Dan Lourie: A Pillar of Conscience

Sunday Sep. 1st, 2019

Dan Lourie is a powerhouse, leading by example to challenge members of the Bozeman community and beyond to engage in civil discourse, to show up in support of their values, and to insist on justice day after day.  - Ariel Donohue

Born into a Jewish family that fled Belgium as the Nazi bombs began to fall - the day before his third birthday - Bozeman resident Dan Lourie gained a profound sense of right and wrong at a relatively young age. His early life experiences living in New York were according to his plan - playing sports and not working at showing that he was a refugee, but growing up as a New Yorker - an American. 

Dan was a great athlete as a teen. He played varsity baseball at Bronx High School of Science and baseball and football at Trinity College. He played semi-pro football after college. As one of his lifelong friends, Eric Lasher noted, “Dan is one of the toughest men to ever be a pacifist. He’s the guy I want next to me in a dark alley.”

When he reached adulthood - and especially after leaving the Army - Lourie began spending much of his life organizing for peace and working on human rights issues. Dan Lourie is an educator by training, a lifetime peace and justice activist, an organizer of and participant in civil rights and anti-war era actions, and a regular writer to newspapers since 1964. Throughout his life, he has modeled the importance of civic engagement.

As a young adult, Lourie recognized that oppressed peoples tend to collaborate with and join in the defense of other oppressed peoples. He sought out the opportunity to be involved in Dr. Martin Luther King’s movement for equality - spending an evening in a group with him, and actually getting stink bombed together. Lourie noted that thousands of Jews, his people, marched for equality and freedom for African Americans. Many, like his family, were refugees themselves. Untold numbers that went south to support the Freedom Rides and sit-ins were also victims of brutality by those who opposed freedom and equality. 

In 1969, Lourie was living in Houston, Texas. Fifteen years after the Supreme Court in “Brown v Board” had ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional, the schools in Houston, Texaswere still far from being desegregated. Dan recalls that one day there was a knock on his door, and he opened to a young Catholic priest who told him there was a group beginning to be organized to eliminate segregated schools. Lourie went to their gathering and never looked back. With his help, Citizens For Good Schools was organized - a non-partisan community group, determined to alter the grievous inequalities inherent in segregated schools. The challenge was to defeat the majority on the school board. 

Dan has written that his own first task was to get invited by the pastors of some of the black Baptist churches to come and speak to their congregations about the necessity of voting. His kids, then five and eight, sometimes went with him, all dressed up. They sat in the back row of the church until the pastor called Dan up to the pulpit, where he spoke to the congregation of the urgency of voting, after which they moved on to another church. 

With a bright red convertible outfitted in the back with a powerful speaker system, Dan drove and his African-American friend, Mickey Leland sat with the microphone and went up and down every street and alley. Leland, holding the microphone, would shout loudly throughout the community, “Please, for the sake of your children, please remember to vote on Tuesday.” They were often invited into people’s homes where, inevitably, there were three pictures on the wall: Jesus, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

On election day, more than 90% of eligible voters in the black community cast their ballots. Those votes were crucial, successfully helping to oust the four-person right-wing majority of the school board. Two years later, the group got rid of the other three.

As Jody McDevitt, co-pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Bozeman stated, “Dan’s own family story of escaping Europe and its impending Holocaust is the source of his unfailing empathy for the stranger, the refugee, the minority, and the oppressed. He embodies the multiple admonitions of Torah to treat strangers justly, ‘for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ His empathy and his abundant energy lead to his tireless advocacy.” 

 In Bozeman, Lourie has organized and spoken at numerous rallies over the last decade. He has repeatedly responded to and spoken up about human rights atrocities around the world and mobilized others to act upon them. Historian Anne Millbrooke has stated, “Dan Lourie is a doer. He talks the talk, walks the walk, and fights the good fight — over and over. As long as anyone is being put down, discriminated against, or harmed, Dan has been there to stand with the people, to protest, to lobby, to speak in support of the people. His respect for people is universal. There are no exceptions.”  

When the war in Iraq started in 2003, Lourie felt compelled to do something in protest. He went to the hardware store, bought an American flag, and stood alone on the steps of the Courthouse holding the flag for a couple of hours. Then a car stopped in front of Lourie and a man called out that he should not leave, that he would be back. Sure enough, in about a half hour this gentleman returned with about 15 others, and they all held a rally at the Court House. It was the first of many.

In his 70s and 80s, Dan has talked many times to the area's middle school, high school, and college classes about the history of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King. A consummate volunteer, he has engaged with nonprofits and lectured at four Pecha Kuchas, informing the community about the children’s role in African Americans finally being granted the vote, the horrors of the Holocaust, his role in school integration reforms in the 1960s, and his life from immigrant to activist. 

Dan gets involved in issues such as Compassion Project, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, HRDC, the Warming Center, Veterans For Peace, and is not afraid to speak out and lead civic actions, where others might look away. Dan knows that the power of a community is in working together and he encourages adults and youth to get engaged in issues that they care about. Dan also encourages others to write and share their opinions in the media. A regular contributor to Bozeman Daily Chronicle’s Letter to the Editor, he knows the importance of a free press and local news and is not afraid to speak out and lead civic actions, where others might look away. 

As the Rev. Canon Dr. Clark M. Sherman said about Lourie, “Forty years ago, I was a classic idealist. Everything was possible.  In fact, probable.  Since then I have become quite a cynic.  I assumed that's what happened to "old guys."  Well, Dan has proved me wrong.  He has given me hope again.  The candle burns bright in this one.  I pray that I can learn from his example.  Dan Lourie is my hero.”

Gail Richardson added, “Dan is Bozeman’s conscience. He is always at the forefront of social and economic justice issues, urging people to be active in exposing the worst of human behavior toward others. Dan’s family endured the worst of humanity’s evil impulses. He makes sure that we understand the corrosiveness of inhumane, corrupt, unethical and immoral behavior, that Americans are better when we support those in need, whether they be immigrants in search of a better life or local people in need of a lift up. Dan is an inspiration to all of us who believe in kindness and caring and a better life for all Americans.”

Dan Lourie is someone who inspires many by his passion to make a difference and everyday actions to foster social change. He models citizen leadership. He is civically involved in a variety of issues and takes a stand on those of utmost importance. He personally understands the importance of human rights and works tirelessly to advocate for the full enjoyment of all human rights by everyone.