September 15, 2007

Dave Cline Is Dead

Dave Cline died last night at his home in Jersey City, NJ.

In one sense it comes as no surprise to those of us who have worked closely with Dave in recent years. He had lived for two decades with a severely compromised immune system and had recently been battling both Hepatitis C and the Veterans Administration health care system, which did a shitty job of treating it.

Stan Goff reached me first with the news, crying at the loss. I have been surrounded by death recently--Stans's call came while I was sitting in a memorial service for an old friend, longtime fighter for socialism and Black liberation Vicki Garvin.

The news hasn't really sunk in yet, and I have no idea how it will hit when it does, or how hard.

But I do want to say a few things right now to set some context for what will surely be a great outpouring of sorrow and memory in weeks to come.

Dave Cline will someday, in a better world, stand recognized as one of the great figures in the history of the United States since the Second World War. After a tour in Vietnam as a grunt, where he was shot and shot at others, he returned to become an early member and leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Through tireless organizing and dramatic events like Operation Dewey Canyon III, where hundreds of vets threw their medals on the Capitol steps, and the Winter Soldier Hearings into war crimes committed during the occupation of Vietnam, VVAW did much to finally doom the U.S. government's murderous assault on the heroic people of Vietnam.

I have here on my desk a 1969 flier from SDS (the original one, not version 2.0) on the GI Revolt. It's an interview with Dave and another vet, fresh out of uniform and into the anti-war struggle. I am reminded by it to recommend that everyone reading this check out the recent documentary "Sir, No Sir!" Dave is featured in it as a young vet and as a present-day fighter against the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

And this last role is where Dave truly became great. He stayed active in VVAW right up to the present day, but also joined another organization called Veterans For Peace, which united vets from all eras in an essentially pacifist oppostion to war, military recruitng, US aggression abroad and the neglect of those who had served in the armed forces.

Dave Cline was in his first term as president of Vets For Peace when the attack on the World Trade Center took place. He helped guide the small group through a period of war fever and jingoism in this country and growing concern as the Bush/Cheney regime prepared to attack Iraq--and did. Dave presided over the rapid, severalfold growth of VFP and its conversion into a dynamic and leading force against the war. He helped forge a tight alliance with Military Families Speak Out and birth the Bring Them Home Now! campaign. The handful of young men and women just back from Iraq who initiated Iraq Veterans Against the War consulted with Dave on a near-daily basis and grew to become the most dynamic element in the alliance.

This alliance has played the role of spearhead in the movement to end the war in Iraq and bring the troops home now. Without a sharp point, capable of cutting through defenses, a spear is just a fat stick, but without the weight of the spear, the whole anti-war movement, behind it, the spearhead lacks real momentum. Just weeks ago I was discussing with him the role this force could play in the Iraq Moratorium project.

Dave was the leader of this informal but vital alliance of forces with roots in the "military community" or, it would be more accurate to say, he gave it leadership. He could play this role because of his long experience, and because of how he had summed up and internalized that esxperience. That was in no small part a matter of style. Dave could be contentious but he had also become genuinely humble and thoughtful, always trying to avoid repeating mistakes he had made earlier in the struggle and also to help others avoid those mistakes or sum them up quickly and move on.

One instance where the breadth of his contribution can be seen most clearly is in the historic "Walkin' To New Orleans" march of veterans and survivors of Hurricane Katrina from Mobile to New Orleans last year on the fourth anniversary of the invasion. The conception of the march, linking the horrors of the war with the horrors of Katrina and concretely working to bring the struggle of Black people in the South closer to heart of the anti-war movement--that was Dave's. And, with Stan Goff and a handful of others, he saw to the planning and execution of the march as well.

Hell, there's so much more I could say about Dave, now the floodgates are open, about his revolutionary stance until the day he died, of the arrogance of the young Dave and the kindness of the older one, concerning the drinking and the clay feet, about the music.

But I will close by underlining my basic point: Dave Cline made a substantial difference in the world. He did it by struggling against oppression and militarism; he did it by drawing lessons from earlier battles and by living those lessons, so he, and all who worked with him, could fight better in the new struggles history presented us with.

Call it wisdom. Call it leadership. We have suffered a great loss, and those who feel that loss are just going to have to step up and try to fill the hole.

[UPDATE: More Dave Cline memories:

Remembering Dave Cline, Part 2 (a moving tribute by Nancy and Charlie Richardson of Military Families Speak Out)

Dave Cline, Part 3: The First Memorial

Dave Cline, Part 4: Goodbye, Bro... ( a short talk by Dave in NOLA, more memories and some links)

Fire on the Mountain also carried a series of four articles on Dave's activism as a militant labor rank and filer, especially in the major wildcat strike in The NJ Bulk Mail Center of the US Postal Service in 1978. The first, Dave Cline: Rank & File Rebel, Introduction, contains links to the other three parts.]


edgery said...

i walked with Dave more than once, and always admired how he could go from comforting a grieving parent to helping a new vet feel welcome. his presence and leadership will be missed, though until we get all our troops home, i think he will be just on edge of every march with that soft smile and the pumped fist saying 'march on, my brothers and sisters, march on.'

Jimmy Higgins said...

This piece was cross-posted at the left liberal Daily Kos where it got a good number of comments (including more detail from edgery) which shed more light on the important role that Dave played.

you can find that version at: dailykos(dot)com/story/2007/9/15/184813/758

Anonymous said...

The People's Organization for Progress, the North Jersey-based African-American community organization that pulled together the Peace & Justice Coalition of over 130 groups that sponsored the recent People's March for Peace, Equality, Jobs & Justice has begun discussing a fitting memorial tribute to our friend David Cline along with our recently deceased member and supporter Gene Glazer.

On a personal note, Dave's passing is a loss of almost incalculable magnitude. He was, along with fellow veteran and VVAW member Clarence Fitch, a major influence on my life. Both gentlemen influenced my work in the anti-war movement, the labor movement and the popular efforts to defeat racism and national oppression in the U.S.

Their humanistic approach to fighting capitalism taught reams more than textbooks or theoretical journals to many young activists in the 1970s. And here we are, a full generation later with scores of the self-appointed theoretical leaders of that era having long-ago abandoned the struggles of the people.

DC's example of life-long activism, even through a series of personal health-crises that would lead most of us to think only ourselves, is one we all must learn from. It is our job to continue the many battles that only his untimely demise could force him to abandon.

Martin Zehr said...

A Tribute to Dave Cline by an old companero, Martin Zehr.

The union hacks in postal called him a "chronic malcontent";
And how right they were.
Never giving up the fight, never conceding defeat.
The work he did is our legacy,
The vision he held our hope.
A future without him is left missing a link,
The chains he sought to break are weaker for his work.

Stand fast vets!
Honor the combatants for justice,
The malcontents who strive for better,
March ceasely forward for humanity,
Fists raised in defiance
rifles pointed to the ground..
End the ceaseless slaughters,
stop the bloody carnages.
Dave's work is done,
much work remains.

Dewey Canyon III is the memorial
That negates all the lies,
Like the fire within Dave,
Formed from the anger of GIs
Never willing to surrender.

Chronic malcontents in their own time,
Never satisfied while others died,
Organizing for a better world,
Leaving it for us to carry it on..

The Russian poet, Tyutchev wrote:
"Blessed is he who visited this world
In moments of its fateful deeds:
The highest Gods invited him to come,
A guest, with them to sit at feast
And be a witness of their mighty spectacle."