Sunday, January 15, 2012

Unrest in peace: Marv Davidov crosses over

It was 1968. He was in his mid-30s and I was just 17, a young and new activist, fired up by exactly the same two issues that he worked on, and led us in, Civil Rights and ending the war on Vietnam. His ramshackle office was on the West Bank of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, my hometown. I stopped in to find out more. He was alone, thick black hair, wide smile, stentorian yet intimately friendly voice, ready to give a youngster his time and explain what they were doing. More than two hours later, I finally left. In that period, he screened the new 'commercial' they were about to run on local television and described the support they were giving to African Americans living in extreme poverty in the Mississippi Delta country. He was patient and instructive, encouraging and generous.

Marv Davidov just crossed over. He was 80, giving interviews up to the end. He taught three generations of us to be better activists in his campaigns such as Liberty House, Honeywell Project and the resistance to Alliant Techsystems military manufacturing. Whoever is doing movement history or social change analysis and has a course on the use of humor, should have a unit on Marv "Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Gefilte Fish" Davidov.

Marv led thousands of us in nonviolent resistance to Honeywell in the 1980s. They were making guidance components for Pershing II missiles and still making the infamous anti-personnel cluster bombs so ruinously cruel to civilians from Vietnam to El Salvador and then on to Afghanistan and Iraq and wherever Honeywell or its hand-off corporation, Alliant Techsystems, could peddle them to brutal governments.

When agents provocateurs infiltrated us in the 1960s they were the ones leading the way with bricks and stones, committing relatively minor acts of violence but managing to turn the public against the Honeywell Project. Marv never stopped his activism, but it took the aftermath of the first Plowshares action in September 1980, as the defendants in that one toured the country speaking, to reignite the Honeywell Project. Fr. Carl Kabat, in one of his wild talks (his fire-breathing only dampened by his foaming sputtering) challenged a Minneapolis crowd to do something. Sister Char Madigan asked what would be most helpful. Marv said, "How about restarting the Honeywell Project?" So they did.

Honeywell was one of the top Pentagon contractors, taking in $billions annually, running 13 factories in the Twin Cities area during the Vietnam War and they just kept selling those criminal weapons, a huge and powerful corporation. Marv the impoverished activist and a couple of nuns v a behemoth war corporation with plants and offices worldwide? Snort. As if. Honeywell had been eating well at the public trough for decades.

In a decade, Honeywell sold off almost all its military operations, denying publicly that grassroots activism was a factor. So the grassroots activism continued against the spin-off until they moved to Virginia. In other words, Marv or the ones who came after Marv won ever single struggle.

I was so happy that St. Thomas University's Peace Studies program put that old Jewish activist to work as an adjunct--Marv had no academic credentials, he was a living peace and justice movement encyclopedia who offered first-hand accounts to students of his actions and his friends actions, friends like Barbara Deming, Staughton Lynd, John Lewis, Diane Nash and many hundreds more--people who changed US history toward peace and justice in hundreds of ways. What a gift to those students.

Was Marv perfect? He was not. He was the Abbie Hoffman of Minneapolis, prone to bipolar disorder, and would work nearly 24-7 to get a big project done successfully and then would call and pour his heart out for hours, distraught by the deterioration of movement relationships. He had many of therapists--we heard Marv and we comforted him in his hours of need. We knew his heart was in for life and he needed us to hold that heart for him or it wouldn't work. We begged him to stop smoking. He told me, "Well, I know it's hurting me; I'm not schizophrenic about it, not like the war profiteers who are killing the Earth they live on." Good point, Marv.

If we had 1,000 Marv Davidovs the 1,000 rich and powerful ones who presume to control the lives of millions would have no chance. Marv created many young activists and so he lives on. He taught me things I learned nowhere else and now I pass them along to my students. Marv Davidov is dead--long live Marv Davidov!


David Rovics said...

Marv was an incredible activist with a vibrant, irrepressible spirit. Thanks for writing this eloquent appreciation of him. I have fond memories of being regaled with stories of Dean Reed, the cowboy communist from Colorado via Berlin, who was a good friend of Marv's. But he didn't just talk, he was a doer, and even in his 70's he organized a great gig for me in Minneapolis. I even stayed at his small, smoke-stained, cluttered apartment, which I would not recommend to anyone!

Andy Gricevich said...

Marv was incredible, one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met and definitely one of the three funniest.

I remember the first night he, Rick and I hung out, in St. Cloud, MN after a peace studies conference. Marv said, “Let’s go get something to eat, and I’ll talk.” He ordered a martini and did just that, for two wonderful hours, while we struggled to swallow our eggs while laughing or keep them from falling out of our mouths as they hung open.

During the conference, somebody in the audience had asked, “What do you do when you burn out?” Marv said something like, “You burn out. You call your friends and say, ‘Hey, you won’t be seeing me at meetings for a few months; I’m going to lie on my floor and watch movies. They know what to do.” That seems like a good model for community to me.

Terri said...

Beautifully written. I'm looking forward to our small Portland memorial by the Hawthorne bridge Thursday night.