Matt Dodt interview recorded at the Berkeley Oak Grove Tree-Sit, Outside the UC Berkeley Memorial Stadium January 2007
Slingshot Collective, Bay Area
Issue #122, November 14, 2016
Longtime community activist “Midnight” Matt Dodt, a stalwart volunteer with East Bay Food Not Bombs and many other actions and causes for justice in the Bay Area, died unexpectedly May 27, 2016 of heart failure while working on a construction job in San Francisco. He was 59 years old.
Working for justice and equality became a lifestyle for Matt when he was in his early 20s, and persisted until his death. He first came to California with his partner in 1981, where they were involved in housing rights protests in Isla Vista near UCSB. In 1984 Matt protested the Republican National Convention in Dallas. He was one of the co-plaintiffs in the famous flag burning case that originated with Joey Jackson. The U.S. Supreme Court heard their case and decided that the issue was a form of free speech. At the RNC Matt met Rev. Jim and years later the two of them would hold it down each Mardi Gras and take over the streets of Berkeley for a funky and truly chaotic parade.
Around 1988 Matt moved to California from Texas by riding his bicycle and camping. He worked intermittently as a bike messenger for a long time. He was a regular at Critical Mass.
Matt was heavily involved in preserving People’s Park from being developed by UC Berkeley. He fought off the construction of a volleyball court in the early 1990’s and he was there to stop the clear cutting of trees ten years ago. Matt was also on hand making the Park a beautiful place by working on the stage, rebuilding the free box and was a regular at Food Not Bombs.
Matt was not strictly vegan but very much committed to following a vegetarian diet for ethical reasons from age 23 or so on…pretty much his whole adult life. He was the bottom liner for the Sunday FNB cookhouse for over a decade and he was always willing and able to do the cooking, serving and cleaning by-himself when no one else would help.
When a direct action would run overnight, Matt would stay awake during the dead hours serving food, cop watching and running interference with crazy people while most people slept. After many years of this, the name “Midnight Matt” stuck.
Matt was on hand at almost every major protest in the Bay. Protests against war and racism, against police abuse and the rich, in defense of nature, the homeless or Occupy. He was often on the front line holding a video camera to capture any police abuse. Matt bought a new video camera last fall with some money that he had after this older brother died a year or two ago. After his death the camera was donated to the Liberated Lens Collective for other activists to continue his work of DIY documentation.
Matt identified as “deep anarchist” for a long time but felt very alienated from where the “movement” and the “radical community” seemed to be taking that.
Matt was a hard worker; he despised anything done half-assed and applied himself thoroughly, whether the work he was doing was paid or volunteer. He was strong and capable, and his fine-motor coordination was excellent; he was good with all kinds of tools and with repairing things with his hands. Matt valued his abilities as a laborer and his almost Herculean strength in transporting all sorts of materials by bicycle. He had a readable, almost calligraphic handwriting that was easy on the eyes. And though he sometimes came off as gruff or distant to people who did not know him well, Matt had a deep compassion for human foibles other than his own.
Sometimes when someone dies, especially while still relatively young, we say “If only he could know how much he was loved.” Matt’s problem was a little different from that: he never really accepted that he was deserving of love. He was grateful for the love and support of his chosen family and community in the Bay Area, but there were times he wanted to tell us, and indeed times that he told us, that we were fools for liking him as much as we did.
One can hope that wherever we go after we leave our worn-out bodies behind, Matt was able, at last, to let go of that self-blame and self-hatred that too often got the best of him.
Matt loved children and often provided loving care for the children of his friends who were working parents in the activist community He read to kids and had a wry sense of humor with them, and with the many people of all ages and all walks of life with whom he interacted. Matt had no children of his own, and only a few close friends knew that Matt was a loving stepfather who raised his partner’s baby Gypsy as his own and loved her deeply. One of his almost untold sorrows was losing track of this precious baby girl when the relationship dissolved; there was seldom a time he did not think of her.
Matt was smart, funny, and resourceful, and built community in his own way wherever he went.