Remembering Murray Dobbin

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Murray Dobbin with his longtime wife, Ellen Gould. Image: Provided by Ellen Gould

Murray Dobbin, a longtime member of the rabble community, died on September 8. 

Throughout his life, Murray covered a lot of bases. He wrote books, engaged in political commentary, research, and mentored young activists.  He helped start political movements, appeared in films, and weighed in on every critical issue -- always with insight and always with a deeply progressive analysis. 

Murray was always a dedicated friend to rabble.ca, where he penned regular political columns and at one point, took on the role of senior editor. 

That's enough work for many lifetimes, but somehow, Murray's capacity was bottomless and always invigorating. He was a giant of the Canadian left, and had a profound influence on contemporary thinking and action. 

His book Paul Martin: CEO for Canada? laid bare the neo-liberal agenda that emerged in the 1990s, later followed by the documentary that deconstructed the insidious harm caused by the powerful elite who looked to rule the globe with so-called free trade agreements that sucker punched democratic practices. He went on to document the rise of the right, tracking the growth of the Reform party in this book -- one of many he would publish over a lifetime.

Murray did all this on a shoestring budget, living a humble lifestyle with the love of his life Ellen Gould, for 40 years. They worked together literally side by side at their desks, the deepest of companions and comrades. 

If you got an email or phone call from Murray you could expect it to be exact and to the point. He avoided small talk,  but he loved to talk politics and muse on possible outcomes. He wasn't faint in his criticism. How many times did I, Libby, open a message addressed to Jack Layton where I was cc'd to see Murray hitting hard when he thought the NDP had veered off course? He spoke his truth to power but always had time to engage in honest conversation about what was bothering him. 

Murray played a key role in the formation and development of the New Politics Initiative (NPI) in 2001, with Judy Rebick, Jim Stanford, Svend Robinson and myself. His attachment to the NPI was a reflection of his optimism that politics could be done differently -- that we could embrace the work of social movements for political change that was transformative and critical. Many a time I heard Murray speak at large and small public gatherings, always focussed, well researched and articulate. He had an extraordinary ability to take seemingly boring and complex global agreements like the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (a corporate-devised beast) and break it down into relevant and understandable components that could excite activists to take up the fight against them with vigour. No easy task. 

Murray dedicated his life to ideas and actions that a better world and community was absolutely possible and attainable. Even so, he had a streak of cynicism that maybe kept him grounded in the present realities and what we were up against. 

Murray's contribution to the rabble.ca community and progressive independent media was significant and pivotal. He took on the role of senior editor and published a long-standing column, State of the Nation, which was co-published on the Tyee. He mentored and guided his co-workers with his deep experience and sharp political analysis.

Murray was a man of routine and sound habits but he was up to learning new things too. Who could forget his delight in discovering the new technology of an iPad and the fascination of a new game -- Angry Birds -- at a rabble staff retreat on Gambier Island during a wet and windy fall weekend. One moment he was explaining the latest political developments to be aware of, and the next, caught up gleefully launching birds into pigs! Despite his life-long dedication to the serious things in life -- politics and activism -- he easily found joy and levity around him.  

Murray Dobbin is loved and remembered for many things and for many reasons. Perhaps best of all was his fervent belief that you could change what was around you if you could learn how to organize and be disciplined about it. Murray is deeply missed by the rabble community, the political left, those who have been his comrade for decades, and those who are just discovering his life's work for change. 

Kim Elliott is publisher of rabble.ca, and her partner Libby Davies was a member of Parliament for 18 years (1997-2015) and became House Leader for the federal NDP party (2003-2011) and Deputy Leader (2007-2015). In 2016 Davies received the Order of Canada and in 2019 published Outside In: A Political Memoir

Image: Ellen Gould/Provided

Editor's note: The photo for this story has been updated at the request of Ellen Gould. 

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