Dee Knight decided to resist the draft in the winter of 1967-68. That decision determined the path of the rest of his life. In a trajectory not uncommon among his peers, Knight was in college in 1967 when he watched an antiwar march go by the San Francisco wall he was sitting on. When a friend saw him there and beckoned him to join, Knight took a step that would change his life forever. The protest, which was part of a national mobilization to end the war in Vietnam, would be the first of many. More importantly, when he jumped off that wall he was no longer a bystander. He was a participant. His political journey would go from marching to exile; from exile to organizing resistance to the draft to organizing draft resisters in Canada and Europe in their struggle to survive and in their demand for amnesty.
Along the way, Knight’s politics would shift from voting for Republican Barry Goldwater to joining a Marxist-Leninist organization known for its sharp anti-imperialist analysis. After realizing the limits of that organization later in his life, Knight would eventually join what is now the largest socialist organization in the United States—the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). To summarize his life in such a way does not do it justice, however. Indeed, his recently published memoir, titled My Whirlwind Lives: Navigating Decades of Stories, barely does so.
Perhaps the most interesting decade of stories here is his decade that began when he jumped off that wall in 1967. The rapid pace of his political development was not uncommon at the time, given the ever escalating US war on the Vietnamese, the growing militancy of the Black struggle for liberation and the politicization of the counterculture. Knight jumped from that wall right into political action. He joined Eugene McCarthy’s campaign for the US presidency in 1968, knocking on doors, talking to voters, and otherwise urging people to vote for McCarthy because he would end the war in Vietnam. The TET offensive had shown many US residents that the war wasn’t going as well as the leaders and their media were saying it was. This provided an opening for an antiwar candidate. Soon Robert F Kennedy would join the race as another antiwar candidate. Not long after that, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. Not long after that, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in California. In the meantime, Knight applied for conscientious objector (CO) status. Not being a religious person, is chances were slim. By August, when the Democratic Convention not only nominated the war huckster Hubert H Humphrey as its candidate, but the police in Chicago violently attacked protesters and antiwar convention delegates (along with the media and regular citizens) in a bloody police riot, it was clear to Knight he needed to leave the United States. So he did.
He ended up in Toronto, where he joined up with draft resistance people, helping to publish their newspaper, provide assistance to draft resisters, and organize an international support system for resisters and deserters. This work would evolve into a campaign for amnesty to those men who violated the law by refusing to fight in Vietnam. Knight’s involvement would take him to Europe and back into the United States. He would meet people from many walks of life and would move further towards the left politically. As he tells his stories about these times, he also discusses political differences in the movement, especially as they applied to the campaign for amnesty. For those who were involved in some way with the resistance movement and the amnesty campaign, this is interesting information. For those who weren’t, the same can be said.
Like many others who became politicized during the US war on the Vietnamese, Knight continued his political work after the war finally ended in 1975. In addition to his work for complete and total amnesty, Knight became involved in various anti-imperialist work, from Nicaragua to Iran. In fact, he spent several months in Nicaragua as a member of the organization TecNica. This organization was involved in numerous locally-based water filtration and electricity production projects and was made up of many international volunteers hoping to help out the Sandinista revolutionary government. During this time, the government was also fighting a war against US-funded mercenaries known for their brutal and bloody killings of civilians. In a chapter titled “A Love Song to Nicaragua,” Knight describes his work and the nature of a nation in the early years of a revolutionary government.
The subsequent chapters in this text tell the story of Knight’s continued political involvement and is hopes for a better world. Each chapter ends with a reflection on the meaning of the events in the chapter and their role in the larger picture of social change with the goal of a socialist world as its outcome. In addition, My Whirlwind Lives includes a number of appendices: documents from the draft resistance movement, the amnesty campaign and a reflection on the Green New Deal, among others. This is a personal testimony from a human who has dedicated his life to a more just world. The narrative is conversational and thoughtful. Representative of many lives, it is the story of one person.