David Gilbert

David Gilbert

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One of America’s most celebrated political prisoners since his appearance in the Academy Award nominated film, The Weather Underground, David Gilbert is also the author of No Surrender, a book of essays on politics and history. He can be reached at David Gilbert, 83-A-6158, Wende Correctional Facility, which is 3040 Wende Road, Alden, NY 14004.

A nice Jewish boy from suburban Boston—hell, an Eagle Scout!—David Gilbert arrived at Columbia University just in time for the explosive '60s. From the early anti-Vietnam War protests to the founding of SDS, from the Columbia Strike to the tragedy of the Townhouse, Gilbert was on the scene: as organizer, theoretician, and above all, activist. He was among the first militants who went underground to build the clandestine resistance to war and racism known as “Weathermen.”

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Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond
Author: David Gilbert
Foreword by Boots Riley
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-60486-319-2
Published: January 2012
Format: Paperback
Size: 9 by 6
Page count: 352 Pages
Subjects: Autobiography, Politics-Activism

 . . . And he was among the last to emerge, in captivity, after the disaster of the 1981 Brinks robbery, an attempted expropriation that resulted in four deaths and long prison terms. In this extraordinary memoir, written from the maximum-security prison where he has lived for almost thirty years, David Gilbert tells the intensely personal story of his own Long March from liberal to radical to revolutionary.

Today a beloved and admired mentor to a new generation of activists, he assesses with rare humor, with an understanding stripped of illusions, and with uncommon candor the errors and advances, terrors and triumphs of the Sixties and beyond. It’s a battle that was far from won, but is still not lost: the struggle to build a new world, and the love that drives that effort. A cautionary tale and a how-to as well, Love and Struggle is a book as candid, as uncompromising, and as humane as its author.

"There are few individuals who were active during the 1960’s who have steadfastly maintained their commitment to working for justice.  David Gilbert is one of them.  Love and Struggle is an insightful chronicle of the idealism and turbulence of those times and reminds us how much those past struggles connect to the present day."
— Barbara Smith, author, The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender, and Freedom

"Gilbert adds heart and bone to the stuff of history." — Mumia Abu Jamal

“Warning: this is not your daddy’s New Left heroic adventure memoir, nor is it your conventional right-turn mea culpa. Dave Gilbert has written an honest, self-critical, sometimes painful, sometimes humorous reflection on what he learned over the course of three decades of activism. His journey from democrat to revolutionary was filled with mistakes and miscalculations, as well as extraordinary insights and revelations. Speaking to a new generation of activists, Gilbert reminds us that speeches and demonstrations alone do not make change, and the ‘good fight’ of the 1960s and ’70s was a global fight—a bold act of solidarity with the world’s oppressed.”  
—Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

“David Gilbert was there when it all jumped off: from the Civil Rights movement, to the emergence of Black Power, to the movement against the U.S. war in Vietnam and the subsequent years of resistance against the genocidal policies our government was carrying out in our name. This starkly honest history—told from the prison cell where David has spent thirty years and where, if nothing changes, he will spend seventy-five to life—is infused with the sharp intelligence of a scholar and the courage of a man of conscience. It is full of hope, even as it recounts, with brave honesty, too many losses and hard lessons learned.”
—Laura Whitehorn, activist, former political prisoner

“Like many of his contemporaries, David Gilbert gambled his life on a vision of a more just and generous world. His particular bet cost him the last three decades in prison, and whether or not you agree with his youthful decision, you can be the beneficiary of his years of deep thought, reflection, and analysis on the reality we all share. I urge you to read it.”
—Peter Coyote, actor, author of Sleeping Where I Fall

“This book should stimulate learning from our political prisoners, but more importantly it challenges us to work to free them, and in doing so take the best of our history forward.”
—Susan Rosenberg, author of An American Radical: Political Prisoner in My Own Country

“David Gilbert’s revolutionary spirit vibrates after thirty years in prison. His wisdom and love have empowered him to withstand and positively transform personal and political difficulties throughout the decades and still remain a loving and courageous human being and teacher. Most importantly, the reader cannot escape a dialogue with the heart and a constant reexamination of what is real and human about love and struggle. Gilbert’s understanding of mistakes made in the name of liberation serves as a valuable lesson and inspiration. This is a book of hope kindled in the love and struggle of the world’s people.”
—Alicia and Lucy Rodriguez, former Puerto Rican political prisoners

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What Others are Saying


struggleLove and Struggle: A Review
by B. Loewe
Socialism and Democracy
2013 Vol. 27, No. 1, 191–221

Unlike other books by former Weather members, Gilbert’s is neither an adventure novel nor an apologist saga. Being part the 1968 Columbia student strike, the rise and fall of Students for a Democratic Society, the counterculture and its “sexual liberation,” and one of the underground groups which carried out a series of bombings against government and corporate entities gives Gilbert plenty of material to keep readers turning pages through heart- racing tales. But that’s not the point of the book. Instead, it is the production of a man who has had 31 years to reflect on the whirl- wind of organizing and opposition that eventually led to an act of solidarity gone terribly wrong, tragic loss of life, and his 75-to-life sentence, which he continues to serve in a New York State prison today.

In a sense it carries to completion a task he set out for himself immediately after his arrest.

Love and Struggle is a thorough assessment of the achievements and mistakes, groundbreaking thought and mis- guided lines, revelations and retreats of its author and the organiz- ations in which he participated.

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struggleNotes on a Life in Struggle
by Sara Falconer
The Monthly Review
Volume 64, Issue 10
March 2013

He says few words about his relationship with Kathy Boudin, but their mutual love for their son is evident in one of the most poignant sections of the book, detailing the challenges and joys of having a baby in such a precarious situation. The moment when they must leave him with friends to serve their prison sentences is heartbreaking, and a reminder of the very real sacrifices these men and women made in order to resist imperialism.

With this book David has given us a gift with many layers to explore, though he has yet to satisfy his son Chesa’s request to write about life in prison. There are thirty more years of the story we’re still waiting to hear, and beyond.

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struggleLove and Struggle: Book of the Year in The New Statesman
by John Burnside
The New Statesman

David Gilbert may have spent the past 30 years in jail for his part in an attempted appropriation of funds by the Black Liberation Army in 1981 but his analytical powers, compassion and imagination are as keen as ever. In Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond (PM Press, £15.99), he offers more of the urgent yet cool-headed political analysis that made his No Surrender (2004) vital reading for a new generation of activists. This time, it is more personal on the surface but don’t mistake this for yet another memoir of the 1960s – it’s a masterclass in political analysis and activism from someone whose integrity and lack of ego have allowed him to learn crucial lessons from the failures of his time in the Weather Underground and from the continuing struggles for justice and dignity in the various prisons where he has been incarcerated for far too long.

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struggleLove and Struggle: A Review
by Eric Stanley
The Abolitionist, Critical Resistance's paper
November 29th, 2012

Another crucial moment in the radicalization of Gilbert, or at least an event that would eventually alter his life, was the infamous split that happened at the national SDS convention held in Chicago in June of 1969. While the intricacies of the split are both well documented and contingent upon who is offering that documentation, in short the split indexed a larger tension in the US, white student left between an analysis that suggest class was the major factor in oppression which was supported by Progressive Labor, and on the other side was the Revolutionary Youth Movement who argued that class cannot be understood without an analysis of racism and sexism (this antagonism still figures forcefully today). The convention ended with the walkout of many delegates instigated by, among others, Bernadine Dohrn.

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struggleLove and Struggle: A Review
by Kim Moody
New Socialist Webzine
August 25th, 2012

For some people new to social activism, however, the romanticism and dedication of the Weather Underground may have appeal. The "politics of the deed" may be more rewarding in the short term. They may even seem like a short cut to social change. After all, the perspective of building a socialist movement rooted in social movements and the working- class struggles of the day is a long range, difficult, if sometimes exciting, one.  As tempting as a short cut might seem, however, the militancy, actions, and daring a revolutionary movement needs to bring about "another world" will not be found "underground,", but in the workplaces and streets for all to see.

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struggleLove and Struggle: A Review
By Bob Feldman
NYC IndyMedia
April 27th, 2012

Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground and Beyond” is a well-written, intellectually and politically exciting, and emotionally moving autobiography. Published by the alternative non-commercial collective PM Press, it presents a more balanced picture of Gilbert than has been portrayed in the U.S. mass media since his arrest in 1981. Most people have previously had the chance to hear Gilbert speak for himself only in Sam Green and Bill Siegel’s 2003 Academy Award-nominated documentary film, “The Weather Underground.”

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struggleLove and Struggle: A Review
by Vanessa Bush
April 15, 2012

Gilbert is still serving time in the maximum-security prison, Attica, for his involvement in the disastrous 1981 Brinks robbery to finance activities of the radical Weather Underground. In this fascinating memoir, he recalls his background as a nice Jewish boy from suburban Boston, who arrived at Columbia University just as antiwar protests were morphing into protests against racism and other social injustices. Gilbert chronicles his journey to activism from youthful indignation at social injustices ranging from religious and racial bigotry to the inequities of capitalism. He analyzes the politics of the era, discusses the revolutionary fervor that crystallized against the Vietnam War, explores the mistakes and triumphs of the radical Left, and offers encouragement to those still engaged in progressive causes. Interspersed throughout are personal reflections of coming-of-age in the movement, including details of Gilbert’s relationship with fellow radical Kathy Boudin and the challenges of parenting their son, Chesa, from behind bars. As the occupy movement gains in cachet, readers will appreciate this intensely personal and historical perspective on the protest movement that defined a generation, offered by one of its leading activists.

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struggleLove and Struggle: A Review
by Gabriel Kuhn
Alpine Anarchist Productions
March 2012

Love and Struggle is a gift to all activists, not least those of younger generations. We often fail to adequately pass on experiences acquired in struggle. Longtime comrades leave the movement or can’t be bothered to engage with newcomers; at the same time, a mixture of insecurity, youthful arrogance, and misconceived anti-authoritarianism complicates efforts to hand down knowledge in empowering and democratic ways. As a result, new generations of activists often have but a vague idea about what others did just a decade ago (let alone several), reinvent the wheel, and make the same errors. In light of this, a book like Love and Struggle – rousing and instructive, yet far from pretentious and obtrusive – is tremendously valuable. This alone confirms that David Gilbert, also an insightful commentator on current political affairs and a prison activist, remains as much part of the struggle as he has ever been.

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struggleLove and Struggle: A Review
Publishers Weekly
March 5, 2012

Though Gilbert is still in prison after almost 30 years for the botched 1981 Brink’s robbery, these are not prison memoirs. Rather, Gilbert (No Surrender) reflects thoughtfully on his development as a leftist organizer and revolutionary in the context of the social tumult of the 1960s and ’70s, driven by a fundamental desire “to get America to live up to its ideals of democracy for all.” In a conflicted and conflict-ridden period of cold war anticommunism, civil rights struggle, Black Power, antiwar organizing, class divides, a burgeoning youth counterculture, and second-wave feminism, Gilbert’s political education and personal growth sometimes painfully intertwined, as he relates in candid passages detailing his failings as well as advances vis-à-vis colleagues, peers, and lovers, including longtime partner and fellow revolutionary Kathy Boudin.

struggleLove and Struggle: A Review
by Rick Ayers
The Rag Blog
March 7. 2012

David Gilbert, who is of the same aspirational generation, is living a dramatically contrasting life -- presently doing life in a New York prison. His recently released memoir, Love and Struggle, My life in SDS, the Weather Underground and Beyond, opens the door onto a world that mostly exists as some distorted corner of the political imagination of the U.S. in 2012.

But it’s a world and a story that is vivid and compelling -- and one worth paying attention to at precisely this moment as a young generation of activists is generating its own stories on Wall Street and beyond.

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struggleRepresent Our Resistance, 'Love and Struggle', A Review
By Dr. Lenore J. Daniels
Feb 1, 2012
Issue 457

Whenever I start feeling full of myself or sense that I’m taking a direction that’s not right, I need to grapple with that and, if possible, get help. ‘How does or doesn’t this particular path advance the interests of the oppressed?’ ‘What self-interest do I have here and how do they complement or conflict with the goals of the struggle?’

This book is an act of love. It is a timely gift to a new movement of young and old activist veterans. Love and Struggle is for you, if by now, 2012, you know which way the wind blows.

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struggleA Brother with a Furious Mind
by Ron Jacobs
January 2, 2012

In the well-considered catalog of books dealing honestly with the period of history known as the Sixties in the United States, Love and Struggle is an important addition. Borrowing his technique from memoir, confession, and objective history-telling, David Gilbert has provided the reader of history with the tale of a person and a time. Simultaneously, he has given the reader inclined to political activism a useful, interesting, and well-told example of one human’s revolutionary commitment to social change no matter what the cost.

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struggleLove and Struggle, A Review
By Matt Meyer
WIN Magazine
Winter 2012

It may seem strange for a magazine committed to revolutionary nonviolence to give a glowing review to/Love and Struggle/, or any book coming out of the Weather experiment. But Glibert's basic treatise-that it is "our job to win large numbers of white people to solidarity with people of the world" in order to create alternatives to "bloody wars" and "less wasteful" lifestyles-is the call to our own critical times. He has forthrightly stated his apologies and regrets, noting that "the colossal social violence of imperialism does not grant those of us who fight it a free pass to become callous ourselves." Like any true adherent of revolutionary nonviolence (and Gilbert's life-long friendship with Dave Dellinger gives testimony to this), Gilbert see no contradiction between the need for continued militancy and intensity in fighting against imperialism on the one hand, and, on the other, "the need to take the greatest care to respect life and to minimize violence as we struggle to end violence."

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struggleAgainst Capitalist "Rehabilitation": reading David Gilbert's Love & Struggle in the context of Judith Clark's renunciation
by JMP
M-L-M Mayhem!
January 13th, 2012

Although Gilbert has written other books, Love & Struggle is his first attempt at a thorough and systematic autobiography.  Indeed, Gilbert claims in the introduction that he has long resisted writing an autobiography because the idea "always felt too self-involved."  Thankfully, for those of us who have wanted to read these memoirs, the son Gilbert has only known through conjugal visits convinced him otherwise.

struggleDays of Rage, Rebellion and Revolution
by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Socialist Viewpoint
Nov/Dec 2011

Gilbert is a fine writer, and despite the understandable reluctance to write this kind of movement memoir, (many in the movement looked down on such things as individualistic) he does so with remarkable honesty, sensitivity and insight.

What makes this work shine, however, is its forthright take on an issue that, even today is regarded with alarm—race.

Race—that is, the reality of race as lived by real people, in Vietnam, and in Harlem, opened an idealistic Jewish boy’s eyes into the dangerous knowledge that things weren’t as his teachers—or even his parents (not to mention his rabbi) said.

More from and about David...