Lee Swenson

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Lee Swenson

I was born in Minnesota in 1939, of Norwegian and Swedish farmer parents, and migrated with my family to California two years later for the post–Pearl Harbor shipyard jobs. As a teenager, fascinated by the labor struggles of the postwar unions, I searched out the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World), but Gandhi’s nonviolent ideas captured my imagination and life path. As a draft resister in the early ’60s, I dropped out of Stanford University to join the antifallout shelter, atomic testing ban, and blossoming civil rights movements.

I met Joan Baezand Ira Sandperlin 1959 at the Peninsula School in Menlo Park, and in 1969 became director of their Institute for the Study of Nonviolence, a great crossroads of draft and war tax resistance, AWOL soldiers seeking refuge, farmworker boycott staff, and Buddhist monks and nuns.

At the end of the Vietnam War, I edited the Simple Living Newsletter for the Quakers, then became the executive director of the catalytic Farallones Institute. I met my wife, Vijaya Nagarajan, through Ivan Illich in 1982, and since 1985 we’ve worked in the Recovery of the Commons Project and our Institute for the Study of Natural and Cultural Resources. Our twin girls, Jaya and Uma, were born in 2000.

During the Vietnam War, some 6,000 draft resisters did time in federal prisons, mostly serving two-year sentences. During World War II nearly the same number served prison time—up to four years in federal prison. Each prisoner had a visitor-and-correspondence list of eight people. As one of them, I would make the monthly trip to visit the Safford Federal Prison in southeast Arizona to see Randy Kehler and David Harris. Then they were transferred to La Tuna Maximum Security Prison on the Rio Grande River near El Paso, where the pigpens were air-conditioned and inmates’ cells were not. Visiting hours were 9 A.M.to 5 P.M. Saturday and Sunday, once a month. I drove a thousand miles each way in my noisy Volkswagen Bug. My ears still ring.

Two years before his federal prison sentence began, while the Tet offensive was ramping up in South Vietnam, Randy Kehler and I spent twenty days in Santa Rita Jail (along with 150 other draft resisters and demonstrators) over Christmas and New Year’s, 1967 into 1968. Randy and I paced endlessly up and down the caged-in sidewalk of the rundown World War II barracks, Alameda County’s dumping ground for demonstrators.

-- from **Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace**- author biographies (no copyright claimed)