HOTSEAT- Swanson's song: Give peace a chance


It’s not too hard to pick out David Swanson’s house. That would be the one with the “Wage Peace” and “End the War Now” signs in the front yard.

On his website, there’s a picture of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and in the background there’s Swanson, holding a small pink sign that reads, “Torture is Illegal.”

Other places you might have run into David Swanson: Protesting former President George Bush at Monticello. Protesting “torture memo” author John Yoo at the Miller Center. Protesting a Congressional vote to spend an additional $33 billion in Afghan war spending at U.S. Representative Tom Perriello’s office.

While he’s demonstrating against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he concedes he has it easier than some fellow activists.

“Others have to do it nights and weekends, and risk losing their jobs,” he says. “I get paid to do this.”

Swanson is a professional activist. He gets paid to blog by peace and justice groups like, which is not affiliated with the Democratic Party., and to speak to groups. On Bastille Day, he gives a talk at the National Press Club.

“I couldn’t do anything else if it wasn’t dedicated to making the world a better place,” he says.

Swanson says he’s always had a keen– “some might say touchy–” sense of justice. While he was getting his master’s degree in philosophy at UVA– Swanson has no bachelor degree– he became involved in the living wage campaign.

“The guy emptying the trash can probably has two other jobs,” says Swanson. “In the midst of people sitting there studying ethics, that seemed wrong to me.”

The master’s degree looked good on a resume, but Swanson was forced to ponder what so many others before him had:

What do you do with it?

He decided he wanted to be a reporter, and covered sports in Waynesboro, then went to a weekly in Culpeper. A job writing about labor for the Bureau of National Affairs in Washington, D.C., seemed perfect at first, plus, speaking of living wages, it paid about double what the newspapers did.

“When I took the job, I said I’m not going to write anti-labor stories,” says Swanson. “They had me writing the same story two different ways to spin it.”

He didn’t last long there, and moved on to ACORN, the now-defunct activist organization that got lots of negative buzz last year. “They’d never had a PR person,” says Swanson. “I was their first ever national press person.”

When Dennis Kucinich ran for president in 2003, Swanson worked on his campaign, and he wrote the forward to Kucinich’s book, The 35 Articles of Impeachment and the Case for Prosecuting George W. Bush.

And the leaked Downing Street Memos, in which back in 2002 high-level British officials allegedly discussed that the Bush administration falsified information to lead to the invasion of Iraq, prompted Swanson to cofound an organization in 2005 called After Downing Street, which called for the impeachment of George Bush.

After another stint with labor, this time the AFL-CIO/International Labor Communications Association, Swanson started working for activist groups like, and moved back to Charlottesville in 2005.

“What I like best is writing books,” he says. Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union came out in 2008, and he’s working on a second book.

Veteran of numerous protests, including three arrests at the White House and one in Congress, Swanson has some advice for the wannabe activist.

1. Write big on posters so people can read your signs.

2. Refuse to be drawn into a confrontation, no matter what names you’re called or what is thrown at you.

3. Be at ease with the idea of getting arrested.

“If you’re well organized,” advises Swanson, “you have people with money who are not getting arrested to bail you out.”

But the life of a professional activist is not all street theater and peaceful picketing. “The hardest part,” admits Swanson, “is going long stretches without seeing anything accomplished.”

Age: 40

Why here? Near family. Near Washington but not too near. A bit like Italy, but here.

What’s worst about living here? No Ethiopian restaurants.

Favorite hangout? Mudhouse

Most overrated virtue? Faith.

People would be surprised to know: I can’t type correctly.

What would you change about yourself? I would be more patient.

Proudest accomplishment? My book, Daybreak, and my family.

People find most annoying about you: Snoring.

Whom do you admire? Howard Zinn.

Favorite book? The Complete Works, William Shakespeare

Subject that causes you to rant? People who oppose government spending unless it’s spending on wars and weapons

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Everyone’s a movie producer.

Biggest 21st-century creep out? The White House has a list of Americans and non-Americans to assassinate.

What do you drive? VW Jetta.

In your car CD player right now: My old VW Jetta has no CD player.

Next journey? Detroit: the US Social Forum.

Most trouble you’ve ever gotten in? Rolled a pickup truck over three times, and the roof ended up lower than the hood, and I was asleep at the time.

Regret: Not learning Japanese or piano-playing when I was little.

Favorite comfort food: Risotto con funghi.

Always in your refrigerator: Starr Hill.

Must-see TV: Democracy Now!

Describe a perfect day. I’m awakened by Wesley (age 4), and we bicycle to Cafe Cubano for breakfast. In the morning I deal with a frantic crisis in the world of peace and justice activism. Lunch at Miller’s. In the afternoon I write. Then basketball. Then dinner with Anna at Fellini’s. Then Baaba Seth reunites at the Pavilion, and it’s free beer night to celebrate the end of war in the world. We sing “Bring em home” with special guest Bruce Springsteen.

Walter Mitty fantasy: I talk 1,000 people into serving as human shields in Pakistan, and because they’re all famous Americans, it works. We demand that all drones be dismantled, and the control rooms in Las Vegas be turned into a resort for war victims. Congress offers to get rid of nukes too.

Who’d play you in the movie? Marcello Mastroianni.

Most embarrassing moment? Got something wrong on a blog and was offline for hours. Got back and people had corrected, denounced, and cooked up theories to explain my silence.

Best advice you ever got?

This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Favorite bumper sticker? There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.


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