Non-violent alternative to war
Something can be done, the keynote speaker said.
“The first thing is not to succumb to hopelessness,” said David Hartsough, executive director of Peaceworkers. “No government has any power if the people don’t choose to cooperate. … How are we cooperating with this war regime?”
Hartsough, a gentle-looking man with a firm handshake and a broad smile, recounted something overheard from observers at an anti-war protest: “Let them demonstrate all they want, as long as they pay their taxes.”
Tax resistance movements, Hartsough said, are gaining impetus in the United States. (More at War Resisters League, www.warresisters.org.)
Hartsough spoke to 40 or so people gathered for this year’s Peace Summit, held at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Obviously, direct acts of resistance, like non-payment of taxes, involve risk. Hartsough’s no stranger to that concept.
As a college student in the 1960s, Hartsough spent weekends with African-American friends holding sit-ins at whites-only lunch spots. During final exams his sophomore year, Hartsough and friends decided to risk arrest getting “something to eat” at a lunch counter in a state that had threatened stiff fines and jail time to protesters.
“We didn’t relish the idea of a year in jail or a $500 fine,” Hartsough said. But that didn’t stop them. The group filed into a drug store and sat down at the lunch counter. The owner put up a closed sign.
“I spent the time meditating on loving your enemy,” said Hartsough, a Quaker. “I sat for two days waiting for something to eat. …. The most difficult two days of my life.”
The protesters were spit at and kicked. Lit cigarettes were thrown down their shirts. Hartsough was attacked by a man with a knife. The man grabbed Hartsough and gave him an ultimatum: “You nigger lover, get out or I’ll stab you through the heart.”
“I had less than two minutes to decide whether I truly believed in non-violence,” Hartsough said.
Hartsough’s reply to the man: “Friend, do what you believe is right.”
The man left.
With 500 people waiting outside “wanting to kill us,” the protestors appealed to the local religious community.
“The 12 of us touched their consciences,” Hartsough said. “We pressured them to do the right thing.”
Within a week, the facility was open to everyone.
“We don’t have to sit on the side-lines,” Hartsough said. “We have power to make changes.”
After more than four decades, Hartsough is still doing non-violent resistance. His group, Peaceworkers, part of Non-violent Peaceforce (www.nvpf.org), trains civilians to go into war-torn areas and do non-violent activism, pursuing a mission of protecting human rights and human life. In some villages and towns, the mere presence of a Westerner is enough to keep violence from breaking out.
“Our world is addicted to using violence to solve problems,” Hartsough said. “But there are non-violent movements to overthrow repressive governments.”
Non-violence is also far less expensive than war.
A Peaceforce pilot program is working in Sri Lanka, where civilians are sick of a war that’s lasted nearly two decades and led to 65,000 deaths.
It works. And it costs far less than bombs. The annual budget of Peaceforce’s Sri Lanka program equals what the U.S. Defense Department spends in two minutes, Hartsough said.
The people of the world want peace, Hartsough said, and they need to know there’s an alternative. That runs counter to the mindset of leaders like President Clinton, when he decided to send planes on raids over Yugoslavia.
“For some, the choice is either to turn our heads and pretend nothing is happening—or to start bombing,” Hartsough said. “For others, both of these were not options.”