David Dellinger, a lifelong and preeminent peace activist who was one of the "Chicago Seven" defendants following the riots at the 1968 Democratic Party convention, has died. He was 88.
Dellinger died Tuesday at a nursing home in Montpelier, Vt. According to friends, he had suffered from Alzheimer's disease in recent years.
"Dave was a true hero," said John Froines, a co-defendant in the Chicago Seven case. "He was a man who devoted his life to positive change, and he never once hesitated or stepped back."
Dellinger lost track of the number of times he had been arrested or jailed over the years for various protests, including demonstrations against the Vietnam War.
But even jail time wasn't wasted for him; he led hunger strikes and other protests to try to get changes in the treatment of prisoners.
Through the decades, Dellinger was a stalwart in nonviolent protest beside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Daniel Berrigan, Daniel Ellsberg and other leaders on the left. But he probably is best known for being one of those on trial in Chicago after the disastrous 1968 Democratic convention.
Dellinger was 54 at the time — the "old man" of the group of radicals who faced prison after the antiwar protests they had planned during the convention turned into riots when Chicago police attacked demonstrators. The resulting 4 1/2-month trial could at best be called a spectacle, at worst a travesty.
Dellinger, though the tweedy gentleman among the defendants, was no less outspoken when the occasion warranted.
"He was a very modest man whose modesty many people took to reflect a lack of strength or will, much to their later surprise," said Leonard Weinglass, a lawyer for the Chicago Seven. "When things reached a crisis in the courtroom, David was always strongly present."
Originally, there were eight defendants, but the case against Bobby Seale, chairman of the Black Panther Party, was separated from the rest. Others among the Chicago Seven were Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, Lee Weiner and Froines.
Dellinger and four co-defendants — Rubin, Hoffman, Davis and Hayden — were found guilty of crossing state lines to incite a riot, but a federal appeals court later voided the convictions, saying U.S. District Judge Julius J. Hoffman had engaged in prejudicial conduct.
Contempt citations issued by Hoffman as the result of fiery exchanges during the trial were voided for everyone but Dellinger, who once told Hoffman "to do the courtesy not to interrupt me while I'm talking." Dellinger had been jailed for several weeks in connection with the contempt charges, but he never received an actual sentence.
Though the Chicago Seven trial gained Dellinger the most notoriety, it was just one event in a long life of fighting for what he thought was right. There were sit-ins at weapons plants and demonstrations against everything from the bombing of Libya to Operation Desert Storm.
As recently as three years ago, at age 85, Dellinger left his home in the middle of the night to take part in demonstrations in Quebec City protesting talks aimed at establishing the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
"Three percent of the richest people in the world control more wealth than 49 undeveloped countries," he said. "I think the FTAA is going to extend that kind of system."
Dellinger was born Aug. 22, 1915, in Wakefield, Mass. Both his father, a lawyer, and his mother had descended from pre-revolutionary New Englanders.
In high school, Dellinger was a long-distance runner and played a great game of golf. At Yale, his father's alma mater, he was a Phi Beta Kappa and won a scholarship to Oxford. By then, however, his life was taking a different course than what might be expected for a wealthy lawyer's son.
While in Europe studying, Dellinger came in contact with loyalist troops fighting the civil war in Spain, and that moved him later to do graduate work at Yale in religious studies and study at the Union Theological Seminary.
When the draft was established in 1940, Dellinger refused to serve in the Army, citing his pacifist beliefs. That resulted in the first of his jail terms. By the time the war was over, he had spent three years in jail for refusing to enlist.
"I received more genuine religious stimulation in prison than in the seminary," he once said.
After the war, with many avenues closed to him, he opened a printing cooperative, the Libertarian Press. During the Cold War he became involved in a variety of leftist issues, including nuclear disarmament, prison reform, civil liberties and anti-colonialism.
In 1956, Dellinger became editor and publisher of Liberation magazine, which provided a forum for voices of the left.
In the mid-1960s, he helped organize the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, a broad national antiwar coalition. And in October 1965, he was a leader of the first major antiwar demonstration, which was held in New York City.
Two years later, in October 1967, he was one of the organizers of the massive antiwar march on the Pentagon. He was among many who were arrested at the rally, and he was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
"He was just this very — physically and also psychologically and spiritually — this very solid person," said Staughton Lynd, who chaired the first march on Washington against the Vietnam War in April 1965.
Dellinger and his wife, Elizabeth Peterson, whom he married in 1942, raised their five children in an urban community where incomes and decision-making were shared. Eventually, the couple moved to a small house in Peacham, Vt.
Dellinger wrote several books, among them an autobiography, "From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter."
In 1998, encouraged by young people who seemed to understand that government is dominated by the rich, Dellinger told the Star Tribune in Minneapolis: "I have more hope now than ever, but you can't live your life because of hope. You live your life this way because it's the way you think you should live."
One son, Ray, died of cancer. Dellinger is survived by his wife; sons, Patchen and Daniel; daughters, Natasha and Michele; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Services are pending.
Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times