An Activist Reflects
BY Michelle Garcia
April 12 2010 6:20 PM ET
Sexagenarian David Mixner has more than 50 years of activist work under his belt — but he's not through yet. Mixner has lived through the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement, protested the Vietnam War, and helped an iconic president win the votes of the gay electorate. Nowadays he’s still organizing protests and blogging emphatically, and though he says he typically takes awards "with a grain of salt," when the Point Foundation chose him for its Legend Award for his half century of activism and political work, he couldn't help but be excited. "It’s a real milestone of my life," he says.
Mixner reflects on his lifelong career, back to getting arrested as a teenager, organizing massive marches before Facebook’s founders were even born, and giving a big F.U. to the draft board.
The Advocate: How did you begin as an organizer — what motivated you at such an early age?
David Mixner: I was 14, your classic child of [John F.] Kennedy. I worked hard in his primaries. I worked hard as a volunteer in the general election. He told us we had an obligation to get out of ourselves as young people and into the world. I grew up in a segregated area, but at 15, I joined the civil rights movement. I went to jail for the first time at 17. I went down to Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia and Louisiana and went to jail a number of times in those states working on the efforts. Most of my focus was political, on working hard to register African-Americans to vote, getting rid of the poll tax. I remember going to Indianola in Mississippi — well, actually it’s Sunflower County. That’s cuter, don’t you think? And when I got there, there was not one registered black voter. Back then the criteria for registering in Sunflower County was that you had to recite the Constitution of the United States from memory. Amazingly, this county filled with illiterate Anglo-Europeans was able to do it, and not one African-American was. I worked with Julian Bond, worked with some of the great civil rights leaders. The March on Washington in 1963 — I was just a kid. All of us were. All of the Freedom Riders were 18, 19, 20 years old.
That became my life, and that transitioned into my opposition to the Vietnam War. I became involved in National Student Association politics when trying to elect antiwar candidates to the National Student Association, huge battles, and then in ’68 I supported Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy. I went back down South and formed the first integrated Democratic slates in history of delegates. I was heavily involved in the organizing of the Julian Bond slate in 1968. At the 1968 convention I got beaten for the first time severely, by the police, which gave me a bad leg and forced me to walk on a cane most of my life. I’ve been beaten a number of times. When Richard Nixon was elected, four of us — Sam Brown, a woman named Marge Sklencar, David Hawk, and I — formed the thing in March 1969 called the Vietnam Moratorium. We said in October, six months later, we were going to have a national strike against the war where all the communities in the country were going to take a day and do nothing but conduct dialogue on the war in Vietnam, protest, read names of war dead, ring bells for every person who died rally and so forth.
On October 15, 1969, we had over 3 million people participate across the country. It was on the cover of Time and Life. Walter Cronkite gave all of the 30 minutes to the Vietnam War Moratorium. We were meeting with Nixon and Kissinger and they were trying to stop us from going to the demonstration. We were threatened with prison terms if we didn’t stop. We were 23, or 22. I think we got a Nobel Prize nomination out of that.