Peace activist David McReynolds: Two lighter sides

By Marc Grobman

Peace and civil rights movements activist David McReynolds, who died August 17 at age 88, was known for his vigorous dedication and leadership, and long-time activism. Example: He was arrested for resisting the draft—in the early 1950s.

Web obituaries abound on Dave’s life and accomplishments. But they probably don’t illustrate his skills in cooking and in humor.

I met Dave only once. In the late 1960s, Win Magazine (originally published by the Workshop In Nonviolence) and other leftie organizations shared headquarters in NYC. I occasionally wrote for Win, and someone once introduced me to Dave. We said hello, and then went on to take care of business.

I’d heard that Dave was an accomplished cook, and a short time later he wrote a Win Magazine article that gave me a life-long cooking lesson.

In 1970, the United Farm Workers, led by Cesar Chavez, called for a nationwide boycott of all non-union harvested lettuce. The health foods movement was miniscule then, and to most people, “lettuce” was simply what we now know as iceberg lettuce. Few of us knew other varieties or alternatives existed.

That put many boycott supporters in a quandary. Do we have to give up salads? No more lettuce on tuna fish sandwiches? But Dave had the wonderful ability to recognize an important story “hidden” in plain view from other reporters. He responded with a Win Magazine article titled, “Living without the Iceberg.”

His article contained several recipes, and I don’t even remember what Dave suggested as a substitute for iceberg. What astounded me were his other suggestions for making a tuna fish sandwich. It had never occurred to me to do anything other than mix tuna with mayo, spread it on white bread, and add a tomato slice.

Dave suggested to try adding such things as pickles or minced celery, vinegar and/or hot sauce, fresh-ground black pepper, an onion slice, and using toasted whole wheat bread.

The delicious result was the most important food prep lesson I’ve ever had. Now, whenever I prepare food, I know I can choose to experiment: I have this in the refrigerator – what might go well with it?

In a Democracy Now! remembrance, investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill recalled that David “loved to both facilitate serious discussion, but then also interject with something incredibly witty or funny. He was a master and it’s very difficult for people to do this of using sarcasm not at the expense of the smaller people. David definitely employed sarcasm as a way of punching up at the powerful.”

Here’s an example: In 2004, Dave, who was gay, ran for Senate on the Green Party ticket against Senator Chuck Schumer. Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman asked Dave about Schumer’s opposition to gay marriage. Dave responded that Schumer’s opposition wasn’t fair … to non-gay people:

“I think it is really outrageous for Schumer … to come out against gay marriage. I really think this is contemptible on his part … although that’s not nearly as important in my mind as the issue of killing people and being killed in Iraq. I don’t understand why gays and lesbians shouldn’t suffer from the same angst, anxiety, tribulations and trials of marriage which, you know, heterosexuals have to go through. Why should we be exempt from these problems?”

Freelance writer Marc Grobman is a Gainesville native who now lives in Fanwood, NJ. 

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