At Speak Out Now we were very sad to learn of the death of Mike Davis on October 25. Mike Ryan Davis was a Marxist writer and a committed political activist, historian, and environmentalist.
A true working class intellectual with a fighting spirit, he didn’t take the usual path to becoming a writer or a college professor. Born on March 10, 1946 to a family in California, he quit high school at 16 to work as a butcher when his father died of a heart attack.
His life then took a turn when he was profoundly influenced by the Civil Rights Movement. In 1962, a family connection led him to meet a Black warehouse worker named Jim Stone who organized for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). This led him to volunteer for CORE. Stone ultimately convinced him to go to college, and Mike won a scholarship to Reed, a college in Oregon, but feeling alien in this environment, he left after a few months and instead began to work for Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
He has authored more than a dozen books, some with Verso publishers, others with New Left Review, with his best-known ones being “City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles” and “Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World.” His research led him in 2003 to forecast the rise of pandemics in our century with “The Monster at our Door.” Here he exposed the roles played by the growth of slums, agribusiness, fast-food industries, and capitalist governments in creating the perfect conditions for their rise.
In August this year, he gave an interview to the Guardian, and told them what keeps him working for change. Mike Davis was not writing for the sake of spreading information, he was sharing his research for the sake of the fight to preserve life. He said, “What keeps us going, ultimately, is our love for each other, and our refusal to bow our heads, to accept the verdict, however all-powerful it seems. It’s what ordinary people have to do. You have to love each other. You have to defend each other. You have to fight.”
Mike spoke at a Speak Out Now town hall on May 16, 2020, on “The Global Pandemic and Climate Disruption,” explaining the connection that exists between global heating and the increase in pandemics. The talk is recorded here. We at Speak Out Now will miss his brilliant voice in the fight for a humane society.