by Steve Breedlove
Born Danny Allen Everhart in Madison, Ind., on Sept. 2, 1958, Dan split his time between Elgin, Ill., with his mother, and southern Indiana, with his father, until he was 20. Displaying anti-authoritarian hard-headedness and the general alienation that foments, Dan lived rough and tumble in his formative years and fell into alcohol and drug abuse. He didn’t stay in one place for very long and he dropped out of high school.
He also fathered a child around this time, but left him in his infancy. Christopher was adopted by his mother’s husband, and said that Dan was “never his ‘dad.’” According to Chris, Dan definitely imparted his intellect and curiosity, and also his skill in IT and data analysis. They maintained communications with twice-a-year phone conversations — on Chris’s birthday and on Christmas. One of Dan’s friends recounted that “he despaired” about having left his infant son and that he carried a picture of Chris. Another said it was one of the demons he carried for the rest of his life.
Like many young men looking for a paycheck and some direction, Dan enlisted in the Army in 1979, serving very briefly. Like many recruits who are unwilling to play by the rules quickly learn, the military is not very accepting of anti-authoritarianism, no matter how deeply it is embedded in good conscience. He was discharged honorably in 1980.
While visiting a cousin in Nashville, Dan fell from a balcony while intoxicated — describing it as a “cartwheel” to a college friend — and it changed the course of his life forever. The doctors gave him five years to live, but he was as stubborn as a tumbleweed’s taproot, and lived another 35 years beyond their expectations.
Despite his longevity, he did experience considerable “phantom pains,” as well as general discomfort from being quadriplegic. As one friend in Dallas who had the same spinal cord injury described it, it feels like “your bones want to puncture through your skin.” From the VA facility in Chicago, he transferred to the halfway house, Winning Wheels, in Prophetstown, Ill., to finish rehabilitation and to learn how to live in a wheelchair.
While he recovered from his accident, Dan obtained his GED and enrolled in nearby Sauk Valley Community College. He then transferred to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale — a school that was an early adopter of accessibility programs and infrastructure — and moved into an innovative independent living facility off-campus called “The Fields.” Dan received a BS in psychology, graduating summa cum laude in 1987, writing his capstone paper on the dynamics of loneliness — a condition that proved perennial.
Near the end of his undergraduate years and after, he worked for a crisis hotline for a program called Synergy in a geodesic dome facility they called, unsurprisingly, “The Dome.”
During this period of his life, his friends and peers recalled his intense intelligence and his “acerbic wit.” One asserted that, “We weren’t squares, and Dan was kind of like a leader,” and that he was prone to deliver monologues of deep philosophical musing “while we tripped.” Dan and his friends continued to party hard, and a few bad experiences led him to finally decide to become sober. One friend noted he was later ashamed that he had been a “horribly mean drunk.”
Carbondale had a really strong recovery community which most certainly helped him in his process and, according to a confidant in Dallas two decades later, “Dan was proud of being sober.”
Another friend recounted that “sober Dan was like not-sober Dan, just without the hangover,” referring to his often abrasive personality, his intellect and his sense of humor. While always concerned with the suffering of others, sobriety granted Dan new opportunities to focus on social justice work and was a watershed in his life.
In 1991, now sober, he enrolled in a Master’s in Social Work program, also at SUI-Carbondale. A study partner recalled that he was brutally critical, but that he couldn’t “help being critical when [he was] so intelligent.” He graduated in 1993 and was named Graduate Student of the Year. One classmate joked, “he actually read the books,” counting Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” and Thomas Szasz’s “The Myth of Mental Illness” as important influences on Dan’s thinking. His passion for the unhoused emerged around this time.
After a very brief career as a social worker in a local prison, Dan went to Dallas to work for Microsoft, where he remained until retiring in 2011. He was on the development team of the SOAP XML protocol, which facilitates the exchange of information over networks. While in Dallas, he joined other activists in fighting for accessibility across the city, which, according to a close friend and activist, was “one of the least accessible cities in the country.”
Dan was an expert poker player, a cinephile and a member of the Dallas Movie Geeks. He participated in Occupy Dallas and brought his wit, intelligence and compassion for the unhoused. He was described as a “trooper” for the long days he spent exposed to the elements, much as he was a trooper meeting with the folks at the makeshift Butte County camps that sprung up in the wake of the Camp Fire.
After a bad breakup, Dan decided to go West.
He told his family Dallas was too hot, but ironically Dan chose Chico. According to them, he thoroughly researched Chico and felt it was a town where he could “make a difference.” To say he made a difference is an understatement that obscures the legacy of this amazing and principled man.
Shortly after arriving in Chico, Dan involved himself in the remnants of Occupy Wall Street and Food Not Bombs. He was instrumental in forming the Northern California Counties Time Bank, where he served on the board at his passing, advocating for face-to-face egalitarian economics as an antidote to the crushing pains of capitalist exploitation. He served, for a time, as treasurer of the Chico chapter of the ACLU, where his uncompromising principles and stubbornness were often on full display. He served as board president of the Chico Peace and Justice Center, advancing the teaching and practice of Gandhian nonviolence and social change.
Dan believed voluntary suffering was central to struggles against oppression and that loving your enemy is a revolutionary act. This led him to de-emphasize his own disability and focus on his relative privilege vis-à-vis other oppressed groups, particularly the unhoused and people of color suffering under the white supremacist criminal injustice system. Also a testament to both his principles and his intersectional thinking, Dan was a strong voice for the elders to step back from positions of power within organizations and open space for younger and more diverse voices.
Dan’s principled nonviolence and belief in direct action for social change led him to many protests and actions against war, against fossil fuels, rail transport of oil, and more. He truly understood the scope and scale of our ecological crisis. Dan was also the driving force behind the Chico Housing Action Team, taking decisive action to provide immediate shelter to unhoused folks during a dangerous winter cold snap and bringing together people who shared a desire to address the crisis of homelessness. As a regular speaker at City Council and board and commission meetings, Dan was a powerful voice advocating for justice for the least among us and against the insane economic paradigm of endless growth.
Dan was one of those rare people who could light up a room with his child-like excitement for ideas, like direct democracy through neighborhood assemblies, while also being bluntly truthful about the mass extinction underway and the slim prospects of humanity surviving.
People who knew him described him in many ways, including as “wicked smart,” as “curious about everything,” as someone who “loved a good debate,” as someone who “had a personal side that was warm, generous and charming” and offered a “genuine handshake.” But he was also described as someone who could be at times “very cruel” and a “difficult friend to have . . . because he had crazy high standards not only for himself but others as well.”
Many who worked with Dan on issues of social and economic justice here in Chico can verify this latter fact with their own experiences.
Dan inspired other individuals and organizations and his legacy will never be fully understood. Like a tumbleweed, Dan rolled in from the Midwest, broken from a tenacious taproot, and spread seeds of a better world all over the city. Some of those are maturing, like a tiny house village recently approved. Some have already sprouted, like North Valley Mutual Aid. Many more seeds are dormant, waiting for the right moment to spring to life. We owe these to him.
Rest in power, comrade.
Dan Everhart died in his home Dec. 23, 2018. He is survived by his mother, ValDean White, his son, Christopher Heaney, sister Pam Asinopo, his father, Dan Everhart, Sr., stepmother Avalon Hampton, brother Dan Jr., and his sister, Kat Knox.
Writer’s note: Thanks to all the people — near and far, estranged or intimate — who shared their stories and helped me learn about my friend and mentor. I see so much of myself in Dan’s story. His lessons encourage my self-reflection and give me the strength to persevere. Let’s carry his flame as a torch to pierce the darkness of our moment and to light the path to a world of beauty, abundance and love.
Editor’s note: Steve Breedlove is a father, gardener, veteran and an occasional contributor to ChicoSol.