I’m in shock. I just received an email from a very good friend here in Vermont telling me that David Dellinger died the afternoon of May 25th. Dave was a lifelong antiwar activist who refused to fight in World War Two and actively opposed every US war since then. He was 88 years old and had been suffering from worsening health. Indeed, he had just been moved to a nursing home not more than two or three months ago.
Although I only met Dave five years ago when a group of us sat in on Representative Bernie Sanders’ office in opposition to his support of the bombing of Yugoslavia, he has been an influence on my life and thought ever since I first heard about him in junior high. As a young peacenik who found the militancy and flamboyance of activists and groups like the Black Panthers and Yippies quite appealing, it was David Dellinger’s thoughtful, yet militant antiwar stance that provided me (and millions of others, it seems) with a fundamental belief that what I was doing was worthwhile. After all, this man had devoted his entire adult life to opposing imperialism and the wars that system demands without ever even throwing a brick at a cop. Like the Berrigan brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr., his commitment to nonviolence was total. At the same time, he understood that pacifism was not passivism.
Although my political development took a turn away from nonviolence as the 1960s turned into the 1970s, Dave continued to be an inspiration. As I grow older and continue to work against racism, war and imperialism, his principled stance continues to take on greater meaning. Direct action does work.
Anyhow, back to the 1960s. Perhaps the most meaningful historical moment in Mr. Dellinger’s life from that period was his role in organizing the protests against the Vietnam war during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and his subsequent indictment by the Justice Department for (among other things) conspiracy to cross state lines with the intent to incite a riot. Dave and his fellow “conspirators” became popularly known as the Chicago Eight. After the eighth conspirator-Black Panther Bobby Seale-was bound, gagged and taken from the courtroom, the eight became seven. The trial continued, proving to the world what kind of democracy the US was. The Judge, Julius Hoffman, did everything in his power to help out the prosecution, including charging the defendants with contempt almost every time they attempted to challenge testimony that they felt was untrue or wrong. Although this particular conspiracy charge did not hold, Dellinger and four other defendants were convicted of individually crossing state lines with the intent to incite a riot.
Undaunted, Dave Dellinger continued on. His presence at antiwar actions in his chosen home of Vermont and around the world was something one depended on. He never stood on the sidelines and watched. His analysis was as clear as his commitment. Although an ally of all those who oppose the system of war and racism, he remained a staunch pacifist, but never let that get in the way of his opposition to the ills of capitalism or his solidarity with those who shared that opposition but differed with his tactics.
Live like him.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is being republished by Verso.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org