David Gerald Marcuse, who died on April 7, 2022, at the age of 73, was a beautiful and revolutionary human being. He was born June 28, 1948, at Ashland State Hospital in the coal regions of Pennsylvania. His early years were spent in Kulpmont, Pennsylvania, New Orleans, Louisiana, and El Paso, Texas. From the age of 6, he lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he attended public schools, graduating from J. P. McCaskey High School in 1966. He studied Political Science at The American University, receiving his BS in 1970. David loved the outdoors, hiking, camping, and white-water rafting. He became an Eagle Scout in 1962.
David was a committed progressive who sought to deepen and widen the quantity and quality of information available to other politically progressive people. He also believed that businesses, especially those aspiring to make the world a better place, had an obligation to be good to their employees, and he worked hard to do just that.
After graduating from American University in 1970, David founded the Community Book Store in Dupont Circle. The store became a hub for anti-war organizing, poetry, and other radical conversations, including the Mass Transit poetry reading series started by poet Michael Lally in 1971, which in turn gave rise to a poet-founded non-profit press, Some Of Us Press (SOUP).
David went on to establish RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) Distributors, begun in 1971 and incorporated in 1972, which became the primary East Coast wholesaler of small and alternative press books. Having realized that small press books were outstanding, in great demand, and almost impossible to find in local bookstores, David and his collaborators set out to change that, beginning with 30 small presses and a small selection of related paperbacks. Begun out of David’s Volkswagen Bug, RPM eventually moved into a series of warehouses in Rockville. At RPM’s height in the mid-1970s, the warehouse featured daily staff lunches catered by a Black vegetarian chef; late in his life, David recalled the chickpea fritters with particular enthusiasm.
David’s best known business was Common Concerns, located just south of Dupont Circle on Connecticut Avenue. From its start in 1980 until 1991, when it fell prey to rising rent and other challenges of small business ownership, Common Concerns was a star player in Washington’s independent bookstore renaissance, driven by David’s vision that small bookstores had to embrace their specificity and depth to succeed against their behemoth competitors. As he put it in a 1985 interview for The Washington Post, “If you’re going to be like them, you’re not going to win.”
This philosophy was well-captured by a moment in 1988 that brought David and Common Concerns brief recognition on a national stage for what became their best-selling item: a t-shirt created by local punk activists excoriating then-Attorney General Edwin Meese for corruption and attacks on civil liberties. Featuring a “colorful logo” (“Experts Agree: Meese is a Pig”) along with a list of allegations against Meese including poor treatment of people with AIDS and advocacy against procedural protections for individuals accused of crimes, the grassroots poster and t-shirt campaign has garnered recognition as a model and exemplar in DC’s rich history of underground activist political art.
Common Concerns was known as the best social science bookshop in the area; academics and others came from near and far to shop there. The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) used it as their bookstore for many years. In each of his businesses David sponsored readings and concerts, dedicating space for events and selling tickets. Among many performers David encouraged was Sweet Honey in the Rock, the a capella group of African American women that began in the early 70s and went on to become a major award-winning singing group that performs all over the world.
David’s last business brought the community bookstore model home to Takoma Park, Maryland, where David lived for most of his adult life. Like its predecessors, Chuck & Dave’s Books, Etc., co-founded by David and his close friend Charles Dukes, featured a well-curated collection of politically progressive books and periodicals. The “Etc.” included “a full-scale toy store” alongside the robust children’s book collection, a recognition of the community of young and extended families the store served, as well as a testament to David’s great love and spirit for children. A lover of gardening, nature, adventure, and play who was generous in both spirit and deeds, David became a devoted honorary uncle and godfather to the children of many of his friends, colleagues, and fellow travelers. He loved to cook and entertain and was known for showing up at the homes of family and friends with a large salmon or a box filled with goodies from the Takoma Park Farmers’ Market or the local Middle Eastern grocery.
David spent the last years of his working life as a Montgomery County School bus driver, mainly transporting children with special needs. He retired in 2010. During most of his adult life David volunteered with organizations that addressed hunger, including Shepherd’s Table, Inc in Silver Spring, St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, Loaves and Fishes, in Washington, DC, and Meals on Wheels in Takoma Park.
David is survived by his brother Michael Joseph Marcuse, sister-in-law Gisela Marcuse, niece Deborah K. Marcuse, nephew Jason David Boughton, great-nephew Karin Zidane Boughton, and great-niece Jude Francis Eda Boughton, along with a host of other relatives, former employees and coworkers, and dear friends near and far.
In lieu of flowers, David’s family recommends contributions in his honor to Mera Kitchen Collective in Baltimore (mera.kitchen); House of Ruth in Washington DC (houseofruth.org); and the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition (BTEC) (moretransitequity.com).