment? What prevents the emergence of a more strategic and coordinated movement? How can we build a more multiracial and cross-class movement, and what’s inhibiting us from doing so?
Too often, organizations jump into answering these questions in their rhetoric or actions insularly, without engaging with and learning from others outside their network. For the past several years, WRL has especially invested in building relationships beyond our limited base, striving to forge a truly multiracial and multi-issue movement against militarism. Like many organizations, we want to make sure our political vision is thoughtfully grounded and informed by a cross-pollination of ideas, reflecting wisdom from an array of sectors and perspectives. WRL initiated a listening process to better our own organizational assessments, and as a contribution to all activists’ efforts at dynamic movement-building.
Over recent months, we asked critical questions of nearly 100 grassroots organizers and activists across the country. We wanted to learn what our colleagues in the antiwar movement and allies in other social justice movements think about the current political moment and the best way forward. Many of the folks we interviewed primarily do antiwar/peace activism; others focus mainly on struggles like gender justice, labor, racial justice, and the environment.
What we found was that a cross-section of organizers from diverse groups—from local efforts like Coalition Against Militarism in our Schools in southern California and Port Militarization Resistance in the northwest; to constituency-based organizations like Women of Color Resource Center, September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, and Service Women’s Action Network; to national coalitions like U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation—are grappling with similar challenges related to demographics, cultural constraints, broad strategy and their own capacity.
We found broad consensus on many points, and where opinions diverged they often seemed to overlap or be in conversation with each other, painting a fuller picture. Some of the richest answers came in the form of additional questions. In this issue of WIN, we try to cover the range of views and insights we found in these conversations.
The main initial push behind the project was organizationally driven: to inform WRL’s work and outlook with the experience and knowledge of our allies. We were motivated to use the interviews to strengthen established relationships and invest in newer alliances with our interviewees’ organizations. The special edition of WIN magazine you’re now holding is our way of sharing our findings with the broader movement.
The quotes we feature are organized into eight thematic questions that largely framed all of our conversations. We let the organizers speak for themselves—we present them in conversation and debate with each other on the challenges we face. We hope this report contributes to an ongoing, thoughtful movement dialogue about strategy and direction. We encourage you to scribble notes in the margins or host a local reading group—answer the questions yourself, and certainly question the answers.
As this project was shaped by our lens of revolutionary nonviolence and organizational priorities, here’s a little background for those readers unfamiliar with WRL or picking up WIN magazine for the first time. Founded in 1923, WRL is the oldest secular pacifist organization in the United States. We strive nonviolently to end war and to remove the root causes of war and violence, including racism, sexism, and other forms of human exploitation. Our current work includes supporting GI resistance, countering military recruitment, challenging war profiteers, providing military budget education and promoting war tax resistance. We also provide training in organizing skills, nonviolent direct action, and more.
WIN, previously Nonviolent Activist, is the quarterly magazine of WRL. Through articles, interviews, and reviews, WIN reports and reflects on nonviolent action worldwide, as well as resistance to war abroad and to violence and militarism within the United States. WIN aims to help build bridges between various struggles for justice, freedom, and peace, in forging a broad-based, nonviolent, antiracist, and revolutionary movement to end all war and oppression. We hope you will subscribe!
Of course, we can’t put forward this special issue without disclaimers. First, we want to acknowledge that we can’t possibly do justice to our interviewees with such short quotes. We regrettably quote less than half of the organizers we interviewed, due primarily to space constraints. We plan to remedy this by publishing more features from this process (including full interviews) in WIN and on our new blog (warresisters.org/blog) in the coming months.
We know that there are essential movement voices missing. We (and many we reached out to) did our best; despite the mutual interest, circumstances sometimes didn’t end up allowing an interview to happen. We wanted a balance between organizations we were already in touch with and organizations with which we were less familiar—the former meetings tended to be easier to arrange than the latter. While we have tried to be aware of the assumptions or biases we carry into this project, we acknowledge that they affect how questions are framed and what quotes stood out to us. Lastly, as we tried to represent a range of opinions, WRL does not endorse every view expressed in these pages (though we want to engage with every perspective).
Special thanks first to everyone we interviewed, whose names and organizations are listed on page 33; to Clare Bayard, Francesca Fiorentini, Yeidy Rosa and Steve Theberge for the vision and original proposal for this project; Matthew Smucker for overall coordination, interviewing, transcription, reviewing, editing, writing of introductions and conclusion; Madeline Gardner for helping launch the process and conduct the first round of interviews and transcriptions; Joanne Sheehan (as well as Francesca Fiorentini) for conducting and reviewing some of the interviews, and helping guide the project through WRL’s Organizing Task Force; Uruj Sheikh for transcription, review, promotion, and communication with interviewees (and much more); Tej Nagaraja for reviewing transcripts and editing this magazine; Jeff Rummel for design; thanks to Newell “Chip” Embley IV, Jessica Smucker Falcon, Candace Laning, Jason Laning, Kris Wraight, Marigo Farr, Breonna Arder, Hena Ashraf, Niebal Atiyeh, Ines Farag for the long, tedious work of transcription; for reviewing interviews, thanks to Sarah Husain, Matthew Daloisio, Matt Meyer, and Jim Haber. We hope the following pages will inspire valuable conversations and debates. We invite you to respond by posting comments here on our website or by writing us at win[at]warresisters.org. We plan to run an extensive letters section with your responses in our next issue of WIN.