The voice of alternative America

Natasha Grzincic reports on War Times, the free, bilingual newspaper making sure that the anti-war message reaches every state in the US.

July 1, 2004
5 min read

Nearly three years ago, when many Americans were plastering the Stars and Stripes on their windows and mounting it on their cars, a free national anti-war newspaper was conceived by a handful of San Francisco Bay activists who were grappling with the US government’s frightening response to 9/11.

The idea behind War Times/ Tiempo de Guerras is to provide the public, especially working-class, ethnic and immigrant communities who would be worst affected by George W Bush’s zealous jingoism, with a full picture of the war on terror. “If you were in the anti-war loop, you were filled with anti-war information,” says co-editor Max Elbaum. “But it was invisible in broader society, where we were being fed pro-war propaganda. We needed to give people the information, rather than requiring them to come to us.”

War Times distribution coordinator Jan Adams adds: “Much anti-war conversation goes on the internet. But the trouble with that medium is that if you aren’t looking for an anti-war perspective, you won’t find one. You can’t hand someone a website.”

And so the US’s largest anti-war paper was first put together in a warehouse in West Oakland, California, on 16 February 2002. From the outset the venture was endorsed by notable heavyweights like Noam Chomsky and radical historian Howard Zinn, and was supported by labour organisations and peace groups. Although only 7,500 copies of the pilot issue were planned, the demand was so great that now 100,000 copies of the free, eight-page, bilingual (Spanish and English) tabloid are distributed to every state in the US and also Puerto Rico roughly every six weeks. Says Elbaum: “People could take the paper to co-workers or relatives, which gave them a sense that they weren’t alone.”

The paper is active in the massive US campaign coalition United For Peace and Justice, and War Times managing editor Bob Wing sits on the coalition’s steering committee. But War Times claims its only political agenda is to draw attention to the injustices of Washington’s “permanent war”. Although the stories touch on a number of left-wing causes – from civil liberties to anti-racism campaigns – it’s designed to break out of the left ghetto. “For one thing, it’s too thin and the articles too short to be aimed at the left,” jokes Elbaum (articles never exceed 800 words). “It’s an entry-way – for people who were open to our message but weren’t already convinced.”

The pilot issue featured an interview with Hollywood actor Danny Glover, who denounced the 2001 bombing of Afghanistan and “the idea that the US is the judge, the jury and the executioner”. A more recent edition profiled both an American mother whose two sons were deployed to Iraq and a Baghdadi woman who lost her husband and children when they were shot dead by a US military patrol. “We put a human face on events,” says one contributor.

You”d be hard-pressed to find War Times in newsagents, and more likely to spot it at work, on a train – even at your dentist’s. It’s distributed in a novel way: willing volunteers send an email requesting the number of bundles (each containing 25 copies) they want. Many of them attach a cheque ($7.50 per bundle) to help cover printing and shipping costs, and individuals” donations make up two thirds of the $450,000 War Times has received so far. (But with an annual budget of $175,000, funding is a constant struggle.) A third of the 700 distributors are well-known peace groups, but a good proportion are “highly motivated individuals” who circulate the paper in their universities, unions, food cooperatives or churches. The paper is also enthusiastically used by Spanish and English teachers as an inspiring educational resource. To ensure that all copies printed get used, volunteers are emailed when a new edition is in production and asked if they want another bundle. “It’s not a huge commitment,” says Elbaum. “If you don’t want it, you don’t have to answer your email.”

Through its publication and distribution, the tabloid has built new networks and strengthened existing alliances. But it’s not a stand-alone effort. “War Times lends credibility to anti-war organisers by showing that it’s possible to produce something left and anti-racist without screeching about it,” says Elbaum. “But we”re dependent on the strength of the anti-war movement.” Although much stronger than in 2001, the movement in the US is still in its infancy. “Local initiatives are very important,” says Adams. “They use War Times because it is beyond their capacity to produce their own materials. We provide a tool in a situation where the political infrastructure is completely undeveloped.”

The 30-strong volunteer staff – predominantly 1960s activist veterans (“our biggest weakness,” says Elbaum) – are currently putting together issue number 18. They work from various parts of the country: there’s no permanent “office”, and not all the regulars have met. In the run-up to the presidential elections, they are determined to keep peace and justice in the public eye without backing any particular candidate, but they believe there will be a need for an anti-war and anti-racist movement whoever is elected.

War Times” job has been made a little easier by the shift in the US media inspired by Abu Ghraib, Falluja, US casualties and the non-appearance of WMD in Iraq. Even the founder of the conservative daily USA Today published an indictment of Bush, asking the cowboy president to “ride off into the sunset”. “To print ‘Bush lies’ is no big deal anymore,” says Elbaum.

The paper’s staff remain pretty low-key about their impact: with only one copy per 3,000 population, no single community gets blanketed. And owing to the limitations of its resources and the movement, War Times hasn’t been able to cross the 100,000-circulation threshold. But it’s got reason to celebrate. A distributor from a small, conservative town in North Carolina has just emailed for his next bundle. “We need our regular 25 copies. Amazing how sentiment in our neighbourhood has changed in the last year& War Times has certainly helped.”


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant