Marv Davidov - A Drum Major For Justice


"Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say."

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (1968-02-04)

The last time I saw Marv was a little over two years agoWe were at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis for the release of a book by Eric Etheridge entitled, Breach of Peace-Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders.  Using the 1961 arrest pictures of the freedom ridersEtheridge contrasts each with wonderful present day photographic portraits of these American hero’s and heroines. This book captures a pivotal moment in time that was a watershed for our country and the world.

Marv’s photos and essay in the book provides a sketch of a man who committed his life to social justice and peace.  Marv grew up in Detroit in 1931 and moved to St. Paul in 1949. He was drafted into the army in 1953 and served 19 months.

Upon returning from the army he took part in the antiwar and draft resistance movements in Berkeley and Los Angeles. Returning in 1968 to Minneapolis he spend the next 22 years running and organizing the Honeywell Project; a peaceful protest to force the Honeywell company to stop making cluster bombs, land mines and other weapons.

Marv also organized on behalf of a wide range of social movements including the civil rights movement, the American Indian Movement, famer and hotel workers, and civil rights organizations. He dedicated his life to making a difference for people who are on the margins and largely invisible in our society.

When we met at the reception for the book’s release he was still very much the Marv that I had known and come to love. Of course much older, he still had the same receding hairline, the same Greek fisherman's cap on his head, the signature mustache, the same gravelly and resonate voice and intense eyes, the only thing missing was the cigarette dangling from his hand as he talked.

>“Hi Gary! I am so glad you came.” He said as we gave each other a big, powerful hug of long parted friends. How are you Marv?, I asked. He talked about his health and about the current state of the movement for peace and justice.  We reminisced about our serendipitous first connection when I was 13 years old in Berkeley, California on Telegraph Avenue in the early 1970’s. Of course, anyone who knew Marv also knows he was a great storyteller of the movement for social change. They would also know that his stories could be sprinkled with well-placed expletives, which can’t be repeated here.

The conversation soon turned to our time together in his class on social justice at the, Meridel Le Sueur Center for Social Justice on the West Bank of Minneapolis. soon recalled that it was Marv who taught me Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of nonviolent protest called Satyagraha, soul force/truthful force. It was Marv who pointed me to a quote from Gandhi, “They say, 'means are, after all, means'. I would say, 'means are, after all, everything'. As the means so the end...” This thought remains a guiding principle of my life. It was Marv who introduced me to the writings Norm Chomsky, Henry David Thoreau, John Rawls, Taylor Branch and Gunnar Myrdal and many others.

It was Marwho moved me beyond my shallow understanding of the deeper significance of civil rights movement. He taught me that the civil right movement was not just Dr. King and a handful of leaders standing alone leading us to the promise land, but that this movement was built upon the blood, sweat and tears of many everyday black, white, red, yellow and brown people standing together and sacrificing together for justice and equality.

Most of all, it was Marv the activist who demonstrated through his life long commitment that system can be changed; people can be uplifted through tireless efforts and self-sacrifice. Marv who showed me through his courageous actions time and time again that nonviolence action could change the world and the community in which you liveIf there was anyone who was a drum major for justice, it was Marv.  He led his life with purpose, conviction and steadfast principles.

That night in the reception room in The Loft, I ask Marv, my good friend, mentor and brother to sign my book.  He signed it:

You Teach Me, I Teach YouLove and Strength, Marv

I was deeply moved. I will always cherish the moments had the privilege of sharing with Marv.

It is not often that we have the opportunity to thank the people who have left such a lasting and indelible mark on our lives, but that night I got to thank Marv for the teaching me the tenants of nonviolence, the understanding of the how, the when and the why it is so important for people to peacefully stand up for what is right, fair and just.  

As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we should also take time to celebrate the life of Marv Davidov, a true drum major for justice. May each of us have the courage and commitment to live up to his legacy of a well-lived life.

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