Student Body President Who Led Draft Resistance Movement

David Harris, ’67

May 2023

Reading time min

When David Harris was growing up, he thought he would leave his hometown of Fresno, Calif., to attend West Point and then join the FBI. Instead, in 1964, as a Stanford sophomore, he drove with other students to Mississippi to help civil rights activists register Black voters. “Afterward, I didn’t look at America in the same way,” Harris said in a 2008 interview with Marin magazine. Soon after he returned to campus, he attended his first demonstration against the Vietnam War.

Portrait of David HarrisPhoto: The Boys Who Said No documentary 

Harris, ’67, Stanford student body president and face of the Vietnam draft resistance movement, died February 6 at his home in Mill Valley, Calif., of lung cancer. He was 76.

In 1967, Harris left Stanford to travel the country, sleeping in his car and drawing crowds with his speeches against the draft. Folk singer Joan Baez joined him, “singing to accompany his powerful speeches,” she said via email. “We were risk takers and knew that no radical change in society can take place without a willingness by people to take those risks.” 

Harris encouraged young men to mail their draft cards back to the government in protest of what he called an unjust and immoral war. He emphasized that if no one participated in the draft, there would be no war. When he received his own draft notice in 1968, he refused to report. That year, he and Baez married, two months before he was sentenced to federal prison for draft evasion. He served 20 months, during which time Baez wrote “A Song for David” and gave birth to their son, Gabriel Harris. The couple divorced in 1973.

Having turned to writing as a form of resistance after his release from prison, Harris wrote a 1973 Rolling Stone profile of Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, the U.S. Marine turned anti-war activist who later wrote a memoir, Born on the Fourth of July. In 1982, Harris published Dreams Die Hard: Three Men’s Journey Through the Sixties, examining the era’s issues and ideals through the lens of Harris himself, Dennis Sweeney, ’65, and former Stanford dean Allard Lowenstein, whom Sweeney killed.

In 1977, he married journalist Lacey Fosburgh. She died of breast cancer in 1993, when their daughter, Sophie Harris, was 9. “He was always an activist and continued to write op-eds throughout his life,” says Sophie. “He was proud of what he’d done. He created change. He helped stop the war.”

“I courted arrest, speaking truth to power, and power responded with an order for me to report for military service,” Harris wrote in “I Picked Prison Over Fighting in Vietnam,” a 2017 New York Times essay.

People often approached Harris, telling him they admired his courage in standing up for his convictions, says Cheri Forrester, who was married to him for the last 12 years of his life. “Person after person talks about how hearing David speak changed their lives, and how he was the catalyst for them getting involved in the anti-war movement,” she says. 

Harris is survived by Forrester, Gabriel, Sophie, and a stepdaughter, Eva Orbuch, ’11, MA ’11.

Tracie White is a senior writer at Stanford. Email her at traciew@stanford.edu.

You May Also Like

© Stanford University. Stanford, California 94305.