Some stood up once, and sat down.
Some walked a mile, and walked away.
Some stood up twice, then sat down.
I’ve had it, they said
Some walked two miles, then walked away.
It’s too much, they cried
Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools.
They were taken for being taken in.
Some walked and walked and walked
They walked the earth
They walked the waters
They walked the air.
Why do you stand, they were asked, and
Why do you walk?
Because of the children, they said, and
Because of the heart, and
Because of the bread.
Is the heart’s beat
And the children born
And the risen bread.
The first time I heard Dave Dellinger speak was in 1970 at a rally outside Allenwood federal prison in central Pennsylvania. He was 54 years old at the time, the same age I am now. He had already been a leading peace and justice activist for over 30 years at that time. And he didn’t let up until his aging body and mind gave him no choice but to do so about a year ago.
This was one of many thoughts that have come to me as I’ve reflected over the past day and a half since hearing that this wonderful human being died at the age of 88.
Dave was loved and respected by many, including these long-time activists:
Gwen Patton: We have lost a peaceful warrior in our righteous struggle for human dignity and world peace. I’m certain that Dave’s memory will continue to be our guiding force in our forward march to freedom.
Elizabeth Martinez: Dave is a beloved friend and there is so much, too much, to say about his human power but just let me
add: people, read his book FROM YALE TO JAIL.
Don Manning-Miller: Dave was inspiration and shining light.
Reflecting at this moment I think I experience what the early followers of Jesus must have felt that led them to the notion of the resurrection-for knowing Dave in life makes you certain his spirit will continue with us all, shining light on the path toward human decency to help us continue groping in the dark.
Greg Guma: I think he was to the peace movement what Martin Luther King, Jr. was to the civil rights movement.
Tom Hayden: I think he’ll be remembered as a pacifist who meant business. His pacifism was very forceful. He didn’t mind interjecting himself between armed federal marshals and someone they were pushing around. He didn’t mind standing up and talking back to a judge even if it meant a contempt citation.
Dave is known for his deep commitment to nonviolence, and without question he was, but I remember something he once said at an event in Washington, D.C. in September, 1992. A group of us, Dave included, at the age of 76, were on a 42-day fast in connection with the upcoming 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Dave made the comment that the Cuban revolution of the late 50’s was “essentially nonviolent,” as indicated by the medical attention given to wounded members of the Batista army by the July 26th Movement guerrillas after a battle.
Dave understood that our conditions within the United States were not the conditions in Latin America, Africa or Asia, and he rejected a “one size fits all” approach to strategy and tactics for revolutionary change. This was also true when it came to the Black liberation movement of the 60’s.
While openly critical of what he saw as counter-productive tactics undertaken by some sectors of that movement, he always pointed to government repression and institutionalized racism as the key issues that all of us, of whatever color, needed to focus on, rejecting attempts to divide the peace movement from that movement.
I remember another fast Dave and I were on together, this one in the summer of 1972, a 40-day, water-only fast in protest against the dramatic escalation of the Vietnam war.
At the time Richard Nixon and George McGovern were campaigning for the Presidency. During a discussion we were having about that race Dave said that he wasn’t going to get involved with supporting McGovern, the peace candidate. Explaining himself further, he said that he had learned that whether a Democrat or a Republican is elected, what happened independent of the government, the strength of movements for justice or people’s rights, is what is most important. And half a year later, surprisingly, following Nixon’s re-election and the shooting down of many planes by the Vietnamese during a Christmas U.S. bombing campaign, the Nixon administration said “uncle” and negotiated a withdrawal agreement.
Dave was deeply committed to building an alternative to both parties of capitalism. From 1975 until his death, he was a leading member of various “third party” organizations, the latest being IPPN. He was very active in the Rainbow Coalition of the 1980’s despite criticisms he had of Jesse Jackson. He understood that you cannot expect perfect individuals to make a nonviolent revolution; you need to work with the human material available, constantly assessing what are the best strategies and tactics to use as reality unfolds.
Dave was one of the most humble people I have ever met, although from time to time he could slip up and become a bit of a movement “heavy.” He fully embodied Che Guevera’s words, “Let me say, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” He had a sense of humor that I don’t remember seeing too often in meetings, but outside of meetings he was a fun-loving guy.
Dave was a loving husband to his life partner, Elizabeth Peterson, and their several children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He and Elizabeth experienced a deep personal tragedy when one of their sons died a number of years ago, but they continued with their commitment to the struggle for justice and to juggling that commitment with time with family.
Dave never forgot about those in prison. He visited prisoners in Vermont and in the last 10 years of his activist life he worked for the freedom of political prisoner Leonard Peltier.
Dave had no problem doing whatever small or difficult task was necessary to move forward a project he considered important. If phone calls had to be made he would make them. If a letter had to be written he would be willing to write it. I remember his once driving something like 20 hours alone through a raging snowstorm to get to a meeting of a small group of people to make plans for actions to free Peltier and to honor Indigenous people in the Americas.
Dave understood that social change doesn’t come just through grand historic actions or stirring speeches before thousands of cheering supporters. It comes even more through the daily sacrifices necessary to keep organizations together or to make an action come off well.
Our movement for peace and justice is stronger and closer to our goals because of the life and work of Dave Dellinger.
An audio documentary CD, “Nonviolent Warriors,” about Dave is available at http://www.towardfreedom.com. It includes testimonials, dramatic scenes and Dave’s own words.