Marxist environmentalist and author Mike Davis dies at 76
SAN DIEGO — Mike Davis, author, activist and self-proclaimed “Marxist environmentalist” whose greatest fears drove him to anticipate riots, fires and disease in best-selling books such as “City of Quartz” and “The Ecology of Fear,” died at age 76.
Davis died Tuesday after a long battle with esophageal cancer, his friend Jon Wiener announced this week in an online posting for The Nation, a progressive magazine. Wiener, a historian who, with Davis, wrote « Setting the Night on Fire: LA in the ’60s, » told The Associated Press that Davis died in San Diego.
Davis, dubbed by the Los Angeles Times the Prophet Jeremiah of Southern California, had announced over the summer that he was terminally ill.
« Although I’m known as a pessimist, I really haven’t been a pessimist, » he told The Times in July. « You know, (my writing has) been more of a call to action. An attempt to elicit righteous anger at those we rightly should be angry at. But now there’s a certain sense of unhappiness. That’s not It’s not the time or the story my children should inherit, you know? »
As noted in Wiener’s tribute, Davis was « a 1960s person » whose background was not privileged, but working-class and conservative. Raised in San Diego County, he was once a member of the military-oriented Devil Pups youth program, radicalized by the civil rights movement. He volunteered for the Congress of Racial Equality, burned his draft map to protest the 1965 U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic, joined the Communist Party, and became a leftist student organizer for a democratic society.
« I was like Zelig in the events of the day, » Davis told The New Yorker in 2020. « I was at every protest and several riots, right there in the crowd, on the base. »
He’s been accused of ideological bias and various errors and fabrications — some admitted — but his gloomy views of Los Angeles and broader issues have often proven vindicated. « City of Quartz, » published in 1990, condemned Los Angeles’ racial and class divisions and called the city a « carceral, » prison-like society overseen by an oppressive police force. The beating of Rodney King by the police in 1991 and the riots that followed the acquittal of his attackers in 1992 made his book look like a prophecy.
Davis’ ‘Ecology of Fear’ predicted California’s growing wildfire catastrophe and ‘The Monster on Our Doorstep: The Global Threat of Bird Flu’, published in 2005, warned that a deadly pandemic was increasingly likely. . During his New Yorker interview, Davis called capitalism unfit to handle public health and environmental disasters, but still believed a better world was possible.
« It seems to be a time of catastrophe, but it’s also a time equipped, in an abstract sense, with all the tools it needs, » he said. “Utopia presents itself to us. If, like me, you lived through the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, you can never give up hope.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION