American Radical, Pacifist and Activist for Nonviolent Social Change: David Dellinger Interview


good evening welcome to alternative views we have with us tonight Dave Dellinger who’s been described as America’s most durable radical as ken carpenter indicated in the discussion who will also be with us today Dave has been active for four decades in the movements for peace and social justice in America today thanks for coming today we’re very glad to have you let’s begin by discussing your origins in the peace movement what led you to resist the draft in World War two I was your basic pacifist principles there well actually it began with the depression I grew up in a suburb of Boston my father was chairman of the Republican Town Committee and at a certain point there was the stock market crash when I was in a freshman I think in high school and then all of a sudden according to the philosophy of republicanism and the kind of philosophy that Ronald Reagan symbolizes today when the unemployment rolls went up from 1 million to 3 million to 6 million I was led to believe that maybe 5 million people had suddenly become lazy and didn’t want to work and you know because there were all these jobs available but they were too fussy or what have you and this I think was my introduction to radicalism by the way by radical I mean going to the roots count you know that’s a Latin word radix radicals roots and not just putting a band-aid on when there’s a deep wound or taking aspirin for cancer and treating the society the same way but there was also in the 30s a very strong connected with the social justice movement in the movement on behalf of the people who were suddenly thrown out of work or were being evicted from their homes for non-payment of rent or mortgages or whatever it was there was a strong anti-war movement and that’s one reason I appreciated not the so-called you know the praise but well that Ken carpenter dried off that I identified with or interested in social justice and economic justice as well as anti-war and I think it’s wrong to separate them but in the 30s they weren’t separated because in the depression there was also a lot of exposure about the arms merchants the merchants of death Woodrow Wilson had said in a speech that is there any man woman or child in America or any child who does not know that this was an industrial and commercial war relating to a World War one but also in the course of pursuing that I became acquainted largely through Gandhi and India who was leading a massive militant nonviolent struggle for the independence of his country from the British Empire in the methods of non-violence so putting all of those things together I came to believe that human problems would not be solved first of all unless you linked them all and realized that there was some kind of political and human attitude that joined economics and war and daily life but secondly that we wouldn’t really be posing an alternative to society’s ways of dealing things unless we developed nonviolent methods but not just methods of like I’m not going to be violent that I’m going to be a pacifist and but I don’t care if of these black people you know have a higher rate of unemployment and a higher incidence of infant mortality and all the rest but but linking them together and actually I went to prison the first time and had served the year in a day was out of prison before Pearl Harbor was attacked of course now we know and and as a matter of fact I have to say that I knew at the time that the United States had broken the Japanese code that they had decided they had already as a matter of fact the United States has already been sinking Japanese ships in the Pacific and they had decided on more but they maneuvered to try to make Japan make a kind of apparently sneak attack and am i saying that the Japan didn’t try a sneak attack to but to try something which would turn the country finally against American non-involvement against against America’s refusal to think that the way to get rid of fascism and Empire in the world was was to solve it with bombs and guns and all the rest so these have been fairly constant principles from the 1940s up to the present day with you have they not yes I mean you know like going to say like anybody it’s like making an excuse you know I’m sure that along the way I made mistakes and didn’t handle things correctly and and there’s some very difficult problems in life you know if you’re going to take these these things seriously and one of the most difficult problems comes about when you or in this case me but but many many particularly white middle-class people which is my origin at least our advocates of non-violence and then somebody who was terribly terribly oppressed resorts to some violence in an attempt to free themselves now one of the things where one reasons I sometimes hesitate to call myself a pacifist although I’m a total advocate of non-violent methods is it in those situations sometimes the pastor’s say well we can’t support the civil rights movement because Robert Williams who was a leader of the NAACP has said that Negroes have a right to arm themselves in self-defense or we can’t support the the Vietnamese so we can’t oppose America going over there is the strongest military power in the world and the richest most powerful country and attacking the peasants we can’t do that because they’re fighting back with guns and whatnot so there are dilemmas and I never know whether I’ve made exactly the right decision at the right time but the aim in my mind is to maintain solidarity and emphasize the right of the people to liberation and at the same time to concentrate not on whether you agree all the way with their politics or their methods are not but on in the case of Vietnam that there is no excuse for the United States to be over there bombing people uprooting villages to dropping chemicals all the rest so there’s a rising you know I won’t take sides because was both a violent and I’m also believe that and a lot of Vietnamese with whom I’ve been in close contact feel as to that the the price of defensive military resistance today with modern warfare and modern weapons has become so great and we have by now enough historical examples of the fact that a united people employing nonviolent means can overthrow the worst dictator or the most cruel tyrant such as happened in Iran where the people were not nonviolent by choice but by force of circumstances and whatever problems persist there today and I think there is some very bad problems there nonetheless there was a period when the people of Iran essentially without arms decided they would not tolerate the dictatorship of the Shia as supported by the United States and they were able to bring about his downfall it was only after that then when they gained control of the army and got arms and so forth that you know that the violence can’t begin to began to come in so seriously on their side Dave in the 1950s we all experienced the horrors of the atom bomb actually we had the graphic testimony of Hiroshima to show its powerful destructiveness to dis intensify your commitment to the peace movement and to banning the bomb was this a major impact on you do you think the fact of atomic weapons and the possibility of nuclear holocaust well yes and I should by the way just flash back and say the fact that the United States dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at a time when Japan was desperately suing for peace confirmed at least part of our my and other people’s reasons for not supporting the US military in world war ii namely that we became not in superficial cultural detail but but in in some core some essence the united states government became almost like the german government in the sense that it thought it had the right to wipe out these people and as i say to wipe them out at a time when japan was already defeated and was suing for peace to lie to the country by saying that it was necessary to save American lives but to do it in order to demonstrate that it held the Doomsday weapons in it and in that way it could dominate and control the world and and create what Henry Luce of Life magazine called the American Century in which basically the American Empire would replace the the British Empire and the aspiring German Empire and Americans would control the world and basically become number one so the bomb really initially confirmed your drive towards the need for radical social change in America you saw them again the sort of roots and the sort of militaristic structure of the political economy well the Internet yes right right the desire to dominate the world to make all of the world there as much as well as possible safe for profit for multinational corporations based initially in America that that that led that was the reason basically or one of the main reasons that they dropped the bomb and developed the hydrogen bomb and tried to maintain nuclear dominance the horror of nuclear weapons helped to radicalize you and to make you a peace activist well I can I’m one of the people who can clearly remember being in grade school and having atomic bomb drills where we would all get down under our desks or go out in the hall assuming there was going to be an atomic bomb dropped on our city and as if we would be protected by hiding under the desk from it I’m sure that made an impression on me I also grew up during the period of the Korean War and I remember that quite clearly my own radicalization I think happened during the Vietnam War like so many other people in my generation and really not until the Vietnam War became a very direct immediacy in my life that is that I was drafted and knew there was a fairly good chance I was going to be in Vietnam within a few months that’s when I started turning around they when did you first become active in opposing the Vietnam War and what led you to this well actually remember it at an Easter anti bomb march of a coalition in New York which was one of the largest held a that time about 10,000 people some people showed up with a sign saying us out of Vietnam and at that time I mean I opposed the u.s. being in Vietnam but I hardly knew about it nobody did and I always remember you know there was this now well I get confused 62 years but I think well 62 is the most apt to be there was a very minor issue in people’s minds it was like they tried to do with El Salvador you know we’re just sending down whatever we’re advisory advisors and so forth and they’ll be out of there soon and anyway there’s a danger of becoming sort of single issue I remember the chairperson of that rally that anti bomb rally objected to the presence of these signs because it was introducing an extraneous element and I remember turned to him and saying but fired they’re opposing US military adventure how can you say that they don’t belong in the anti bomb rally and he said well then you know we all agree that this is an anti bomb rally and they shouldn’t be introducing that because some people might think that the United States belongs there and so on well that’s sort of a personal incident I guess but from then I I developed a heightened interest in it but people sometimes romanticize the 60s as if it was just a decade in which everybody was out in the streets all the time and it was the thing to do and so forth I can tell you that from that pit roll from 1961 that instant might have been 61 actually but from 1961 until 1966 at least there were five very difficult lonely years when there wasn’t there were no masses in the streets and when anytime we went out we were subject to being attacked by angry quote Patriots veterans groups American Legionnaires and all the rest and was only because a lot of people and by the way this didn’t begin even there was because people had been in the South in the civil rights movement you know facing the police dogs and the fire hoses and all arrests and preparing a kind of attitude and developing a kind of regeneration of what I would consider the best American spirit it was only through years of that kind of thing that eventually reached the point where as many as a million people would protest throughout the country in the same day against the war what are some of the lessons we can learn from the 60s that are still useful for us in terms of wanting to change American society today well first of all I would say that one has to learn that these things do function in a seasonal manner and that if people had not opposed the Korean War that ken mentioned at a time when there were no huge rallies and and no mass movement and if people hadn’t gone into the South and carried certain values and attitudes and being willing willing to if necessary in many cases actually sacrificed their lives for it and if people had said oh the whole country supports the Vietnam War so I’m not going to go out and get my head beaten in or I’m not going to get my parents angry at me or risk my job and so forth if people hadn’t done that in the non glory days so to speak the wooden of the movement wouldn’t have developed the extent that it would’ve secondly though let me just ask you on that favor you sort of gratified or happy when you see the response of the public today to El Salvador as testimony that all the struggles of the 60s paid off that here we have another military adventure going on and in its early stages we were able to mobilize a fairly large number of people for demonstrations and a very impressive public opinion polls against intervention in El Salvador does that sort of illustrate what you just said that the struggles of the 60s weren’t in vain and it was the continuity of those struggles that makes it more difficult for America now to get a new military adventures absolutely and I would add to that that it also shows that the press and the politicians and a lot of people were promoting a false sense of the 70s that a lot was going on in the 70s that was very basic and then if hadn’t gone on probably the response to the adventure in El Salvador in the growing response which I anticipate is going to get much much greater to the Reagan budget cuts and emphasis of the military and of American machismo I don’t think it would have happened but if that’s really one of the lessons of the 60s I think is that at the beginning there was what was called the new left that is when the movement began to develop in substance it all around basically around 1965 and in that time there was a lot of experimental activity there was no no thought that there had to be at one single correct way to oppose the war that everybody had to think the same politically but there was a great diversity and when we held teach-ins if somebody asked a question which said you know something like well isn’t it true that the American advisors were over there only helping the Vietnamese people in trying to introduce democracy to the country instead of well they’d get a serious answer and all kinds of questions were discussed and analyzed in a thoughtful way there was no pressure for kind of more opinion that everybody had to think the same later it got to the point although this was not typical of the masses and the movements but there were too many meetings when if somebody expressed a point of view which deviate a little bit from the organizers of the meeting they would be ridiculed or condemned or called the enemy or pigs or something which is the worst traits of the old left that a new left initially initially had gotten rid of and what has been your experience these are the people’s responsiveness to your positions on El Salvador well I agree with xx Dave said totally I can remember Becky even in the mid 60s being in anti-war demonstrations in Colorado of five or six or ten people it took years and years of building during the Vietnam War to to get the kind of major opposition that eventually I think forced the u.s. out of its involvement in Vietnam it’s taken us just a matter of months to organized opposition to u.s. involvement in El Salvador defined quite a response among the population that’s right I think one of the things that that we have going for us this time is a pretty broad understanding among the American public about how the u.s. is is maintaining an empire of what the US has real motives are the protection of our raw materials our resources the things that that we’ve come to expect the rest of the world to supply us that wasn’t true in the 60s I think one of the real contributions of the new left was to to give people a kind of analysis of of how the American Empire really worked and people understand that now and they accept that I think something else that people understand now that they weren’t quite as willing to accept them was that in order to protect this multinational Empire we have to have military alliances with dictators and military hunters of the repressive sort and I think Reagan very cynically and brutally in his complete rejection of Carter’s civil rights human sorry human rights policy has made it clear that the price of this American foreign policy is the support of military dictators and I think the people aren’t willing to accept let me just flash back for a minute you asked at the beginning about World War two one of the reasons that a lot of people did not support the Americans in American government in world war two was for that very same phenomenon that although eventually after first playing footsie with Hitler and contributing to his rise they apparently turned against fascism but their allies and the governments that they supported all over the world were again the fascist totalitarian governments and it was just hitler was singled out as being the one that they were going to get rid of Dave let’s move on out of the second lesson sixties you could become so impatient and so upset over what the United States was doing in Vietnam not only to the Vietnamese but the 200 GIS were coming home in canvas bags every week you know you could become so horrified by this that you build up a certain kind of impatience in a head of steam and you could go out into the streets with hostility and not reaching out to people not understanding and the teaching was one example but not understanding that we’re all conditioned by this society and we all have certain attitudes and beliefs one of them being that the United States is is the only democratic good Society in the world or the best at least and then when it goes abroad it’s it’s you know doing good things and so you could go out with a chip on your shoulder toward the people who disagreed with you and I think that with nuclear the danger of nuclear war you know really creating the final solution to the world’s problems and you know in quotes in terms of the ultimate Holocaust sometimes people or people just just being so embittered by what’s happening to their jobs by runaway plants and all the rest that it’s possible to become rather narrow in in one’s attitudes in the end to carry a kind of hatred and anger into things now anger can be helpful but hatred can’t I think to lead lead to not realizing that we’re all in this you know confused and fumbling and trying to find our way and sort things out and it’s not where a person is today he might be in uniform today suppressing you but he may also have a lot of reservations and uncertainties and that it never pays to think which happened in the late 60s that that guy is somehow a pig but to think that he also was instead that he also was a victim and a potential ally and to try to recruit and work with him and even though you must defy him at certain points or disobey his orders that nonetheless you reach out to him as a human being and that of course is one half at least or one part of the essence of non-violence is a related lesson from the 60s that things like the Vietnam War shouldn’t be seen in isolation as a single issue right there was a lot of radicals saw the war or not really radicals but a lot of protesters saw the war is an saluté evil when it was over there for the problems would be solved and over whereas I think in your perspective you see the or the war as expressive of the sort of root causes and a situation in American society that needs to be addressed so with that being a lesson of the 60s that one can have single issue politics be it anti nuclear energy or anti-war policies but one has to see how these are related to the whole systemic situation the poet Kenneth Patchen speaking of the anti-war movement of his day once said the trouble is they want to get rid of war without getting rid of the causes of war but it’s not only that when 44% of the people born in Latin America children die before the age of five from causes attributable to poverty basically into American capital control of the of the country they’re just as dead as if they’d been killed in a war and you have to be just as concerned for them as you would for a civilian who was bombed to death so in terms of the lessons of the 60s we saw that the anti-war movement was there that took place that I was effective not only is stopping the Vietnam war but building up the consensus and a basis to stop later imperialist interventions but we saw that some radicals tended to be a bit too fanatic or too dogmatic and not really to address the population as allies in the project of social change and we saw that a lot of people focused too much on one issue politics thinking that the Vietnam War in itself was the evil of American society when when once it went away the problems would be solved would you like to comment on that a bit yeah I’d like Martha I’d like to give an example for example the anti-war movement grew not just anti-vietnam war movement out of the anti Barr moment but out of the experience in the south of civil the civil rights struggle and they came a time I’ll just condense this but became a time in late 1966 and early 912 particularly late 1966 when large numbers of people were getting out in the end I wore a movement and and we were beginning to develop a vigorous movement and we had always had strong black participation and I’m speaking of the actions in particularly mobilization coming to end the war and I came into a continuation committee meeting once and it was in New York about a hundred people and our treasurer proposed that we stop talking so much about black needs and black problems and having so many black speakers because he said you know that’s just adding a second issue and some people really don’t go with that and we have a chance to stop the war if we get the masses of the people with us simultaneously enough a very in many ways and a good man he resigned because he felt we were making a mistake to emphasize black problems at the same time with the war simultaneously with that I along with a number of other people had been trying for years to get Martin Luther King to come out against the war he was an advocate of non-violence a leader of nonviolent movements and in the civil rights struggle and he had what he had been wishy-washy on the issue and had never taken part in the demonstration against the war in Vietnam and when the point arrived when King finally with a lot of pressure including from less well-known people less favoured by the media likes Nick the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other black leaders had really taken the lead in speaking out against the war and finally Martin Luther King decided that he would take part in our demonstration in April of 1967 we went to a fundraising party for King’s organization the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and some of his funders came up to him and said if you march in that demonstration Martin we are withdrawing our funds and as a background for that only what they thought but what had been going on in the several years that we’d been talking with King and trying to persuade him to take a strong stand people had said well you know the issue of civil rights is called enough but if you come out against the war – then they will accuse you of being unpatriotic and not supporting your country and so it was the best of intentions he just like on the other end some anti-war people to want to keep quiet about civil rights he didn’t want to but he did keep quiet about the war well I think that King who was a honorable moral person reached the point where he could be silent no longer and he took part and he understood I think Howard our society had been co-opted by the press and by the government beginning with John F Kennedy and he linked not only war and race but also economics and he began to organize the Poor People’s Campaign which is going to bring all of these issues together all oppressed people in the country were going to come together American Indians and blacks and poor whites and you know people suffering from the war and so forth and I believe that when he did that and because he did have the charisma and the power and had been built up by the media because they thought they could use him at that point that there was the potential of a united movement that really would have turned the country around or done much more than was accomplished and and one year after he appeared in our April 4th 1967 March or April actions April 7th then one year later in less three days he was dead because he United those things I think that sure I’d offer that as a kind of condensed summary not only of the problems the temptations to isolate one issue but also the potential power when they are all brought together and the realization of people very high in this country of how they could be United and that they had to get rid of King for that reason well I think one of the other things that really prevented the rise of that kind of unifying of the issues and unifying of people during that left was the question of sectarianism the tendency in the both in the American left and I also unfortunately in the American peace movement to fractionalize into sectarian groups that spend their time battling with each other and I’ve also been a little distressed to see that kind of phenomena beginning to rise again in people who are working against the draft who are working against us involvement in El Salvador the Reagan budget cuts what she was a really length you have to work together and addressing these problems yeah and I’d like to ask Dave what kinds of things he thinks can be done to to unify people so that we don’t split up again into wrangling sectarian groups sort of movement building strategy that’s one thing about the 60s finally they evolved what was called here movement right which encompassed a variety of these groups well I think that first of all you do have to establish the linkages to understand that the way beginning with the Roman Empire at least that’s where I first learned that you know that the rule was divided and rule and that if we divide ourselves then we’re doing the systems work for it secondly I think we do have to adopt the spirit of solidarity in diversity and to think well you see it comes back to the idea that there’s that like one path to truth or one Road to revolution or one Vanguard group which is usually my group of course you know who I am that that has the answer to learn that in nature there isn’t one flower that is the most beautiful or one tree that’s the most magnificent or one river or anything it it’s all contributes to the total the total organism really and that to build a new society we have to start with the assumption of multiplicity and diversity but at the same time establishes the links and established the the the Solidarity so instead of going into a coalition and trying to caucus I mean the caucuses can be fine if they’re open and not don’t try dominate but the set of Coxon going in and trying to get everybody to think like I think or everybody to take the action that I feel like taking the one has to maintain this this openness and to know that real science operates by trial and error and experiment rather than telling some person you know from on high or from science what the truth is and so you’ve got to allow people to try different things and you’ve got a by process of trial and error and by many people doing different things build kind of a United strength there’s a whole emphasis which there really isn’t time to go into but a kind of a decentralized well I would say interesting enough the women’s movement in a way where they’ve stressed that the personal is the political you know that reduces things to human scale in a militant way by reducing it doesn’t mean it makes them less real or less valuable makes them more real and more valuable and the anti-nuclear movement with its decentralized emphasis where people take care of business where they are on the other hand if I just say one more word on it Paul Goodman who said something very important I think that people at the most vital areas of their life must live in face-to-face communities and face-to-face relationships where they are accountable and other people are accountable he said you also have to be come both more local and more global at the same time and when people say to me as they’re beginning to do again as they did in the late 60s which do you favor local action or national action I always say well that’s like asked me which I favor breathing in or breathing out if you don’t do both you’re in trouble if you don’t have national demonstrations where people can get a sense of the strength and the massiveness of the movement and they’re not just some Kooks as locally people will try to convince them I mean you know you lose something but if on the other hand you have just event after event in Washington or some other place and people aren’t doing the hard nitty gritty grassroots daily work of transforming their lives transforming their neighborhood and transforming everything from their love relationships to their work relationships to the community growth development all all arrests if they’re not doing that why the national demonstrations become more and more narrow and more and more futile so it’s almost as important almost as important as the issues that we’re working on are they’re preserving that kind of politics of openness that kind of experimentalism and that kind of flexibility okay and working I think simultaneously see that another one of these things like are you for local and nationalists do you think that first you must change people or change the society change the institution’s you can’t change the institution’s except by changing the people but you can’t change the people if you’re changing themselves in a vacuum without relationship to the daily institutions they’ve got it’s got to go on simultaneously and you told me earlier this week in a conversation that you thought was exemplary about Dave Dellinger as a longtime movement activist was his openness his flexibility and his ability to build bridges between different their groups yeah and the other thing I’d add it’s just a good dose of common sense of being able to look at a situation and and understand what’s going on in a very simple clear way well could I want to interrupt because I get a little nervous about this I think that’s so terribly important is not to make heroes of people because like I am older and therefore been involved longer but I can tell you that in 1965 when the new left began to flower I learned more from the new left from I don’t know a new I’d be competitive out I learned as much from the new left as the new left learn from me and one of the things that has to happen is that we have to break down the ageism young people every generation comes with new insights or insights that we’ve forgotten on the other hand people who have been around longer and experienced certain things have certain understandings and insights which are also part of the picture so we must all of a simultaneously both teach and learn what are some of the interests well I would like you to continue are some of the bridges the should be built some of the links between different movements well it one of the advantages that we have now again compared to the 60s is the broader range of people were working with when we’re talking about us opposition to to involvement in El Salvador for instance now we’re talking about labor unions being really involved we’re talking about a whole large veterans movement in the 60s there were no veterans who were on our side or very few well there were some were generated out of the war that there were at the beginning or very few sure and so we’re just working with a whole broader range of people now and that calls for I think a lot more sensitivity a lot more understanding of how issues are interrelated and a lot more willingness to be open and to listen to people who are different than you and to learn from them are you encouraged by some of the linkages that you’ve seen in recent years in the anti-nuclear movement or in the movement against El Salvador etc yes there’s a long way still to go it’s it’s not easy you know it’s like the neatest trick of the decade to be able to continue focusing on your own oppression and that’s one again one of the things the women’s movement taught us that you you can’t say to any group or to yourself well this oppression can wait while we fight against that one you’ve got to be again that’s what openness and honesty means is not accepting oppression for yourself or anybody else but it’s the neatest trick of the decade if we can maintain that and at the same time maintain United actions and you know keep the two things happening together and it’s it’s not I think the movement is in that direction more and more people realize that that everything is linked it’s all sort of a matter of a common economic economy and common assumptions and attitudes that cause the problems in whatever area of life but although more and more people realize that there are still breakdowns occurring you know where where suddenly people at one racer are excoriated in an argument like in the el salvador question that really where race is not the issue or where women are made once again to feel inferior and/or step back a little bit and let we men who you know make a better appearance on television or or you know it’s like the old Martin Luther King civil rights anti-war thing all over again so that does does crop up it has to has to be tackled there’s a lot of commentators and people who look at America today saw the 1970s is sort of an apathetic passive quiescent decade and then saw this culminated with a victory of the new right and reaganism in 1980 with Reagan claiming he has a mandate for his problems he share this view of the 1970s in American society today how do you perceive this well first of all is see I think that the spirit with which one does something is as important as the goals for which one spirit and the means as the goals for which one is working and I think that toward the end of the 60s because it was an emergency period and because people did suffer a lot and people were impatient there was a kind of a harshness and the shrillness and a lot of loss of perspective that tended to creep in and a lot of what has been derided as narcissism and going off in a corner and meditating and forgetting the world I think was a very important reaching out for deeper roots and understandings and getting you know the phrase used to be about getting your head clear or getting here your values in order now to the extent that those tendencies those needs were prostituted by authoritarian gurus or by money-making charlatans or you know people who hadn’t you know like they say of some therapists that they have a need for disciples so they’ll keep you as a patient as long as they can to the extent that that happened obviously it was deplorable and it did happen but in the same way I wasn’t about to give up politics because the developed a cult of personality in politics and because a lot of left groups and even a country like the Soviet Union developed some very repressive means of dealing with people so I didn’t say well there’s no hope we will just go with what we’ve got which is capitalist cynicism and and so forth and in the same way I think that it was wrong to throw out the whole search for some kind of sometimes these words not popular but some kind of pure approach to life and less egocentric approach and you know to get rid of the ego in the manner that the Buddhist advocated and guess any true religion does I’m not a don’t think that either should be abandoned because sometimes it was taken advantage of by charlatans or by people who just didn’t understand fully so I see the 70s as a very important period of preparing the way for what I hope will be a very strong militant insistent political movement which at the same time does maintain some long old fashioned words but the spirit of love and cooperation and sensitivity to other people which will unite unite these letters in a way that we didn’t we haven’t always always done in the past do you think that the new right really has a mandate for their programs that go against everything that you just said this anti VRA anti-abortion anti social change anti just about even television or do you think that this is just a sort of marginal no you see even after as many as a million people protested the war in the last last year’s when when an overwhelming majority the country opposed it they still tried to talk about the silent majority or the middle American majority who supported the war now they speak about the moral majority well by now I think that’s been exposed quite a bit but when Reagan claims a mandate for views which are horrendous for most people not as they are described in certain generalized ways you know where you know when he speaks about America getting strong again and you think of the you know the early colonists who stood behind a tree with a musket to fight off the Redcoats you know in a world where that’s not true but in fact only 26% of the eligible electorate voted for Ronald Reagan or slightly less than 26% I think and of those many many people voted for change not for the kind of repressive policies that are coming in because they didn’t have jobs because they were getting destroyed by inflation or because they were worried about the danger of war and the hypocrisy of the proceeding and as well as the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the preceding administration so actually I think that a long said I don’t want to oversimplify anything many people are unhappy alienated from the existing institutions ten even tending to get discouraged not knowing what to do about it but I think that at the same time there is the potential amongst those people for embracing new ideas and new methods and for understanding that the society is so sick and so out of whack that we have to try a lot of new things and as Reagan’s methods obviously fail I think that there’s hope that people will begin to extend into larger relationships the relationships that they’ve developed in in smaller groups now you know in their in their family well you know a love relationships in communes and little little organizations and and and groups so you see the possibility for another mass movement for social change in American society that could lead to a revitalized our left yes the only thing I get slightly afraid of the word mass I think it can be massive and large and they densive but I think that if it if it only operates as a mass then you know this quality which the 70s helped develop in the country and in the movement and there’s a danger of its being lost thankfully as a final question what is I kept you going for these are for decades one of your deepest hopes or what values have you been striving to realize or what faith has just kept you going day to day and all these different movements and struggles well I could say a lot of things probably what am I was interesting I was with somebody about 10 years older than I was and he was asked that question and he said oh don’t you get discouraged I brought don’t you act differently he says what can you think of any better way to live in other words living relating to people in a positive way and trying to fight for those values but I could also say that I think that one of the luckiest things that happened to me was very painful and that was when I spent three years in a federal penitentiary because I came in touch with the prime victims of society and I saw you know in Plato’s phrase I saw a society writ large in that because the kid gloves were off and you saw you know not only you got to know intimately the lives of the people but you saw how the society treated them when they resisted and where people didn’t see how they what would happen to them as they would be brutalized and I think from that time on I’ve learned that even though you must everybody must try to achieve a certain amount of solitude and privacy and quiet and not just be constantly on the barricades you know reflectiveness and so with that perspective closeness with nature at the same time you cannot live substantially what I’ll call an upper class life in isolation from the victims of society and maintain a proper perspective and partly beginning with the friendships I made in jail you know I guess I’ve been constantly in touch with black people whose anger gets communicated and whose sufferings and with American Indians and Mexicans and poor whites and all the rest and I think that if one is not coming to academic or to kind of the way a certain political sex that Ken refers to getting lost in what Lenin says Oh mark says or or if you’re more religious and what some religious figure said Connie yes but exactly Gandhi is a beautiful example of that you know where it can lead people astray if you are in touch with the people who are living working and suffering and you’re not taking the easy way out of living in isolation from them they drive you you’re going you know you can’t say oh I’m tired of all this now I don’t feel like demonstrating today if you are in touch you know with young black children growing up in the ghetto of Brooklyn which is what my own life experience at this point well you have traveled to Vietnam to Cuba to Iran and seeing some of these situations of oppression and struggle have you not has that also been part of this touching to people and experiencing their needs and struggles that’s right I mean I often think of what Susan Sontag said when she visited Hanoi and North Vietnam during the war and walked through the territory at first she was very disappointed in them because she felt pity for them and they didn’t seem to feel any pity for themselves and secondly because they used words like imperialism and colonialism and capitalism and she’d only heard those words used in a rhetorical sense and kind of with it with a kind of hostility but as she actually been there for a while she realized two things one that when they spoke of imperialism and colonialism they were speaking from their life experience and secondly that they they were better off than the than the people in her home in America even as they were dying and suffering all the things which had to be stopped but because they knew at that point what they were fighting for and they were fighting for values which were stronger than than the individual and I think that when one goes when at least when I could have gone to third world country sometimes I disagree with there politics are their tactics on a particular thing but one gets a sense of this great upsurge of life you know of people who are determined no longer to – well to be the patsies in a situation when the United States with four percent of the world’s population speaks of its right to consume 40 percent of the world’s resources as the Reagan caspar weinberger in yesterday was quoted in the paper and just a typical vote of the importance of the United States preserving access to its strategic resources in the Persian Gulf as if the the world was just an oyster bed to the United States to feed upon well Dave Dellinger Ken carpenter thank you very much for coming and for the conversation today and thank you both for being tonight thank you very much

10 thoughts on “American Radical, Pacifist and Activist for Nonviolent Social Change: David Dellinger Interview

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *