Mike Davis: A personal remembrance

Suzi Weissman

October 27, 2022

From L to R: Roberto Naduris, Suzi Weissman and Mike Davis

I have lost a dear friend of nearly 50 years, Mike Davis, and the world has lost a voice like no other.

An avalanche of remembrances and articles are already appearing, a testament to Mike’s powerful and distinctive influence, his many books and articles, his generosity, his tireless life as a fighter against everything that diminishes human dignity and ravages the planet.

Bob and I visited Mike a week ago and knew this day was coming. He had been bravely battling a triple whammy of cancers and had run out of steam. Mike chose his time to withdraw, thanks to California’s aid in dying law, surrounded by his amazing, loving family — Alessandra Moctezuma, James, Casey, and Róisín Davis. Even last week we had wide-ranging discussions about Scottish and American revolutionary history, rock formations in the Pacific, the LA City Council scandals, the state of politics in the world. It is impossible to think there won’t be more. Our hearts and love go out to Alessandra, James, Casey, Roisin, and Jack in Ireland.

I’ll tell one anecdote about how we became friends. I was a grad student at Glasgow University at the Institute of Soviet and East European Studies, working with Hillel Ticktin on the journal Critique journal of socialist theory. There was always a lot of correspondence but one envelope caught my eye. It was a letter from Mike, who introduced himself as a student from Southern California on a butcher’s union scholarship, spending a year in Edinburgh. He said he had written an article on Preobrazhensky he’d like us to consider publishing! I remember turning to Hillel and saying something like “a working class hero has written about Preobrazhensky” — the song was in my head. I wrote to Mike and told him to come immediately to Glasgow. He showed up that week, just in time to join us for the drive to London for some IMG aggregate, as they called the larger meetings of the International Marxist Group. On the return Mike moved into our huge flat on Kersland Street in Glasgow, joining housemates Don Filtzer, another American grad student at the Soviet Institute, and a number of Chilean refugees who arrived shellshocked from their terrible experiences in Pinochet’s Chile, including my future husband Roberto Naduris. We were all involved in politics, read and discussed incessantly, listened to Chilean revolutionary music, and Mike educated us with his deep understanding of the Irish struggles – and many other subjects. Mike was already a runner, before the word jogging had entered the vernacular. I couldn’t understand why he’d go out each evening in the pouring rain to run to Anniesland Cross and back. No one did that … yet.

Mike’s coordinates were Glasgow, Belfast, and London, where we marched, celebrated the death of Franco with a bottle of Rioja, and again when the US withdrew from Vietnam. By late 1979 we were all living in Los Angeles and Mike was writing what would become Prisoners of the American Dream.

It is too large a task to distill our friendship into a few words. We were there for each other in all the important events, political and personal. Mike was Irish but could have been a perfect Jewish matchmaker: he loved Roberto and told me early on that Roberto was the man for me. When Roberto died tragically early in 1995, Mike was there to comfort me and our kids Eli Naduris-Weissman and Natalia Naduris-Weissman.

Much later, in 2010, Mike and I plotted a surprise party for our close friend Robert Brenner: Bob knew Mike even earlier than I did: Mike went to UCLA to study with Bob and they worked together politically before Mike went off to Scotland. This party was the beginning of Bob and I turning a friendship into a love for the ages, and Mike was our biggest cheerleader. Likewise I was there for Mike through his loves and losses, baby Roisin was often at our house, and when Mike met and married Alessandra Moctezuma, I hoped he’d find happiness. He was head over heels in love and it only grew from there. Alessandra is one of the best things that happened to Mike but happen isn’t the right word: their relationship is the triumph of love, James and Casey are their testament.

Here’s something Mike wrote when asked about Occupy (Thanks to Eli for pointing this out):

It’s true that old radicals like me are quick to declare each new baby the messiah, but this Occupy Wall Street child has the rainbow sign. I believe that we’re seeing the rebirth of the quality that so markedly defined the migrants and strikers of the Great Depression, of my parents’ generation: a broad, spontaneous compassion and solidarity based on a dangerously egalitarian ethic. It says, Stop and give a hitch-hiking family a ride. Never cross a picket line, even when you can’t pay the rent. Share your last cigarette with a stranger. Steal milk when your kids have none and then give half to the little kids next door—what my own mother did repeatedly in 1936. Listen carefully to the profoundly quiet people who have lost everything but their dignity. Cultivate the generosity of the “we.”

What I mean to say, I suppose, is that I’m most impressed by folks who have rallied to defend the occupations despite significant differences in age, in social class and race. But equally, I adore the gutsy kids who are ready to face the coming winter on freezing streets, just like their homeless sisters and brothers.

RIP Mike.

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