Rennie Davis, who lived out one of many extra quixotic journeys of the Nineteen Sixties era when he went from main opponent of the Vietnam War, as a convicted member of the Chicago Seven, to spokesman for a teenage Indian guru, died on (*79*) at his dwelling in Longmont, Colo. He was 79.
His spouse, Kirsten Liegmann, who introduced the loss of life on his Facebook page, stated the trigger was lymphoma, including that a big tumor had been found solely two weeks in the past.
Smart, charismatic and a blur of power and engagement, Mr. Davis was a number one determine of the antiwar motion. After graduating from Oberlin College in Ohio, he joined the highest ranks of the activist organizations Students for a Democratic Society and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam.
In 1967, he and Tom Hayden, one other S.D.S. chief, attended a world convention of scholar radicals in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia; traveled to Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam; and returned in time for the march on the Pentagon immortalized in Norman Mailer’s 1968 e-book “The Armies of the Night.”
That expertise led to Chicago, the place Mr. Davis helped manage a motley assemblage of antiwar activists, political radicals and the theatrical revolutionaries referred to as Yippies with the purpose of descending on the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
A rally at Grant Park on (*79*), Aug. 27, was a riot, with helmeted police clubbing hundreds of demonstrators, together with Mr. Davis, who was left bloodied, his head swathed in bandages.
A nationwide fee later referred to as the conflict a police riot, however federal officers charged Mr. Davis and 7 others with conspiracy and inciting to riot. They went from being referred to as the Chicago Eight to the Chicago Seven after the case of certainly one of them, the Black Panther chief Bobby Seale, was severed from the others. (In the tip, Mr. Seale was by no means tried.)
The Chicago Seven trial grew to become a seminal second of the ’60s — half authorized drama, half political theater. Its story was instructed final 12 months within the Aaron Sorkin movie “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”
In 1970, after a tumultuous four-and-a-half-month trial, all seven defendants have been acquitted of conspiracy, however Mr. Davis and 4 others — Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger and Mr. Hayden — have been convicted of inciting to riot and sentenced to 5 years in jail. The verdicts have been overturned on enchantment, as have been numerous contempt citations.
After that, Mr. Davis returned to antiwar activism, touring once more to Hanoi and serving to to arrange the 1971 May Day antiwar rally in Washington, which resulted in some 13,000 arrests.
Then, in 1973, he took what many considered a baffling flip: He grew to become the chief American promoter for Guru Maharaj Ji, a 15-year-old Indian billed as a “perfect master,” who claimed hundreds of thousands of followers world wide.
Most of the remainder of Mr. Davis’s profession discovered him making an attempt to mix the political radicalism of his 20s with an entrepreneurial pastiche of progressive or New Age agendas. The outcomes performed out like an improvisation on ’60s themes, resulting in divided opinions about him.
Some admirers noticed a lifelong dedication to a progressive imaginative and prescient taking new varieties. Others, particularly a lot of his outdated allies from the antiwar motion, lamented a lifetime of nice promise diverted to magical pondering and doubtful causes.
Rennard Cordon Davis was born May 23, 1941, in Lansing, Mich., to John and Dorothy Davis. His father was a labor economist who joined President Harry S. Truman’s Council of Economic Advisers, and the household lived in Bethesda, Md., throughout these White House years. His mom was a schoolteacher. When Truman left workplace — Rennie was within the seventh grade — the household moved to a 500-acre farm in Berryville, Va., within the Blue Ridge Mountains.
While many ’60s radicals have been rising up in cities or suburbs, Mr. Davis spent a lot of his youth in an idyllic rural setting. He was scholar physique president and performed varsity basketball in highschool. But he later stated that profitable the 4-H Clubs’ Eastern U.S. chicken-judging championship was the proudest second of his highschool profession.
As instructed in “Fire in the Streets” (1979), Milton Viorst’s account of Nineteen Sixties radicalism, a senior 12 months highschool journey to New York City left Mr. Davis torn between remaining in pastoral rural Virginia and wanting to handle the ills of poverty and race that he noticed within the metropolis’s troubled neighborhoods.
He turned down a scholarship to check animal husbandry at Virginia Tech and as an alternative enrolled at Oberlin in 1958. There he grew to become joined at the hip with Paul Potter, a fellow scholar who later grew to become president of Students for a Democratic Society. Impressed by the civil rights motion within the South, significantly the 1960 sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C., and brought with a perception within the energy of his era to have an effect on change, Mr. Davis grew to become a full-time activist and some of the dedicated S.D.S. leaders.
Associates bear in mind two sides to Mr. Davis. On the one hand, he was one of many motion’s most profitable organizers. Focused and empathetic, he labored in Chicago with poor white folks from Appalachia, performed bluegrass banjo at events and did a lot of the intense negotiating with the town for permits to march and camp out earlier than the Chicago conference.
The journalist Nicholas von Hoffman as soon as described him as “the most stable, the calmest, the most enduring of that group of young people who set out to change America at the beginning of the ’60s.”
But many additionally bear in mind him as an enthusiastic promoter of causes with an elastic view of actuality who believed within the significance of fudging the reality within the curiosity of constructing a motion.
“He used to say the way to organize is with smoke and mirrors,” stated Richard Flacks, an early S.D.S. chief who grew to become a sociology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “He believed in political salesmanship, creating a kind of myth that wasn’t quite a lie but created an image of possibility, even if it wasn’t yet true.”
Friends and associates stated he additionally grew to become a greater than informal consumer of medicine, together with LSD.
As the power leeched out of leftist politics, Mr. Davis’s promotional instincts took a stunning flip when he accepted a free aircraft ticket to India to find out about Guru Maharj Ji. He later stated that the expertise had stuffed him “from head to toe with light.” He grew to become a convert and spokesman for Maharj Ji (who was born Prem Pal Singh Rawat), saying the guru’s teachings would offer “a practical way to fulfill all the dreams” of the Nineteen Sixties, “a practical method to end poverty, racism, sexism, imperialism.”
At 32, he proclaimed, “I would cross the planet on my hands and knees to touch his toe.”
That motion peaked with an underwhelming turnout at an occasion referred to as Millennium 73, held at the Astrodome in Houston in November 1973, the place Guru Maharj Ji appeared in a glittering silver go well with on a blue plexiglass throne. Mr. Davis had billed it as “the most important gathering of humanity in the history of the world” and stated he anticipated 100,000 folks to indicate up. The police estimated the turnout at 10,000, and even a few of the guru’s followers started to query the younger man’s lavish life-style, full with a Rolls-Royce. His celeb quickly waned.
Many former allies noticed Mr. Davis’s mystical detour as a miserable generational metaphor.
“Everyone was trying to reinvent themselves after the stuffing of the New Left had fallen out, trying to find ways to heal their broken psyches,” the writer and scholar Todd Gitlin stated in an interview for this obituary in 2018, “and Rennie took the most garish, the most mockable, the most virtually self-caricatured of those paths.” Mr. Gitlin had first met Mr. Davis as a fellow scholar radical at an S.D.S. conference in 1963.
Mr. Davis remained energetic in relative obscurity, principally in Colorado, for many years afterward, selling his work in enterprise consulting, know-how, socially accountable funding and numerous therapeutic regimens. He recalled taking what he referred to as “a long, quiet sabbatical at the bottom of the Grand Canyon” after an surprising enterprise collapse within the Nineteen Nineties.
He later grew to become chairman of the Foundation for a New Humanity, which offered “peak performance” elixirs, touted a brand new strategy to meditation and promised a transformative New Humanity World Tour for a motion “larger than the Renaissance, American Revolution and Sixties combined.”
Still, even buddies who had shaken their heads at his Guru Maharaj Ji episode say that Mr. Davis had been honest within the paths he took, that he had by no means turned his again on the politics and values of his youth, and that his exploratory route, transferring from political activism to extra non secular and private pursuits, was much like that of many different members of his era.
“People went off in different directions; not everyone became the rootless cosmopolitans most of us did,’’ said Daniel Millstone, a friend from Mr. Davis’s S.D.S. days. “If there were only one road you were allowed to follow, it would have made more sense to judge him harshly. But he was never angry or hateful. I never thought he was ever a huckster kind of guy.”
Susan Gregory, his associate from 1969 to 1973 and a longtime good friend after that, stated: “He felt called to try and change the world, to end the war, to bring peace, to help people who needed help. He was not ideological. He followed his heart, his inner feeling. He was true to that regardless what people thought about what he was doing or who he was.”
Complete data on Mr. Davis’s survivors was not instantly accessible.
Mr. Davis remained happy with his position in historical past and satisfied of his period’s continued relevance. In an unpublished article he wrote final 12 months, he was vital of Mr. Sorkin’s movie, saying its portrayals of the occasions surrounding the Chicago Seven trial and the folks concerned, together with him, have been inaccurate. (“I was portrayed as a complete nerd afraid of his own shadow,” he complained. “I felt sorry for Tony winner Alex Sharp who played me.”)
“I once told the Chicago defendants,” he wrote, “that no movie producer will ever fully capture the courage and elegance of the actual defendants. It was my honor to know them. They were an inspiration that is needed again today.”