Nonviolent Activist, January - February 2006


WRL Organizers Meet in NC

Up until a couple of years ago, the structure of the WRL involved twice-yearly meetings of the elected National Committee plus representatives of each local. But the meetings were primarily concerned with business and the structure didn’t meet the locals’ needs to share organizing ideas.

So WRL separated the two functions of the annual meetings, leaving business, budget, etc., to the twice a year NC meetings, and creating a new Organizing Network (ON) to bring WRL activists together once a year to talk about programs, actions, and problems. The ON met for the first time in November 2004 in San Francisco, and the second annual meeting took place this past November 11-13 in Asheville, NC.

Organizers of the event hoped to give the two-dozen WRL activists from across the country the chance to talk about their visions of the organization, its mission, and most important, the way the national office interacts with locals and individual local members. The organizers—chiefly Cicada Brokaw of the Asheville local and WRL West’s Jim Haber—also made a big effort to involve the local activist community, an effort that included a potluck dinner, attended by a lot of local folks. Finally, the gathering was planned for the weekend before the annual protest against the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, GA, and closed with a nonviolence training for people planning to go to the demonstrations.

Much of the meeting was in a small-group/whole-group format, where we first had brainstorming and discussion with five or six people, and then shared our outcome with the other groups. In one of these, we considered how WRL presented itself—looking at our message, our role in the movement, and our unique contribution. Then we examined the WRL task forces, staffed (Anti-Militarism and Youth Counter-Militarism, and the Publications Committee) and unstaffed (International, Anti-racism, Feminism, War Tax Resistance). “How can the task forces help the locals?” we were asked. Some answers: Provide speakers and materials like a power-point presentation or the Military Myths video. We also talked more theoretically, discussing, for instance, how we can weave together all the diverse elements of social change and how we bring the message of pacifism out into the world. One useful graphic that Joanne Sheehan of WRL New England showed us was a chart that showed a continuum of the possible political positions of the people we might approach, from active antiwar to passive antiwar to neutral to passive pro-war to active pro-war. She reminded us that we didn’t have to totally convert anyone we might encounter; it would be an achievement just to move a person one category over.

We also took time for an extremely concrete discussion about money and organizing, which remained unresolved. Participants vowed to continue it further in the regular round of emails and conference calls.

Following the meeting, Joanne Sheehan offered a brief Nonviolence Training for Trainers session; the participants then practiced their skills with a group of college students who were planning to attend the SOA protest.

Vicki Rovere and Judith Mahoney Pasternak

Asheville in Action

Members of the WRL local in Asheville, NC, were busy this fall organizing the logistics for the WRL Organizing Network (ON) meeting held here Nov. 11-13. We very much appreciated the energy and commitment of the people who helped out and all of the people who came from out of town to attend. Overall, we felt it was a very successful event.

In August, members were involved in organizing and participating in Pedaling 4 Peace, a bike ride from Asheville to Oak Ridge that arrived in time to participate in the August 6, Stop the Bombs action at the gates of the Y-12 plant, along with hundreds of other activists. Some came on a bus that members helped facilitate with the local Veterans for Peace and local Physicians for Social Responsibility. Members also sponsored a bus from Asheville to Washington, D.C., for the Sept. 24th antiwar demonstrations. As of now, much of our local work is done through the Western North Carolina Peace Coalition, which brings together of groups and individuals working to promote nonviolent solutions to world conflicts.

Mike Levinson

West Coast Resisters

Nationally, a few members of WRL West attended the ON Gathering in Asheville, NC, and half a dozen were active in different aspects of the School of the Americas demonstrations in November. Back in California, we were out against the death penalty and the scheduled execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams. On Human Rights Day, December 10, we held a vigil in Berkeley to support the Witness Against Torture march to the Guantanamo Base. It wasn’t a huge gathering, but it felt important to have as many solidarity actions as possible.

As the holidays drew nearer, we caroled with our “X-mess” songbook (downloadable from wrlwest.org) at a local shopping center. In January, we will have a party with updates on our ongoing work, including a reportback from WRL West convener Jim Haber on his forthcoming trip to Israel/Palestine and the Celebrating Nonviolent Resistance Conference in Bethlehem.

WRL West is also active in the Peace is a Local Issue Alliance (PIALIA) in San Mateo County (just south of San Francisco). We are also increasing our participation with the GI Rights Hotline.

Jim Haber