by Frida Berrigan
Nearly 20 years ago, as I left the War Resisters League, or WRL, offices in lower Manhattan for the first time, I noticed that my fingertips were covered in black soot and ink. My hands were full of tracts and leaflets, and I had been looking through nonviolence training materials for the last hour. I tried to rub the dirt off onto my jeans, but it wouldn’t budge and later even soap and water had to work really hard.
A few weeks ago, I went back to 339 Lafayette Street to say goodbye to the appropriately nicknamed Peace Pentagon. The visit reminded me of that sooty, inky afternoon, when the late great and gentle Karl Bissinger gave me a tour of the WRL workroom — teeter-towered floor to ceiling with books, pamphlets, leaflets, posters and signs from every demonstration of the last half century (almost).
Back in that same workroom, sun streamed in the huge loft windows — even though they were caked with lower Manhattan’s finest smog particles. There was a hole in the floor large enough to swallow both of my small children. I was supposed to be taping historic photos on a large poster board for display at the party later that evening, but instead I was trying to keep two WRL staff members from throwing away or recycling a single piece of paper. They shot daggers at me and kept stacking things for the recycling bin. Turns out that one person’s poorly-lettered sign about a campaign 15 years ago, is another person’s recycling.