PORTLAND ALLIANCE INTERVIEW W/WEATHERMEN CO-FOUNDER BILL AYERS
When the Right found itself floundering, the McCain/Palin campaign resorted to desperate tactics as both you and Rev. Jeremiah Wright became the men to hate. Interestingly, neither Fox nor other corporate networks mentioned the fact that in 1980 you turned yourself in and that many of the charges against you were dropped due to the illegality of COINTELPRO surveillance. What do you have to say about this?
The "terrorist" and the Prez-elect:
Bill Ayers on Obama, activism and Republican spin
By Marlena Gangi
In a stump speech delivered one month before election day, the intellectually challenged Sarah Palin said of President-elect Barack Obama; "Our opponent ... is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country. Turns out one of Barack's earliest supporters is a man who, according to the New York Times, and they are hardly ever wrong, was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that quote, launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and US Capitol."
The so-called "terrorist" in question is Bill Ayers, co-founder of the sixties radical Weather Underground, an organization the FBI labeled as a domestic terrorist group.
The sixties became a time ripe for anti-government dissent and calls for revolution among young, radical activists in the U.S. Bill Ayers was one who answered this call. In time, he would rise to national prominence as a militant leader of the New Left.
Already an anti-racist and anti-war activist, Ayers became involved with "Students for a Democratic Society" (SDS), a leftist organization that focused on direct action, radicalism, participatory democracy and student power. From1968-69 he rose in the ranks of SDS and went on to lead the "The Jesse James Gang," an SDS regional group. It was at this time that Ayers and like-minded members began to question the effectiveness of non-violent civil disobedience as mere symbolic activism while looking toward a more radical and militant form of response. As discussions of differing ideologies grew within SDS, so too did a lasting schism. The final split occurred at the 1969 SDS convention in Chicago where a document titled "You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows" was circulated. It outlined the position of the group that would become the Weathermen (and later the Weather Underground Organization, WUO). It was signed by 11 people, including Mark Rudd, Bernardine Dohrn, John Jacobs, Bill Ayers, Terry Robbins, Jeff Jones, Gerry Long, and Steve Tappis.
After the murder of Chicago Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton in 1969, the WUO issued a "Declaration of War" against the United States government. As an investigation disclosed that Hampton was set up by the FBI to be assassinated by the Chicago Police Department under the umbrella of the illegal surveillance program COINTELPRO, Ayers and fellow comrades were moved to adopt fake identities, pursue covert activities only and go underground.
As Bernadine Dohrn (wife of Bill Ayers) has stated, "We felt that the murder of Fred required us to be more grave, more serious, more determined to raise the stakes and not just be the white people who wrung their hands when black people were being murdered."
Following through with urban guerrilla warfare that they felt would actually interfere with U.S. military and internal security apparatus and serve as a catalyst for revolution, the Weathermen proceeded with a series of bombings that targeted government buildings and several banks. The bombings were preceded by communiqués that provided evacuation warnings with statements regarding the particular matter that motivated the attack. The bombing of the United States Capitol in March of 1971 was accompanied with the statement saying it was done "in protest of the US invasion of Laos." The bombing of The Pentagon on May 19, 1972, was done "in retaliation for the US bombing raid in Hanoi," and the January 29, 1975 bombing of the United States Department of State Building was done in "response to escalation in Viet Nam."
In 1973, the federal government actually requested the dismissal of the charges against Dorn and Ayers in the interest of national security following accusations of government misconduct. However state charges against Dohrn remained. Reluctant to turn herself in to authorities, the couple finally left the underground in 1980. Dohrn was fined $1,500 and given three years' probation for a misdemeanor dating back to a 1969 anti-war demonstration. In 1982, Dohrn did eight months in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury about the 1981 Brink's robbery that involved fellow radicals David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin.
Today Bill Ayers is a professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, holding the titles of Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar. He is also the author of a number of groundbreaking books with a focus on teaching and civil rights.
In the decades that have ensued since the WUO has fluttered and dissolved, various members have been quite candid in reexamining actions taken and words spoken in the hubris of youth and white privilege in a time when the sentiment of "all or nothing" appeared to be the most effective path to take. Former WUO members have gone on record to reveal a certain lingering of regret in relation to their militant past. As Mark Rudd has said: "These are things I am not proud of, and I find it hard to speak publicly about what was right from what was wrong... part of the Weatherman phenomenon that was right was our understanding of what the position of the United States is in the world. It was this knowledge that we just couldn't handle; it was too big. We didn't know what to do. In a way I still don't know what to do with this knowledge. I don't know what needs to be done now, and it's still eating away at me just as it did 30 years ago."
In the following interview, Bill Ayers reflects on his resurfaced notoriety, Obama and what the future may hold under a new administration.
MG: When the Right found itself floundering, the McCain/Palin campaign resorted to desperate tactics as both you and Rev. Jeremiah Wright became the men to hate. Interestingly, neither Fox nor other corporate networks mentioned the fact that in 1980 you turned yourself in and that many of the charges against you were dropped due to the illegality of COINTELPRO surveillance. What do you have to say about this?
BA: Unable to challenge the content of the Obama campaign, his opponents chose instead to invent a narrative about a young politician who emerged from nowhere, a man of charm, intelligence, and skill, but with an exotic background and a strange name. He seemed to knock everyone out, but still the refrain played over and over: "What do we really know about this man?"
Secondary characters in the narrative included an African-American preacher with a fiery style, an activist white minister identified with the black community, a Palestinian scholar, and an "unrepentant domestic terrorist." Linking the candidate with these supposedly shadowy characters, and ferreting out every imagined secret tie and suggested dark affiliation became big news.
I was the person cast in the "unrepentant terrorist" role; I felt at times like the enemy projected onto a large screen in the "two minutes hate" scene from George Orwell's novel 1984, when the faithful gathered in a frenzy of fear and loathing, chanting "kill him!"
It felt surreal.
MG: On November 4, it became clear that the Republican inspired neo-McCarthyism and post 9/11 rhetoric of fear proved unsuccessful. Seven years after an attack by Muslim freedom fighters, the U.S. elected to the presidency a Black man who's middle name is Hussein. Did this surprise you?
BA: I don't recall any "attacks by Muslim freedom fighters," but rather crimes against humanity carried out in the service of an arid and crypto-fascist ideology--- nothing nice.
MG: For the record, what history do you have with Barack Obama? Do see anything at all revolutionary about his win?
BA: President-elect Barack Obama and I sat on a board together; we lived in the same diverse and yet close-knit community; we sometimes passed in the bookstore. We didn't pal around, and I had nothing whatsoever to do with his platforms or positions. I knew him as well as thousands of others did, and like millions of others today, I wish I knew him better.
The dishonesty of the original narrative about Obama assumes that if two people are in the same room at the same time, or if you can show that they held a conversation was, or shared a cup of coffee, took the bus downtown together, or had any of 1000 other associations, then you have proven that they share ideas, policies, outlook, influences, and especially responsibility for one another's behavior. There is a long and sad history of guilt-by-association in our political culture, and at crucial times we've been unable to rise above it.
Election night in Grant Park, Chicago was electrifying--- a mass gathering powered by a sense of unity and hope for future accomplishments. The mood and the celebration echoed worldwide: what was unimaginable had become inevitable, and unforgettable.
The power of rising expectations, of imaginations unleashed, of hope for something better than the politics of war and fear---all of it was in the air and on the move.
Several initiatives are bubbling and rising today, drawing folks together to speak and to listen to one another, and to search for ways to name the moment as we inaugurate change from the grass roots. It's movement-building time.
This is the moment of, "Yes, we can." Its time has come, and it's up to all of us.
MG: Where do you see the country going after this in terms of domestic and foreign policy? Is there anything that you feel hopeful about?
BA: This is the moment to rethink and reframe. We should organize and mobilize to break the stranglehold of a foreign policy based on military might in favor of foreign policy based on justice, and on learning to live in the world as a nation among nations. We should break with the idea that what's best for the rich is somehow good for all, and invest in people, their education and health and well-being. Yes we can... and let's make a commitment to working toward a world at peace and in balance.
MG: Is there anything that you feel important for the next generation of radical activists to focus on at this time in history? And what do you feel is the task of alternative media at this point?
BA: We need to act, and we need to doubt. If we only act we become self-righteous and dogmatic; if we only doubt we become paralyzed. If we open our eyes, make connections, act, doubt, act again... doubt again... then we're on the right track. And we need to always measure the success of the work pedagogically---did we learn something new? Did we teach another person? If we are teaching and learning, learning and teaching, then we'll be making our twisty ways toward a world in balance.
This article also appears in the December issue of the Portland Alliance
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