Don White, 1937 – 2008
As a teacher, a leader, a peacemaker, a dynamic speaker, Don White was an institution of the peace and justice movement in Los Angeles for more than 30 years. He was often the guy who made the pitch for money at demonstrations as well as social and political events—because he had a gift for putting people at ease, making them laugh, and inspiring them to give and be a part of something much larger than themselves. He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for scores of progressive and humanitarian organizations. Behind the scenes, Don's gift was for getting at the root of problems, and for holding people together in a common cause.
Don was born in Mount Vernon, Washington in 1937. He studied political science at the University of the Pacific in Tacoma, Washington, and did post graduate work at American University in Washington, DC. From the time he was a college student in the late 1950s, protesting the House Un-American Activities Committee's hearings, Don was engaged in the struggle for peace and justice.
Don moved to Los Angeles in 1963 and taught history at Irving Junior High School. He loved his students and loved teaching. As a charter member of United Teachers of Los Angeles, he was deeply committed to issues of equity in educational opportunity, especially for inner city children. Don stayed active in union politics and participated in every teachers' union strike until his retirement in 1997.
In 1976, Don traveled to Guatemala in response to the devastating earthquake there. He recalled that month-long journey as "an epiphany, a life changing experience," which remained with him and led to a lifelong commitment to peace with justice in Central America. He joined the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) shortly after its founding convention in 1980. As an organizer and leader of CISPES, Don coordinated and addressed countless rallies, demonstrations, fundraisers, teach-ins, delegations, material aid drives, congressional visits, and civil disobedience actions demanding an end to U.S. intervention in El Salvador and Central America. At the same time, Don helped to build a movement in solidarity with refugees and immigrants in Los Angeles. He played a crucial part in the early sanctuary movement. He connected with CARECEN during the early '80s. He remained a close friend and supporter of CARECEN, and organized innumerable events at and with CARECEN throughout the years.
Don was also an organizer of scores of city-wide coalitions addressing various other progressive causes, from immigrant rights to peace in the Middle East to global economic justice. He could be seen wearing a green National Lawyers Guild legal observer hat at virtually every major—and minor—demonstration in Los Angeles. He served on the boards of CISPES, the Office of the Americas, Americans for Democratic Action, and Pacifica Radio, and chaired the local station board of KPFK, 90.7 fm. He was a lead organizer and coordinator in the historic mass demonstrations for peace and pro-immigrant solidarity in Los Angeles culminating in the May Day march in 2006.
Don passed away suddenly at his home in Los Angeles on June 19, 2008. He was working on organizing a demonstration for the following week, among other projects, when he died.
We miss Don White. We join hundreds of his friends and colleagues in remembering him and his extraordinary life. Please join us in loving, sharing and memorializing him through your favorite Don story, quote, or photo.
Video Credit: to heroic Don, with love, Sally and Peter