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We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers and sisters.

–Martin Luther King



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A GOOD AND USEFUL LIFEIn Memoriam

DAVID DELLINGER

AUGUST 22, 1915 – MAY 25, 2004

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In This Issue:

* David’s Notes: Good-bye to a Friend

 

* Dave Dellinger Remembered by Jay Craven

* A Link to the “Fresh Air” Terry Gross interview with Dave

 

* “The Guardian” Obituary

 

* Cards and Letters of Condolence, Remembrance and Celebration

 

* A Last Word from Dave Himself

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DAVID’S NOTES:
Our friend David Dellinger died on May 25th. He was 88.

For those of you too young to remember who David Dellinger is: he was a life long radical peace activist. He was a conscientious objector during World War II and every war since then. He is best known as one of the Chicago Seven (actually eight) who were arrested and tried – for . . . for what? – during the riots in the streets of Chicago at the Democratic National Convention in 1968. If you don’t know Dave’s autobiography, FROM YALE TO JAIL: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter (Pantheon Books, 1993) we recommend it.

We got to know Dave and his wife Elizabeth Peterson when they first moved to Vermont a little more than 20 years ago. We traded dinners back and forth some, hiked in the woods together a little, and went to concerts and performances together. But what I remember most about our friendship with Dave and Elizabeth was how faithful they were to both my wife Lois’ painting and my poetry and plays. Dave and Elizabeth never missed a reading of mine or the performance of one of my plays in central Vermont. And they came to every single opening of Lois’ art shows. They were, as all will attest, gregarious and friendly, interested and engaged.

Toward the end of Dave’s time in public, as his Alzheimer’s disease progressed, it became difficult to have Dave at a performance. He would speak out in a very loud voice whenever he felt like it, and usually from his favorite position in the front row. I finally felt I had to speak to Elizabeth about it.

The next time they came to a performance, Dave didn’t shout out, and afterward he came up to me and said, “Elizabeth told me you said I needed to be quiet.” It was a strange and discomforting position for me to be in, yet there was something sweet and fitting about it also. I thought about Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man,” about this particular man, once so tough and forceful, so commanding and dominant, saying sheepishly, “Elizabeth told me you said I needed to be quiet.”

Well, Dave is quiet now, in a way, and in another way he is still in the front row shouting.

And it’s a good thing too. Dave Dellinger’s vision, his legacy, his non-violent, aggressive action in the name of love and justice is more important now than it ever has been. Especially now when the worst President in the history of the United States–with the sycophantic and disgraceful help of the mainstream media–orchestrates the deification of the second worst president in the history of the United States, it is more important than ever that we have Dave Dellinger’s example of how to speak truth to power.

It was a pleasure and an inspiration to have known Dave Dellinger as a friend. And it’s sad to have to say good-bye.

 

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On June 5th at Peace Park in Montpelier, Vermont, about 300 people showed up for a Memorial Service for Dave. Members of the family and friends spoke. The high-point of the memorial service in Montpelier for me was film maker Jay Craven’s personal remembrance of Dave. Jay’s talk is a illustration of what a dynamic, forceful, commanding and influential person Dave Dellinger was. Jay’s talk follows here.

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DAVE DELLINGER REMEMBERED
By Jay Craven
I played a role in facilitating Dave Dellinger’s move to Vermont. In 1980, I was working with Doreen Kraft and Robin Lloyd to make a film about the Sandinista’s National Literacy Crusade in Nicaragua. I didn’t have a clue about how to raise the money or mobilize other resources – so I called Dave. Within days, Dave had wrangled Benjamin Spock and Jonathan Kozol to write letters of support. He’d established contact for us with Pete Seeger, who performed a critical benefit concert. And made a link with actor Ossie Davis, who kindly performed the narration.

This man should have been a movie producer!

As always, Dave acted immediately and with his customary generosity-and effectiveness. During our phone conversations, Dave mentioned that he was working on his autobiography – and was looking for a place to get away and focus on it. I was pleased to have the chance to help – and I arranged for Dave to have a two-room former school house on a back road in Peacham. So, he came to Vermont that summer – of 1980 – as I remember. And he established a connection to Vermont that grew over the years, especially when he and Elizabeth bought a house, just a mile away from that old school house. And while they were here, they both have made extraordinary contributions to community life, to the struggle for peace and justice, and to practically every home they’ve met here.

Dave and old Yankee farmer Charles Morrison worked together as extras, sitting together for hours on the porch of the St. Johnsbury House, during the shooting of my film “Where the Rivers Flow North.”

Yesterday, I mentioned to Charles that I’d be here today. He asked me to give his regards to Elizabeth and remarked, “You know, I liked Dave quite a bit. He had his views. But I listened to him and I guess I learned quite a bit. And he listened to me, and well, we simply had some awfully good conversations,” Charles said. “I’ll miss him, if you really want to know the truth.”

Vermont was the right place for Dave and Elizabeth. They gave so much and Vermonters reciprocated, in kind.

I met Dave Dellinger one late night in the fall of 1970. I was a 19 year old student activist at Boston University. I gotten a call the night before from Chicago 7 defendant Rennie Davis who said that he and Dave were assembling a delegation of student leaders to travel to North and South Vietnam, to meet with student leaders there and negotiate a Peoples Peace Treaty that would outline terms for an end to the war – and declare that American student leaders had met with their Vietnamese counterparts to declare that we were not enemies.

Rennie asked if I’d be interested in being a part of this delegation. Travel to North Vietnam? I was completely scared. But I said, “Sure.”

Rennie said that I’d have to come immediately to Washington. He said I’d need to be interviewed by Dave Dellinger, who would make the decision on students who would travel in the delegation.

Frankly, I was pretty intimidated. Although Dave is best and very appropriately remembered for his spiritualism, his grace, and his espousal of love, he could also be pretty tough. After all, this guy had led the siege at the ’68 Chicago Convention, stood down armed troops at the Pentagon, survived solitary confinement at Danbury Prison during two prison terms, and driven an ambulance, unarmed, during the violent upheaval of the Spanish Civil War. And, according to Harry Belafonte, who participated in a series of telephone conversations between Dave and Martin Luther King, many of them heated, it was Dave’s fierce and unyielding persistence that was key in moving King to oppose the Vietnam War – a decision that had a monumental impact.

Anyway, the night after Rennie Davis called and asked me to meet Dave, I flew to Washington. I brought my college roommate with me – unsure what to expect. The taxi dropped us off at Rennie’s Lanier Place apartment and we climbed the stairs and knocked on the door.

One of the strongest images of my lifetime will be the sight when the door opened, of Dave Dellinger sitting in an overstuffed chair, smoking a cigar and drinking a glass of cognac. No one else spoke. Just Dave. He asked me to sit down. And then proceeded to ask me a series of questions. What was my history of opposition to the war? Had I ever participated in civil disobedience? And, finally, if I were to go to Vietnam, would I be willing to devote my next six months, traveling and helping to organize – May Day, – a massive civil disobedience demonstration in Washington the next spring. He told me that the May Day slogan was: “if the government won’t stop the war, the people will stop the government.”

I don’t think I’d ever been so scared. I knew who Dave was. I’d heard him speak to thousands of students at two anti-war rallies. And here he was, smoking a cigar – looking every inch the Godfather – two years before the movie even came out. After what felt like a pretty intense hour of questioning and dialogue, and a very graphic discussion of the current situation in Vietnam, including a blow-by-blow account of Nixon’s escalation of the air war, Dave finally said something funny. Thank God.

I said I would do everything Dave asked me to do that night – and I did. That night changed my life and prompted me to face the fears that I felt, at the prospect of this kind of bold activism. It marked the beginning of an extraordinary journey that would not have been possible without that turn of events. Or the events of May Day 1971 that resulted in the largest non-violent civil disobedient action in U.S. history, with more than 14,000 people arrested.

Dave wielded a singular influence in leading an anti-war movement that grew out of his unique experience of the long and turbulent American 20th Century. No one living today could duplicate that experience. Which is not to say that there won’t be new leaders who have great impact. And who have learned from the strengths and weaknesses of the movements that Dave helped lead. But Dave was an actor on the world stage at a unique time and among an extraordinary cast of characters. His long life provided an opportunity for an historical impact that spanned the entire century. Dave extended his unique articulation of protest, progressivism, and civil disobedience from the 1930’s all the way into the 21st century.

Dave helped launch me and many others along the path that prompted the continual growth and shifting of the American traditions of protest and civil disobedience. He learned from every young activist he met, which always distinguished him from other older activists who often lacked that same ability to easily cross generational boundaries. As a result, he remained forever young in his thinking.

Dave was friendly to his critics and critical to his friends. In 1971, I traveled to Cuba for Dave, when he could not attend the July 26th celebrations, because he was on court restriction related to the Chicago 7 trial. Dave was considered a good friend of the Cuban revolution – and I was looking forward to the trip. But Dave placed one requirement on me for that remarkable trip. He instructed me to present a letter to Fidel Castro that asked very hard questions and was sharply critical of the Cuban government’s treatment of gay people. He demanded that while I was in Cuba, I be given access to leading Cuban writers and artists who Dave knew to be gay. I wasn’t sure that this was not the ideal way to ingratiate yourself. But the Cubans respected Dave; they took his challenge seriously; and did everything Dave asked. I returned with a pretty full and fairly nuanced view of the situation, which Dave continued to press in his writing and correspondence with the Cubans.

So, yes, Dave was a tough guy.

My old Yippie friend Stew Albert, wrote me after Dave’s death to remind me of how Dave was the one non-Yippie to whom he always felt a special bond. Stew described how Dave’s reputation of a lifelong pacifist had many sides. Stew explained how, during the Chicago 8 trial of 1968-69, Judge Julius Hoffman had Panther defendant Bobby Seale bound and gagged. Dave protested the loudest, Stew said, and the life-long pacifist “got in some real shoving matches with the Federal Marshals.”

Stew remembered how, at the end of the day, his co-defendants all asked Dave how he, as a pacifist could be so rough and tough. “He replied with a twinkle in his eye that shoving can be a form of nonviolence if it is done at the right time and to resist evil.”

When his co-defendants teased him about it, the former burly college wrestler then looked around the room, then declared that he could “take” all the defendants except for Bobby Seale. Although Stew wasn’t a defendant, he looked at him and said “but I’m not sure about Stew.”

“Dave was really great,” Stew said, “because every once in a while he could be so magnificently unpredictable.”

And, yes, Dave could tangle with the best of them. In fact a close reading of Nixon’s White House tapes show how Tricky Dick had a running obsession with Dave, that suggests that he harbored a nagging fear of one day having to turn the White House over to him. This is just one example of Dave’s slogan, “more power than we know.”

I want to close, by remembering words spoken by the South African writer, Njabulo Ndebele, at my son’s recent Wesleyan University graduation, just two days before Dave’s death. Ndeble’s words prompted me to think, quite vividly, of Dave.

Ndebele invited the young graduates to consider how his country avoided racial war while throwing off decades of oppression. He mused at how the contending races had resolved their deep conflict without declaring victors and losers.

“What most of us recognized, at the very last moment,” Ndebele said, “was just how much we needed each other. We realized that violent confrontation promised only destruction and a long life of shared misery. It was a choice we made. It was a choice against the habit to march into final battle.”

“The two camps recognized mutual vulnerability through exposing themselves to considerable risk,” he said. “In doing so, both sides resisted the attractive habit to be “tough.” Being tough would have meant going to war, whatever the price. Each would have convinced themselves that truth was on their side. But thankfully, our leaders realized that being tough in this way had caused much misery. Caught in the clutches of danger, they discovered a new meaning of toughness, something much harder to do. They discovered that being tough was not so much about going to war, but in choosing to avoid it.”

Ndebele continued, “In doing so, South Africans gave up one-dimensional ways of thinking about one another. They became more tolerant, more accepting of personal or group faults. That has been the greatest revolution: the transformation of deeply held personal and group beliefs.”

David Dellinger was this kind of tough guy. Dave fought for this kind of revolution. In a world of nuclear arms, terrorism, and pre-emptive war, Dave’s views were considered radical. But they are views that, thanks to his tireless lifetime of work, will live beyond him.

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Jay Craven is a film maker and Artistic Director of Kingdom County Productions. His most recent film “The Year That Trembled” (2002) is a coming of age drama that takes place following the shootings at Kent State in 1970.

 

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LISTEN TO THE TERRY GROSS “FRESH AIR” INTERVIEW WITH DAVE DELLINGER

To listen to Terry Gross’ interview with Dave:

  • go to: http://freshair.npr.org/day_fa.jhtml;jsessionid=0WG5ZWTMQB1VPLA5AINSFFI?display=day&todayDate=05/28/2004 
  • scroll down to Listen to Remembering Peace Activist David Dellinger and click on the underlined title.
     
  • Then select your preferred audio player and the interview will begin to download. It downloads quickly and begins automatically. 
  • This interview aired originally on 9 April 1993

     

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    THE GUARDIAN’S OBITUARY

    For the Dellinger obituary from The Guardian go to: http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,1226372,00.html

     

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    CARDS AND LETTERS OF CONDOLENCE, REMEMBRANCE AND CELEBRATION

    Cards and letters of condolence, remembrance and celebration can be sent to Elizabeth Peterson, Dave’s widow, at:
    Elizabeth Peterson
    Heaton Woods
    10 Heaton Street, #7
    Montpelier, VT 05602

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    A LAST WORD FROM DAVID DELLINGER

    Here, finally, we offer an excerpt from a few words Dave penned as an “Afterword” for the 2002 War Resisters League Calendar.

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    LOVE FOR THOSE WHO DEFEND THE SYSTEM
    by
    David Dellinger
    Our nonviolent activism would be more positive if we stressed reaching out with love for our fellow human beings – love not only for the victims, but also for those who defend the existing system, including those who think they benefit from it, even toward the police and other security forces.

    Love for those who defend the system, including the police who harass and arrest us? Is that unrealistic?

    Let me testify that this kind of love makes a difference. In 1987, twenty of us invaded the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, protesting against U.S. sponsorship of the terrorist Nicaraguan Contras. When we were arrested and taken downstairs to be fingerprinted, an officer recognized me and introduced me to the other officers. He said, “This is Dave Dellinger, who I want you to meet because his actions are based on love for everyone, including us.”

    I also recognized him: The second time he had arrested me he had grabbed the arm of another officer, who was about to hit me on the head with a club, and said, “Stop. This is a good guy who doesn’t need to be hit like that.”

    Love for every human being is necessary for our individual growth and fulfillment. Those who practice this love benefit spiritually as they help others. While there are still badly needed changes in our anti-democratic society, I see positive signs that acting with love for other people and their needs does succeed.

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    Every act we perform today must reflect the kind of human relationships we are fighting to establish tomorrow.

    David Dellinger

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