DAN SWANSON'S not the kind of guy most people would invite home for supper. Sure you can sit down and have a beer together--in fact, he'll probably suggest it. But Swanson's just a little bit, well, intense. He talks about sports the way most people argue about politics, and if you want to talk politics you'd better mean it.
On the other hand, you might just like him.
An unabashed leftist, Swanson is an intelligent and highly intelligible radical in an age which no longer deals kindly with the breed. Since graduating from Harvard in 1974, he has traveled in the Third World and written extensively about his findings. And whether writing on slain Chilean leader Salvador Allende, Spanish democracy or, most recently, the growing crisis in South Africa, he has never waivered in his impassioned attacks on the victimization of the poor by the rich, the Third World by the superpowers.
Does this make him a journalist or an activist foremost? "I'm a man of the left and a writer simultaneously." Swanson declares, though with a slight suggestion that he'd give up the last label before the first and as for the journalist-asimpartial-observer argument, he'll hear none of it. "If journalist means a kind of mainstream person who doesn't take a stand on the issues, then I'm not a journalist," Swanson avows in an obviously oft-repeated, and only slightly defensive, response. Stressing the distinction between "neutrality and truth," Swanson contends his political views do not impair him from accurately reporting what he sees.
Swanson's interest in South Africa dates from his days at Harvard as an editor, and later president, of The Crimson. At that time, campus activists were beginning to focus attention on the role of U.S. investments in southern Africa, largely with respect to holdings in the Portuguese colonies in that region. Several years later, Swanson came in contact with exiled members of the South African resistance, the African National Congress, as a reporter for the Bay State Banner, a Black Massachusetts weekly. Largely as a result of those interviews, Swanson in 1978 decided to travel to southern Africa.
Swanson entered South Africa for the ostensible purpose of conducting research in "geography." Once inside, he began meeting with resistance leaders and filing pieces for such publications as The New Republic and The Nation under the pseudonym James North. Swanson, whose visit to the region coincided with the rise of Black militance in South Africa and the transfer of power in Rhodesia, watched his planned several-month visit stretch to a year, then two, then four and a half.
"I got so caught up in what was happening, it was just out of the question that I could leave." Swanson, who himself became involved in the resistance movement by carrying messages to underground leaders, ultimately decided that a book compiling his interviews and observations in South Africa would be his "most valuable contribution" to the liberation movement there.
With Freedom Rising behind him, Swanson is ready to continue fighting where he considers the American left to be particularly vulnerable--in the "battle of ideas." He plans to spend the next two or three years travelling in the Third World, this time researching a book on the Third World debt crisis.