Gil Dawes

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Gil Dawes


Rev. Gilbert (Gil) Dawes is an Iowa activist.

Background

Dawes was born on October 2, 1933 in Marion, Indiana. At that time, hisy parents were newly married, and in Dad's attempt to find work in the midst of the Depression, he worked at "stoop labor," picking tomatoes and whatever jobs he could find. After a year, they put Gil in the back of the Model A, drove to New York State, and moved in with my father's parents on their dairy farm. Dad helped with the dairy farm, and he and my grandfather also worked in a cotton mill, a cloth­making factory around Clinton, New York.

Living with the family was not the best, so when I was three years old, they moved back to Iowa, and Dad got an appointment as a pastor in north Iowa at Superior and Montgomery, near Okoboji. Dad had three years of college and the district superintendent told him they wanted him to finish college and go on to seminary. They moved Dad to Sioux City where he served Riverside Church, and he completed his college education at Morningside. My memories probably began there, at three years of age - there was the old Model A, the couch by the door, the black cat - all those kinds of things that impress a three-year old.
Dad was then assigned to Quimby, Iowa where I began school, but due to tonsillitis, I studied at home almost the entire year. I began school in first grade rather than kindergarten, and given my birth date, I really began school at five years of age. That meant I was always young for my class, always small, the shortest, light boned, and I always felt I was about a year behind.

Our next move was to Maple Park, Illinois, where Dad was appointed as pastor and studied at Garrett Seminary in Evanston. He commuted 50 miles back and forth, and Mother, my brother Del (Delbert), three years younger than me, and I, stayed in Maple Park.
I went to junior college in Eagle Grove because I didn't have money to do otherwise. I'd worked since I was ten, delivering newspapers, clerking in a grocery story, doing construction, life guarding at the pool, being a surveyor's assistant, and putting away what I earned. But going to college was still beyond me, so I went to junior college and continued to be a straight "A" student, because of my motivation.
At that time I was still pre-law and decided to go to Cornell, primarily because they had wrestling. I worked 35 hours a week went out for wrestling, but over the course of time, in my junior and senior years, I decided that I wanted to change my goal. As I lawyer I would be working with people after they got in trouble, not before. It seemed to make more sense to do preventive rather than curative work, but not as a pastor. I'd seen too much of that, and thought that was the last thing I'd ever want to do, so I applied to the Mission Board. They said, "We could send you on short term mission work, but we would suggest you go to seminary at least a year and then come back."[1]

Religious path

Dawes enrolled at Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, New Jersey and again life guarded, taught swimming at the "Y," and his wife, whom he married just out of college, became a teacher in the school system there. After one year, I became Dawes student pastor at Dover, New Jersey. This was a part-time appointment at the Mt. Fern Church, 15 miles from the seminary.

While I attended Boston University, I served the Chicopee Falls Methodist Church near Springfield, Massachusetts, and commuted 90 miles three times a week to do the graduate work.

Dawes graduated from Boston in 1962. After experience in the New England area, he returned to his desire to go overseas. His wife was agreeable to that, and we went through missionary training at Stony Point, New York, at an ecumenical mission training center supported by many denominations. It was well organized and we had a good experience. While we were there in 1963, John Kennedy was assassinated and Martin Luther King, Jr. led the march on Washington, D.C., where he gave the "I Have a Dream" speech. I was urged to head up an organizing effort to take a busload of missionaries in training to that rally in D.C. and participate in the rally, and Dawes did so.[2]

Latin America

When he completed the missionary training, Dawes was 30 years of age. The couple were assigned to go to Costa Rica for language education. I had studied French in college but didn't know any Spanish, and neither did my wife. We studied full time in the language school in San Jose, Costa Rica, and I also taught a New Testament theology course in a Methodist Seminary at Alajuela, near San Jose, in addition to being asked to be field treasurer for the Board of Missions.

At the same time Dawes became acquainted with a newspaper reporter who took me around and showed me the society in ways I wouldn't have seen it otherwise. One thing he took me to see was a Communist Party Rally. They had a band and were marching down the main street and, coming from Iowa, that a first.ture.

When they had completed our education in Costa Rica, the Board of Missions asked them to go as missionaries to Argentina. They were assigned by the Bishop to a pastorate in Cordoba, in the central part of Argentina. It was an old city dating back to 1570, which had a university graduating people in five degrees by the year 1600. It was an old Jesuit mission outpost between Peru, where they dug up the gold, and Buenos Aires harbor on the Rio de La Plata (River of Silver). The outpost was an R and R station, to replenish the mule caravans taking the gold and silver back to Spain. I was appointed as pastor of a union congregation, made up of North American people serving in business, government, the diplomatic corps, and Military Mission people. rspective.

Dawes was assigned as advisor to the Student Christian Movement in the University of Cordoba, a university of 33,000 students. Across the street from his office was the high school Che Guevara attended. His family had lived 20 miles outside of town. It was a revolutionary period. After having lived there for about three years, and having gotten well acquainted with some of the Military Mission folk, I finally asked, "I see you running around in your uniforms, you come to church, but what do you do? What are you up to?" They said, "Well, every six weeks we are supposed to take a trip, somewhere we haven't gone before, and we are to carry a journal and a camera. We are to write up what the terrain is like, what the roads are like, we are to photograph the bridges, and we are to map this country militarily." I said, "For the Argentine military?" They said, "No, this goes back to the Pentagon." I found that pretty interesting. "We are to make friends with the Argentine military and see to it that they get all the training they need." "What would that be?" "Well, that is counter-insurgency training at Fort Benning, Georgia. In our system, the upper class is the high military rank; the middle class comes in as lower ranking officers-lieutenant, captain; but at the rank of captain, if they haven't been before, they are to go to take the training at Fort Benning."

I came to learn later that Latin Americans call the School of the Americas, the School of Assassins because all the dictators, all those who have been involved in massacres and assassinations, have gone to the school of the Americas. They teach torture. That is what it is all about, being, of course, subservient to the U.S. military. The hooker was that if, as a middle class officer, you wanted to move up in the ranks, you would go through the School of the Americas, after which you had a right to bring back, duty free, a new automobile, and a house full of furniture. This would automatically catapult you into the upper class. That was the class system and that was the military connection with the U.S. military. Needless to say they would come back with the mentality and the connections to be subservient to the CIA and the Pentagon.
When the military took over in Argentina, over the course of the time I was there, I knew a number and worked with a number of people who later disappeared or were assassinated. One was a young student in the university who became a Catholic priest. He was one who was assassinated by the military because he was working with the poor and trying to get rid of the dictatorship. Another was a Methodist pastor; another was a daughter of the president of the Kaiser automobile industry. The biggest wedding I ever performed was her wedding. She was delightful, living a life of luxury, and married a young man from the Argentine upper class. About three years after I came back to this country, there was a little article buried on the back page of the Des Moines Register saying that she had been assassinated in an underground safe house, which meant she had been working with the Argentine underground to overthrow the dictatorship, I would guess over against her husband's family. Without a doubt, he would have been on the other side. There was someone I misjudged and she had more integrity than I knew.
I came back to the states, and the Argentine Church invited me to return as a missionary but the people, who knew me well, said, "You can do us more good staying in the United States telling what you know, than coming back here." That made sense to me. The underground invited me to join but I knew the circumstances well enough to know that it wouldn't matter if I wore the same clothes, even spoke without an accent, I was obviously North American. I would be obvious. That is not the way to be in the Underground.
So I came back and for 1 ½ years I went around speaking, telling what I knew. One of the churches that invited me was The Bartlesville Methodist Church, in Oklahoma, the head of Phillips Petroleum. I warned the pastor ahead of time what I was going to say because I didn't want to put him in a bad position, and he was very good. He said, "You say what you need to say." The reaction was as though I had never said a thing. Not a word was said. The pastor thanked me because he said that was what was needed.[3]

Iowa socialist

Dawes wanted to continue speaking, and to be free to speak on weekends, so he took a job driving trucks for hog confinements out of Cedar Falls, Iowa, to farms in eight states.

I would haul the buildings, help put them on foundations, go back and get another load, and take them somewhere else. I had never driven a truck in my life. It was an experience in itself to be part of the working class. We tried to unionize the place and 2/3rds of us got laid off because of that. They weren't going to share the profits, to be sure. So we organized a union of the unemployed, and the state of Iowa called us a bunch of Socialists. We exposed the fact in newspapers that the unemployment figures were inaccurate because after 2 1/2 months we were no longer counted as unemployed, we were "those no longer seeking work." We were able to show that the unemployment statistic was about half what the real statistic was.[4]

Radical church

For thirteen years, Dawes' United Methodist congregation in Camanche, Iowa, maintained solidarity with local, national, and international struggles for liberation. -- Time and again the congregation spoke out and demonstrated against the war in Vietnam; -- members of the congregation picketed locally in support of Native Americans at Wounded Knee; -- the pastor, with congregational support, went to Wisconsin in solidarity with members of the Menominee Tribe who had seized a Roman Catholic novitiate; -- members picketed local department stores for the boycott of Farah slacks; -- the congregation as a whole channeled strong financial support to the Patriotic Front in Zimbabwe; -- the 1979 Communist Party State Convention was held in the church fellowship hall; -- the congregation supported a local wildcat strike, and later a year-long strike through weekly picketing, donations, and public advocacy; -- in conjunction with the strike it hosted Angela Davis at the church when she came in support of the union; -- the pastor was beaten by the police, arrested on charges of riot and interfering with the police, put on trial, and later acquitted of all charges by the jury, all the while whole-heartedly supported by the local congregation. [5]

Sanctuary work

Dawes was in Comanche for ten years, 1971-'81 before moving on to Cedar Rapids where he was pastor of two congregations. There he did sanctuary work for Hispanic refugees in the church, as well as continuing with the same kinds of concerns that we worked with in other places. Dawes was in Cedar Rapids from 1981 to 1991, and then in the Des Moines area from 1991 to the present. In Des Moines he was hired to work for Prairie Fire, an advocacy group in support of farmers going bankrupt.

I did ecumenical Bible studies all through southwest Iowa, trying to help people as Christians to come together in support of those who were going through the farm crisis, with the Bible as the basic motivation. The time came when the director of Prairie Fire moved on and I was appointed its director. By that time the farm situation was still a crisis but nobody wanted to recognize it. We united Prairie Fire with Farmers Union, and I started half time each with Prairie Fire and the Hispanics in Des Moines, under appointment by the Bishop. I am now retired, doing the same kind of work as a volunteer.[6]

In 1997 Dawes was Director of Prairie Fire Rural Action, pastor for Trinity United Methodist Church in Des Moines.

Yeager connection

According to Communist Party USA member Tim Yeager;

I never really lost my connection to my home church in Iowa. It was part of my family. And then I met a wonderful man named Gil Dawes. He was a Methodist minister and liberation theologian who showed me what I had not really taken on board, that Christianity and socialism had much in common and so I joined his church:nthe organist left in protest, and so I then became the organist. It was a wonderful congregation, but I have to admit that I had not yet become a Christian again in my heart.[7]

Anti-war protest

On Saturday, March 22, 2003, approximately 50 anti-war protestors gathers at the Iowa National Guard Headquarters, Hq STARC, in Johnston, IA. They delivered the attached statement asking all of our brothers and sisters in the Iowa National Guard, who are participating in this war against the people of Iraq, to stop fighting and return home!

The protestors felt a legal and moral responsibility to raise a clear and strong voice of warning that this war is criminal and immoral. They planned to occupy the facility until these soldiers returned home. However, the sixteen line-crossers were arrested by county authorities and taken to the Polk County jail. They were all charged with criminal trespass. Fifteen were released on their promise to return for a court hearing. One woman chose to spend the night in jail so that she could appear in court Sunday morning. She pled guilty and was released with time served.

Most of the others will appear in court on March 31, others at a later date. Some plan to pled guilty and one will pled no contest. Others plan to pled not guilty and will be represented at trial by Sally Frank, a professor at Drake University law school and National Lawyers Guild.

Below a list of those who got arrested.

Communist Party religious conference

“The word of God and communism are hand in hand,” said Diana Sowry, a school bus driver from Ashtabula County, Ohio. She was one of a group of clergy and lay people participating in a conference on religion sponsored by the Communist Party USA in Des Moines Iowa April 15-16, 2005.

Conference sessions dealt with the history of religion and Marxism, the religious right, coalition building, and work in local churches and denominational and ecumenical groups.

In the session on work in local churches, the Rev. Gil Dawes, a retired volunteer pastor at Trinity Methodist Church in Des Moines, emphasized that grassroots progressive religious activism has deep historical roots, and has to be re-energized today. “That’s where the right is way ahead of us,” he said.

Dawes, a second-generation Methodist minister, draws inspiration from the circuit-rider preachers who traveled through small towns and rural areas to teach a social gospel. He teaches Bible study classes with a materialist interpretation that lets ordinary people see how their problems are connected to larger political and economic forces.

“People are repressed about their own pain,” he said, “but when I choose a story that’s 3,000 years old, that’s far enough in the past. When I start to unravel that story, people break out of that repression.” They relate stories of farms lost and families shattered by hard times.

“People suffering will become leaders if they have a chance to put it together with other people,” Dawes said. This kind of Bible study helped turn one congregation from fundamentalist to one of the most progressive, he said.

In the session on Marx and religion, Paul Nelson, a Lutheran minister who teaches at a community college in Iowa, disputed the idea that Marx opposed all religion. What Marx denounced was an “illusory” form of religion that served as “ideological cover for the exercise of aristocratic economic and political power,” Nelson said. Like the reactionary state religion in 19th century Germany, today “we see religion twisted and turned and used to discipline people,” he said. [9]

References