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Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Issues > Autumn 2004 > From the Editor

From the Editor

A Big Arm

On October 29, 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—and even some of you old 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 on my right to hold onto except a sheer marble wall. Weighing about a hundred pounds less than I do now, I was a weak point in the line, and the cops noticed. They 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 onto, 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. A middle-aged, muscular, balding man smiled at me, unabashedly friendly. “I’m Chris, and thanks for holding on!” “You’re welcome,” he replied; “I’m Dave.” “I know,” I said. He smiled again.

The oldest and most truly radical of the Chicago Seven, jailed for resisting World War Two, David Dellinger, who died in May, lent a steady arm to a whole lot of activists over his 88 years. His Chicago co-defendent, Tom Hayden, wrote recently about Dave imposing his not inconsiderable body between Black Panther Bobby Seale and the federal marshals attempting to remove Seale from the courtroom. “More like a linebacker than a Gandhi” is how Hayden put it. That’s how I would have put it too.

For all his strength of commitment and body, Dellinger was a sensitive man. In a later meeting, he remonstrated with me for jokingly accusing him of using euphemisms to describe his anarchist political philosophy. The sensitivity and the anarchism were interconnected: Dave sympathized with anyone who was being ground down, and almost instinctively cheer-led any movement of the downground. This reflexive and consistent sympathy was his hallmark, though it led, at times, to errors in judgment, as when Dave lent his early support to the Maoist Cultural Revolution.

He made mistakes. Who among us, in this age of Hitchens and Horowitz, can claim to have maintained his or her commitment without error for seven decades? We need more Dellingers among us. He will be missed.
Bye, Dave. Thanks for holding on.

   

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