The Dellinger Gala: Celebrating Nonviolent Action (12/01)

"You have been a great inspiration and a wonderful teacher to many people over these long hard years of struggle. Without you, there would be less information, less initiative, and certainly less movement." — Leonard Peltier

"For the peoples all over the world struggling for freedom and dignity, you embody the honor of the many good-hearted Americans who opposed imperialist interventions in Vietnam, Central America, Angola and elsewhere, and those who are raising their voices to stop the current aggression against Afghanistan and the threat which the US-led military response to terrorism poses to the world. An eloquent spokesman for non-violence and an unflinching anti-imperialist, your warning decades ago against ‘the insanity of war’ couldn’t be more timely now." — Ricardo Alcaron de Quesada, president of the Cuban National Assembly

As the US went to war in October, activists and artists who have been on the front lines over the last 60 years gathered in Burlington, Vermont, for a celebration of the life and continuing nonviolvent work of Dave Dellinger and Elizabeth Peterson. Sponsored by the Toward Freedom foundation and held at the height of the Vermont International Film Festival, the evening was highlighted by a one-time only presentation, Roots of the Struggle: The Life and Times of a Nonviolent Warrior. More than 300 people attended, and the event was acknowledged as an inspiring, historical moment.

The multi-media presentation included rare 60s film, music by Rik Palieri and Dave’s grandson Steve Sato, dramatic scenes, and remarks by dozens of special guests. The speakers included Howard Zinn, historian and author of A People’s History of the United States; John Froines, a Chicago Eight defendant; Chicago Eight attorneys Leonard Weinglass and John Tucker; Dennis Brutus, poet/hero of the South Africa anti-apartheid struggle and leading voice in the worldwide campaign for debt relief; people’s lawyer Art Kinoy; Abbie Hoffman’s wife Johanna Lawrenson; Ted Glick, coordinator of the Independent Political Action Network; members of Dave and Elizabeth’s family; and old friends like Staughton Lynd, Ralph DiGia, Norma Becker, Connie Hogarth, Bob Nichols, and Jules and Helen Rabin.

The program, developed by Greg Guma, included little-seen Newsreel footage from the late 60s assembled by Roz Payne and John Douglas, period music, glimpses of Dave and Elizabeth’s life journey, messages from Ron Kovic, Tom Hayden, and Leonard Peltier, and dramatized scenes from the Chicago Eight trial. An audio CD set will be released in February.

The following morning, discussions on prison justice, politics, history, and film were held during the film festival, another sponsor of the celebration. Vermont’s new Alliance for Prison Justice, sponsored by TF, was unveiled after the screening of a documentary on prison reform Critical Resistance, and filmmaker Jay Craven led a panel on politics, film, and the media with Zinn, Brutus, Jeff Jones, Amy Goodman, and Gwenda Blair.

The gala and related events were part of TF’s celebration of its 50 years of continuous publication. Beyond honoring Dave and Elizabeth, a major goal was to create a retirement/project fund for them. To date, more than $8,000 has been donated to the fund; additional contributions are welcome. TF will use photos, CDs, and a related documentary film as fundraising mechanisms. Thanks to all who helped and took part.