David Harris (protester)

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David Harris, San Francisco, 1968 David Harris at Presidio 1968.jpg
David Harris, San Francisco, 1968

David Victor Harris born February 28, 1946 in Fresno, California. After becoming an icon in the movement against the Vietnam War, organizing civil disobedience against military conscription and refusing his own orders to report for military duty, for which he was imprisoned for almost two years, Harris went on to a 50 year career as a distinguished journalist and author, reporting national and international stories. [1]


Early life and education

Harris' father, Clifton G. Harris Jr was a lawyer specializing in real estate, his mother, Elaine Jensen Harris, was a housewife and devout Christian Scientist and his brother, Clifton G. Harris III was 18 months older than he. The first of his family to settle in Fresno was his great grandfather, Levi Barringer. His maternal grandfather, Daniel Jensen, was a master woodworker at the Fresno Planing Mill.His paternal grandfather, Clifton G Harris Sr., ran a trunk line railroad that carried ore out of t he Kennecott Copper mines in Magna, Utah until he retired and moved in across the street from David's home., David Harris and his brother both attended Fresno public schools. At Fresno High School, Harris was a football letterman, an honor student, and a champion debater. He was named Fresno High School "Boy of the Year" upon his graduation in 1963, [2] Harris was admitted to Stanford University on scholarship and soon became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. In October, 1964 he went to Mississippi as a volunteer in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's Freedom Vote project, In 1966, he was elected student body president at Stanford on a radical platform calling for student control of student regulations, equal rights for men and women students, elimination of the Board of trustees, and an end to the University's cooperation with the Vietnam War. His election was so improbable at the conservative institution Stanford was considered to be at the time that his election made local headlines and accounts of it went out on the wire services, making him instantly the most notorious Student Body President in the country. He became even more notorious in the summer of 1966 when he announced he would refuse to cooperate with the military conscription system that was feeding manpower into the war effort and urged others to do the same. Some six months into his one year term, Harris was kidnapped by a dozen football players and frat boys who forcibly cut off his hair in an unsuccessful attempt to humiliate the "hippie" Student Body President. Arguably, Harris' greatest achievement in student government was a failed rent strike followed by an extended negotiation with the administration that within two years led to equalized treatment of men and women students, eliminated in loco parentis, and transformed Stanford into a genuinely co-ed University. David Harris left Stanford fifteen incomplete units short of his BA in the Honors Program in Social Thought and Institutions.

Draft resistance

In 1967, Harris founded The Resistance, an organization advocating civil disobedience against military conscription and against the war the conscription system fed. Through 1967 and 1968, The Resistance staged a series of public draft card returns--an action punishable by up to five years in prison--at which some ten thousand young men confronted the government with their disobedience and courted arrest. Harris himself was ordered to report for military service in January, 1968 and refused. He was indicted almost immediately and charged with felony "disobedience of a lawful order of induction" and tried in Federal court in San Francisco in May, 1968. He was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison, with the judge's admonition that "you may be right but you're going to be punished." After a year of unsuccessfully appealing his conviction, Harris was remanded to "the custody of the Attorney General" in July, 1969 and incarcerated in the Federal Prison System where he spent twenty months before being paroled--one month in San Francisco County Jail, seven months in the Federal Prison Camp at Safford, AZ and twelve months in the Federal Correctional Institution, La Tuna, TX. After his release on March 15, 1971, Harris continued organizing against the Vietnam War until peace agreements were signed in March, 1973.


David Harris at home, Mill Valley, CA, 2005 David Harris 2005.jpg
David Harris at home, Mill Valley, CA, 2005

That same March, Jann Wenner, the legendary founder and publisher of Rolling Stone Magazine, gave Harris a try out with the magazine. The result was "Ask A Marine", his account of the life of Ron Kovic, later immortalized in the film Born on the Fourth of July, a story that would be selected for The Best of Rolling Stone, a collection of stories published on the magazine's twentieth anniversary. It also earned Harris a contributing editor's contract and marked the beginning of his more than forty year career as a national and international magazine journalist. In 1978, Harris signed a contributing editor contract with The New York Times Magazine, where he worked for the next decade. After his stint with The Times, Harris concentrated on writing books, publishing eleven:

Goliath (1971) was a memoir of his work with the peace movement and his trial for draft resistance.

I Shoulda Been Home Yesterday: Twenty Months In Prison for Not Killing Anybody (1976) was an account of his imprisonment.

The Last Scam (1980) was a novel about marijuana smugglers in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Dreams Die Hard: Three Men's Journey Through The Sixties (1983) recounted the story of three men who were all friends in the anti war movement, one of whom ended up killing one of the others ten years later.

The League: the Rise and Decline of the NFL (1986) investigated the struggle for power between the owners and commissioner of the National Football League.

The Last Stand: the War Between Wall Street and Main Street Over California's Ancient Redwoods (1995) tracked the takeover of a northern California lumber company and the environmental war it set off.

Our War: What We Did In Vietnam and What It Did To Us (1996) revisited the war in Vietnam at the age of 50.

Shooting The Moon: The True Story of an American Manhunt Unlike Any Other, Ever (2001) told the story of the investigation and arrest of General Manuel Noriega, dictator of Panama.

The Crisis: The President, the Prophet and the Shah--1979 and the Coming of Militant Islam (2004) recreated the Iran Hostage Crisis on its twenty fifth anniversary.

The Genius: How Bill Walsh Reinvented Football and Created an NFL Dynasty (2008) tracked the career of the football coach, Bill Walsh.

My Country Tis of Thee: Reporting, Sallies, and Other Confessions (2020) is a collection of Harris' magazine and other short form nonfiction.

Marriage and family

Between 1968 and 1973, Harris was married to singer and activist Joan Baez. Baez related the story of his arrest to the audience during one of her performances at the Woodstock Festival, recounting that while Harris was being arrested, anti-Vietnam War protesters were pasting a "resist the draft" bumper sticker on the police car. Having grown apart during his imprisonment, he and Baez separated a few months after his release; they filed for divorce a short while later. Harris and Baez had one son together, Gabriel Harris, [3] born in December 1969. Gabriel attended the private Peninsula School in Menlo Park, which his mother had also attended. Gabriel is a drummer who sometimes tours with his mother.

In October 2009, Harris appeared on a PBS-produced documentary on Baez, How Sweet the Sound , in which he reunited on camera with his former wife to reminisce about their years together, his arrest and the birth of their son.

Harris was married to author and The New York Times reporter Lacey Fosburgh from 1975 until her death in 1993. Harris and Fosburgh had one daughter, Sophie Harris.

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Ira Sandperl

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  1. David Harris, 08/24/2021
  2. David Harris, Our War: What We Did in Vietnam and What It Did to Us, Random House, New York, 1996, p.34
  3. Photos of Gabriel Harris Archived October 1, 2008, at the Wayback Machine