June 12 marked the one-year anniversary that our friend and comrade Hal Carlstad left us. He was well known and is missed by a great many people in the Bay Area peace, environmental, social justice, anti-death penalty, Unitarian, and anti-nuclear communities. Hal was everywhere. I first met him in the mid-1980s through Earth First! activities. He said he liked Earth First! because it was “less talk, more action.” It is the rare individual who, literally, every time he blinks his eyes he is thinking not of himself, but rather about what he can do next to bring about change, to build a more compassionate and just world. Hal was that rare individual.
He was at the anti-war actions, he was anti-imperialist, pro-democracy, anti-colonialist, anti-nuke, defending the sacredness of life at San Quentin and in the forest; defending civil rights of activists at the Judi Bari trial and defending free speech at KPFA. He traveled to El Salvador, to Cuba, to Venezuela. With humility, with passion, with strength, with commitment. When he visited El Salvador in the late 80’s to see first hand the impact of U.S. policy, he was so moved by the direct impact and resultant needs of the people that he left behind his truck for people to use. He was also a bee keeper, photographer, potter and teacher.
He was arrested at least 160 times in civil disobedience action, and probably more. He was singularly, the most unrelenting activist I know and his legacy shines on in new generations of activists ready to put their bodies on the line for what is precious and important. So many of us in the Bay Area miss Hal, but benefit from the fact that he so openly and passionately took principled action and inspired us all to do more. In challenging situations, I find myself asking: What Would Hal Do?
Many of us paused a moment to remember Hal last Thursday, on the anniversary of his passing. We visited the redwood tree we planted in his memory near Canyon Meadow (Stream Trail) in Redwood Regional Park, and we remembered him at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian-Universalists that evening.
In these times when there are so many challenges and battles on the environmental, social justice and anti-war fronts, I hold Hal up as a barometer to check myself as to whether I am really doing all I can. Letter writing, lobbying and voting are all important, but Hal always pushed the envelope—but he pushed it with humility, love and compassion. He stopped to smell the flowers and chuckle at the ironies. I’d rather have that kind of barometer to guide my activist work. Thanks for the inspiration, Hal. The light shines on.
Karen Pickett is a Berkeley resident.