Revolution #208, July 25, 2010

In Memory of George "Bill" Webber

From a reader:

Bill Webber died July 10 at age 90. By title he was The Reverend Dr. George W. Webber, magna cum laude Harvard graduate, PhD from Columbia University, former professor and dean of students at Union Theological Seminary, professor of Urban Ministry and President Emeritus of New York Theological Seminary. But he had no use for titles and trappings and he and Helen, "Dibby," his life long partner of 67 years, lived in and with, and for the people of East Harlem for 50 years. There are many remarkable things to know about Bill, his life and work.

I first met Bill in the early '60s while doing field work as a student with the East Harlem Protestant Parish which he co-founded in 1948. But it was some twenty years later while working on the War Crimes Tribunal of U.S. Imperialism in New York City that my conversations with Bill really began, and continued, right up until the last couple years when he became ill. We talked and wrangled some about resistance, religion, revolution; Bob Avakian and the RCP; capitalism, imperialism, socialism and communism; nukes, history and experiences, family and friends, and more. Always Bill was forthright and sharp, unflinchingly honest, completely principled and trustworthy; humorous and warm; and so remarkably open-minded—in fact the door to his office at New York Theological Seminary, when he was there, was, literally, always open.

And Bill had a deep sensitivity to and outrage about how so many people in this city, this country, this world are treated by this system and those running things. But there was more. The New York Times obituary quotes Dibby saying Bill's motivation was "to make things better in the world, to make things right." Bill not only fought with the people against police brutality, rotten housing and schools, daily repression and oppression of East Harlem. Early on, he opposed the U.S. war on Vietnam and traveled to Hanoi during that war. He led Witness for Peace groups to Nicaragua when the U.S.-backed Contras were terrorizing and killing people. He went to Baghdad just weeks before the U.S. blasted Iraq in January 1991 in the first Gulf War, coming back to speak out against the U.S. war, including at a program at Revolution Books.

Bill could be quietly scathing in his rejection of the Christian right, but he also critiqued clergy and others in the religious ranks who he thought stayed too much within the institutional walls. He had no truck with anti-communism, and as the polarization in this country sharpened he referred to what happened in Germany and the famous Niemoller quote that begins, "First they came for the communists…."

Bill was an important signatory to the Engage! Statement to project and protect the voice of Bob Avakian.

Bill encountered Avakian's Revolution talk at a time when, as I recall, he was more than ever angry and upset about what was going on in this country and what the U.S. was doing in Iraq and around the world. And he asked how it is that Avakian and the RCP keeps going. So I think that what he wrote after viewing that talk is particularly significant and speaks to today, "Whatever your political orientation or religious background, this comes across as a challenge that must be heard and wrestled with. There is great depth and seriousness in Bob Avakian's analysis of a situation which  most of us have failed to fully recognize. But he is confident that we can create a viable future for the planet."

Bill wanted "to make things right." And he was fearless about seeing how unjust and not right things are. And he acted on those convictions. Bill fought for change all his life, repeatedly putting his career and physical safety on the line—including going to jail many times—to stand with oppressed people in this country and around the world.

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