As one of the organizers of the anti-war demonstrations during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Rennie Davis will forever be tied to that city—a fact underscored by his portrayal in Aaron Sorkin’s 2020 film, The Trial of the Chicago 7, which is nominated for Best Picture at this Sunday’s 93rd Academy Awards.
But Davis spent the majority of his years living in Colorado, where he died at the age of 80 this past February. “How I hope he is remembered is as a fearless pioneer of new possibilities for humanity,” says Kirsten Liegmann, Davis’ wife. “He held such a powerful and such a beautiful vision of humanity throughout his life.”
Following his days as an anti-war advocate, Davis devoted much of his life to spirituality—a turn Liegmann says was inspired by his friendship with John Lennon. In 1969, Lennon, who was also an opponent of the Vietnam War, hosted a honeymoon “bed-in” with his new bride, Yoko Ono, in which reporters and others could visit the newlyweds in their suite at the Hilton Amsterdam.
There, Davis proposed a partnership that would result in the John Sinclair Freedom Rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1971. (Sinclair had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for giving two joints to an undercover cop.) Later, Davis attended the recording session for Lennon’s song “Imagine.”
The Beatles had also visited India, where they studied transcendental meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. “And so a lot of the ‘60s folks followed in their footsteps,” Liegmann says. “And so did Rennie.” In 1973, Davis became the promoter of 15-year-old Guru Maharaj Ji, saying, according to the New York Times, that the teen’s teachings would provide “a practical method to end poverty, racism, sexism, imperialism.” Unfortunately, an event Davis organized for the guru later that year drew only a tenth of his predicted 100,000 attendees.
By the 1980s, Davis was living in Boulder, where he and a business partner set out to turn the historic Greystone estate into a grand retreat. “He and his partner Warren [Smith] owned that and he was doing work with inventors on the level of a Tesla,” Liegmann says. “He just loved the idea of these new technologies and they basically gave room and board to these inventors so they could do their work, and they were going to try to bring these inventions to market. But society wasn’t quite ready for them yet.” In 1987, Smith filed for bankruptcy.
Broke and without a home, Davis found his way to the Grand Canyon. What was supposed to be a five-day trip, Liegmann says, turned into a four-year stay, during which time Davis had a spiritual experience sitting at the bottom of the canyon. Liegmann said that Davis would sit for 18 hours a day and listen—or “download”—information revealed by his inner self.
That knowledge led to the formation of what’s now called the Foundation for Humanity, a public speaking and education organization that taught “spiritual maturity.” He and Liegmann (who was one of his students) led the company until Davis’ death due to lymphoma.
Before his passing, Davis viewed Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7—and was less than enthusiastic about its accuracy. “I encourage all my [Facebook] friends to see the movie for its remarkable impact,” Davis wrote in a three-part review he published on the Foundation for a New Humanity’s website, “but I can still wish the producers had realized the best movie possible could only be made by conveying the story just as it happened.” He was particularly perplexed by his own portrayal. “My character was especially hard to recognize as much as I tried. The movie Rennie was a complete nerd who was afraid of his own shadow and worried his girlfriend’s parents might not understand the protest.”
Davis’ posts relate vivid details from the trial, both humorous (Abbie Hoffman challenged Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to an arm-wrestling competition) and heart-wrenching (Bobby Seale, cofounder of the Black Panther Party, was chained and gagged in the courtroom).
Nevertheless, Davis praised the timeliness of the film and the impact it could have. “[T]he Chicago 7 trial is a movie that can help us remember millions of people united, marching, voting, and growing their own food can live and thrive while creating the future of humanity,” Davis wrote. “We know who we are. We are a global family, and we are a new nation on Earth. I see us as a nation of hope that needs to remember we have done it before, and we can do it again today.”