WIN News

Protesters delay weapons shipment to Iraq

More than three dozen antiwar activists in Olympia, WA were arrested during a weeklong protest over the shipment of military equipment to Iraq through the port of Olympia.  The military cargo shipped out on June 1 as close to 100 protesters staged a “die-in” and chanted, “Stop that boat!”

“Seeds of Hope” at Guantánamo

Prisoners being held at Guantánamo Bay have created a “secret garden” in the prison grounds, despite official prohibition against gardens by U.S. officials.  The attorney for one of the prisoners says that the gardeners use seeds from their meals and plastic spoons.  Their crop includes watermelon, peppers, garlic, cantalope, and a lemon plant.  The British-based human rights group Reprieve has announced it will collect seeds to send to the inmates.  Details can be found on its website,

Sexually Harassed Soldier Refuses to Deploy

On June 14, Suzanne Swift, a specialist with the 54th Military Police Co. at Ft. Lewis, WA, was arrested at her home in Eugene, OR, for refusing to a second deployment to Iraq.  Facing potential desertion charges, Swift cited regular incidents of sexual harassment by her superior officer and others as the reason for her absence.  Swift states that during her first tour of duty in Iraq three different sergeants propositioned her for sex, an dher immediate superior officer coerced her into a sexual relationship.  Swift is currently being held at Ft. Lewis.

Officer Calls War Illegal, Refuses to Go

First Lt. Ehren Watada, 27, of the Styker Brigade, turned in a letter of resignation in January in protest of the war in Iraq.  Refusing orders to deploy, Watada, who faces a court martial for his decision, has told reporters that “my participation would make me party to war crimes.”

Damu Smith 1953 - 2006

Damu Smith, an indomitable activist who devoted his life to battling war, economic injustice, and environmental racism in the belief that the survival of us all was at stake, passed away on May 6.  The cause was colon cancer.

Damu Smith was born Leroy Wesley Smith in St. Louis, MO.  A visit to a Black neighborhood in Cairo, IL, after it had been attacked by white supremacists changed his life.  He dedicated his life to opposing racism and, in 1973, changed his name to Damu Amari Smith, the Swahili terms for blood, leadership, and strength.

During his ten years at Greenpeace USA, Damu worked tirelessly to broaden the racial composition of the environmental movement and to save Southern communities directly threatened by toxic corporate practices.  His successful direct-action efforts to prevent the construction of a PVC plastics plant near Norco, LA, were later dramatized in a made-for-TV movie that was broadcast on the Lifetime cable network.

After leaving Greenpeace in 2001, Smith helped form Black Voices for Peace. A fierce critic of the policies of the Bush administration and its so-called war on terrorism, Smith argued that the resources being expended in Iraq might better go toward meeting critical social needs here at home.

After being stricken with a seizure while attending a march in Palestine on Palm Sunday 2005, Smith was diagnosed with stage fouor colon cancer.  He kept up his activist work - marching, speaking and hosting his local Washington, DC, radio program, “Spirit in Action.”  Friends and supporters created the “Spirit of Hope” campaign to benefit Smith, who was without health insurance.  He leaves behind a 12-year-old daughter, Asha.

End of Long-Distance Telephone War Tax

The Treasury Department announced on May 25 that as of July 31 the federal excise tax would no longer apply to long distance bills, including cell phones, Internet phone service, and plans that included mixed local and long-distance service.  However, the tax will remain on local phone service until Congress passes legislation to abolish it, which seems likely.

This tax, initially created to help to pay for the Spanish-American War, was considered a “luxury tax” because only the rich had telephones in 1898.  After that war, the tax was removed, then reinstated for World War I, removed again, reinstated for World War II, and so on for every war through Vietnam.

In 1966, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee declared that the only reason to have the tax was to pay for the Vietnam War.  The War Resisters League, through the efforts of Maris Cakars, began a national campaign of nonpayment called “Hang Up on War.”  At its peak, an estimated 500,000 peopled refused the tax, in part because it was easy to do, carried little risk, and was something the government found hard to ignore.

For more information on telephone tax resistance, go to  For war tax resistance in general, go to and

— Ed Hedemann

Norma Becker, 1930 - 2006

Former WRL Chair Norma Becker, a teacher, civil rights activist, and towering figure of the peace movement during the Vietnam War, died in her New York City home on June 17.  She was 76.

Becker, who said she was “recruited into the civil rights movement by Sheriff ‘Bull’ Connor of Birminham [AL],” went on from the Freedom Rides of the early ‘60s to become the primary organizer of the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade Committee, which drew tens of thousands to antiwar protests in New York; she subsequently helped create the Mobilization for Survival.  She was WRL’s chair from 1977 to 1983 and remained involved with the organization until her death.

Peace activists across the country send condolences to her family.  The next issue of this magazine will carry an appreciation of her life and her profound influence on the struggles for peace and justice.

- Judith Mahoney Pasternak

More than 300,000 people demonstrated in New York on April 29, protesting the U.S. war in Iraq and possible U.S. military action against Iran.  The march was organized by United for Peace and Justice and was supported by groups representing women, unions, students and environmentalists, among others. Photo by Diane Green Lent


Rev. William Sloan Coffin Jr., 1924-2006

The great hall at Riverside Church was filled on the afternoon of April 20 for the memorial services held for Rev. William Sloan Coffin Jr., who died on April 12.  The audience, mostly middle aged and elderly, had come to honor a man whose life had taken him from a family background of privilege to the front lines of the social struggles of the 20th century.

Having worked in the Office of Special Servies (the precursor to the CIA) throughout World War II and the Korean War, Coffin became deeply disillusioned with the CIA and the U.S. government as he watched the Vietnam War develop.  In the early 1960s Coffin was a chaplain at Yale and had a prominent role in the freedom rides of the civil rights movement, organizing busloads of students to challenge the segregation laws in the South.

In 1968 he was among those indicted by a federal grand jury for a conspiracy to “counsel, aid and abet draft resistance.”  The group was convicted but in1970 the courts overturned the conviction.  In 1977, he became senior pastor at the Riverside Church and initiated a disarmament program running late. in soon by Women Strike for Peace founder Cora Weiss.  Coffin also took a strong position in favor of gay rights, offending a number of the more conservative members of the Riverside congregation.  In1987, he resigned from Riverside Church to work as a full-time disarmament activist, becoming president of SANE/FREEZE (now PeaceAction).  He retired in 1990 as president and, until he passed away, spoke out internationally against war.

 — David McReynolds