WRL News

Taking a Pulse of the Movement: A Way to Listen to Our Allies

WRL’s internal processes of self-evaluation and visioning forward have made us aware of a new imperative. Today’s peace and justice movement faces unique challenges and opportunities. The growing unpopularity of the war in Iraq and other Bush administration policies has opened space for grassroots organizing. And this new situation raises important questions. The questions we are wrestling with include the following:

  • What are the biggest opportunities and the biggest challenges for the peace and justice movement today?
  • What constraints prevent the emergence of a stronger, more coordinated, and more strategic movement?
  • What would it take for a mass movement to be able to more effectively respond to unfolding events, to shift terms of debate, and to leverage power?
  • What would it take for broad ownership of a united strategy to end the war in Iraq?
  • What role can WRL play in the broader movement that is important, needed, and unique?
  • How can we contribute to building a more multi-racial, antiracist peace movement, and what presently prevents us from doing so?
  • How can we link resistance to war and imperialism with grassroots struggles around domestic concerns (or around other global concerns)?

To help us answer these and other questions, we are launching a listening process. Over the next few months, we will be interviewing allied organizations from across the country. We want our assessment— and ultimately our vision and work—to be informed by the wisdom of multiple perspectives.

Through this listening process, we hope to deepen our existing relationships with other organizations, as well as establish new relationships with organizations (particularly people of color-led and youth-led) with which we are already allied. We will assess today’s peace and justice movement, and solicit ideas for how WRL can contribute strategically. We will also meet with WRL locals and assess how the national office can better support them. We will seek feedback on WRL’s current work. And we’ll look at opportunities for collaboration with some of the organizations we interview.

The listening process will be one of my primary tasks as field organizer over the next months. Madeline Gardner has come on board for the next three months, through a Freeman internship, to help with this project as well. And WRL’s Future Wholeness Committee is actively shaping the process. We look forward to meeting with a variety of organizations working for justice, peace, and a better world.

- Matthew Smucker
Matthew Smucker is WRL's Field Organizer


New Staff, New Energy at WRL National Office

Meet Field Organizer Matthew Smucker. Meet National Office Coordinator Linda Thurston.

Say a sad goodbye to Administrative Associate Yeidy Rosa.

There have been big changes in the national office, and we’re excited about (almost all of) them. We believe the larger staff will be better able to bring activists around the country together to counter the recruiters, expose the merchants of death, and resist war in all the ways we can think up together.

Matthew Smucker will be critical in that process. With 12 years of grassroots organizing under his belt, he says he had been “pondering how next to contribute to building a stronger and more strategic antiwar movement” when he read the posting for the field organizer position. In the companion piece, he talks about his plan for how he’s going to do that here.

A fully functional office is equally critical, and that’s where Linda Thurston comes in. Linda knows more than most people about the nuts and bolts of movement work. She’s worked for social justice and human rights for decades—she even put in a stint here helping create our “Day Without the Pentagon” in 1998. With that long perspective, she notes, “WRL is crucial to the vibrancy of the peace and justice movements in this country, and keeping things organized as we organize is a task that a lot of groups aren’t able to give enough resources to. WRL’s efforts will be strengthened by keeping things running smoothly as we go about the work of revolutionary nonviolence.”

In the midst of all these improvements, we are sad to lose Yeidy Rosa, who helped keep this office going for the last two years, depositing checks, talking to callers, keeping track of orders, and much more. Yeidy has moved to Quito, Ecuador, to continue working with the Latin American COs and antimilitarists she met during the International CO Day events in New York in May 2006, and we remain connected her the global context.

Former intern and part-time staffer Mimi LaValley has also left. Mimi stepped up to keep the Bite the Bullet War Profiteering Education network going between Simon Harak’s departure and Matthew’s arrival. We’re happy to say that she hasn’t gone as far as Yeidy did—she’s still in New York and will be working with the national office on a number of projects.

Much of the staff expansion was made possible by a generous bequest from the late Shirley Lens, who died at 84 in 2005. Lens, a former schoolteacher, was a recognized leader for peace and justice in Chicago (where she was blacklisted during the McCarthy years) and later in Oakland, California. She and her husband, Sidney Lens, a dynamic organizer and writer who died in 1986, worked closely with A.J. Muste and the War Resisters League for more than 40 years. This bequest is their final—and largest—contribution to WRL’s ongoing work, and we remember them with gratitude as we welcome the new staff they helped to fund.

War Taxes Protested

Tax Day 2007 fell just as Congress was voting more money for the criminal war in Iraq, giving activists extra incentive to get out and protest  WRL pie charts were handed out by the thousands at post offices and IRS offices and on street corners around the country.

Antiwar activists in Brunswick, Georgia, leafleted on April 15 for the first time.  The audience was far more receptive than they expected, and they ran out of their 500 pie charts just three hours into their planned day of leafletting.

Eugene (OR) Taxes for Peace Not War! and the local chapter of Women's Action for New Directions marched from the IRS to a rally at Free Speech Plaza, carrying personalized signs announcing "I'd Rather Pay for [fill in the blank] than War." One demonstrator won approval for choosing "A Root Canal."

Ralph DiGia leafletting on Tax Day 2007
Ralph DiGia leafletting on Tax Day 2007

Brandywine Peace Community, in coalition with Catholic Peace Fellowship, Committee to Free the 5, Philly Delaware River Area Code Pink, and other groups held a "YES!" demonstration at the Philadelphia office of Sen. Arlen Specter and the regional headquarters of the IRS. Signs and speeches said "YES!" to the use of tax dollars for the environment, for people, and for justice, instead of war.

Many war tax resistance groups held public redirections of tax money to social service and peace and justice groups.  Windham County (Vermont) War Resisters of Conscience gave $3,400 to community groups, and the Southern California War Tax Alternative Fund announced the redirection of $5,400 in front of 600 people at the Jubilee for Peace and Justice at Bethel AME Church in Los Angeles, sponsored by the Interfaith Communities United for Peace and Justice.  The Madison (Wisconsin) Area Alternative Fund gave $2,000 to groups including Doctors Without Borders; a proposed new low-powered community FM radio station, and the Wisconsin Books to Prisoners Project.

There was media coverage in dozens of local papers, online at SmartMoney.com and the Columbia University News Service, and on radio shows from New Hampshire to Australia to the Sirius Satellite Network.  The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee also announced the winners of its first annual video shorts contest.  Links to articles and the winning videos are accessible at www.nwtrcc.org.

 - Ruth Benn
Ruth Benn is Coordinator of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee