Heroes tend to live under glass, removed from intimacy with the people and world around them; Osheroff remains in close contact with his world.
Osheroff certainly could play the hero if he liked. At age 90, he 's participated in some of the most important political moments and movements of the 20th century -- from fighting with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, to the U.S. civil rights struggles in the segregated South in the 1960s, to the contemporary antiwar movement. And he 's right out of central casting for the role of the aging-radical-who-never-gives-up: The white-haired rascal who moves seamlessly between passionate political analysis and anecdotes of past struggles, all in his gravely Brooklyn-accented speech peppered with enough profanity to set off a fire alarm.
But instead of a hero, in Osheroff I found something far more valuable: An ally and a friend. I found someone who was interested in being honest and self-critical, both about his life and the political movements to which he has belonged. Osheroff has little time for the politeness that constrains so much internal political discussion on the liberal/left. He sees one of his contributions to left/radical politics today to be mentoring younger activists, and in that endeavor his preferred tool is an intellectual hammer. He pounds away at political points with the same force that he drove nails as a working carpenter.
Osheroff loves to tell stories about the past, and it doesn 't take much to start them rolling. But he 's not mired in the past; conversations loop back to his personal history not to revel in the glory days, but to extract from those experiences lessons for the struggles ahead.
Living in Seattle since 1989, he and his wife, Gunnel Clark, are both active in that city 's antiwar movement. Osheroff continued to give talks at universities and high schools until several spinal surgeries made it increasingly difficult for him to travel. That physical limitation led to his most recent project, the Peace Mobile. He raised the money to equip a van with a sound system and weather-proof posters to create a traveling outreach center. He hopes eventually to add projection equipment to show films anywhere, as well as computers and copiers to produce fliers on site at events. But a big part of the draw of the project is that he will be able -- sitting in the passenger seat with microphone in hand -- to keep talking to people about justice and peace.
Osheroff intends to keep at it as long as his body holds out.
"My ship is slowly sinking, but the cannons keep firing, " Osheroff says. "Or, here 's another way to say it: I have one foot in the grave but the other keeps dancing. "
I met Osheroff in 2000 when he came to the University of Texas at Austin to lecture. A second visit to Austin in 2001 led to correspondence and a trip to Seattle in the summer of 2005 to record some of Osheroff 's insights. Our conversation roamed over a wide range of subjects political and philosophical, from the planetary to the personal, and I left with a deeper appreciation for Osheroff 's analysis and honesty. In a world driven by fear, Osheroff is one of those rare people who is willing to tell you to your face what he thinks of you, and then can turn that scrutiny on himself. In the conversation that follows, Osheroff demonstrates what it means to love the world deeply enough to be willing to tell the truth.
The full text of the interview is online at: