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Book Review: My Whirlwind Lives: A Chronicle of Decades of Resistance and Struggle

Minneapolis, MN – Dee Knight’s My whirling lives is both a memoir and a manifesto – chronicling more than five decades of anti-imperialist resistance and revolutionary engagement. “Being a revolutionary is like being a midwife for the future,” he writes. “Although there is blood and pain, its essence is hope and excitement for a future we can begin to see ahead of us.”

Knight’s first “whirlwind” began in the 1960s: “threats of nuclear catastrophe, rednecks with dogs terrorizing freedom walkers, Vietnamese children fleeing the flame of napalm”. His memoirs are a response to current stormy events and trends that change history. Knight places them in the context of “decades of unrest in the United States and abroad, and decades of building movements against war, injustice, and the destruction of the planet”, as Medea Benjamin puts it. He recounts witnessing and supporting the revolutions in Portugal and Nicaragua and building a socialist movement back home.

Gerry Condon of Veterans For Peace, Knight’s longtime comrade in the resistance, says the story “shares much with that of thousands of young people whose lives and worldviews changed when they were pushed to participate. to unjust American wars”. During his senior year of high school in a small eastern Oregon town, Knight backed far-right Barry Goldwater for president over “peace candidate” Lyndon Johnson. But it didn’t take long for the struggles of the mid-60s to change her mind and her life.

Knight writes that he met Clarence Thomas, the well-known leader of the International Longshore Workers Union, while a student in 1966 at San Francisco State College. Thomas was part of the daily campus rallies organized by the Black Student Union, denouncing the postponement of the student draft as class and racial inequality. Knight then met with Walter Collins, a founding member of the National Student Coordinating Committee, who fought intense repression for his refusal to be drafted to go to Vietnam. Thomas and Collins helped mobilize a generation of young people to resist, in the streets. They were good teachers for a young, naïve but quick learner whose life in the resistance was just beginning.

As Knight recounts, the story of Clarence Thomas and the San Francisco longshoremen was an object lesson in the enormous impact – and revolutionary potential – of militant unionists. “In 1984 they closed the port of San Francisco rather than unloading goods from apartheid South Africa” and “In 2011 the ILWU joined the Occupy movement to shut down the West Coast. Almost every May Day, San Francisco dockworkers take time off to march. It is reminiscent of the San Francisco General Strike of 1934, when the ILWU shut down West Coast ports for 83 days. “This historic action, along with the Teamsters strike in Minneapolis, and others in Ohio and Michigan, almost all led by Communists or Socialists, forged the Congress of Industrial Organizations – the CIO.”

“It can happen again,” writes Knight, “and it can spread like wildfire.” It’s an example of how the memoirs are also a manifesto – a kind of polemic for revolutionary optimism. It chronicles the upsurge in teachers’ strikes that began in 2018 and spread across the country – with and without official union support, and the struggles of nurses, fast food and retail workers who have become unstoppable. He adds the prison strikes that broke out in 2018, which in at least one instance commemorated the historic 1971 Attica Rebellion and the heroic leadership of George Jackson. It also pays tribute to the emblematic resistance fighters Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier.

Life in exile and the struggle for amnesty

Knight’s resistance led him into exile in Canada after “the Battle of Chicago” in 1968. The first third of the book tells this story: how life outside the United States opened up new possibilities – a chance , among other things, to learn more about Marxism and socialism. . The memoir recounts how Knight became one of the main organizers of amnesty for war resisters, in alliance with anti-Vietnam War veterans. That campaign culminated at the 1976 Democratic convention in New York, with a gold star mother nominating a war resister as vice president, seconded by disabled Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic. This electrifying show of solidarity became part of a film, Born July 4. Those efforts did not win full amnesty for draft resisters, but they did force a broad “pardon” from Jimmy Carter in his first act as president in January 1977. Knight recounts how they continued to s organize to defend veterans with ‘less than honourable’. ” landfills for years afterwards. It was about justifying all types of resistance, inside and outside the army: “Amnesty for the future – not only for the past!

After returning from Canada, Knight traveled to Portugal to witness the Carnation Revolution of 1974-75, then to Sandinista Nicaragua for three years in the 1980s, experiencing the realities of revolution in a poor Central American country and opposing Ronald Reagan’s illegal efforts to crush this. This part of the story includes a defense of the Nicaraguan revolution against the continued efforts of the United States to strangle it.

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, when President George W. Bush declared an “unending war” on terrorists, Knight helped organize the all-important mass protests. New York Times report declared that the anti-war movement was a “new superpower”. Knight then takes us through the popular mass reactions to the crash of 2008 – the organization of a large “Bloombergville” camp-in near New York City Hall in a precursor to Occupy Wall Street. Closer to the present, he contrasts the massive Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 with the fake January 6 insurgency. real change on the horizon.

A “turn to the right” or a controversy for the fight?

In the context of his roots in the rebel storms of the 1960s, 1970s, and even the present, it’s a little surprising to see Knight’s memoir focus on Bernie Sanders and AOC’s “Socialism and the Green New Deal.” . Knight pays tribute to Sanders for popularizing socialism and calling for “a political revolution”. But he goes on to explain that “we have to be realistic. Such a revolution should also transform the old state apparatus – the army, the cops and the courts. We would need to take control of the “high ground” of the economy…to expropriate the banking, insurance, energy and railroad industries, as well as the military-industrial complex and big pharma.

Knight admits that “doing all of this could take a miracle”, but then paints a picture of how it can happen: “Youth strikes and sit-ins will spread and intensify. Workers can mobilize on a large scale, closing or taking over workplaces, ports and entire cities. They can join farmers, the unemployed and young people – everyone – in massive marches to demand change. Soldiers can close military bases across the country and around the world. It would have an impact!

So, in fact, this memoir is indeed a manifesto – a passionate argument that we have what it takes to bring about the change we need. Knight makes this both exciting and possible. It’s good news.


Excerpts from My whirling lives can be found on It is due out from Guernica World Editions on June 1. Advance copies are available from Mayday Books in Minneapolis and online from 1804Books At New York.