Arthur Schwartz: 1924-2006

by Eric Schwartz and Kate Zeiss

art_schwartz.jpgAs a young teenager, Arthur Schwartz was
arrested for handing out pro-labor literature. At 17, he joined the
military to fight fascism in WWII and survived 12 D-Day invasions
in the South Pacific. As a young lieutenant, Arthur challenged a
commander — and congressional candidate — who had jeopardized the
flotilla in a move designed to gain public recognition. Art was
swiftly discharged.

So when sheriff’s deputies tried to remove Art from the Goleta
Farmers Market, Art’s undaunted reply was, “Let me get this
straight. You are going to arrest an 80-year-old combat veteran on
Memorial Day for registering Americans to vote?” They went

When I was 9 years old, my dad and I passed a homeless veteran
begging on the street. Art didn’t hand him any change, but took him
to dinner with us, explaining to me that he had the same right to
dignity as anyone. He should sit with us.

Many will remember my father as a wellspring of willingness to
respond to the evolving needs of our community and world, promoting
the work of environmental, peace, and justice organizations. You
may recognize him as the smiling and outspoken man whose irreverent
style engaged (and sometimes enraged) passersby at the Green Party
table at Farmers Markets for the past 10 years. With that
mischievous twinkle in his eye, Art arranged a booth in every
Farmers Market by representing numerous organizations, convincingly
speaking for such diverse groups as Veterans for Peace, Health Care
for All, the Green Party, and the Living Wage Coalition.

Art had participated in the fighting and seen the aftermath of
WWII in the Pacific. His eyes were opened to the wanton killing of
innocents and the corruption of senior officers and government
officials. This became the seed of his activism and his commitment
to educating youth about the realities of war. At Santa Barbara
City College, Art recruited help from passing students to push a
cart full of literature, stickers, buttons, and signs. He cheerily
invited students to ask him questions and try their own theories
out on him. Art’s spunk surprised some. “Do you want to come home
in a body bag, or do you want to do something to change things?” he
frequently challenged students.

While he maintained a solid antiwar stance, Art offered the
utmost compassion to fellow veterans who came to his table. Many
opposed his “peacenik” ideology and stopped by to challenge what
they thought was unpatriotic. Art’s razor-sharp intellect unraveled
their positions and exposed the horrific impact of U.S. wars, yet
he extended to these veterans a genuine appreciation for the
hardships they endured in combat.

When the Farmers Market tried to kick Art out (“He won’t
negotiate,” complained one Market president), many went to bat for
him, armed with the knowledge that our nation’s well-being rests
upon individuals’ ability to publicly air their views. His presence
at the market and on the steps of the Post Office for weekly peace
vigils was as certain as the rising of the sun for so many years.
His certainty about the importance of tabling served to hold the
space for others to meet and discuss crucial ideas, reviving the
time-honored tradition of village Market Days. People’s ideas of
themselves expanded when stoked by Art’s vision of
possibility — not only of a world holding promise and hope, but
also of the ability to affect that change themselves. Art’s
magnanimous character knew no class, gender, or age boundaries.
While many disagreed with him — some strongly so — most had a soft
spot for Art. I was amazed how he led people to identify and live
by their convictions.

I was also struck that my father, at 80, had the energy,
idealism, and optimism of a 20-year-old. As 2004 vice-presidential
candidate Peter Camejo said, “We can learn from him to keep
fighting for what we believe in, the way he did, relentlessly and
directly. He’d set up a table at a street corner to reach one
person at a time … while keeping his enthusiasm that in the end we
will save our planet.” My father touched the lives of many with
certainty, inspiration, a smile, and an occasional shove in the
right direction.

Art certainly had rough edges that gained him some notoriety,
but I had no idea how many people were positively affected by him
until they began contacting me after his passing. “Art was a
precious jewel in my life,” one wrote. “Wherever people gathered to
create peace and justice, there was this wonderful man. His
tireless insistence that justice never be compromised is a legacy
to be passed on through our own work.”

“Art’s passing is a loss for all of us who still enjoy a person
who lives out loud, in his own individual way, out there for the
world to deal with,” recalled one businessman. “So few in our town,
myself included, are willing to live our lives in bold, in honesty,
authentic to our souls.”

A member of Veterans for Peace, Art spent Sunday afternoons at
Arlington West. “He was so real, so unpretentious and insistent in
his determination to steer his fellow man in the direction of their
better angels,” one veteran told me. “Then, as silently as he had
appeared, he would vanish without fanfare, disappearing into the
Sunday crowd on the three-wheel bike he took such pride in.” Wes
Roe experienced Art as a “tell-it-like-it-is man” whose passion had
deep roots in his love: “He cared so much it hurt; it pained him to
ever stay quiet.”

Art’s early-morning market presence, late-night political
meetings, and organizing efforts were his primary and almost
exclusive interests throughout the last 15 years of his life. But
he also loved gardens and orchards. For two decades, my father and
I planted and cared for thousands of fruit trees in orchards, and
forest trees on reclaimed land in California and Oregon. At 78, Art
moved to Friendship Manor retirement community, where he worked to
turn their large grassy field into a sustainable organic garden,
hoping to nourish the residents while engaging them in tending the
earth. There he started his Friday night political film showings,
which continue still.

The man was unstoppable in his devotion to justice and Green
values. Because of this, it is now unusually difficult for many in
the community to grasp that he is gone. Art oversaw the well-being
of the community with the determination of a warrior and the warm
benevolence of a true elder. May we continue in his footsteps.

Contributions in Art’s name can be made by increasing our own
commitment to justice, peace, and the protection of the land and

A celebration of Arthur’s life — including a screening of
the film
Sir! No Sir! — will be held on Sunday, August 27,
at 5:30 p.m., at the Unitarian Society, 1535 Santa Barbara


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.