“We Shall Overcome” Was Not Just Words: A Talk With David Hartsough

David Hartsough on World BEYOND War podcast January 2023

By Marc Eliot Stein, January 30, 2023

Four years ago, peace activist and World BEYOND War co-founder David Hartsough helped us kick off this podcast on our organization’s fifth birthday. Forty-three episodes later, I invited him back for an in-depth one-on-one interview.

It’s no surprise that we often deal with solemn and disturbing issues on this podcast, and I was aware of two such issues as I prepared to talk with David. A new global war in Europe had brought our planet even closer to nuclear annihilation in January 2023 than it had seemed to be four years before. Moving from the global to the personal, the brave peace activist I was about to speak to was dealing with a terrible challenge in his own life: milodysplastic syndrome, or bone marrow cancer.

I should have known that David Hartsough would cheerfully brush off my questions about his own health so we could talk about the health of our planet, which is in rough shape and badly in need of intervention. Because of David’s awesome history of personal involvement dating back to teenage years protesting for civil rights under the leadership of Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin, A. J. Muste and Martin Luther King, there was a lot to talk about. “What was it like encountering the great Martin Luther King in person?” I asked.

“When I met him, I think he was 27 or 28 years old. He didn’t look that unusual.” As David explains it, the nonviolent philosophy and determined courage of the Montgomery bus boycott emerged from the entire community that supported it, nurtured by many minds working together.

"This Section of Fountain Closed" in Arlington, Virginia, 1960, David Hartsough and another lunch counter protestor
David Hartsough protesting segregation at an Artlington, Virginia lunch counter, 1960

The civil rights movement and the antiwar movement have always been united, as Martin Luther King himself would make resoundingly clear when he spent his final years on earth speaking boldly against militarism and global injustice. David Hartsough would also remain in the space where neighborhood justice meets global justice, following the inspiring anti-segretation lunch counter protests of his earliest years with peace delegations to Cuba, Venezuela, Berlin before and after the construction of the wall, and eventually many times around the world.

We talked about how it helped him to be raised by two loving peace activists, about protesting and going to jail alongside peace movement friends and colleagues like Brian Willson and Daniel Ellsberg, about Ukraine and Russia, the influence of Mikhail Gorbachev, survivors of Hiroshima, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan’s groundbreaking work that proves the longterm value of change achieved by nonviolent civil resistance over change generated by violence and threats.

We had so much to talk about that we never got back to the topic of David’s own struggle with cancer. After 44 interviews on this antiwar podcast, I’ve learned that most peace activists spend more time caring about the world than worrying about themselves, and of course David Hartsough is no exception. He wanted to make sure we emphasize the existential insanity of nuclear escalation by incompetent and corrupt so-called world leaders, and kept emphasizing the point that we should all be out in the streets blocking the war industry today.

“I want people all over the world to have a chance to live,” David says, “and not get killed by the madness to which we seem to be addicted, and a lot of the world seems to be addicted.”

Listen to the podcast on your favorite streaming service or here!

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Celebrating Stories of Nonviolence, World BEYOND War’s upcoming film festival in March 2023, featuring David Hartsough and Ela Gandhi among other speakers.

Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist by David Hartsough.

Waging Peace as an audio book.

Thanks to William Barber and the 2014 #MoralMarch in Raleigh, North Carolina for the beautiful short excerpt of “We Shall Ovecome” used in this podcast episode.

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