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Revolutionary Non-Violence: Remembering Dave Dellinger, 1915-2004

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Howard Zinn, Father Dan Berrigan, Tom Hayden, Jeremy Scahill, Leonard Weinglass, Ralph Digia and Dave McReynolds memorialize the non-violent warrior Dellinger who died on Tuesday. [includes rush transcript]

America has lost one of the great non-violent activists of the past century.

Dave Dellinger died Tuesday at a nursing home in Montpelier, Vt. According to friends, he had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

Dellinger lost track of the number of times he was arrested or jailed over the years for protests, including demonstrations against the Vietnam War.

Through the decades, Dellinger was a stalwart in nonviolent protest beside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Daniel Berrigan, Daniel Ellsberg and other leaders on the left. But he probably is best known for being one of those on trial in Chicago after the 1968 Democratic Convention.

    Dellinger was in his mid-50s at the time — the “old man” of the group of radicals who faced prison after the anti-war protests during the convention.

While the Chicago Seven trial gained Dellinger the most notoriety, it was just one event in a long life of fighting for what he thought was right.

  • Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! producer & correspondent
  • Howard Zinn, historian
  • Tom Hayden, Dellinger’s Co-defendant in Chicago 8
  • Leonard Weinglass, Dellinger’s lawyer in Chicago
  • Ralph Digia, imprisoned with Dellinger in WWII
  • Dave McReynolds, War Resisters League
  • Fr. Dan Berrigan, poet and peace activist

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Dellinger was in his mid 50’s at the time, the old man of the group of radicals who faced prison after the anti-war protests during the convention. While the Chicago 8 trail gained Dellinger the most notoriety, it was just one event in a long time of fighting for what he believed was right.

DAVE DELLINGER: Our position is that whoever the candidates are, and whatever the platforms, that we must stay in the streets and stay in active resistance or else there will be no peace. Either in the ghettos or in Vietnam.

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Dellinger, speaking in the 1960’s. We’re joined now by our own Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! Correspondent and producer, and on the line, historian Howard Zinn. Jeremy, your thoughts. You knew Dave Dellinger well.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Actually, it’s interesting to hear that bit of sound, of Dave Dellinger, because that was recorded during the trial of the Chicago 8 where they were on trial for conspiracy because of the protests organized around the 1968 Democratic Convention. What I really got to know Dave Dellinger was at the 1996 Democratic Convention also in Chicago, and a group of us went to the federal building in downtown Chicago, among them, Dave Dellinger and Abbey Hoffman’s son. We were arrested. We were engaged in a peaceful demonstration about political prisoners. Toward the end of Dave’s life, that really was one of the main issues in his life, worked diligently to try to free the Native American political prisoner, Leonard Peltier, worked on the case of Mumia Abu Jamal and prisoners of the Puerto Rican liberation struggle. He was dedicated to that issue of political prisoners. Dave Dellinger was one of the moral giants of our time, one of the framers of modern pacifist resistant tans theory. One of the extraordinary things I think about him — his book, “Revolutionary Non-violence,” which is his writings from World War II to 1970, I think has to be one of the greatest books on non-violence ever written. It’s a series of essays. It’s really like a journalist’s travels around the world. The thing about Dave Dellinger, he didn’t believe in armchair pacifism. He didn’t believe that you could be a pacifist between wars. He was in Europe as a student when the Franco Rebellion broke out, the first front in the fight against fascism. As a young college student, he then was a conscientious objector in World War II, and spent three years in prison. He was in Cuba shortly after the revolution. He was in Vietnam many times. And, I’m sure Howard Zinn can talk about that as well. Dave Dellinger like Howard was involved with negotiating the release of American prisoners of war. The reason I bring up all of these examples is because Dave Dellinger was also very critical of the left in America and particularly critical of armchair pacifism. Dave Dellinger believed if that you have a problem with the people of Cuba rising up violently to overthrow a dictatorship backed by the United States, then you need to go to Cuba and be non-violent yourself. If you believe that the North Vietnamese have no right to resist the United States, you need to go to North Vietnam and be non-violent yourself. That was the extraordinary example of Dave Dellinger.

AMY GOODMAN: Historian Howard Zinn on the line with us. What are your thoughts?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, it’s very sad, of course, to hear about Dave Dellinger, but you know, he inspired us all. I met him first in Hiroshima in 1966, and that was typical of him, flying halfway around the world to be part of an international gathering to remember the dropping of the bomb. I mean, all of his life he really struggled against war. It was interesting, I was in World War II, I was a bombardier in World War II, I wasn’t thinking about pacifism or war. You know, I was imbued like everybody else with the idea of a good war. Dave Dellinger saw beyond that. He saw farther than that. He was a conscientious objector in World War II. Not that he didn’t understand the dangers of fascism, but he thought it was necessary to uphold the ideal of non-violent resistance to fascism, to war. You know, of course, I was on the platforms with Dave many times during the Vietnam War. He briefed me and Dan Berrigan before we went to protest in Hanoi in 1968. I went to testify for him and the others in the Chicago conspiracy trial. He was an absolute rock of integrity, and all through his life he never made any money. He was always struggling. He never held any post. He was not like some of us, professors in universities and getting salaries. He never drew that. He just always lived at the edge of poverty. He was always — even after he was supposedly retired, I remember I thought he was retired and living in Vermont and went to Columbus, Ohio, and there he was on Columbus Day engaged in a fast at the foot of the statue of Columbus protesting on behalf of indigenous people against the idea that conquest, which Columbus represented, was a good thing. You know, Dave, among his other books wrote a book called more power than we know. I thought that was important because he was always conscious of the fact that the people, if they organize, if they persist, have more power than we know. It always looks like an impossible battle against the establishment with all their weapons and all their money. But he understood and history bears him out. That when enough people get together or organize and take risks and do the things that Dave did all of his life, they can overcome the most powerful military machine on earth.

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Zinn. I want to thank you very much for being with us as we turn now to other reminiscences of the anti-war warrior, Dave Dellinger beginning with Tom Hayden.

TOM HAYDEN: I was on trial with Dave Dellinger in 1969 and 1970 as part of the so-called Chicago 8. Our trial arose out of the Nixon administration’s attempt to suppress the anti-war movement. I thought I would just read a couple of excerpts from my notes on the trial that I think capture Dave’s pacifism. He was a rock. He was much older than us. Of course, I’m older than he is now, but he had turned 60, and was the old man of the trial. Now I’m reading, “The winter days blurred into each other. The judge ordered us to continue the case on Saturdays, and our frustration grew as February and the end of the trial approached. There was one more vindictive insult to withstand, the revocation of Dave Dellinger’s bail. As the trial unfolded, Dave had gradually lost his patience. Either from despair or a quicker sense of direct action, he began reacting vocally, often eloquently, at outrages in the courtroom. Sometimes the situation was really absurd, as when the judge ordered us to go to the bathroom in an adjoining cell instead of the public facility in the hall. Jerry Ruben and the prosecutors got into a heated argument with each other over the bathroom, and the federal marshals moved in. Dave said, don’t touch him, and was ordered by the marshals to shut up. Dave replied, hurt — you don’t have to say shut up. At other times it would grow out of frustration. On January 14, for example, the judge erroneously accused Dave of saying something to which Dave replied, that’s a lie. The judge, aroused, declared that he had never sat in 50 years through a trial where a party to a lawsuit called the judge a liar. That stirred Dave’s deepest convictions and he rose up and said, maybe they were afraid to go to jail rather than tell the truth, but I would rather go to jail for however long you send me than to let you get away with that kind of thing. Second, on the day of our convictions, Abbey Hoffman said we’re going to win every day until the last, but we were convicted for contempt of court, and it was later overthrown, but the judge started with Dave Dellinger, finding him in contempt 32 times, a sentence of two years, five months and 16 days. Mr. Dellinger, do you care to say anything, the judge said? I will hear you only in respect to punishment. Dave rose slowly, already tired from two weeks in the county jail. He tried to reply to the specific finds of the judge, but was stopped by the command to speak only to mitigate his punishment. Dave reacted sharply, suddenly gaining an eloquence that he wanted for the final statement. He said, you want us to be like good Germans, supporting the evils of our decade and then when we refuse to be good Germans and came to Chicago, now you want us to be like good Jews, going quietly and politely to the concentration camps while you and this court suppress freedom and the truth and the fact is, I’m not prepared to do that. The marshals started moving in on Dave at the judge’s instructions. You want us to stay in our place like black people were supposed to stay in their place, like poor people were supposed to stay in their place, like women are supposed to stay in their place. Like people without formal education are supposed to stay in their place. Children are supposed to stay in their place and lawyers are supposed to stay in their place. The marshals came closer, grabbing Dave’s arms. People will no longer be quiet. People are going to speak up. I’m an old man, and I am speaking feebly and not too well, but I reflect the spirit that will echo throughout the world. Take him out, the judge commanded. There was an uproar in the spectator section. And I saw Dave’s 15-year-old daughter, Michelle, red-faced screaming a crying tiger being held around the throat by a marshal. Dave tried to move toward her. Both were held from each other by a dozen marshals. Everybody in the courtroom was standing. Reporters were crying. Bill Kunstler collapsed over the lectern and asked to be punished next.” that’s my memory of Dave, and he was certainly able to turn non-violence into a source of fiery resistance.

AMY GOODMAN: Tom Hayden, one of the leaders of Students for a Democratic Society and co-defendant with Dave Dellinger of the Chicago 8 conspiracy trial. We’ll have more reminiscences from Dan Berrigan and others here on Democracy Now!.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, the War and Peace Report. As we continue to remember Dave Dellinger.

LEONARD WEINGLASS: My name is Leonard Weinglass. I was one of the attorneys of the Chicago 8 trial. I have known Dave for 35 years, since the 1968 Democratic Convention protest. When I think of Dave and his loss, I think of the statement that Adley Stevenson made at the funeral of Eleanor Roosevelt when he said, we have lost more than a friend, we have lost an inspiration. Dave was that for me and for many of us. I recall so many things over the years, but one of my most vivid recollections is during the trial of the Chicago 8, when Bobby Seale was gagged and bound and taped to a chair, Dave immediately suggested to the other defendants that they absent themselves from the courtroom because it would just be obscene for the seven white defendants to remain quietly in the courtroom while Bobby Seale, the leader of the black liberation struggle was bound and gagged in that condition. Everyone readily agreed to that, but then were overruled by Bobby Seale, who said they should come to court and sit there quietly for two reasons. First, if they refused to come to court, they would all be jailed, and it was important that they be free to travel the country and to speak to what they had observed going on in the courtroom, and secondly, it was important that the focus be on a black defendant in a federal court insisting on his rights as a citizen to represent himself and being bound and gagged as a result of that. If the remaining seven were also arrested, there would be a lack of focus on that issue. Dave and the other seven readily agreed and came to court the next day. Dave has always taken positions like that that are highly principled, always willing to put himself on the line for what he considered to be a politically essential and necessary stand that ought to be taken, and Judge Hoffman and the Chicago 8 trial learned that right away. Dave came to court. He was older than everyone else by probably 25 years. He wore a jacket and a tie, and he sat there, but when Judge Hoffman came into the courtroom, he refused to rise. And he was immediately questioned by Judge Hoffman about that, and Dave said to him that he doesn’t accord false respect. That respect is something that must be earned, and he certainly didn’t feel that Judge Hoffman had earned his respect. Of course, Dave was sentenced to prison for contempt of court as a result of that stand. So, he has always been that way, and he has always been our stable voice, our inspiration, our person who has always been there for every issue that has come down since 1968. Of course, he was there long before that, but since I have known him. We’re going to miss Dave very, very much. If anything, we need Dave Dellinger now more than ever.

RALPH DIGIA: My name is Ralph Digia and I work at the War Resistance League. I have been here a very long time. I know this is about my dear friend David. I met David in World War II. I met him in prison. David was a conscientious objector, and he was a seminarian and he could have gotten off just by saying that he was a seminarian, he could have been exempt, but he and six and seven others refused to do that, and they were eventually sentenced to prison for not registering for the draft. Anyway, here’s how I met David. I also was an objector, and was sent to prison for three years. I went to Danbury first and then I was transferred to Lewisberg, Pennsylvania, where I met David. My first meeting with David was this. I was with a group of people who were on strike, refusing to work and we were being held in a certain cellblock where there was the so-called tough guys, and the point is that someone came to me — one of these so-called tough guys — came to me and said, you guys are making it tough for us in prison here because the guards are always around, and if you don’t get out of here, you’re going to be in trouble. Then he walked away. So, I was upset about that, but anyway, the next morning someone came up to my cell and said, are you a friend of Dave Dellinger’s. Of course, I had never met Dave. I knew all about him, so, I said yes he said, well, listen, any friend of David is a friend of mine. So, he said, if anything happens here, you let me know, and we’ll take care of it. This fellow was not a pacifist, but he was a friend of David’s. I still hadn’t met David. I found out later that the reason that this non-pacifist, a regular prisoner had come to me was because David had very often supported people who had gotten in trouble, and he you know, stood up for them. Most of the c.o.'s stood up for each other, because they worked together, but he stood up for the other prisoners also, and he was well liked by other the prisoners. That was because of his compassion for all people, not just conscientious objectors. That was my first, not having met yet, but that was my first contact with David. That was kind of a thing — that showed how he was getting along with other people. Finally, I did meet David out in the prison population and got to know him very well. David was very dedicated to the peace movement, to pacifism and non-violence. I think that David would work with other — sometimes he would work with other groups that weren't involved in the non-violent movement, but he always worked with anybody who was for — like in the Vietnam war, there were many people against the war, but also were not pacifists, and he worked with many people outside the pacifist movement, but never giving up his ideas of what he believed in, but did he work with them. I would say his legacy was that David always was for the underdog, and he gave up many things in his life to try to achieve these ideas.

DAVE MCREYNOLDS: This is Dave McReynolds, I formerly worked with Dave Dellinger at Liberation Magazine from 1957 to 1960, but I would primarily be known as a former staff of the War Resistor’s League. I had met Dave for the first time when I came to New York to work in 1956 to work with Liberation Magazine, which was the radical voice of the pacifist movement. It was a fascinating experience to be at the weekly meetings with Dave. This was long before the mass mobilizations of Vietnam or the Chicago trials, for which Dave is more widely known. The board had an interesting breakdown between the anarchists who were Roy Finch and Dave Dellinger and the more Marxist position which was Sid Lens, Byard, and A.J. I think my impression of Dave, I thought about this over the years, despite some disagreements that I had had at points with Dave was the extraordinary burden that Dave undertook to raise the funds, get the meetings of the mobilizations for the various Vietnam actions, borrow the money that was needed, open the offices, all of the things which if you were president, you have a whole staff worrying about and doing.

DANIEL BERRIGAN: This is Daniel Berrigan. I’m having a sense of great loss reflecting on the long friendship I had with David, and I wanted to talk about the last kind of encounter that I had with himself and his wife Elizabeth. This was in the twin cities in Minnesota. Someone had set up a panel in the course of a weekend against war. The panel, I thought, was innovative. It consisted of David and Elizabeth on the one side of the stage, and Phillip’s son and daughters, Jerry and Phea on the other. The idea was to reflect on generations of peacemaking where the young people were, where the elders were, and have them question one another. It turned out to be the delightful and charming and certain sorrow about losses then and losses to come. And it was very beautiful to see the kind of deep listening that the elders did to these young folk as they told about growing up and joining a house with one or another parent away in prison et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Then David and Elizabeth talking about raising their family in midst of well, everything from the second war to Vietnam, and on to the nuclear question and so on and so forth. The mingling was not merely of generations, but it was sensibility and outlook, and I thought a very deep commonality in the crucial matter of non-violent resistance, but non-violence underscored. It was also on that occasion that the two youngsters came to me very disturbed because they had been talking with their father who was planning another action, and they were shaken within the prospect not just of losing him once more, but whether or not at that advanced age of his, he was in his later 70’s, he might very well die in prison. So, I decided to confront them head-on and said, well, everyone that goes at that age takes that chance, and I’m sure it’s on the mind of David Dellinger and his wife about what’s the next action and what are the risks involved, and what is conscience telling one about that and so on and so forth. Well, my memory of David goes back and back and back. Some of it, of course, is from reading and pondering his autobiography. I thought of the amazing changes that have been brought about in his life because he was so consistent, and his conscience was absolutely seamless. We all had a great mentor and friend who could be called upon in almost any direction relative to human decency and peaceableness, and who fulfilled that enduring saying of Gandhi that the peacemaker belongs where the war is, not where the peace is. David would set out for this or that trouble spot doing what could be done, and daring at times what could not be done. And for this, he will be in our memory as long as we live. Myself and my family and my friends. God bless him, God rest him.

AMY GOODMAN: Dan Berrigan, Dave McReynolds, Ralph Digia, Leonard Weinglass, Tom Hayden and Howard Zinn. Remembering Dave Dellinger as we end with the words of Dave Dellinger, read by Democracy Now!’s Jeremy Scahill.

JEREMY SCAHILL: This is from an essay he wrote upon the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki called “Declaration of War.”

The way of life that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki and is reported to have roasted alive a million people in Tokyo overnight is international and dominates every nation of the world, but we live in the United States, so our struggle is here. With this way of life, death would be more appropriate. There could be no truce or quarter. The prejudices of patriotism, the pressures of our friends and fear of unpopularity and death should not hold us back any longer. It should be total war against the economic and political and social system which is dominant in this country. The American system has been destroying human life in peace and in war, at home and abroad for decades. Now it has produced the growing infamy of atom bombing. The besides the brutal facts, the tidbits of democracy mean nothing. Henceforth, no decent citizen owes one scrap of allegiance if he did to American law, American custom or American institutions.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill reading the words of Dave Dellinger from “Revolutionary Non-Violence.”

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