The creation of Psychologists for Social Responsibility in 1982 followed a venerable tradition of psychologists’ organizing to promote social change–in support of work-programs during the Depression of the 1930’s; against fascism in Germany before and during World War II; in support of equal civil rights regardless of race or gender during the 1960’s; and against the Vietnam War during the 1970’s.
Formed during the height of the Cold War in the 1980’s, PsySR’s first focus was promoting the use of psychological skills and knowledge to push for nuclear disarmament and to reduce the threat of nuclear war. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, we expanded our mission to include broader issues of peacebuilding and social justice. Today we have proudly entered our second 25 years with a continuing commitment to building cultures of peace with justice—here in the United States and throughout the world.
Our First Quarter Century
Psychologists for Social Responsibility was created in 1982, during the height of the Cold War, with the mission of using psychological skills and knowledge to reduce the threat of nuclear war. Many of the people who participated in the development of the organization had long histories of social activism in psychology. PsySR was established within a venerable tradition. Doris K. Miller wrote in 1984, “Psychologists have organized in the past to seek work-programs during the Depression of the 1930’s; against the rise of fascism in Germany; to eliminate racism and sexism in the APA; against the Vietnam War, but the imperative has never been as potent as the burgeoning development of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. Colleagues around the country are organizing to join forces with civic, religious and other occupation-defined anti-nuclear groups dedicated to preventing planetary murder and suicide.”
The national 501(c)3 organization was established by Alex Redmountain in 1982 concurrently with two state-wide organizations established in California and New York. The three groups made contact with each other and agreed to join forces. An ad hoc Steering Committee was formed with Doris K. Miller and Bernice Zahm as Co-Chairs. Officers and new Steering Committee members were chosen by the Steering Committee for their constituencies and records of activism in psychology, as well geographical distribution. The Steering Committee contracted with Anne Anderson in 1984 for her services to run the national office on a part-time basis, an arrangement that continued until August 2006.
During the early years, much effort went into developing local and state groups of PsySR members. The connection between local groups and the national organization has been one of collaboration and interaction, but without any legal relationship. Local groups take various forms. Some are committees of the state psychological association, others are based in one city only, and some function as part of a local peace and justice coalition. Since the end of the Cold War, we have encouraged psychologists to belong to the national organization, but to participate at the local level with other organizations in an effort to extend our reach in collaboration.
PsySR’s first major project was developing a presenters’ manual, “Dismantling the Mask
of Enmity: An Education Resource Manual on the Psychology of Enemy Images,” by Brett Silverstein 1986. Members, teachers, and others have used it for public education. We also worked in many ways on the issue of “psychic numbing,” participating in many coalition efforts to heighten people’s awareness of the dangers of nuclear war. For example, we held conversations after the showing of the movie “The Day After” in 1983; contributed to the Ribbon project, a grassroots effort that generated thousands of one-yard fabric artworks (on the theme, “What I would miss in the event of a nuclear war”) that were then tied together in a huge ribbon around the Pentagon, and distributed the movie, “Bombs Will Make the Rainbow Break,” starting in 1982.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, we expanded our mission to focus on peace building and social justice. PsySR offered commentaries on the challenges of cross-cultural communication leading up to the Persian Gulf War, and on the value of realistic empathy in assessing an adversary’s motives. We also contributed to the dialogue on building a durable peace through letters to policy-makers on a range of specific issues and situations. Many of our members provided pro-bono services to families who had members in the Persian Gulf, and PsySR provided networking to facilitate those connections.
In response to the outbreak of violence in the Balkans, in 1993 we developed a short, self-help educational brochure on “War Trauma and Recovery,” which was widely distributed and used for group discussions in all the languages and alphabets of the former Yugoslavia. It was the first informational brochure on trauma available in Albanian for use in Kosova. The brochure is now being reproduced in several other languages.
Beginning in 1995, Anne Anderson participated in several consultations with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda (ICTY/R) on reducing retraumatization of women providing testimony on gender-specific war crimes. PsySR’s network provided background information on the importance of ensuring anonymity for witnesses, which the Tribunal approved. The consultative group, organized by the Coordination for Women’s Advocacy, based in Geneva, was successful in obtaining increased funding for the ICTY/R Witness Protection unit from the European Union.
Also in 1995, our Michigan PsySR group carried the enemy images work further into the development of the presenters’ manual, “US & THEM: The Challenge of Diversity,” which continues to be distributed and used by psychologists and others. In 1997 the program was selected as one of the best programs in the country promoting racial and ethnic dialogue by the Center for Living Democracy.
With our expanded mission, “building cultures of peace with justice,” we enlarged the roles of the Action Committees, bringing them into a key position for focusing our analysis and prioritizing of issues, and developing draft position statements and briefing papers for PsySR’s Steering Committee to review and approve. We have addressed many issues, including: minimum wage (1999); women’s status (e.g., Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW] in the 1990’s; participation in Prep Com meetings for the UN Beijing conference on women; sending a delegation to Beijing NGO Forum, 1994-1995; and monitoring the implementation of the UN Platform for Action, 1995-2000); reduction of use of landmines; proliferation of nuclear weapons; the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; the International Criminal Court (2000); and environmental issues. In 1999, we also served as the secretariat for the Ethnopolitical Warfare Curriculum Development Conference, and we continue to distribute the curriculum.
Our funding over the years has come primarily from membership fees, individual donations, and a few larger donations from small family foundations. We have received some anonymous donations, have received stock, donations in honor of specific people, and been included in a will. Funding from organizations and foundations has also been received for specific projects from SPSSI, Grinnell College, and the US Institute of Peace.