Sunday, January 15, 2012

Marv Davidov, 1931-2012

My friend Marv died yesterday morning. He was 81 years old and had been in poor health for some time. Still, I and many others feel his loss greatly.

As many of my Minnesota readers would know, Marv Davidov was an icon within the local justice and peace community. He was the founder of the Honeywell Project, a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, and a participant in the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride of 2003. For over 50 years he was a tireless non-violent revolutionary, dedicated to facilitating positive social transformation through organizing and activism.

Marv played an important role in my political and social awakening; my "radicalization," if you like. He was a true friend and mentor, and he no doubt played this dual role for many others.

I first met Marv in 1997 when I began participating in the weekly vigil outside the corporate headquarters of Alliant TechSystems. At the time, Alliant was the largest Minnesota-based weapons manufacturer and the primary supplier of landmines, cluster bombs, nuclear missile rocket motors, and depleted uranium munitions to the U.S. Department of Defense. It also had sales representatives in over 60 countries.

My involvement in this vigil (left) introduced me to a wonderful community of people – a community that, rain or shine, faithfully gathered every Wednesday morning to protest war and the profiting from war.

My involvement with this issue not only made me aware of dysfunctional aspects of U.S. foreign and economic policy but also of creative and nonviolent responses and alternatives to them.
Such awareness soon led to my active participation in a range of social justice issues. It was a very energizing period of my life; a time of learning and of forging lasting friendships with many interesting and inspiring individuals.

In November 1997 I wrote to my parents in Australia and shared with them my new found interests and activities.

I'm not sure where my involvement in such issues will lead me. But I know that in the last year I've changed a lot - mainly in relation to the way I view this country, militarism, and the economic system that we currently have and which is obviously not working in a just way for a vast number of people. I have no alternative to offer, yet know that there's no going back to the way I used to view things. Basically, I'm just trusting that the Spirit will lead me in right ways of thinking about such things and accordingly, in how I should live my life.

Marv was by far one of the most influential and colorful characters I encountered in the Minnesota justice and peace community. And make no mistake, he could be difficult to work with at times. Yet more often than not he'd be the first to tell you he was far from perfect. He was well aware of his shortcomings and tried his best to overcome them.

Through Marv and others I was introduced to the writings of
Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Vandana Shiva, David Korten , Arundati Roy and Amy Goodman; and to alternative news sources such as Democracy Now!, The Nation, Z Magazine, The Progressive and In These Times. Yes, my radicalization was assured! And I'm so thankful for that.

Although Marv was a self-professed non-believer, I always sensed a profoundly spiritual dimension to his activism. His concern for the dispossessed and marginalized, and his deep commitment to justice for all, reflected aspects of the liberating social justice teachings of the Catholic Church. Many of Marv's friends were social justice-oriented Catholics, including priests and nuns, and he often jokingly referred to himself as a honorary member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

Marv was always very supportive of my gay rights activism with Queers United for Radical Action (QURA), the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) and, more recently, Catholics for Marriage Equality MN (C4ME-MN). He would often remind me that gay people have always been at the forefront of social change movements, including the Civil Rights Movement. James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin and Margaret Randall were three influential LGBT figures he would often cite.

Above: I feel very fortunate to have spent time with Marv during the last days of his life. For one thing, it gave me the opportunity to let him know how grateful I am for his presence in my life and for all his many years of work to bring about positive social change.

I was actually visiting Marv when he was interviewed by veteran Star Tribune reporter Randy Furst for the article reprinted below. My friend Barbara Mishler (right) was also present. Throughout Marv's long illness, and especially during the last weeks of his life, Barb was an inspiring provider of loving care, support and strength.

NOTE: More photos of Marv follow Randy Furst's reprinted article.


Longtime Peace Activist Marv Davidov Dies

By Randy Furst

Star Tribune
January 14, 2012

Marv Davidov (right), December 12, 1969.
Fred Carey of Honeywell security reads to Davidov and other protesters
a statement
restricting them from trespassing on Honeywell property.
(Photo: Jack Gillis)

Marv Davidov, an iconic figure of the Minnesota peace movement who founded and led the Honeywell Project in a decades-long campaign to halt the production of anti-personnel weapons by Honeywell Inc., died Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis. He was 81, and had suffered from a number of health problems.

During one protest in 1983, nearly 600 protesters were arrested outside Honeywell's Minneapolis headquarters in a civil disobedience action, the type of demonstration that Davidov and his allies had organized so many times that it was honed to a fine art.

A chain smoker until recent years, he was an immediately recognizable figure at protests, with his large moustache, blue skipper's cap, almost always wearing a T-shirt with a protest slogan on it.

For years during the Vietnam War era, Davidov carried around a deactivated cluster bomb, the size of a softball, to show anyone who would listen that Honeywell was creating weapons being used by the U.S. military. He said the weapons indiscriminately killed innocent civilians in southeast Asia.

Honeywell eventually spun off its defense contract work to Alliant Techsystems.

Davidov estimated that he was arrested 40 or 50 times, mainly in antiwar and civil rights demonstrations.

He was one of the original Freedom Riders, young people who rode on buses through the South in 1961 to desegregate bus transportation and bus terminals.

He and five other white youths from the Twin Cities were arrested at a black-only lunch counter in a Greyhound bus station in Jackson, Miss., when they refused to comply with police orders to move on.

In an interview at Walker Methodist Health Center on Thursday, although sedated with pain medication for a worsening circulatory problem, Davidov spoke with animation about being locked up for 40 days with other civil rights demonstrators at a Mississippi prison farm. He said the black and white protesters were incarcerated together.

"We were the first group of integrated prisoners in Mississippi state prison history," Davidov said with a smile.

'An inspiration to many'

He described himself as a "nonviolent revolutionary" in an autobiography he wrote with Carol Masters.

One of Davidov's admirers was Daniel Ellsberg, a White House consultant, who leaked the Pentagon Papers about U.S. military decision-making in Vietnam to the media. Ellsberg, who later became a peace activist, helped raise money for the Honeywell Project at Davidov's invitation.

"Thanks to people like him, we're still hanging on as a species," Ellsberg said. "His nonviolence and his indefatigability and energy are an inspiration to many people.

"He's lived a good life, and I told him so" when he spoke to Davidov by phone on Friday, Ellsberg said.

This week, as Davidov's medical condition worsened, a number of peace activist friends stayed near him daily or sat in a waiting room outside his door.

'Solidarity and love'

"It's one of those great things that happens," Davidov said. "This kind of solidarity and love and support that people give one another."

John LaForge, an antiwar activist friend, had brought a small refrigerator to his room with a bumper sticker on it that read, "No more war."

Bill Tilton, a St. Paul attorney, said he first met Davidov in 1969 when they were staging a sit-in at the University of Minnesota in support of the African American Action Committee, which was demanding more scholarships for blacks.

"Marv is one of my heroes," Tilton said. "He never took his eye off the ball of advocating for the rights of the underprivileged and accountability of government. He told me, 'I am not going to have a regular job. I am always going to be part of the movement.' He was always going to be an organizer and he succeeded."

For years Davidov taught a class on "active nonviolence" at the University of St. Thomas. Jack Nelson Pallmeyer who taught the class with him, said "there was a warmth that came across when he related to students, a deeply respectful interaction in which Marv would share parts of his life story that awakened within students a possibility that they too could impact society."

Barbara Mishler said she got to know Davidov when she took a class of his at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in south Minneapolis 30 years ago.

"When I first met him, I was so terrified of nuclear war," she recalls. "He said, 'Settle down and read and inform yourself, before you hit the streets.' "

Lying in bed, barely able to sit up on Thursday, Davidov welcomed a reporter.

Nothing to say? Hardly

Asked if he had any thoughts that he'd like to pass on to young people, Davidov thought for a moment, smiled and said, "I've been waiting for this interview my entire life, and now I've got nothing to say."

But as anyone who has ever known Davidov, or heard him address a rally, Davidov was never at a loss for words, including on Thursday.

On the current presidential election campaign: "It reminds me of one of the books that Paul Goodman wrote in the 1950s, Growing Up Absurd. Once again the needs of the people who have most everything are satisfied first."

On advice to people in this election year: "Find the people in your community who are probing reality and talking about how to fundamentally change it and work at a local level on these problems, creating peace, freedom and justice."

On the Occupy protests against Wall Street that spread nationwide last year: "I thought it was great. The people were locating what their needs were and going out in the streets without compromise."

On the kind of memorial gathering he'd like: "I want people to remember and tell funny stories about me and the struggle, and try to create a deeper, more profound movement and build the numbers."

He is survived by his brother Jerry Davidov, a retired Minneapolis firefighter.


Following is a selection of photographs of Marv that I've taken over the years. If you didn't have the good fortune to know Marv, I hope these images give you a sense of the very special man he was and the many justice and peace activities he was dedicated to and involved in.

Above: Marv being arrested with Dave Dellinger (1915-2004) for trespassing at Alliant TechSystems corporate headquarters - May 7, 1997. Dave was a good friend of Marv's and, like him, was a pacifist and activist for nonviolent social change.

Not being a citizen of the U.S. I couldn't risk arrest at the periodic "actions" at Alliant and elsewhere. So I dedicated myself to documenting through photography the activities of the Twin Cities' justice and peace community. In time I established a website that brought together many of my photographs. I called this website Faces of Resistance: Images and Stories of Progressive Activism at the Turn of the Millennium (1997-2006). Marv was definitely a "face" of resistance.

Above: Marv with Polly Mann, another important figure in my development as a politically- and socially-aware and active person.

Above: Standing at right with Marv and other members of the Minnesota War Resisters League (Sister Rita Steinhagen Chapter) in April 2007.

Standing in the back row, third from right, is Frida Berrigan, daughter of Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister. Frida, a research associate at the World Policy Institute, was a special guest at our April 2007 meeting.

Above: At the April 2002 ReVisioning Conference in St. Paul, MN, Marv was part of a panel of speakers that addressed the topic "Militarism: Barrier to a Sustainable World." The other panelists were (from left) Fr. Gabriel Odima, Barbara Frey and Marie Braun.

Above: Standing center with (from left) John Braun, Mike Miles, Marie Braun and Marv. This photo was taken in May 2006 and shows us participating in one of the weekly vigils outside of the Alliant TechSystems corporate headquarters. "DU" refers to depleted uranium or Uranium 238, used in munitions produced by Alliant TechSystems.

Above: While visiting the Twin Cites from Australia in July 2005, my parents met Marv when they joined me in attending the weekly Alliant vigil. Pictured above from left: Marv, Marie Braun, Greg Corcoran, Dad, and Mary Vaughn.

Above: Marv with his friends Barb Mishler; Betty McKenzie, CSJ; Kate McDonald, CSJ; Rita McDonald, CSJ; and Brigid McDonald, CSJ.

Above: Marv with friends (from left) Kathleen Ruona, Ken Masters and Mary Ellen Trotter.

Left: Marv with Char Madigan, CSJ, founder of Hope Community in Minneapolis.

Right: Marv with friends Susu and Dee on the occasion of his 76th birthday – Saturday, August 25, 2007.

Above: Marv with Chris, one of the many young people who over the years have been inspired and moved to activism by Marv. This photo was taken at an Alliant TechSystem vigil in the summer of 2003.

Above: Marv in October 2002, protesting mainstream media bias, specifically the lack of coverage of the largest anti-war rally in Minnesota in 30 years that had taken place a few days earlier. Limited coverage of this event had been buried in the A section of both the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Above: Marv with (from left) Jane McDonald, CSJ, and poet Carol Masters.

My friend Carol collaborated with Marv on a book documenting his life of justice and peace activism. Entitled You Can’t Do That: Marv Davidov, Nonviolent Revolutionary, the book was published in 2010. For a review, click here.

Above: Marv with Kate McDonald, CSJ.

Left: Marv pictured in 1999 at Fort Benning, Georgia, for the annual protest of the U.S. Army School of the Americas.

Right: Marv being interviewed by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! during the 1997 Midwest Alternative Media Conference.

Above: Marv with Bill Barnett and his daughter Selina Rose. Bill is a Minneapolis resident and realtor and a tireless human rights and social justice activist. I'm honored to count him as a friend.

Above: Marv was quite renowned for the sunfish he caught and cooked up for his friends!

Above: Marv participates in the General Strike for Peace – Friday, September 21, 2007.

Above: My photo of Marv that is included in You Can't Do That. It shows Marv teaching a class on the history of nonviolence at the University of St. Thomas in April 2009.

Above: Marv at an anti-war event in 1999. Earlier that year I had invited Marv and others to speak to a social justice class that I was teaching at the College of St. Catherine-Minneapolis (left). Following is what one student wrote in response to the insights and experiences shared by Marv.

Marv was a very energized speaker describing his thoughts and beliefs in how our country is deeply, deeply dysfunctional. When he said that people are irrelevant compared to big business and money, I think he hit the nail right on the head . . . He brought a lot of new insights to me that made me question what is really going on around us. A lot of times I caught myself nodding my head in agreement to his points. Marv lives his life resisting [and] fighting for what he believes in. I found him very selfless. He resists not for himself, but for his community.

That's how I remember Marv, too.

When I said goodbye to Marv last Thursday afternoon, just two days before he died, he looked me in the eyes and said very calmly and deliberately, "I love you." I smiled back at him, rested my hand upon his shoulder and told him that I loved him too. My last words to him were, "I'll see you again, Marv."

Marv has left this life, but I truly believe I will see him again one day. Until then, rest in peace and power, my friend.

I conclude this tribute by sharing (in the following three segments) Lisa Joy LoMurray's 2007 documentary film Marv: Life of an Activist.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Marv Davidov, Twin Cities Peace Activist Dies – Tad Vezner (Pioneer Press, January 14, 2012).
Marv Davidov: 1931-2012 – Mary Turck (Twin Cities Daily Planet, January 14, 2012.
RIP, Marv Davidov
– Steve Clemens (Minnonista, January 14, 2012).
Memories of Marv – Chuck Turchick (Twin Cities Daily Planet, January 15, 2012).

Marv Davidov – A Drum Major for Justice – Gary Cunningham (Star Tribune, January 16, 2012).
Peace Activist Marv Davidov Dies – Rupa Shenoy (Minnesota Public Radio, January 15, 2012).
Twin Cities Anti-War Activist Marv Davidov Dies CBS Minnesota (January 14, 2012).
Marv Davidov, Lifelong Peace Activist, Dies – Mordecai Specktor (American Jewish World, January 18, 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Marv Remembers
Alliant Action
It Sure Was Cold!
Award-winning "Hellraisers" at it Again
Walking Against Weapons

Images: Michael J. Bayly (except where noted otherwise).


Steve Clemens said...

Thanks, Michael for sharing some of the many memories we carry of our friend and brother. Especially thanks for the photos

Suzanne Reedy said...

I first heard Marv at anti-war protests at the U in the late 60s. He leaves an amazing legacy of a lifelong commitment to find peace with justice. Marv, may you rest in the peace you sought all your life. Suzanne Reedy

Anonymous said...

A very loving portrait of a remarkable man...I am sorry for the loss of your friend....And thank you for all the wonderful information and insights you share on your blog....Michael Ferri