Tribute to David McReynolds


With the death of David McReynolds after a fall in his apartment at age 88, the country lost one of its kindest, most dedicated, and most principled and passionate advocates for peace and social justice.

I was friends with David for his last 21 years, having met him in April 1997, at an event at which he spoke a few nights after the death of Allen Ginsberg, who had been my one-time poetry teacher and long-time poet and activist friend. I had known of David from his reputation as an important American anti-war activist, including having been a staff member at the War Resisters League for almost 40 years and having helped organize some of the most important demonstrations against the Vietnam War, including some of the earliest protests and one of the first public draft-card burnings.

One new thing that I learned soon after meeting David was that he was credited by Allen Ginsberg as the person who persuaded Allen to attend political rallies and to get involved in political organizing, in addition to writing political poems.

David had learned his organizing skills by working with some of the 20th century’s most influential progressive organizers—activists like Bayard Rustin, AJ Muste, Dorothy Day, and Dave Dellinger. Coming from a more conservative family background, David became a committed pacifist and a democratic socialist who was occasionally invited by third parties (including the Socialist Party and the Green Party) to run for state and national offices on their tickets. He was also one of the earliest leftist activists to come out as gay, and was the first gay candidate to have run for president for a national party.

David wrote a lot of emails with always-sensible positions on current events, and it was always a pleasure to get a new email from David, whether a friendly personal email or a mass political one. David’s emails, like all of his writings, were logical, persuasive, and built on a moral foundation of peace and humanitarianism—plus he always maintained a sense of humor. As I became friends with David, I also learned that he was a great admirer of the arts, including poetry, and that he himself was a skilled and lifelong photographer. During the years that I knew David, I must have run into him over a hundred times at political rallies in New York City. And I also enjoyed the chance to read some poems at a few small, friendly poetry round robins that David hosted at his Lower East Side apartment, where people would take turns reading a poem of theirs or of a poet they enjoyed.

It seems almost selfish to wish to have someone’s sane and persuasive voice around for more than 88 years. But David remained intellectually sharp and politically vital right until the end, and during these terrible Trump years, we certainly could have used David’s compelling voice at least some years longer.

Eliot Katz, August 2018