Bill Dobbs

"life could be beautiful"

I really like him. Those who know William K. Dobbs know that's not so easy to say, but now that he's become the subject a modest but delightful profile in the NYTimes, written by Michael Brick, it may be easier for me to explain why.

Sure, from the very first time I heard him speak in front of an ACT UP meeting in the late 80's I've always respected him, as virtually without equal among some really tough competition, even if early on that also meant hoping I could stay out of the line of his fire, the kind of fire usually associated with biblical prophets. In the years since however I've managed to overcome some of my timidity and the rewards of knowing him just a bit better include (and he'd laugh at me for this) real affection.

He was admired for his mind and his integrity throughout the activist community from the very beginning, but he could be intimidating. His devotion to principle was uncompromising. We may have been wrong, but most of us had the strong impression that he would not be easy to know personally. Saints can be extremely tough to live with.

Dobbs stayed around. Within the AIDS and Queer movements the authority of his stentorian voice and his facile pen represented a strong focus and a highly-intelligent conscience within groups with many rivals for those roles, but few equal to or even faintly resembling Bill. I think we were all fascinated with our mysterious intellectual Clark Kent. There were certainly many crushes.

Today Brick describes Dobbs as "a main organizer and the official spokesman of United for Peace and Justice." How did he get to opposition to the Iraq war, the Bush administration and eventually both major political parties from the more narrow focus of his earlier activism? It's not a big step for for many of us, but here's Dobbs's account:

"Gay is the lens that I look at life through," he said, sitting recently in a diner near Madison Square Garden, the convention site. "Is there a connection between that and antiwar work? I feel a connection, but it's not easy to articulate. It's about power. It's a visceral need to stop war based on the lessons I've learned as a gay man."

. . . .

Mr. Dobbs says he is motivated to protest by the cruelty of fate, the nature of power and the virtue of free expression. "Life could be beautiful, but it won't," he says, paraphrasing Lily Tomlin. "What's wrong with the world?"

OK, but like Bill himself, we're still going to keep trying to make a difference. Let's get out there this weekend (and stay out there for as long as it takes), let's make it very colorful and let's keep it very safe.

[image from the NYTimes]