[sixties-l] Marching in Gandhi's Footsteps (fwd)

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Date: Tue Apr 16 2002 - 20:55:12 EDT

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    Date: Mon, 15 Apr 2002 21:18:17 -0700
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Marching in Gandhi's Footsteps

    Marching in Gandhi's Footsteps

    Rather than being victims of history, David Hartsough believes we should
    make it -- he's raising a 'peace force' to do just that.


    Bangkok Post, March 23, 2002
    By Kate Rope

    George W. Bush is dividing the world and waging war. Osama Bin
    Laden is skillfully eluding capture and giving hope to the
    thousands he has trained to kill. Betwixt the two, hot spots in
    Israel and the occupied territories are descending into ever
    more gruesome violence, other countries are being forced
    to choose which side of the "war" they support, and nobody is
    talking about peace.
    Except, perhaps, David Hartsough, who is quietly building an army
    in the midst of the fury. A veteran of the civil rights struggle in
    the US and a peace activist who's been on the frontlines of some
    of the most destructive clashes of the last half century,
    Hartsough is traveling the globe to rally a force that will march
    into the danger zones of the world armed with only a commitment
    to peace. Born from the work left unfinished by Mahatma Gandhi
    some 70 years ago, it's a hard-sell in times like these, but
    Hartsough is an experienced and persuasive salesman.
    Sitting in the Thammasat office of Chaiwat Satha-anand,
    Thailand's most prominent peace academic, Hartsough comes
    across first as a friendly, traveler type. His greying hair,
    well-worn trousers and forest-green rucksack look like the
    accouterments you'd expect a peace-loving wanderer to sport.
    But when he sits down to tell his story and how and why his
    approach will work, it is with the resolve and no-nonsense
    confidence of a battle-seasoned general. Hartsough knows
    non-violence can work because he has spent his life in the field.
    When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, he was
    building a shanti sena, a "peace troop". From that idea,
    Hartsough and others have created the Global Non-violent
    Peace Force -- a corps of civilians trained in active non-
    violence techniques that will be sent to areas of conflict
    around the world to protect human rights and create the
    space for peaceful resolution of differences.
    At the invitation of NGOs or other parties, the corps will enter
    combat areas to provide unarmed escorts for peaceworkers
    and training in active non-violence, as well as summon the
    attention of the world. Hartsough hopes to have the force
    "non-combat-ready" by 2003, with an initial contingent of
    200 active members, 400 reservists and 500 supporters
    around the globe who will send email, make phone calls, alert
    the press and turn the international spotlight on particular
    conflicts. He already has 10 informal invitations from places
    including Sri Lanka, Burma, Korea, Mindanao in the Philippines,
    Columbia, Ecuador, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.
    At a conference due to be held in New Delhi in November, an
    international steering committee, which includes Acharn
    Chaiwat, will choose the location for a pilot project. If it is
    successful, Hartsough hopes it will set a precedent for
    solving conflicts peacefully.
    Hartsough's early teachers were Gandhi, whom he read as
    a child, Martin Luther King, whom he met as a teenager,
    and his father, who risked his life in the early years of the
    Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
    A Congregationalist minister who later became a Quaker,
    Hartsough's father went to the Middle East when David
    was eight years old to bring tents and medicine to refugees
    displaced by the first Israel-Palestine war. "My father
    gave sermons in church on the Good Samaritan story, and
    it really impressed me that he was not just preaching it
    but was willing to risk his life on the belief that 'everyone
    is my neighbour'," he recalls.
    Hartsough's father also took his teenage son to see the
    work Martin Luther King was doing in Montgomery, Alabama,
    to secure equal rights for black citizens of the United
    States. King was the leader not only of the struggle
    for civil rights in the US, but also of the first non-violent
    movement in that country.
    "I was very deeply moved that these people, who were facing
    such oppression, were determined to get justice, but they
    were determined to do that non-violently, even against people
    who were bombing their churches and their homes. That put
    me on the road to a much deeper understanding of non-
    violence," says Hartsough.
    After a year spent at an elite, almost entirely white college
    on the East Coast of the United States, where he was
    helping the admissions office recruit black students,
    Hartsough heard that Howard University, a black college
    in Washington, DC, needed white students. Deciding to
    practise what he was preaching, he transferred to Howard
    in 1959, and there he received a lesson more valuable than
    anything else he could have learned: the power of peaceful
    In 1960, all across the southern states of the US, people
    began protesting the segregation of lunch counters. So,
    every Saturday, Hartsough and his black friends would leave
    DC, which had already been desegregated, and cross into
    Maryland. They would sit at a lunch counter there until they
    were arrested. After spending the weekend in jail singing
    freedom songs, they'd be released in time for classes on
    Monday, only to be back in action the following Saturday.
    Hartsough stayed clear of nearby Virginia, which was home
    not only to the American Nazi Party but also to a law that
    handed down a year's prison sentence and a thousand-dollar
    fine to anyone who protested at a lunch counter.
    "We didn't have a thousand dollars and we didn't want to
    spend a year in prison," says Hartsough laughing. But when
    months passed and no one challenged the racist law there,
    he and his friends mustered their courage, did some extra
    training in non-violence, and crossed the state line.
    "Twelve of us went in and sat down at this lunch counter at
    the People's Drugstore in Arlington, Virginia, and within
    minutes there were six cars and sirens coming from all
    directions. They didn't arrest us, but neither were they
    going to serve us any food either. We stayed there for two
    days, and it was the most difficult two days of my life."
    Hartsough and his friends endured vicious name-calling, lit
    cigarettes being dropped down their shirt-fronts, punches
    so hard they were knocked off their stools to the floor,
    where they were kicked, and members of the American
    Nazi Party sporting swastikas and brandishing photos of
    apes, asking them malevolently, "Is we or is we ain't equal?"
    At the end of the second day, as Hartsough sat in meditation
    trying to think about loving his enemies, a man approached
    him from behind. "He said to me, 'you nigger-lover', and he
    had this horrible look of hatred on his face; 'if you don't get
    out of this store in two seconds, I'm going to stab this
    through your heart'." In the man's hand was a switchblade.
    "I had two seconds to decide if I really believed in non-violence,
    and I looked this man right in the eye, and I said, 'Friend, do
    what you believe is right, and I'll still try and love you', and
    it was quite amazing, because his jaw began to fall and his
    hand began to drop and he left the store."
    The most difficult part was to come. The protest had been
    on newspaper front pages and an angry crowd of 500 had
    gathered outside the drugstore, armed with rocks and
    firecrackers and threatening to kill the 12.
    For their part, Hartsough and his friends decided to write to
    Arlington's religious and political leaders asking for local
    eating establishments to be opened to everyone. "We said
    that if nothing changed in a week, we'd come back. Some
    friendly newspaper reporters had their cars outside and got
    us out of there alive, and we went back to Washington and
    for six days we were shaking and wondering, 'Do we have
    the courage to go back and do it again?'"
    But they didn't have to make that choice. On the sixth day,
    the call came that the lunch counters in Arlington were now
    open to all.
    "That taught me a very powerful lesson," says Hartsough,
    "That by acting on our conscience we got those people to
    act on their conscience, and those people got the society
    to act on its conscience. That you don't need millions of
    people ... even a few can make change."
    Since that time, Hartsough has been working beside the
    few and sometimes the many, to make change all over the
    world. He has been jailed well over 100 times, but his most
    high-profile arrest was at the hands of Slobodan Milosevic.
    Before violence erupted in Kosovo in the late 1990s,
    hundreds of thousands of Albanians marched to secure
    basic freedoms -- the right to attend school, secure jobs,
    speak their own language, get access to medical care --
    that had been taken from them by the Serb regime.
    They enlisted the help of Hartsough and others to awaken
    the international community to what was happening and
    bring moral, political and economic pressure to bear on
    the Serbs, like that which had succeeded against apartheid.
    So Hartsough traveled the US and Europe to rally support,
    but met with none. He finally returned to Kosovo with a
    small crew of four Americans to conduct non-violence
    training sessions. Though there was no international media
    attention, coverage on Albanian TV got Milosevic's attention
    and Hartsough and the five were locked up. "It became
    front-page news around the world," says Hartsough, "which
    was stupid, because 100,000 people marching for justice
    had not been news, but five Americans in jail was."
    Unwilling to take the international heat, Milosevic soon
    released the activists and turned them out of the country.
    Not long after, the world woke up to the situation in Kosovo
    and NATO began dropping bombs, a response Hartsough
    believes could have been avoided and is at the heart of why
    he is now devoting all of his time to building the peace
    "I traveled all around the US saying, 'Kosovo is an explosion
    waiting to happen, we need people to come'. Nobody
    responded, and then it exploded, and after it exploded,
    NATO said our only choices were to do nothing or to start
    bombing. But many of us there felt that with 200 trained
    and courageous peace troops we might have made an
    important contribution to a peaceful resolution."
    Hartsough wants his peace force to march right down the
    middle path between doing nothing and bombing, so that
    places like Sri Lanka, now possibly on the precipice of peace,
    can be delivered there rather than disintegrate into further
    acts of death and destruction.
    To charges that this is naive and unrealistic in the world's
    present landscape of violence, Hartsough marshals
    evidence that forces like the one he is building have been
    successful around the globe.
    Peace Brigades International, a smaller corps than the one
    Hartsough plans, was instrumental in giving courage to the
    civil society in Guatemala which challenged a repressive
    government that was killing hundreds of thousands of
    citizens, says Hartsough.
    At the invitation of a group called "The Families of the
    Detained and Disappeared", the Brigades came in to escort
    protesters, providing a buffer between military death squads
    that carried out the government's orders and the civilians
    who were challenging the government's power.
    During a four-year period, only two peace-workers were
    stabbed in Guatemala and no one was killed. In the increasingly
    safe environment, more members of the civil society
    emerged to oppose government oppression. Hartsough, who
    was there at the time, attributes Guatemala's transition to
    democracy in large part to the work of the Brigades.
    To prepare a training module for his force, he studied the
    work of Peace Brigades International and others and has
    compiled a 300-page document on what has worked, what
    hasn't, and what has never been tried.
    "We're not going to take on the whole world in the first
    year," says Hartsough. "Ideally we'd like something that in
    two years' time we could see some real success. We're
    convinced that if we do this well the world will discover
    that here is a method that costs one millionth of what a
    military response to a conflict costs, is much more
    effective, and you don't have the terrible death and
    destruction and hatred that can continue for generations."
    Despite being a less expensive alternative to armed conflict,
    peace doesn't come cheap and Hartsough and his colleagues
    need to raise a pretty penny by peace-movement standards
    -- $8 million (352 million baht) a year -- a sum that may be
    even harder to gather in the wake of September 11.
    Hartsough is quick to point out, however, that this amount
    is equal to what the world spends on the military every four
    minutes. If he can secure the funding, he hopes to have the
    force fully operational -- with 2,000 active members, 4,000
    reservists and 5,000 supporters -- by 2010.
    Though September 11 has engendered more violence,
    Hartsough sees this moment in history as an opportunity to
    advance his cause. He points to an article in the International
    Herald Tribune exposing the deaths inflicted on one Afghan
    village by the American bombing campaign.
    "As more and more facts like this come out, I think people
    are going to be revolted by this militaristic response to
    something terrible. The United States has spent trillions of
    dollars on military security, bombers, planes, nuclear weapons,
    the CIA, FBI ... and that got us zero security. It didn't protect
    one person on September 11. Isn't it time to look at an
    alternative way to get security?
    "After [Martin Luther] King was killed, I was devastated,
    because he gave so much hope for a new kind of America with
    him as a leader. But I finally came out of that depression
    feeling that the only thing we've got is for many of us to
    become like King," argues Hartsough. "Today we have a whole
    lot of local leaders like him that most of the world doesn't
    even know about. They're in Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Latin
    America, Africa and Thailand."
    And, like King, they are all saying unpopular things to a few
    people in the hopes of changing the minds of the many.
    This is a legacy which Hartsough is happy to carry on.
    "I have felt ever since that time [in Arlington, Virginia] that
    we don't have to be just subjects of history. We can help
    make it."
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