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Don White: My Recollections and Pictures since 1985

by Carl Gunther Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2008 at 4:35 AM

My recollections and pictures of activist Don White, whose death became known this past Sunday.

Don White: My Recoll...
donwhite19870501cispeswithhughandnell.jpg, image/jpeg, 1432x1154

Above: Don White with Other CISPES Leaders in 1987


I've learned and benefited a great deal from my encounters with Don White over the years, but now that he is gone, I am realizing that there is still more to be learned by considering the example that he set for others.

Don was a relentlessly positive person. He listened to all points of view, and then attempted to move in a direction where the community's energy was not blocked and where progress could be made.

Don genuinely liked people - not just those who agreed with him, but virtually everyone with whom he interacted. His path to enlightenment was through the heart, and through his service, rather than through abstraction or formal argumentation.

In addition to his direct affection for people and for the community, there was also a sense of ethical purpose and duty that probably came to some extent from his exposure to the liberation theology current of Catholicism that so strongly influenced the Central American solidarity movement in which he was a leader. While Don was very intent upon results, I believe it was this sense of duty, and not the results themselves, that carried him through his many campaigns. In a time of terrible reversals for the progressive movement, this sense of a commitment that does not depend upon immediate success helped to preserve our morale in the face of increasingly dismal prospects.

I first met Don White through my involvement with the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador during the 1980s. The first attached photo shows Don (second from left) in May of 1987 with fellow CISPES leaders Nell, Hugh, and one other person (on the left) whose name I cannot recall. During that period we were focused on educating the public and lobbying congress to end U.S. support for the Salvadoran regime. This was done by handing out flyers and collecting petition signatures in public and public/private spaces. A number of events featuring FMLN representatives were also a part of this process of public education. As the contra war developed, part of the focus shifted toward ending the illegal war against Nicaragua.

Around 1992 I took part in a number of demonstrations against the Gulf War that, once again, Don was instrumental in organizing. I remember locking arms with him outside the Westwood Federal Building as part of a security detail that kept angry pro-war and anti-war activists apart, so that the focus remained on the war rather than on distracting altercations. The enraged crowd pressed against us as they shouted at one another over our shoulders. I was unable to find a picture from that period, but have included one showing Don performing a similar function in front of a much smaller and less aggressive group of counter-demonstrators during a protest against the present war in Iraq.

During the more recent successful struggle to reclaim Pacifica radio, Don was the main person who kept the various groups talking, if not working, together.

Once the network had been reclaimed from the renegade Pacifica National Board that was attempting to turn it into a kind of shadow NPR, I found myself in disagreement with Don over his support for draft B of the revised Pacifica bylaws, because that draft did not include affirmative action for the Pacifica election process. Although I have not changed my mind about the need for affirmative action in Pacifica's elections, the process of introducing, amending and approving proposals had been so conflicted that the alternative drafts that did include affirmative action ended up with glaring omissions and inconsistencies. While the ideal solution would have been to amend draft B, I think that Don saw the need to reach closure on this issue within a very divided community as more important than the formal inclusion of an affirmative action mechanism, and I think that he sincerely believed that diversity among Pacifica's delegates could be attained by other means. As it happens, Don was only partially correct about that. But I do believe that Don correctly perceived deadlock and stasis as deadly threats to the process, and so even though the resolution that he supported was flawed, that support grew out of Don's sense of having multiple paths to the same result, and from his desire to release the energy of the community rather than to see it spent in internal division.

Throughout this intense debate, Don conscientiously maintained his outreach and openness to discussion with those opposing draft B, including myself. I have included a photo of Don speaking amicably with Leslie Radford, one of the leaders in the struggle for affirmative action in our bylaws, during a meeting at which a vote on draft B was taken.

Following the passage of bylaws, Don became the chair of the Local Station Board of Pacifica station KPFK. Attached is a picture of Don chairing a meeting of the LSB in January of 2005.

Most recently, I have encountered Don time after time in his role as a leading organizer and speaker for the many demonstrations against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Pictures of Don serving as a legal observer at a demonstration outside a recruitment center in November of 2004, and addressing an antiwar rally in March of 2005, can also be viewed below.

If the above snapshots seem discontinuous and episodic, it is only because my own involvement has been inconsistent during this interval, with a number of periods of distraction and/or demoralization. But I feel quite certain that throughout this entire time Don remained crucially and actively engaged, and this consistency is another aspect of Don's importance within the progressive community.

Because of this continuous commitment, anyone having anything to do with progressive struggle in Los Angeles over these past several decades is bound to have been inspired and informed by Don in the process. There are no doubt thousands of such people who, like me, have stories to tell regarding how Don affected their views and experience. A life well-lived is well worth examining; I look forward to hearing from others who have found their understanding and outlook improved and enriched by the time and the organizing work that they have shared with Don White.

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Don Preventing Clashes with Counter-Demonstrators

by Carl Gunther Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2008 at 4:35 AM

Don Preventing Clash...
dondirectsmarchersawayfromtinycounterdemonstration.jpg, image/jpeg, 1632x1224

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Don Speaking with Opponents of Pacifica Bylaws Draft B

by Carl Gunther Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2008 at 4:35 AM

Don Speaking with Op...
donwithleslieandtomatlabvoteondraftb20030722.jpg, image/jpeg, 877x685

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Don Chairing a Meeting of the KPFK Local Station Board

by Carl Gunther Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2008 at 4:35 AM

Don Chairing a Meeti...
lsbchairdonwhiteaddresseslsb20050111.jpg, image/jpeg, 2826x1923

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Don Serving as a Legal Observer at Recruitment Center Demonstration

by Carl Gunther Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2008 at 4:35 AM

Don Serving as a Leg...
donwhiteatrecruitmentcenterdemonstration.jpg, image/jpeg, 963x915

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Don Addressing an Antiwar Rally in 2005

by Carl Gunther Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2008 at 4:35 AM

Don Addressing an An...
donwhiteaddressesantiwarrally20050319.jpg, image/jpeg, 2334x1960

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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 4 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
This is excellent, Carl wendy in houston Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2008 at 12:23 PM
Don Leslie Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2008 at 8:40 PM
MLK Parade 2005 Nalini Lasiewicz Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2008 at 9:16 PM
Don White Martha Older Sunday, Jun. 29, 2008 at 2:54 AM

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