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May 26, 2004

A strong arm

In October 1979, on the 50th anniversary of the great stock market crash of 1929, I went with some friends to Washington, DC to demonstrate at the Department of Energy offices on L'Enfant Plaza. It's an action that some of you young folks might not have heard about. We were protesting the DoE's work on nuclear weapons, we assembled peacefully if stridently at the Department offices, and we successfully blockaded the building. The DoE shut down that day: no one got in, no business got done, and no one was hurt or arrested.

But there was a bit of tension. Federal cops tried to break the line at several points to let Carter Administration functionaries into the building. We demonstrators locked arms and resisted. At one point during the day I found myself at the end of one of these chains of demonstrators, with nothing to hold onto on my right except a sheer marble wall. I weighed about a hundred pounds less than I do now. I was thus a weak point in the line, and the cops noticed, and started pushing on me pretty hard.

And just as my fingers were about to be ripped from the little marble ridge I'd been holding on to, an arm like a tree trunk slipped around mine and held firm. I took a deep breath - the first in a while - looked at my feet, and resisted being moved. Just like a tree standing by the water. The police pushed for a few more minutes, then relented.

I looked at the owner of that big arm. He smiled at me, a middle-aged, muscular, balding man with a friendly smile. "I'm Chris, and thanks for holding on!" "You're welcome," he replied; "I'm Dave." "I know," I said. He smiled again.

David Dellinger, who died Tuesday, lent a steady arm to a whole lot of activists over his 88 years. Jailed for resisting World War Two, the oldest and most truly radical of the Chicago 7, he was a lifelong voice for peace.

Bye, Dave. Thanks for holding on.

Posted by Chris Clarke at May 26, 2004 04:48 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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Posted by: nobbog at May 27, 2004 06:49 AM
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The NYT obit is pretty good:

Free registration required, blah blah.

Posted by: Phil at May 27, 2004 06:59 AM
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From that Times obit:

He edited Liberation magazine, which Mr. Mailer once described as "an anarchist-pacifist magazine of worthy but not very readable articles in more or less vegetarian prose."

oh, my.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at May 27, 2004 07:08 AM
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Sounds like Mailer challenged him to a boxing match and got turned down.

Posted by: Phil at May 27, 2004 01:38 PM
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That's a wonderful tribute, Chris.

Posted by: dale at May 27, 2004 04:00 PM
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Seconding dale...

Posted by: Rana at May 28, 2004 11:41 AM
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I met Dave Dellinger twice, briefly each time, at War Resisters League conferences. I found him self-assured and confident in his beliefs but still approachable and willing to listen, even to criticism; indeed, something I said prompted him to confess rather ruefully "maybe I didn't draw the line clearly enough" between endorsing just ends and endorsing violent means.

This is from my own post about his death:

During the Chicago 7 trial, there were a number of stormy confrontations between the defendants and their lawyers on the one hand and the judge on the other, often triggered by the judge's patent bias in favor of the prosecution (which led to the convictions being overturned) and featuring shouted accusations. One observer later wrote that while some of the other defendants may have been louder or more dramatic, Dellinger was the one who was totally without fear.

A pretty good summation.

Oh, one last thing: Having been a subscriber to Liberation, I can say that Mailer's description is spot on.

Posted by: LarryE at June 6, 2004 01:39 AM
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