A Brief History of WAND
Sayre Sheldon, October 2004
It was a (somewhat) different world in the early 1980s, a world that was fertile ground for organizing. WAND has its roots firmly in that time. The nuclear arms race was spiraling out of control, and the specter of a nuclear disaster was dark, real, and terrifying.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, a physician from Australia and expert on nuclear disarmament, traveled the world, speaking to this fear, and galvanizing citizens to action. When she did so, she was often greeted with the response: “We must start a women’s party!” And so Helen, who came from a country with a multi-party system, founded the Women’s Party for Survival.
However, the new party, organized around a kitchen table in Cambridge, MA, quickly realized they could not take on the entrenched two-party American system. Instead, the party morphed into WAND — just as the Reagan administration began rattling its sabers and wildly increasing military spending.
In the beginning, the organization was small and run by volunteers. However, the demand was great: thousands upon thousands of outraged U.S. citizens believed that the very future of the planet was being threatened by the arms race. The organization moved to become larger and more professional, and to both educate on policy choices and lobby to make policy.
WAND was structured as two sister organizations: one educational and supported by tax-deductible contributions, the other political and supported by dues from its members. Eventually, a third program –WAND PAC–was born. The Board of Directors realized how important it was to endorse candidates and raise money for their campaigns. (In the 1980s, as few women were running for Congress, most of the money went to men. With a dramatic shift in the numbers of women running for Congress in the 1990s, the PAC decided to give to WAND and WiLL members running for Congress.)
For years, it was a heady time for the organization. Helen, a charismatic speaker, regularly appeared on major TV programs (e.g., Phil Donahue’s show), often with well-known celebrities (e.g., Meryl Streep). When she did, letters poured in by the thousands. Outraged, citizens begged Helen and WAND to do something. Helen traveled the country, and thousands of volunteers rallied. The Peace Movement and the Nuclear Freeze historically played a role in the end of the MX missile, and forced nuclear disarmament summits.
In 1985, WAND opened its Washington, DC office, forging a link between the grassroots and Congress. Today, WAND is a major presence within the peace and security community on Capitol Hill, firmly established in both the peace and women’s communities.
The Mission Broadens
In 1991, after the Cold War had wound down, the climate had changed enough so that WAND changed its name to Women’s Action for New Directions. The name brought with it a broadened mission: world peace and security, nuclear disarmament, and redirecting excessive military spending toward human and environmental needs.
As the peace movement dwindled, WAND wisely recognized the need to create a different kind of grassroots organization, and reached out to women state legislators. Most women Members of Congress come from state legislatures. WiLL, the Women Legislators’ Lobby, is a national, non-partisan network of women state legislators who work together to influence federal policy and budget priorities. In 2003, we founded Trailblazers, a network of former legislators whose contacts and influence continue to have an impact on national priorities and foreign policy issues.
In 1999, STAND –Students Taking Action for New Directions — was created by 13 young women at the biennial WAND/WiLL national conference. STAND aims to harness and direct the enormous energies and potential of young women activists.
For the past few years, WAND has been broadening its circle and building on relationships with organizations that care about similar issues. We have established partnerships with organizations that care about human and environmental needs. We have forged coalitions with organizations that have struggled to prevent and stop the war in Iraq. The peace movement has gathered new strength, and WAND is there to lend expertise and experience.
Today, WAND is well known as a force to be reckoned with: professional, knowledgeable, relentless.