Rennie Davis

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Rennie Davis
Rennie Davis.jpg
Rennard Cordon Davis

(1940-05-23)May 23, 1940
DiedFebruary 2, 2021(2021-02-02) (aged 80)
EducationOberlin College (BA)
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (MA)
Known forChicago Seven
SpouseKirsten Liegmann
RelativesJohn C. Davis (father)

Rennard Cordon Davis (May 23, 1940 – February 2, 2021) was an American anti-war activist who gained prominence in the 1960s. He was one of the Chicago Seven defendants charged for anti-war demonstrations and large-scale protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He had a prominent organizational role in the American anti–Vietnam War protest movement of the 1960s.

In the early 1970s, Davis became a follower of Guru Maharaj Ji (Prem Rawat) and his Divine Light Mission. He began to travel as a spiritual lecturer. He also became a venture capitalist, and founded the Foundation for a New Humanity to combine these goals.

Early life[edit]

Davis was born in Lansing, Michigan, on May 23, 1940. His family moved to Berryville, Virginia, when he was in the seventh grade.[1] His father, John, worked in nearby Washington, D.C., including as chief of staff to the Council of Economic Advisers under President Harry S. Truman.[1][2] His mother, Dorothy, was employed as a schoolteacher. Davis studied at Oberlin College starting in 1958.[1] After graduating, he went on to obtain a master's degree from the University of Illinois.[3]

In the 1960s, Davis became active in the Students for a Democratic Society. He was the National Director of their project of community organizing programs (the Economic Research and Action Project, or ERAP) in Ann Arbor, Michigan.[3][4] He became increasingly allied with anti-war groups, and helped organize protests and related events before and during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago for the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam ("the Mobe").[1]

Democratic Convention protests and subsequent trial[edit]

Davis was one of the principal organizers of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam to plan anti-war protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He negotiated unsuccessfully to gain a permit with Chicago city counsel David Stahl. [5] At a police riot in Grant Park on August 27, 1968, Davis was among protesters beaten by Chicago police officers, and he suffered a concussion.[6][7][1]

The Chicago Eight (later known as the Chicago Seven) were eight men charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges related to the nonviolent and violent protests that took place in Chicago.[8] The original eight protester/defendants, as indicted by the grand jury on March 20, 1969, included Davis, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale, a Black Panther leader.[1][9]

During the early part of the trial, Seale's case was separated from the others.[9] The Chicago Seven defense attorneys were William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass of the Center for Constitutional Rights. The judge was Julius Hoffman. The prosecutors were Richard Schultz and Tom Foran. The trial began on September 24, 1969. On October 9, the Illinois National Guard was called in to join the Chicago police for crowd control, as demonstrations grew outside the courtroom.[8] Davis was found guilty of inciting to riot and sentenced to five years imprisonment. His conviction was overturned on appeal.[1]

At his testimony, given January 23, 1970, Davis related, for the Court, a speech he gave at the University of Chicago on November 20, 1967, and, by extension, his reasons for demonstrating at the Democratic National Convention. The suppression of his testimony led the defense to motion for a mistrial. During his speech, Davis held up a small green steel ball, about the size of a tennis ball, and described how 640 of them were dropped by an American F-105 fighter jet over Nam Ding, Vietnam. [10]

Now one of these balls, I explained, was roughly three times the power of an old fashioned hand grenade.... Every living thing exposed in that 1000-yard area from this single bomb, ninety percent of every living thing in that area will die ... whether it's a water buffalo or a water buffalo boy. This bomb would not destroy this lecture podium, it would not damage the walls, the ceiling, the floor ... if it is dropped on a city, it takes life but leaves the institutions. It is the ideal weapon, you see, for the mentality who reasons that life is less precious than property.... And in 1967 the American Government told the American public that in North Vietnam it was only bombing steel and concrete.... The American government claimed to be hitting only military targets. Yet what I saw was pagodas that had been gutted, schoolhouses that had been razed, population centers that had been leveled. Then I said that I am going to the Democratic National Convention because I want the world to know that there are thousands of Young people in this country who do not want to see a rigged convention rubber stamp another four years of Lyndon Johnson's war.


Foran objected that the methods and techniques used during the Vietnam war had nothing to do with whether or not people in the United States had a right to travel in interstate commerce to incite a riot. The Court sustained the objection and Kunstler motioned for a mistrial.[10]

Divine Light Mission[edit]

In the early 1970s, Davis became a follower of Guru Maharaj Ji (Prem Rawat). He was a spokesperson and speaker at the widely publicized Millennium '73 event organized by Divine Light Mission in the Houston Astrodome.[11] He described the arrival of Guru Maharaj Ji as,

The greatest event in history. ... If we knew who he was, we would crawl across America on our hands and knees to rest our heads at his feet.[12]

Texas Monthly quoted Davis as stating: "This city is going to be remembered through all the ages of human civilization."[13] An op-ed in the San Francisco Sunday Examiner speculated at the time as to whether Davis had undergone a lobotomy, and suggested, "If not, maybe he should try one."[14]

Foundation for a New Humanity[edit]

Davis later became a venture capitalist and lecturer on meditation and self-awareness. He created the Foundation for a New Humanity, a technology development and venture capital company commercializing breakthrough technologies.[15]

He appeared on Larry King Live, Barbara Walters, CNN, Phil Donahue, VH1, and other network television programs. He consulted and provided advice in business strategies for Fortune 500 companies.[16]

Davis returned to Chicago for the 1996 Democratic National Convention to speak at the "Festival of Life" in Grant Park. He also appeared on a panel with activist Tom Hayden discussing "a progressive counterbalance to the religious right".[17]

In a 2005 article published in the Iowa Source, Davis said:

If you were to do a survey of what causes misery on earth, it would tend to fall into three broad categories. One, we can call systems: the economy, AIDS, terrorism – things that are 'systems' in nature. The second would be a list of everybody to blame: Bush is the cause of my misery, my ex-wife, my boss. The third would be things that come utterly out of left field: a tornado through town, a tsunami, events that are not in our apparent control. What this huge list would have in common – something everybody would agree with – is that the cause of misery are things outside 'myself'. But the cause of our misery is absolutely, positively not at all what we believe it to be. This is not a new view. Certainly saints and philosophers in every generation have basically argued if you want to change the world, you have to change yourself.[16]


Davis died on February 2, 2021, at his home in Berthoud, Colorado. He was 80 and suffered from lymphoma, which was discovered only two weeks prior to his death.[1]

Popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Applebome, Peter (February 3, 2021). "Rennie Davis, 'Chicago Seven' Antiwar Activist, Dies at 80". The New York Times. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  2. ^ "Episode 13: Make Love not War". CNN. Archived from the original on April 30, 2003.
  3. ^ a b Anderson, James (February 4, 2021). "Rennie Davis, 'Chicago Seven' activist, dies at 80". Associated Press. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  4. ^ "Students for a Democratic Society records". The Civil Rights History Project. American Folklife Center. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  5. ^ Schultz, John (2009). The Chicago Conspiracy Trial: Revised Edition. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226741147.
  6. ^ Daniels, Robert Vincent (1996). Year of the Heroic Guerrilla: World Revolution and Counterrevolution in 1968. Harvard University Press. pp. 214–215. ISBN 978-0674964518.
  7. ^ Dellinger, David (2010). From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 530. ISBN 978-1608990610.
  8. ^ a b "The Trial of The Chicago Seven (or Chicago Eight)". Archived from the original on February 11, 2008. Retrieved February 14, 2008.
  9. ^ a b George, Doug (October 16, 2020). "The Chicago 7: A timeline of the protests, the clashes, the trial and the fallout". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  10. ^ a b c Linder, Professor Douglas O. "Famous Trials: Testimony of Rennie Davis". Famous Trials. Retrieved October 9, 2021.
  11. ^ Kent, Stephen A. Dr. From Slogans to Mantras: social protest and religious conversion in the late Vietnam war era, Syracuse University Press, ISBN 0-8156-2923-0 (2001), p. 52
  12. ^ Davis, Rennie. "Introduction", Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji?, Edited by Charles Cameron, New York: Bantam Books, Inc., 1973
  13. ^ Dreyer, Thorne (January 1, 1974). "God Goes to the Astrodome". Texas Monthly. Emmis Communications.
  14. ^ Brown, Mick. The Spiritual Tourist, Bloomsbury Publishing, ISBN 1-58234-034-X, Chapter "Her Master's Voice", p. 197.
  15. ^ "Chicago 10", PBS, Independent Lens
  16. ^ a b Moore, James (March 2005). "From Chicago 7 to Venture Capitalist to Grand Canyon Visionary". Iowa Source: Iowa's Enlightening Magazine. Archived from the original on May 7, 2006.
  17. ^ "The trial of the Chicago Seven". University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. n.d. Archived from the original on December 5, 2004. Retrieved December 7, 2004.
  18. ^ "Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8 (1987)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  19. ^ "Chicago 10 Film Credits". PBS. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  20. ^ Bobbin, Jay (July 5, 2015). "Checking in with Bret Harrison". Valley Morning Star. Harlingen, Texas. p. 19. Retrieved February 3, 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • Edited by Mark L. Levine, George C. McNamee and Daniel Greenberg / Foreword by Aaron Sorkin. The Trial of the Chicago 7: The Official Transcript. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020. ISBN 978-1-9821-5509-4 OCLC 1162494002
  • Edited with an introduction by Jon Wiener. Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Seven. Afterword by Tom Hayden and drawings by Jules Feiffer. New York: The New Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-56584-833-7
  • Edited by Judy Clavir and John Spitzer. The Conspiracy Trial: The extended edited transcript of the trial of the Chicago Eight. Complete with motions, rulings, contempt citations, sentences and photographs. Introduction by William Kunstler and foreword by Leonard Weinglass. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1970. ISBN 0-224-00579-0. OCLC 16214206
  • Schultz, John. The Conspiracy Trial of the Chicago Seven. Foreword by Carl Oglesby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020. ISBN 9780226760742. (Originally published in 1972 as Motion Will Be Denied.)
  • Chatfield, Charles, "At the Hands of Historians: The Antiwar Movement of the Vietnam Era", Peace & Change, Volume 29 Issue 3–4 p. 483. July 2004 doi:10.1111/j.0149-0508.2004.00300.x
  • Johns, Andrew L. "Northern Passage: American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada", Journal of Cold War Studies. Volume 5, Number 2, Spring 2003, pp. 86–89
  • Greenfield, Robert. The Spiritual Supermarket. Saturday Review Press/E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc, New York. 1975 ISBN 978-0-8415-0367-0

External links[edit]