One of our greatest political leaders for peace has passed away. The highlights of Ron Dellums’ extraordinary career in Congress and his lifelong commitment to the pursuit of justice and peace are nicely captured in the New York Times obituary.
I can add a few points not mentioned by the Times.
Dellums was a member of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of SANE during the years I was Executive Director of the organization. He spoke at a number of our events over the years, and he assigned his very able assistant Carlottia Scott to be his representative at organizational meetings. Scott was a constant, supportive, brilliant source of political guidance and support throughout the 1980s when SANE and the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign were at the peak of their influence.
Dellums and I spoke together at a number of rallies and conferences during those years. He was an eloquent speaker with a gift for words. He spoke of the need to connect disarmament and the struggle for racial and social justice by reminding audiences that the bomb is “an equal opportunity destroyer.” No one is safe from the indiscriminate mass annihilation of nuclear weapons, he would emphasize.
He linked the quest for greater domestic social spending to antimilitarism by quoting Dr. King’s famous indictment of the Vietnam War: the bombs being dropped over Hanoi were exploding in the streets of Harlem. The unconscionable sums of money wasted on war and weapons are diverting funds from programs to create economic opportunity and social uplift here at home.
I had occasion to reach out to Dellums again a few years ago when we invited him to deliver an opening keynote at the “Vietnam: Power of Protest” conference in Washington DC commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first antiwar protests. It was inspiring to see him, and to hear again that clear clarion voice calling us once more to the cause of peace.
Here is a link to the video of that May 2015 speech from Amy Goodman and Democracy Now.
Dellums recalled that evening how his life was changed when he heard Dr. King’s 1967 speech at Berkeley against the Vietnam War. Dellums realized then, he said, that “the peace movement is the ultimate movement, peace is the superior idea … Peace is not just the absence of war, it is the absence of conditions that give rise to war.”
Amen, brother Dellums. You will be missed, but we stand on your shoulders and will carry on the movement for justice and peace.