The Nonviolent Peaceforce
One Man's Inspiring Story of Making a Difference
"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 nonviolence,'"
-- Bangkok Post article on Nonviolent Peaceforce co-founder David Hartsough, 3/23/02
One of the most humble, yet quietly powerful people you are likely to meet is David Hartsough. After many rich years working for global peace in various capacities, David and colleague Mel Duncan conceived the idea of the Nonviolent Peaceforce in 1999. This empowering organization has grown to become a federation of over 100 member and supporting organizations from around the world that is endorsed by nine Nobel Peace Laureates. The Nonviolent Peaceforce believes that through promoting and facilitating meaningful dialogue and mutual understanding, it is possible to address and resolve global conflicts without resorting to war.
David's life is filled with miraculous stories rooted in his unwavering commitment to resolve conflict in a peaceful, caring manner. Below are excerpts from a 2002 article in the Bangkok Post about David and the Nonviolent Peaceforce. The story there of David's life or death confrontation during the civil rights movement of the '60s is one of the most moving stories ever told. Read the article below and open to the possibility that when any one of us deeply believes in something, we can make a big difference in our world.
Marching in Gandhi's footsteps
By Kate Rope for the Bangkok Post
David Hartsough is quietly building an army. A veteran of the civil rights struggle in the US and a peace activist who's been on the front lines 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. He knows nonviolence can work because he has spent his life in the field.
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 neighbor','' 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. "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, Hartsough heard that Howard University, a black college in Washington, DC, needed white students. Deciding to practice 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 resistance.
In 1960, all across the southern states of the US, people began protesting the [racial] 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 mandated 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 nonviolence, 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 cars and sirens coming from all directions. They didn't arrest us, but neither were they going to serve us any food. 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 shirts, 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 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 nonviolence, 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.' It was quite amazing, because his jaw began to fall and his hand began to drop and then he left the store.''
The most difficult part was to come. The protest had been on newspaper front pages. An angry crowd of 500 had gathered outside the drugstore, armed with rocks and firecrackers and threatening to kill the 12. "Some friendly newspaper reporters had their cars outside and got us out of there alive."
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. 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. You don't need millions of people ... even a few can make change.''
Having this and many more experiences like it under his belt, Hartsough and others have created the Global Nonviolent Peace Force with the belief that small numbers can make a big difference. The Peace Force is a corps of civilians trained in active nonviolent 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 nonviolence, as well as summon the attention of the world. Hartsough already has 10 informal invitations from places including Sri Lanka, Burma, Korea, Mindanao in the Philippines, Columbia, and Zimbabwe.
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.
Peace doesn't come cheap. Hartsough and his colleagues need to raise a pretty penny by peace-movement standards – $8 million a year – a sum that may be even harder to gather in the wake of Sept. 11. He is quick to point out, however, that this amount is equal to what the world spends on the military every four minutes. If they can secure the funding, they hope to have the force fully operational with 2,000 active members, 4,000 reservists by 2010.
Hartsough reasons, "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,'' Hartsough reflects. "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. 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.''
Note: What you've just read are exceprts from the longer Bangkok Post article. For the full article, click here. The Nonviolent Peaceforce now has committed teams active in several countries. They hope to accept invitations to enter hot spots in several other countries. You can help by contacting the media and your political representatives and urging them to learn about and support this most worthy effort. To contribuite and to learn lots more about the Nonviolent Peaceforce: http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org.
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