David Hartsough: A Lifetime of Pushing for Peace

March 18th, 2011 - by admin

Meredith May / San Francisco Chronicle – 2011-03-18 01:39:06


(March 17, 2011) — From the segregated lunch counters of Maryland to political conflicts in Kosovo, Mexico, El Salvador and a recent dispute over stolen cows in Sudan, David Hartsough of San Francisco has spent most of his 70 years pushing for peace. In 1999, he co-founded Nonviolent Peaceforce, a civilian peacekeeping group of 100 unarmed professionals who work in conflict zones.

Q: Who is in the Nonviolent Peaceforce?
A: We recruit all over the world – schoolteachers, lawyers, social workers, retirees.

Q: What do they do?
They get more than four weeks of training in conflict resolution and dealing with trauma, and then four more weeks in the country where they will be stationed. They work with locals to help find alternative solutions to violence.

Q: Where are they right now?
A: We are in Sri Lanka, the Philippines and southern Sudan.

Q: Tell me about the cattle battle.
A: In southern Sudan, the Moro armed themselves with bows and poison-tipped arrows to retaliate against the Mundari, who had stolen 150 of their cows. We had both sides meet in a church and negotiated a way to return the cattle peacefully.

Q: Where are you sending peacekeepers next?
A: We hope to start a project in Georgia, in the former Soviet Union, where violence is flaring. And we’re looking to respond in Burma.

Q: First job?
A: When I was 16 I worked on a farm, milking cows, gathering eggs, spreading manure, harrowing the fields.

Q: First protest?
A: At that same time, my father took me to Montgomery, Ala., during a bus boycott. I met Dr. King. That transformed me; as a result I ended up going to Howard University. I joined my college friends at lunch counter sit-ins in the 1960s.

Q: Where do you live?
A: Haight-Ashbury. Since1974.

Q: Neighborhood hangout?
A: I love to ride my bicycle in Golden Gate Park.

Q: What kind of car do you drive?
A: A Honda Fit. It’s their smallest car; it fits in the parking spaces in San Francisco.

Q: Favorite vacation spot?
A: Grand Teton in Wyoming. My wife and I got engaged there. We just returned recently, and I went on a 22-mile hike over a 12,000-foot pass.

Q: Any regrets?
A: In 1996-1998, people in Kosovo asked me to send international peacekeepers to help them safely resist the Serbian government. I spoke all over and wrote articles, but nobody had heard of Kosovo. I got a handful of people there, but when Clinton went on TV and called it ethnic cleansing, he sent bombs. I think if I’d tried harder, I could have made him see there was an alternative to war.

Q: What would surprise people to know about you?
A: I like to play guitar. Folk music – a lot of the songs I learned in jail.

Q: How much time have you spent in jail?
A: I’ve been arrested over 100 times, but altogether I’ve been jailed less than six months.

Q: Who plays you in the movie?
A: I’d love to have Martin Sheen play me. We were arrested together at the Concord Naval Weapons Station in the ’80s blocking the trains. That was the place Brian Willson lost his legs on the tracks.

E-mail Meredith May at mmay@sfchronicle.com.

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