Henry David Thoreau. His book Walden and essay Civil Disobedience influenced my thinking greatly when I read them in college. I was not the only one– Tolstoy, Gandhi, MLK, John Muir, Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright all mention being profoundly affected by his writings. In the 1960s Thoreau’s concepts of civil disobedience and direct action helped shape the strategies of the civil rights movement, the free speech movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement. His spirit is never far from the surface throughout the SDS manifesto, the Port Huron Statement, written by Tom Hayden.
When arrested in 1846 for refusing to pay poll taxes because of his opposition to slavery, the event that led to his writing of Civil Disobedience, he was visited in jail by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson reportedly asked: Henry David, what are you doing in there? Thoreau’s reply: Ralph Waldo, what are you doing out there?