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A Man on Fire

Remembering Carl Oglesby

by MIKE DAVIS

In my lifetime I’ve heard two speakers whose unadorned eloquence and moral  clarity pulled my heart right out of my chest.

One was Bernadette Devlin (nee  McAlliskey), speaking from the roof of the Busy Bee Market in Andersonstown in  Belfast the apocalyptic day that Bobby Sands died.

The other was Carl Oglesby, president of SDS in 1965.  He was ten years older  than most of us, had just resigned from Bendix corporation where he had  worked as a technical writer, and wore a beard because his face was cratered  from a poor-white childhood.  His father was a rubber worker in Akron and his  people came from the mountains.

I’m not capable of accurately describing the kindness, intensity and melancholy  that were alloyed in Carl’s character, or the profound role he played in  deepening our commitment to the anti-war movement.  He literally moved the  hearts of thousands of people.

He was also for many young SDSers – like myself and the wonderful Ross Altman  (original UCLA SDSer and Carl’s close friend, whom I salute) – both a beloved  mentor but also leader of the wild bunch.  At a crucial moment in the tragic history of this desert country, he precisely and unwaveringly defined our  duty.  He was a man on fire.

To those who knew him, I send my deepest love and solidarity – as I do to those  yet to discover this great, tormented and most-old-fashionedly American  radical.

Mike Davis is currently a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside.