Marble Falls If there’s a book that Mike Davis has written that I haven’t read, it must be one that hasn’t been published yet, and, I’ll tell you right now, I’m looking forward to it. Mike had a rare and ranging brilliance that shone through deep research, great politics, fundamental insights, and a unique individualism that made reading him a pleasure. He had spit and vinegar along with wit and wisdom in full measure.
An organizing veteran and good friend reminded me that I had shared a chapter of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles with him and others in a senior organizers training session decades ago. Darned right I did. ACORN organized in many cities, including Los Angeles, and reading Mike was an education not only in the future of cities, but in understanding some of the things we were seeing on the streets right in front of our faces every day. Not that Mike’s interests were limited by city limits. His work on political violence is a classic, and that’s just one example of so many.
I tracked down Mike, and that wasn’t easy. Most of his emails didn’t work, or if they did, he didn’t read them often. Phoning was often about the same. Somehow, I succeeded. It wasn’t easy. I was flying to San Diego to visit our office there. He was interested in ACORN. A generous soul, he offered to pick me up at the airport, which turned out to be a comedy of errors with Mike driving round and round for an hour and me standing there with text messages falling like rain and disappearing as quickly. Eventually, we connected, but briefly, but we did better in the future. Mike reached out after Hurricane Katrina. He was in New Orleans with his daughter. We met for hours at Café du Monde in the French Quarter. He ended up writing a long and incisive piece for The Nation on the impact of the hurricane that included ACORN and some of our members. He convinced me to write a book about it, introduced me to his publisher in London with Verso, and offered to write a forward. The book became The Battle for the Ninth Ward: ACORN, Rebuilding New Orleans, and the Lessons of Disaster, but not with Verso, which both of us ended up leaving. Without Mike’s encouragement, I doubt that I would have kept pushing until it was done in 2011.
Time marches on. Southern California wasn’t on my regular travel route and our paths didn’t cross as often. We kept missing each other. Of course, Mike kept writing and working. I read recently that he was terminal. I couldn’t reach him, but, given our history, that didn’t surprise me. He passed away at 76. His work will have a much longer life, but his unique voice and insight won’t be replaced. I won’t be the only organizer who will miss Mike Davis. We should all be in that number.