I just completed Dave Dellinger’s ‘From Yale to Jail’ and felt compelled and inspired to write a few words. Dellinger’s autobiography chronicles the growth of his humanity from a small child to old age. From questioning youth, to concerned student, to draft resistor, to peace activist, to husband and father, Dellinger seeks to truthfully examine the elements in his life that made him the person he was- a person seeking to make the world better for everyone within it.
While the events and actions of Dellinger’s life are inspiring, from spending 4 years in prison resisting the draft during World War 2, to his publishing and grassroots efforts in the 50s, to his continued peace efforts throughout the 60s including the famous Chicago 8 trial, to fighting (nonviolently) for justice until his death, there is something much more touching and important about Dellinger’s life.
What emanates from Dellinger, his words, his life, is a simple but revolutionary notion that the best way to change the world, to make a difference, is by talking to people. To reach out to strangers, to ‘enemies’, and find their humanity, to find a way to relate. That Dellinger had the bravery to do this throughout his life, with prisoners, with police, with those with opposite views, with those seeking to do violence to him, is truly inspiring and educational. In today’s busy and stressful world, it’s easy to dismiss people, to avoid talking to a stranger, to stay within the safety of comfortable circles. It’s scary to try and move past a person’s defences or masks, as in doing so you must be willing to offer yourself in return. It takes courage and commitment. Dellinger’s ability to not see others as a walking ideology, or a uniform, or a job, but as a fellow person within the same system, conflicted and flawed like everyone else, allowed him to really connect and communicate across many boundaries in a sincere and meaningful way. It’s this notion to always ensure to recognize another’s humanity that I take as a gift from Dave Dellinger. The gift to remember to reach out to others as people first, to not get lost amongst the ideas, the institutions, the message boards, the protests.
This is something that is vital for the success of our movements. That our aims, actions and strategies must reach out, to connect with the common humanity within everyone and then build from there. Not in a exploitative or manipulative sense, but in the hope of awakening a common bond, a realization of the crushing weight that the modern world places on such bonds, to awaken people to a commitment for life to changing the world as best they can. Its not all hugs and kisses, but it does require vision, and ideals, and values, and action, but these are useless if we fail recognize, reflect and reach out to the wonderful elements of humanity found within everyone, the very things we seek to empower in a new world. Our values, our vision, our actions must keep this at its core, in all its dealings whether engaging in a debate on a forum, talking to a stranger, or being harassed by a police officer. We’re not just an amalgamation of ideas, of philosophies, of arguments to agree or disagree with. Approaching our movements and seeking to build them with Dellinger’s example in mind might point to ways to overcome the ‘stickiness’ problem that has limited our potential for widespread change. I know my heart swells when I think about Dave Dellinger, who I never had the privilege to meet, but whose example reminds that there is hope in everyone waiting to be brought out.
I can only hope to try and approach life with the zeal and open-minded, open-hearted spirit that allowed Dave Dellinger to stay true to his ideals and act on them throughout his life.
Its frustrating how these words can’t convey the spirit that exudes from Dellinger’s life story, but hopefully they’ll spark others to read and to be inspired, for his life and words are a continued reminder as to how we can win a better world by being the change we seek in the most natural of ways and in doing so to create a living and breathing ‘Beloved Community’.