David Hartsough had long been committed to creating a better world through nonviolent means. The Quaker activist protested racial segregation in lunch counter sit-ins in the 1960s, demonstrated against the Vietnam War and nuclear proliferation, and trained civilians in Kosovo in nonviolent strategies during the 1990s.
Mel Duncan’s vision began when he went to Nicaragua with the coffee/cotton brigades during the Contra war in 1984 and saw that villages were not attacked when foreigners were present.
Mary Lou Ott is known as the founding mother of Nonviolent Peaceforce. After receiving a call from Mel Duncan declaring the idea of Nonviolent Peaceforce, Mary Lou was all in, leveraging her previous experience volunteering with the Catholic Workers Movement, Women Against Military Madness and many more peace and social justice groups to work alongside Mel and David to found Nonviolent Peaceforce. In her many roles, Mary Lou helped fundraise, helped organize NP's convening event, assisted in selection of the NP's first field team (Sri Lanka), led the local Minneapolis chapter and spent over half a year organizing archives from Nonviolent Peaceforce to go to Swarthmore College.
David and Mel met at the 1999 Hague Appeal for Peace, each seeking support to make his vision an organized entity. After hearing David's presentation, Mel shared his ideas with him. David and Mel immediately saw the powerful symbiosis. By the end of the event, they, along with others who caught the vision, were organizing to lay the foundation for Nonviolent Peaceforce.
As they and others began organizing NP, they talked to people around the world. Amid the fiercest violence, they met courageous and creative peacemakers who told them time and again that isolation was lethal and international accompaniers extended their lives and amplified their work.
Nonviolent peacekeeping is a common vision that has flowed through Gandhi, Maude Roydon, Badshah Khan and so many others. It has occurred and recurred to enough people for generations that now many focus their lives and resources on making it real.
David, Mel, Mary Lou, and their fellow founders constituted Nonviolent Peaceforce in the 2002 Convening Event in Surajkund, India with peace advocates from 49 countries in attendance. One year later, in fall 2003, Nonviolent Peaceforce had its first team in Sri Lanka.