Obituary: David McReynolds: 25 October 1929 – 17 August 2018

IssueOctober - November 2018
Comment by Michael Randle

David McReynolds, who died on 17 August in New York at the age of 88, played a leading role in the US and international peace movements. He was one of the main organisers of the US anti-Vietnam war mobilisation, which not only contributed to the ending of that war but had a profound impact on US politics and society.

David was also involved in the civil rights and anti-nuclear movements and, though not a gay rights campaigner, he declared himself a homosexual at a time when this incurred social ostracism and the risk of arrest.

David graduated in political science at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1953. He moved to New York where he worked on the radical pacifist monthly, Liberation, and frequently contributed to the Village Voice. He joined the staff of War Resisters League as field secretary in 1960.

David served on the War Resisters International (WRI) international council (1966–1988), and was WRI chair from 1986 to 1988. David twice ran as the Socialist Party USA candidate for the US presidency, in 1980 and 2000, as a means of publicising the case for a nonviolent socialist society.

At the 1966 WRI Triennial conference in Rome, it was David’s advocacy, in my view, that was decisive in persuading WRI to prioritise opposition to the Vietnam war. WRI issued a leaflet on the Vietnam issue for US visitors to Europe. It also issued another leaflet addressed to US soldiers stationed in Europe, informing them of their right to conscientious objection and setting out other measures they could take to oppose the Vietnam war, up to and including desertion. Tens of thousands of these leaflets were distributed.

In 1965, David was one of five people arrested for publicly burning their draft cards. He also participated in the international conference on Vietnam in Stockholm in 1967 which, controversially, was attended by two members of the Vietnamese National Libration Front.

David relished controversy and was sharp and witty. At one international conference he was addressing, some participants kept calling out to him: ‘Speak slower!’ At length, losing patience, he retorted: ‘Listen faster!’

David was an indefatigable blogger, keeping up a stream of commentary on current affairs to the last. His private passions included photography and cats. He died alone in his apartment after suffering a fall. Sadly, yet somehow appropriately, the body of his beloved cat was found with him.

Topics: Radical lives
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