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David Swanson: A Voice For Never-Ending Activism


By davidswanson - Posted on 04 June 2012

By Joanne Boyer of Wisdom Voices

For activist, author, and blogger David Swanson, it really is about the never-ending struggle for social and economic justice; the same battle that has been fought since time began.  And for him, “success” or “defeat” cannot be defined by one election or one Supreme Court ruling.  For Swanson, “victory” may be generations away, but that does not deter him from keeping the activism fires burning via every avenue he can find.


David Swanson: "We're in a place in history that we've never been before in terms of our democracy."

“I don’t necessarily tell people not to lose hope,” Swanson said in a recent interview with Wisdom Voices.  “I think there’s a problem with having a dependency on hope. I don’t go through these cycles of being hopeful and then being despondent. I actually enjoy activism. I don’t think activism is something temporary that we do it once and then everything will be fixed and then we stop.  I think it’s permanent and it should be permanent.  Activism is more enjoyable than sitting home and griping.  It provides me a way to enjoy living every day.”

Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, Swanson is a prolific writer and author of several books, the most recent being:

  • The Military Industrial Complex at 50 (2012)
  • When the World Outlawed War (2011)
  • War Is A Lie (2010)
  • Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union (2009)

Information on his books and other articles can be found at his web site:  www.davidswanson.org.

Activism has been rooted in almost all of Swanson’s adult life.  He holds a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including press secretary for Dennis Kucinich’s 2004 presidential campaign, media coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three years as communications coordinator for ACORN.  John Nichols of The Nation magazine once said:  “David Swanson will be remembered and well recognized as the citizen who held up a lamp in the darkness and cried, as did good Tom Paine: ‘We have it in our power to begin the world over again.’ ”

“The most important work I think is educational,” Swanson said.  “By that I mean activism has to take a kind of broad term organizational effort.  It’s not in passing a particular bill or electing a particular person.  Setbacks shouldn’t get us down.  If all of our hopes lie in (President) Obama turning out to be better than he claimed to be or all of our hopes are in un-electing (Wisconsin Governor Scott) Walker, we’re setting ourselves up for defeat because we can lose a particular battle and because elections can be the wrong place to be putting our emphasis to begin with. I think we should be putting about 95 percent of our efforts into educating and organizing and mobilizing non-violent struggle and maybe 5 percent into elections.

“But that doesn’t mean I’m not disturbed about what’s going on in our country today.  I’m extremely disturbed that the primary business of our government has been mass murder and the preparation for mass murder. And we’ve given presidents powers that kings never had, and most of us will be completely oblivious to that fact as we grill out and shoot off fireworks on another 4th of July.

“And I find it extremely disturbing that we are ruining our earth’s atmosphere for our children and grandchildren. I think we either go down fighting or we win by reversing these trends.  But to sit back and watch TV, and say we can’t do anything or we lost an election seems to me immoral. Maybe that’s because I really do enjoy activism.


Activism is a way of life for David Swanson

“We are in a struggle for our lives…a struggle that will not see victory come for generations. And we don’t have to be martyrs about it or somehow make ourselves victims about it, but it is something we have to understand will just go on. But even for people who have demanding day jobs, they are doing a ton of work for peace and justice. People do it in different ways; mine happens to be writing.”

And although the struggle for economic and social just has been a continuing and historic struggle, Swanson does sense something “different” about what’s happening today.

“Historically everyone has thought that their age was the crisis or turning point in history,” he said. “I think in a certain sense we are in a more dangerous time globally than we’ve seen before.  I say that in terms of the environmental devastation that is ruining our atmosphere and our ecosystem as well as in terms of our proliferation of weapons that can destroy life on earth.

“Those twin dangers are unprecedented in the military empire of the United States in terms of military spending and production and the number of bases and our presence in occupations around the world. No one has ever had an empire remotely resembling this. It is something we haven’t seen before and it’s incredibly dangerous and destructive environmentally as well as other terms.  For example, the U.S. military is our biggest consumer of oil and uses the highest percentage of oil that it fights wars for.  It’s an incredibly dangerous cycle.

“And, we are in a place in history that we’ve never been before in terms of our democracy. We’ve done away with more civil liberties, more checks and balances.  We have formally legalized a form of campaign bribery.  We have less control over our so called representatives in Washington.

“Granted, you can go back in history and find whole chunks of the populace who were forbidden from voting or were slaves or were shut out of the process, but there’s always been popular activism and popular media.  And that’s missing today. We are now in a place in which majority opinion is just ignored in Washington by both parties. We’ve never so empowered a set of parties and we’ve never so shut out popular opinion even as we continue to wage wars in the name of democracy.

Swanson points to some positive developments such as the rise of the Internet to counter the corporate controlled main stream media. “If you poll the American people on what we actually want, if majority opinion really ruled, we’d be in a much better place than we’ve been in the past. But we have less activism today and much greater belief in the futile inability of activism. We have people believing they are a minority when they are a majority on positions such as taxing the rich, green energy, etc. We have people believing activism doesn’t work and so we should sit home and be miserable, and that’s a very dangerous trend.

“People want to understand how what they are doing can do some good. They’ve been taught that only elections matter or that the things we see daily are the only things that matter.  And then we give up. That’s the wrong frame of mind to be in. We have to tell people the good their work is doing…even if that good doesn’t show up for a long time and even with the fact that the government is trying to hide from us the way we influence it.

“There’s value in election campaigns if they build a movement, if they organize, if they educate, whether they elect an official or not.  It’s an added plus if they do.  But fundamentally we’re currently electing people in a pair of parties that have sold out and are doing the work of their funders.”

Swanson specifically pointed to the recent New York Times article that described the drone killings by President Obama.  “If somehow it had been revealed that Obama was really George W. Bush in disguise, we would have had millions of people surrounding and protesting at the White House.  Somehow, we’ve imagined that when Obama does this, he somehow is wringing his hands with guilt or that everyone tells themselves that secretly Obama means well.  Or that it’s our job to denounce Mitt Romney because some how he would be even worse.  And that’s fatal for us as a country.

“If you can’t object to giving someone arbitrary power to kill, if you can’t object to that because you can imagine someone else coming up will be even worse, then we’ve really tied both hands behind our back.”

The son of a man who studied to be a preacher, Swanson carries that fiery vocal force in his talks and conferences he leads or supports.  He was part of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) at 50 conference in September 2011 and is one of the featured speakers at Peacestock 2012 at the Windbeam Farm in Hager City, Wisconsin.

“I’ve never understood there to be an alternative (to activism),” Swanson said. I would be miserable if I weren’t working a job to help save the world…if I were just working to make a buck.”

See below to hear David Swanson in his own words:

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