The Chicago Seven: 1960s Radicalism in the Federal Courts - Rennie Davis
Rennie Davis (1941– )
Rennie Davis, an early member of the Students for a Democratic Society and a veteran organizer, grew up in Virginia, the son of John C. Davis, chairman of President Truman’s Council of Economic Advisers. Rennie Davis attended Oberlin College and graduate school at the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan. He joined the SDS and became a close friend of one of its leaders, Tom Hayden. Davis was for several years involved in the group’s Economic Research and Action Project, which worked to organize poor urban neighborhoods. By 1967, Davis was increasingly involved in the SDS anti-war activities.
Davis and Hayden joined with the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam in planning massive demonstrations to coincide with the Democratic convention in Chicago. Davis met with officials at the Department of Justice to seek their help in obtaining permits from the city of Chicago. He and Hayden also met with attorneys to develop a legal strategy for protection of the demonstrators. In March 1968, Davis and Hayden met with nearly 200 activists and presented the group with an outline of their plans for demonstrations at the convention in Chicago. The document, which Judge Hoffman prohibited the defense from submitting as evidence, stated that the demonstrations “should be nonviolent and legal.”
Davis found himself at the center of the police attack on demonstrators in Grant Park on Wednesday of convention week. As he urged the crowd to stay calm, the police moved against the demonstrators and hit Davis on the head. He was both hospitalized and arrested. At the conspiracy trial, Davis was one of only two defendants to testify, and defense attorney Leonard Weinglass asked him to recount the events in Grant Park.
During the months between the defendants’ arraignment and the start of the trial, Davis asked Judge Hoffman for permission to travel to North Vietnam and to escort home several American prisoners of war who were released after negotiations by David Dellinger. Judge Hoffman refused the request, but U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Otto Kerner reversed the ruling, allowing Davis to travel.
Davis was convicted on the charge of intent to incite a riot, but the conviction was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The government declined to retry Davis on the Anti-Riot Act charge. Near the close of the trial, Judge Hoffman found Davis guilty of 23 counts of contempt and sentenced him to more than two years in jail. The U.S. court of appeals reversed all of the contempt convictions and remanded them for retrial. The government brought only two of the charges for retrial, and Judge Edward Gignoux found Davis not guilty of the two charges. Gignoux found that Davis’s remarks to the jury while Bobby Seale was bound and gagged did not cause the breakdown in courtroom decorum, but rather that the disruption of the trial resulted from “the appalling spectacle of a bound and gagged defendant and the marshals’ efforts to subdue him.” Gignoux also found that the obstruction of the trial following the revocation of David Dellinger’s bail was caused by the behavior of spectators, not the comments of Davis and other defendants.
Davis continued his involvement in anti-war activity, including the Washington, D.C., Mayday actions of 1971, when Davis was among the many arrested for attempting to shut down the federal government. In 1972, Davis went to India to meet the Guru Maharaj Ji, and was converted to the guru’s Divine Light Mission. In the 1980s, Davis worked as a venture capital consultant, and in 2008 he is the president of the Foundation for a New Humanity.