War Resisters League
The War Resisters League (WRL) is the oldest secular pacifist organization in the United States. Founded in 1923 by men and women who had opposed World War I, it continues to be one of the leading radical voices in the anti-war movement. Much of its organizing is focused on challenging military recruiters and ending corporate profit from war. It is involved in a number of national peace and justice coalitions, including United for Peace and Justice and the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. Since 1958, WRL has awarded almost annually the War Resisters League Peace Award to a person or organization whose work represents the League's radical nonviolent program of action.
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- The War Resisters League affirms that all war is a crime against humanity. We therefore are determined not to support any kind of war, international or civil, and to strive nonviolently for the removal of the causes of war, including racism, sexism, and all forms of human exploitation.
- When educator Jesse Wallace Hughan founded the War Resisters League in 1923 in the wake of WWI, her focus was on ending armed conflict. Ninety-five years later, the WRL is still resisting war, but its core strategies have changed. Today’s WRL is zeroing in on underlying causes of military tension—including economic inequality, unequal access to resources, imperialism, and racism.
“We’re acknowledging the many ways militarization shows up in our lives and neighborhoods,” Tory Smith... explains. Smith describes the reorientation as a cultural shift: “we want to be intersectional, international, and intergenerational.”
Raul Ramos, explains that the group’s current focus is on youth and other “frontline” communities—the people most impacted by military spending, as well as on the growing militarization of law enforcement agencies and police violence.
This is in addition to the WRL’s signature work: training activists in nonviolent resistance and countering military recruitment in high schools. What’s more, its No SWAT Zone program opposes trainings and sales of military equipment to police forces throughout the country.
More recently, the group has begun to address ways war has changed from ground combat to aerial bombings, and how that impacts civilians. Lastly, WRL’s “Forgotten Wars” project spotlights conflicts that have fallen off the radar of mainstream media.
- Contemporary concerns include how militarism propagates racism, patriarchy, sexism, and homophobia, issues that newer staff see as intertwined. The WRL wants its reach to be as broad as possible, which is why staff and supporters have met with people living in conflict zones throughout the world. For example, in 2016 a group of U.S.-based anti-war activists originally from southwest Asia and North Africa traveled with WRL support to Greece and spent a month working with Afghani and Syrian refugees, interviewing them and subsequently sharing their stories with domestic audiences.
Closer to home, the group’s No SWAT Zone campaign has, for the past four years, addressed the nexus between police violence and police militarization. “The SWAT trainings always include more than 200 vendors who want to sell equipment to police forces in our communities. They are often the same people who sell bombs for use abroad,” Smith says. WRL has worked hard to expose the connection between militarizing the police and police violence. One of the biggest trainings, called Urban Shield, takes place in the San Francisco Bay area. “We’ve worked hard to connect militarism to police brutality and violence,” Smith says. “We did a lot of the background research to identify Islamophobic speakers and hate groups that play a role in these gatherings.” The effort paid off. This year, The Stop Urban Shield Coalition pushed the host city, Richmond, California, to deny Urban Shield a meeting place.