Dave Davis – Once San Diego’s Printer for the Movement

by on April 23, 2013 · 11 comments

in Civil Rights, History, Labor, Media, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Politics, San Diego

Dave Davis 1977 profile

Dave Davis, 1977.

Every now and then we must pause in our daily rush and grind to acknowledge the passing of someone who is important to us.  This is especially true in the tiny world of progressive journalism in San Diego.  And it is true as we pause on the  passing of Dave Davis.

Dave Davis beard

Dave and Donna Davis, 1970.

Now, there are probably very few people in San Diego right now who even remember Dave Isaac Davis, but it was his little print shop in Golden Hill that was responsible for printing up the very first issues of the original OB Rag way back in 1970 and 1971, when we considered it to be an “underground newspaper”.  He also printed up other small radical and progressive newspapers of the era, and even organized a printing collective.  Davis in many ways had become the Printer for the Movement.

And apparently, it was Dave’s support for progressive media and his activism in general that made him unable to find printing work locally and forced him to take his family and move up to the Bay Area.

In 2011, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and earlier this year, he passed away with his family around him in an old family house up in the Bay Area.

Who was Dave Davis?

Dave was born in San Francisco in 1931, moving to San Bernardino when he was a teenager. He later became a printer by trade, got married a couple of times and was the father of 6 kids by time he drove into San Diego in his camper during the late Sixties.

Dave and Donna, his wife became very active politically in left-wing and anti-war causes, while working day and night jobs, making ends meet.  And as a pro-union printer, Dave was also very active in the Printing Pressman Union. From the California Democratic Council, to the Peace and Freedom Party, to pro-union support, to support for “The Bridge” home for runaways, Dave and Donna seemed to be on every picket line in town.

OB Rag STP vol1no13p1

This April 1971 issue of the first OB Rag was printed by Fanshen Collective.

Then he met the young radicals who wanted to print newspapers. Young students from UCSD, citizen journalists from Ocean Beach, activists in the military, and organizers working in industrial shops in the area. From 1969 to 1972, Davis was the main resource guy who knew printing and its facets, and who trained others to run the machines, make the plates, and provide San Diego’s movement for social and political change access to a medium within their reach.

But by 1973 Dave could not find work in his appropriate print level and wage in San Diego, so, he packed his family up and they landed in the Bay Area where he did find work.  Years later, he adopted Albuquerque as his home town where he worked for the University of New Mexico, retiring from the union with 50 years of service.

It was Dave’s work in San Diego in support of a progressive press that we remember best about him.  When young student anti-war activists needed access to some kind of media, they found Dave.  Jim Hirst, one of those young student organizers had this to say about his mentor:

He was running a one-man operation printing for a mailing house that sold Dental equipment. Not only did  he say he would help us, but this journeymen printer would also start training any persons interested in learning some printing skills so we could eventually do our own work.

Suddenly a new world opened up for us.

Dave Davis mission beach

The Davis Mission Beach house on Nantucket Ct., Dave and 4 year old Rebecca Davis, 1967.

Jim Hirst presented an eulogy to Dave at a Memorial held up in Albany, California in late March. In it, he said:

Among all the other projects Dave was involved with in San Diego I want to mention one more: the Connie Project [of 1971-72}.

This was an effort by anti-Vietnam war service members, Veterans and a California based pacifist group to stop the scheduled re-deployment of the USS Constellation, an aircraft carrier to the waters off Vietnam. We knew it couldn’t be stopped but it was a chance to make the war a local issue.

Dave helped to set up a donated printing press, and to produce all the leaflets, petitions, posters, etc.,and worked running the equipment and teaching others how to do the same. This printing press was based in garage in a residential area until it was firebombed by a Nazi-inspired group a couple of years later.

He also helped with the teach-ins and mass leafleting that brought the Vietnam War issue to people inside the military and San Diego’s general public. Out of this project came a group of anti-war activists in the military and more than a dozen sailors & marines who became Conscientious Objectors. One of those Naval Officers that resigned his commission became Dave’s life-long friend.

The popularity for the war was beginning to recede.

Now most everyone is against the Vietnam War but I want to stop and remember Dave, and those other courageous first dissenters who would pay a price for their courage. Especially those who risked the most like those in side the Military.

Jim adds:

You do not see any monuments or placards celebrating the bravery of those people.

Dave Davis n Donna 1978

Donna and Dave Davis, 1978.

Over 50,000 San Diegans participated in the public vote to keep the Connie in town.  When folk singer Joan Baez and her draft-resistor husband David came to San Diego to work on the anti-Connie campaign, the printing group ran all the printing for the campaign.

After the campaign died down, Dave set up a print shop with the old printing press left over from the Project, and he set it up in an old house in Golden Hills. It was around this time that the original San Diego Free Press had morphed into the Street Journal, and some folks from the newspaper collective, such as Richard Blackburn – known as “Black Dick” – worked with Dave to set up the shop.

The print shop turned into a print collective called “Fanshen”, which ended up doing a lot of printing for anti-war Navy activists, a radical workers’ rag called “Wildcat”, a group called MDM (Movement for a Democratic Military) and others.

Hirst has a distinct memory of Davis printing up the first issue of the OB Rag in his shop.  This was the original newspaper that this blog is named after.   The printing press itself was destroyed in late 1973 or early 1974 by a neo-nazi group that firebombed the Golden Hill garage it was in.

A few years later, after Dave had moved up north, he helped Hirst set up print shop for  the United Farmworker’s Union in Keene, California around 1974 or 75. Hirst also recalls what Davis did once he had moved back to the Bay Area:

He remained active in Union and local politics. He help to open up apprenticeship programs to more diverse candidates. He was the Shop Steward to enforce contracts and give younger people the benefit of his experience. He worked in electoral politics with Berkeley Citizen’s Action, Oakland political Progressive Association, the Alameda County Labor Council, and the Rainbow Coalition and more.

In the late 80’s Dave spent a few months of nights protecting a young African-American family’s home in El Sobrano. When they had moved into that neighborhood they were greeted with gunfire and a burning cross.

It was Dave Davis’ early support for the budding progressive journalism that emerged in San Diego during the late Sixties and early Seventies that helped to guarantee its staying power.  It was his printing press and the printing collective that he helped start that cranked out thousands of leaflets and newspapers that helped to educate San Diegans during those war years when the country was split.

And for a brief moment, for several very key and important years, Dave Davis had become the Printer for the Movement.  He paid a price for that role and could no longer find work in the Finest City. But we remember him now.  Dave Isaac Davis.

Dave Davis 2011at 80

Dave Davis, 2011.

Below, is the obituary written by his daughter Rebecca L. Navarrete-Davis, and is then followed by the full eulogy given by Jim Hirst.

_______

DAVID (‘DAVE’) ISSAC DAVIS

by Rebecca L. Navarrete-Davis

David Isaac Davis was born to Benjamin Warnock Davis and Ruth Rose Nathanson on the 5th of January 1931 in San Francisco, California, followed by twin brothers, Jerry and Ben, in 1934. In his teens, they relocated to Harlan Springs in San Bernardino County where, at age 19, he married his high school sweetheart, Rondene, and soon became a father of two. His work in the printing trade soon brought him back to the Bay Area. Upon meeting his second wife, Donna, he settled in Berkeley in 1957 and had three more children. Ten years into the printing trade, he moved his new family to the Pressman’s Home in Tennessee to become a journeyman camera operator and plate maker. Adding one more child, they packed off in their camper to San Diego.

They worked day jobs and night jobs, and joined the anti-war, social justice, and labor union movements in the Peace and Freedom Party, the “Bridge” home for runaways, and every picket line in San Diego County. They experimented in contemporary sociological theories such as gestalt, transactional analysis, and whacking each other with padded batons.

The Bay Area called him back in the 70’s, where he formed a life long bond with members of his Men’s Group. Donna and Dave reunited in Berkeley in 1973, purchasing the Big House on Dana and Derby in 1974. Their home became a cornerstone for many a wandering soul. In 1977, he went on a humanitarian service trip with the 10th Venceremos Brigade to Cuba. His concern for labor and the right to a decent living wage was expressed through his work with collectives, Inkworks and Autumn Press, his contributions to The People’s World newspaper, and his continued support for union organizing.

He adopted Albuquerque as his home in 1993 where he worked for the University of New Mexico, and retired from the union with 50 years of service. He became a stalwart member and van driver for his local senior center aquatic exercise program. Dave spent the last 25 years working in Ridwhan in the Diamond Heart I group where he found rich awareness and knowledge for life. He shared this profound understanding with everyone around him and grew to be a trusted listener and ally, with an uncanny gift for connecting with new and old friends alike.

Dave was an avid skier, lustily awaiting his “Super Senior” lift pass upon turning 80. He enjoyed Peet’s coffee, chili rellenos at Juan’s Place and Los Cuates, fish and chips, and a trademark gin & tonic that later became a glass of wine – all things were savored with deep appreciation and gratitude. He loved talking and listening, watching the news, listening to Democracy Now, and noticing the change of the seasons on walks in the Bosque. He read everything from newspapers to novels, and loved to integrate the new things he read with the deep historical context he had learned about or had lived first-hand. His encyclopedic mind and keen sense of humanity made him one of the most interesting conversationalists you could ever have a cup of coffee with. However, it is his deep loving compassion for others and his abiding support for each individual that made him a most beloved father, brother, friend, and comrade.

In November 2011 he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He received loving care from family and friends, and passed peacefully in the Big House. Dave is survived by his brother, Ben; his children, Ruth Lindhorst, Joni Viola, David, Rachel, Rebecca Navarrete-Davis, and Sarah; his grandchildren John and Aaron Gilmore, Vincent Viola, Omega Viola-King, Jacob, Shareen, Esau, Emanuel, and Ismael; and great-grandchildren Jamani Hampton and Mia Viola.

____

David I. Davis Memorial

by Jim Hirst

March 24, 2013
Albany California

Thanks for letting me talk about Dave today. I knew him over a long period of time.  And over that time we talked and talked. You know Dave loved to talk. And he would talk about anything, his life your life, the world. I tried to listen.

We met in 1968 in San Diego, California, a small city in those days, before it was discovered and developed into another mini Los Angeles. It was a town full of people from the mid-West and south, not-ready for the political upheavals it was facing.

It was a very insular company town and the company was the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

Nixon called San Diego his lucky city. … I don’t think that worked out very well for him. When J Edgar Hoover and his boyfriend went on vacation they would come for a few weeks of hanging out at the local Race Track with Hollywood people.

(You knew when Hoover was in town because sometimes out-front of your house; parked in a prominent way would be an unmarked car with 2 guys with suits and the kind of hats that nobody wore anymore.)

Meanwhile the Vietnam War was raging and the resistance to it was growing everywhere, especially on College Campuses and in the Military itself.

The problem for those of us who opposed the war, was how to get the message out. Looking back, it seems now, that there were very limited ways to do that. These were the days before Copy Machines or other inexpensive graphic media not to mention what we call now ‘social media’. You could forget about getting access to TV or Radio.

Do you remember those smelly little unreadable leaflets made by a mimeograph machine?……. Any way if you wanted Posters or leaflets, you had to go to a Print Shop. Only just one problem, a lot of Print shops would not do Anti-war work. Not only that, a few shops would take the copy and your information and call the FBI on you.

For us young Boomers raised on sputnik era Americanism, this was a very early Civics lesson about the reality of free speech.

That’s how we met Dave. I forgot who sent us to him. He was running a one-man operation printing for a mailing house that sold Dental equipment. Not only did  he say he would help us, but this journeymen printer would also start training any persons interested in learning some printing skills so we could eventually do our own work.

Suddenly a new world opened up for us.

Now Dave was a very skilled worker,……. and he was already active in the ant-war movement. He belonged to an organization called the California Democratic Council that was splitting up over the war issue.

He helped in an effort to get anti-war delegates into the statewide conventions and then on to the National Convention in Chicago. At their latest meeting they had been visited by “little” Jerry Brown, the Governors son, and others, whereupon with some redbaiting and the argument: “you don’t want the Republicans to win do you” the dissenters efforts were blocked.

Similar things were happening all up and down the State and eventually led to the formation of the Peace and Freedom Party which for awhile scared the California Democratic Party and led, a few years later, to the Democrats changing it’s pro-war stance.

Dave and his wife Donna went door to door in San Diego to help gather enough signatures to get the Peace and Freedom Party on the statewide ballot.

Among all the other projects Dave was involved with in San Diego I want to mention one more: the Connie Project. This was an effort by anti-war Service Members, Veterans and a California based pacifist group to stop the scheduled re-deployment of the USS Constellation, an Aircraft Carrier to the waters off Vietnam. We knew it couldn’t be stopped but it was a chance to make the War a local issue.

Dave helped to set up a donated printing press, and to produce all the leaflets, petitions, posters etc., and worked running the equipment and teaching others how to do the same. This printing press was based in garage in a residential area until it was firebombed by a Nazi-inspired group a couple of years later.

He also helped with the teach-ins and mass leafleting that brought the Vietnam War issue to people inside the Military and San Diego’s general public. Out of this project came a group of anti-war activists in the Military and more than a dozen Sailors & Marines who became Conscientious Objectors. One of those Naval Officers that resigned his commission became Dave’s life-long friend.

The popularity for the war was beginning to recede.

Now most everyone is against the Vietnam War but I want to stop and remember Dave, and those other courageous first dissenters who would pay a price for their courage. Especially those who risked the most like those in side the Military.

You do not see any monuments or placards celebrating the bravery of those people.

San Diego had a very active local police “ red squad” that was always playing dirty entrapment tricks on people that could tie your life up in legal troubles for a long time.

The FBI, which had infiltrated local extreme right wing groups like the “Secret Army Organization” or the “Minuteman”, were not above leaking certain names and addresses of anti-war activist in the interest of further harassment. Some time it was cars that followed you or threatening notes would show up in your mailbox. On a few occasions some homes were shot into. Only luck meant that no one was badly hurt or lost their life.

Now I’ve digressed a little bit from Dave’s story only to help explain what happen next. In around 1972 Dave has lost his job. Then he spent over a year trying to get a another one at his skill and pay level. After all he had a wife and many kids to support. This was not to happen. Was he black balled for his political activism?…… I think it was quite possible although very hard to prove.

Dave and his family eventually moved back to the Bay Area where he could find work. He remained active in Union and local Politics. He help to open up apprenticeship programs to more diverse candidates. He was the Shop Steward to enforce contracts and give younger people the benefit of his experience. He worked in electoral politics with Berkeley Citizen’s Action, Oakland political Progressive Association, the Alameda County Labor Council, and the Rainbow Coalition and more.

In the late 80’s Dave spent a few months of nights protecting a young African-American family’s home in El Sobrante….. When they had moved into that neighborhood they were greeted with gunfire and a burning cross.

Eventually his work life and political activism began to slow down and he contemplated retirement. He became even more reflective. In India they might call this going to the Forest……… For Dave it meant going to New Mexico.

Dave had a basic optimism and orientation towards the future. For him nothing is really settled. You could always try again. You could make it right, even when you keep repeating the same mistakes. He always tried to give himself the breaks he gave everyone else. As you know this is hard to do.

Dave was a Student, a knowing survivor who studied his life and the world he lived in. He never lost his basic sweetness and his persistence to stay present.

He kept his longstanding curiosity about current events to the end.

The morning Newspaper, or later the Cable TV show, was his daily prayer. And he scanned it for any signs of progress. He had a true yearning for something different based on the experience of his suffering and of those around him.

He never was explicitly religious, but he did talk about the anxious Theology he got from his Mother, the daughter of a Rabbi…… This is where there are no guarantees from a God or an afterlife as a reward for the righteous….. Not knowing any of that you still have to do good. The Messiah of this religion would be the oppressed rising up to emancipate themselves, like Dave saw in the Arab Spring. The proof of this miracle is the very surprise it caused.

Dave was not a seer or a prophet but he was from the future. The outlook he developed over his lifetime, his opinions on War, Poverty, and Racism, our fragile natural Environment…….. His keen sense of our interdependence,……. that solidarity is the way forward… will be the opinions that most people will have in the future.

Dave will not have a headstone, but if he did these few words could be on it; “Follow Me”.

In Loving Remembrance,

Jim Hirst

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Anna Daniels April 23, 2013 at 10:30 am

This tribute to Dave Davis is as emotionally moving as it is revelatory about a slice of time unknown to many readers. Powerful work Frank. I never knew Dave, but after reading this tribute I feel a genuine sense of connection to him and respect for him. I am glad that he continues to live among us, here on the OBRag.

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avatar Ruth April 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm

I wish I’d known Dave during those years that Jim talks about. All that work he did laid the ground work for us to continue the work. I did see the glimmer in his eyes, and flirty sweet way he could talk. I saw he loved life and inspired his family to continue that legacy.
Thanks for the unforgettable memorial.

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avatar carla kirkwood April 23, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Frank, thanks for this article about Dave and for getting in touch with some of us to remember not only Dave but the period of San Diego history most people don’t know about. We do not often talk about this period of political activism in San Diego, everybody wants to think that this was just a perfect, beachy little place. Truth is, it was far from that. I was a founding member of the “Fanshen Printing Collective,” which was made up of the most eclectic group of political activists in town; Former SDS/PL folks from UCSD, a collective of women (straight and gay) I belonged to–from the then radical leftwing Women’s Studies Program at SDSU, active trade unionists, members of the Chicano Studies program at SDSU and organizers for the YWCA. How we all got together I cannot remember, but most of us were “townies” who learned politics at “home” and who cared deeply about the WAR, racism, class oppression, women’s issues, and such. And we decided that we would train ourselves to be printers so that a myriad of political organizations active in San Diego (Movement for a Democratic Military, the pro-worker newspaper– Wildcat, the feminist newspaper Goodbye to All That, and a number of other left groups in town) could get their word out. A handful of San Diego Wobblies (yes Wobblies) had a house with a big garage and a small Multi press and they gave us control of the space and the press. Our odd band of activists went to City College and were trained to be printers (over 50% of us were women–there were no female printers in town at that time). However, we did not have access to the means to burn plates to print, but Dave did, and for almost every project we did in town, while he was able to, he burned our plates and let some of us sit and watch and learn the process as a he did it; four color separations and all. When Joan (Baez) and her husband David decided to do the anti-war Connie project that Jim described, we made a deal with them; we would donate our labor around the clock to produce the 100s and 1,000s of flyers and posters they needed for the campaign and in return when they left town they would leave the press they had brought for the project from SF (a 17″ by 22″ Chief) with us. We needed a press that big to produce newspaper sized materials. They agreed. So the press was moved to a friend’s place in Golden Hill, just a couple of blocks from the house where the Wobblies had allowed us to keep the smaller press. Problem was once you move a press like that it takes forever to get it to register correctly and for days we tried to get a decent poster off of the press. No way. So, Dave stepped up. He spent hours with Jim and others, leveling this huge piece of equipment, and by early morning we were making beautiful stuff (of course all the plates we used on that press were burned by Dave). After the USS Constellation campaign was over we moved the big press to our garage, and once again Dave had to help us get the thing registering correctly. Even after two attacks by the “Red Squad” and attempts to intimidate the Wobblie folks, we continued to print for any progress group in town (free labor and sometimes free paper and ink as well) until the fire two years later. We weren’t certain but as Jim points out it was a Neo-Nazi Group, or a group called the White Citizen’s Council, who were constantly threatening Fanshen. Dave was gone, a number of us went into local factories and we all went forward in our own way. I guess the thing that hits me about all of this, is that folks like Dave and other people I had the opportunity to work with gave everything they had for an idea, a sense of justice that was never going to give them much in life except maybe a good night’s sleep. I’ll take that.

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avatar John Lawrence April 23, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Great story, Frank. I didn’t know Dave, but I feel like I do now. My daughter was born in 1970 so while the activities you talk about in the story were going on, I was taking care first of an Old English sheepdog and then a baby girl.

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avatar Shareen Davis April 27, 2013 at 6:51 am

this is really awesome to read. there is a lot of details i was unaware of in his life. if people only knew half the stories grampa would tell… he was the only man i ever trusted full heartedly. i confided in him. he was there for every major event in my life good or bad i could call him for anything and talk to him about everything. he would talk for hours but i would never lose interest in a single word he said. he had the best advice and outlook on life in general, even towards the end. i am so proud of what i come from. i miss him so much.

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avatar Rebecca Navarrete-Davis May 4, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Thanks for publishing this, Frank. Just a little correction. Although I helped with the history information, my sister Sarah Davis is the one who wrote the lovely program notes about our dad for his memorial.

It was wonderful to hear from Carla…see her comments above. I actually remember her from when I was a little kid in SD. She added a lot of important details.

Another whole chapter should be written about Dave and Donna Davis being the “printers for the movement” in the Bay Area in the late 70s. They opened their own print shop called “The Union Shop, Inc.” in Richmond and printed for every progressive candidate or cause in every election. And as it mentions, Dave later became a member of both the Inkworks and Autumn Press collectives.

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avatar Maria Ayub May 14, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Thank you Rebecca for sending this tribute to your dad, and it is no wonder that you are such an activist. It is all in your genes!

He had an interesting life, and your mom and dad complemented each other rather well, one with words and the other with drawing and painting. What a nice match.

Enjoyed seeing the pictures, reading about them and that picture of yourself is so nice. Great family.

un abrazo,

Maria

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avatar Lincoln Cushing September 9, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Thanks Frank for hosting this. So glad to see this page and dialogue. I was both a San Diego activist (but got there soon after Dave had left) and a Bay Area one, where I got to know the Dave I’d never met before. I’d run the UCSD Student Print Coop in the mid 1970s, and moved to Berkeley to keep making propaganda at the veteran movement shop Inkworks Press. Dave (and Jim) were part of that extended family. The long history of radical printshops has gotten little respect, and I’ve devoted much of the past 20 years correcting that with research, interviews, writing, and archiving. The last skill helps me do things like share an image of the poster everyone’s talking about here but no one else can display, “What color is a scream at 50 miles offshore?” linked to the only URL space I’ve got in this form. I am slowly gathering the stories and the posters, because they are vital reflections of a spirited and righteous movement. I’ll be back with more. Long live movement presses, long live Dave Davis. Compañero Dave, Presente!

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avatar burns February 27, 2014 at 5:41 pm

It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate
to this excellent blog! I guess for now
i’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
I look forward to brand new updates and will talk about this website with my Facebook group.
Talk soon!

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avatar Frank Gormlie February 27, 2014 at 6:22 pm

Ah, but we do; it’s our PayPal button on the homepage.

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