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Boston Pledge of Resistance : Records, 1983-1990 (Bulk, 1984-1987)


7 file boxes


The records of the Boston Pledge of Resistance were given to the University of Massachusetts Boston Archives by John Hoffman, a member of the Boston Pledge of Resistance, in November of 1990.


After the U.S. invasion of Grenada, U.S. peace activists feared Nicaragua was next. In November 1983, leaders of the Christian peace movement met at a retreat in Pennsylvania and wrote a statement in which they promised to react against a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua. As they continued to talk about what actions they would take, a nationwide "contingency plan" emerged. Jim Wallis' article "A Pledge of Resistance: A contingency plan in the event of a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua," published in the August 1984 issue of Sojourners (see #135), drew out the specifics. Briefly, the plan stated that in the event of U.S. military escalations, a nationwide network of churches and peace organizations would coordinate various forms of public protest in Washington, D.C. and throughout the country.

In the national movement, the plan at first relied on the coordinators of Witness for Peace's seven regions to transmit information and the signal for action. As people joined the national contingency plan bysigning the Pledge of Resistance (POR), and more and more local and regional Pledge networks planned their own response to military escalations, a national working group developed an organizational structure. By the end of 1984, that structure included an executive committee, a signal group (responsible for initiating a call to action), one national and eight regional clearinghouses, and between ten and thirteen regional coordinators.

Although the Contingency Plan and the Pledge grew out of people's distress at the United States' (particularly President Reagan's) disregard for the sovereignty of Nicaragua's Sandinista government, POR later expanded to include a concern for all of Central America, and not only U.S. military intervention, but also policy changes. Among other issues, POR opposed U.S. funding of the Nicaraguan Contras, the embargo against Nicaraguan goods, military exercises in Honduras, and U.S. support for the suppressive Salvadoran government.

Although many PORs had their roots in churches and religious communities, the Boston POR had more secular origins. In the fall of 1984, Mobilization for Survival (Mobe) distributed a pamphlet throughout the Boston area, calling for people to sign either a civil disobedience pledge or a legal protest pledge, both of which began: "if the U.S. invades, bombs, sends combat troops, or otherwise significantly escalates its intervention in Nicaragua or El Salvador, I pledge to join with others to engage in. . ." "Nicaragua or El Salvador" was later changed to "Central America." The organizations and activists promoting the Pledge formed a loose knit Massachusetts Contingency Plan for Central America which split Massachusetts into six parts, communicated with the coalitions in other New England states, and was represented in the national network through the New England regional coordinator.

Pledge signers formed affinity groups, usually based on personal connections, and often on common membership in a church, peace group, or other organization concerned about U.S. activities in Central America. Among the first affinity groups were WILPF (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom), Vecinos, CASA (Central America Solidarity Association), Church of the Covenant, Black Sweaters, and CPPAX 8th Congressional District (Citizens for Participation in Political Action). Individual signers and affinity groups like these in the Boston area formed the Boston Committee of the Massachusetts Contingency Plan, which later became the Boston Pledge of Resistance.

The Boston POR's first organizational meetings (with Mobe, particularly staff member Anne Shumway, as its central organizing point), took place in the fall of 1984. By the end of 1984, 2,000 people in the Boston area had signed the pledge, about half pledged to acts of civil disobedience. On December 30, 1984, the Boston POR held its first "spokes" meeting and the loose structure of the organization emerged. Boston POR's structure, designed for rapid response to calls for action, was hierarchical. Each affinity group had a spokesperson who served as its intermediary with Boston POR. "Spokes" were voting members at spokesmeetings (everyone was welcome to attend) and governed the organization. The coordinating group, some of whom were spokes, created spokesmeeting agendas and called emergency spokes meetings when a decision about whether to issue a call to action needed to be made in between spokes meetings. Individual signers, members of affinity groups, spokes, and coordinators formed task forces (or groups) at every level of this hierarchy.

Despite this hierarchical structure, POR attempted to maintain a democratic process. Any one, or group, representing a body at any level of the hierarchy could submit proposals to the spokes regarding the organization's goals, structure, and activities. In the same manner, it appears that anyone could submit proposals to the executive committee of the National POR. Spokes' decisions required a consensus, except when 80% of the spokes attending voted that an 80% majority could make a particular decision. For at least part of the Boston POR's existence only the spokes could issue an organization-wide call to action. Individual affinity groups, however, could use POR's name when performing their own actions with the approval of the coordinating group, and affinity groups could choose not to follow spokes decisions. Affinity groups operated by consensus.

Between 1984 and 1988, Boston POR affinity groups and individual signers held vigils, fasted, marched, held civil disobedience training sessions, conducted demonstrations, distributed leaflets, performed a variety of acts of civil disobedience, sold Nicaraguan coffee, and otherwise publicized and protested the United States' actions and policies in Central America.

POR was intended to be a communication network to coordinate acts of resistance to U.S. foreign policy and actions. Boston POR interacted with, and at times was difficult to differentiate from, a number of other organizations. For some period of time, the Boston POR participated in BANCA's (Boston Area Network on Central America) emergency response network, a telephone network that facilitated quick distribution of information and calls for action. In addition to Mobe, and BANCA, Boston POR worked closely with CASA and NECAN (New England Central America Network). Some affinity groups joined NECAN's Rapid Response Network in 1987. In 1988, the Boston Pledge attempted to revamp an emergency reponse network, perhaps with NECAN. Correspondence in these records suggests that although the emergency response network and some affinity groups may have continued to operate, Boston POR, as it had existed since 1984, ended in 1988.

For further background information about the national organization, see #135. For Boston POR's structure, see #1, and for an analysis of that structure, see #98.

Scope and Content

The Boston Pledge of Resistance records consist of files apparently kept by a variety of members. As with many groups whose action-oriented goals often outweigh concern for maintaining the future of the organization, Boston POR's records appear to have been neither centrally located nor meticulously kept. Before, and perhaps after, Boston POR hired staff, the organizational structure delegated office work to a number of task groups. Although most of the file headings were maintained, the arrangement of this collection was created by the processor since the files exhibited little or no original arrangement when they arrived at the Archives. The collection is divided into seven series:

    I. Governance
    II. Affinity groups and individual signers
    III. Survey and questionnaire responses
    IV. Actions and activities
    V. National and other Pledge of Resistances
    VI. Administration
    VII. Resource/subject files

Some unopened newsletters from national peace organizations were discarded. Three publications were removed and added to the Library's book collection; they are listed at the end of the inventory.

This collection contains material that documents Boston POR's four year history and its connections with other local, state, regional and national PORs and other organizations working to change U.S. foreign policy in Central America. It also documents the decision process of a grassroots organization devoted to rapid response to U.S. military actions, the evolving structure and goals of a group originally focused on direct action, and some of the tensions perhaps inevitable in such a diffuse, action-oriented organization. Although the work of spokespersons is evident from these records, the activities of individual affinity group and functions within those groups are difficult to discern. For example, it appears that, in keeping with its pyramid-like structure--built for rapid distribution of information--Boston POR did not keep track of and send mailings to all pledge signers.

Series I: Governance, #1-37, consists of minutes and agendas for coordinators, task force, and spokes meetings, proposals (probably all directed to the spokes), as well as material sent to spokes, both in preparation for meetings and to be dispersed among their affinity groups. These mailings include minutes, flyers, proposals, and other material. This series also contains spokes meeting logs (attendence sheets) which often include information about decisions made within each affinity group. For lists of spokespersons, see Series II.

Series II: Affinity groups and individual signers, #38-44, contains affinity group names and contact lists including a phone tree list, an information packet for affinity groups, and material sent to individual pledgers and new signers. Although the affinity group names and contact lists are essentially lists of spokespersons, Boston POR labeled these folders as "AG," not "spokes," hence their placement in this series. The information packet, #42, provides a good description of the purpose of affinity groups.

Series III: Survey and questionnaire responses, #45-56, consists of responses to a variety of surveys Boston POR conducted to evaluate its activities and structure, to find volunteers for various tasks, and to plan its future work based on the interests of its affinity groups and individual members. It includes some notes and a few compilations of survey results.

Series IV: Actions and activities, #57-91, contains flyers, notes, press releases, maps, pre-action minutes, sign-up sheets, and other material Boston POR used to further its goals, and prepare for and carry out marches, demonstrations, civil disobedience, vigils, fasts, and other activities. The word "action" may have meant a specific type of activity that these records do not make clear. It is not clear whether #58 was a file kept by someone in the Cape POR or by a Boston member.

Series V: Administration, #92-128, consists of clippings, correspondence, press releases, flyers, leases, photographs, reports, etc. regarding Boston POR's activities, office, finances, and staff. It includes many masters for leaflets and letters, some of which may not appear elsewhere in the collection.

Series VI: National and other Pledge of Resistances, #129-149, includes minutes, correspondence, newsletters, clippings, and flyers from the National POR; minutes, correspondence, and notes from the state and regional organizations; and flyers and clippings from PORs elsewhere in the United States.

Series VII: Resources/subject files, #150-182, consists of publications, flyers, and other printed material that Boston POR collected from a variety of Central America and other peace organizations. Although Boston POR worked with many of the organizations represented in this series, a cursory look indicated that only #160 and #174 illustrate such involvement.