Daniel and I have traveled together many times, sharing incredible experiences in a wide range of places. When he was 14 years old, he took a workshop I led on conflict transformation and said,
This is what I want to do with my life. I was his mentor, then his training partner, and later his student—and throughout we’ve been dear friends. Daniel is the most amazing trainer I know in peacemaking circles.
A Young Activist, Peace Trainer, & Writer
How do you turn the tide in an struggle when billionaires with open wallets, the governor, the entire legislature, the courts, and the media are against you?
Humor. Humor with a point—targeted with precision. The first salvo in the campaign to stop the seemingly
done deal of casinos coming into Philadelphia was aimed at discovering the impact statements that had never been released by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Daniel Hunter and a small band of activists from the affected communities gathered with detective costumes, large magnifying glasses and the Get Smart spy movie soundtrack on a boom box to search the PGCB offices and
liberate the missing documents.
Their small street theater action led to their arrest and the first publicity that the
done deal wasn’t quite finished and might not go so smoothly. Hunter said,
We couldn’t slay Goliath with conventional weapons. We had found our slingshot: direct action.
Humor, creativity, and clarity are the hallmarks of Daniel Hunter’s peacemaking work.
You don’t have to explain it to others or need signs or visuals—people can see for themselves the injustice. he said.
That’s the power of direct action when you design it so the action is the message.
Background & Early Activism
Hunter was born into a Christian activist family, and it didn’t take long for his own activist wings to sprout. In high school he began leading workshops on undoing racism. He went to Earlham College in Indiana in his mid-teens, skipping the end of high school and enrolling in Earlham’s Peace Studies Program. At 17 he took a year off to immerse himself in a variety of activities including taking workshops at the Philadelphia-based Training for Change, working at a farm for abused animals, and doing anti-sweatshop workshops with an Indonesian union activist on college campuses around the country. That’s where he honed his skills of working with groups around educating for issues of justice.
International Peace Training
At 18 he was ready to leap into international peace training. He approached me about joining him in a journey to northeast India to do a series of conflict transformation workshops as part of an on-going peace initiative of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. That trip was later followed with more work together in Burma/Myanmar, Indonesia, Ghana, and Sierra Leone. As Hunter’s skills and experience broadened, he began working in other areas and with other partners, especially through Training for Change.
He and George Lakey co-facilitated a massive training for the newly formed International Nonviolent Peaceforce, producing a significant training manual to support this nonviolent counterpart to United Nations peacekeeping operations. Hunter also trained activists before the major anti-globalization demonstrations in Seattle and the Canadian Postal Workers Union in their actions against the Canadian government. In all his work, Hunter was known for his creativity in developing humorous but straight-to-the-point nonviolent actions as well as for his insights into group processes and how to spur a group to breakthroughs in their learning.
A phone call from Jethro Heiko in 2006 changed Hunter’s life when he was invited to join a fledgling organization to fight bringing casinos into Philadelphia where Hunter was living. Pennsylvania politicians had slipped the casino legislation through with classic slight-of-hand that would prevent any public debate. In a campaign that lasted for many years, saw hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the casinos, and every court decision going against casino opponents—Casino-Free Philadelphia finally achieved the goal of keeping one casino out of Philly and the other one was able to open at only 20% of the originally planned size.
The key was mobilizing a small group of committed neighbors, training them in the skills of analyzing situations and developing creative strategies, and struggling through all the ups and downs of a people’s campaign taking on deeply entrenched interests that sought profit at the expense of local communities. Looking back on that victory, Daniel wrote,
We clung to the notion that when the politicians and elites won’t do it, we’ll do it ourselves—that there is power from below. We knew we could move our neighbors, move media, move politicians, move corporations. That’s why we call it a move-ment.
Coming out of that struggle Hunter wrote one of the few detailed books about community organizing, Strategy and Soul: a campaigner’s tale of fighting billionaires, corrupt officials, and Philadelphia casinos. The book is full of the concepts and dynamics of building people’s movements woven into the daily struggles to give flesh to the ideals and passions that drove the campaign.
Hunter explains the book’s scope in the opening pages:
This book is not a single set of rules, but stories to help you better understand the logic behind effective strategy. Even when we created rules, we sometimes broke them—like when we abandoned our agreement to never do a march or rally. You’ll see why we made the rule, and how it helped us create vibrant new tactics like the public filibuster, shadow election, document search, and we-are-not-scared-of-stunts actions. Then, when we break the rule and organize a rally, you’ll see how the timing is right and it makes sense.
And he admits to not knowing all the answers, inviting readers to second-guess his strategies.
I’ll be delighted if you come up with better answers, he writes. And that truly is a sign of an effective trainer.
Daniel Hunter continues his training work through the U.S. and around the world. Recently he was involved with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists to try to find common ground with each other. He works independently as well as in partnership with Training for Change.
Related Interfaith Peacemakers Profiles
Relevant External Resources
- Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board
- Get Smart – Wikipedia
- Earlham College Peace Studies Program – Website
- Training for Change – Website
- Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America – Website
- Training for Change – Website
- International Nonviolent Peaceforce – Website
- 1999 Seattle WTO protests – Wikipedia
- Canadian Union of Postal Workers – Wikipedia
- Jethro Heiko’s Blog – The Action Mill
- Strategy and Soul: a campaigner’s tale of fighting billionaires, corrupt officials, and Philadelphia casinos – Amazon