New Year’s Resolution…2009…miracle and wonder

December 31, 2008

Goodbye to politics as arid, dry, self-referencing and self-satisfied. Goodbye to star wars and inner wars. Goodbye to deference, didacticism, ego, and complacency in a heartless world. Goodbye to prisons and border guards and walls—whether in Palestine or in Texas—and goodbye to quarantines, deletions, and closures of all kinds. Goodbye to all that.
I resolve to create new spaces overflowing with life, crackling with the surprising and contradictory harmonies of love, stunning in their embodied hope for a better world; to step into the unknown, to jump off the edge, to dance the dialectic; to welcome the new and the now, to learn how to live again and how to love anew; to nurture relentless curiosity, simple acts of kindness, the vast complexity of humanity, the wild unruly convergence, the poetics of resistance, and the wonder of it all.
I resolve to embrace a new world in the making, planetary peace and inner peace, and I resolve, each day in every way, to vote for love—all kinds of love for all kinds of people in all kinds of circumstances and situations.

Vote “Me” for Secretary of Education

December 27, 2008

Of course I would have loved to have seen Linda Darling-Hammond become Secretary of Education in an Obama administration. She’s smart, honest, compassionate and courageous, and perhaps most striking, she actually knows schools and classrooms, curriculum and teaching, kids and child development. These have never counted for much as qualifications for the post, of course, and yet they offer a neat contrast with the four failed urban school superintendents–Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Paul Valas, and Arne Duncan–who were for weeks rumored to be her chief competition.

These four, like George W. Bush’s Secretary of Education, Rod Paige of the fraudulent Texas-miracle, have little to show in terms of school improvement beyond a deeply dishonest public relations narrative. Teacher accountability, relentless standardized testing, school closings, and privatization—this is what the dogmatists and true-believers of the right call “reform.” Michelle Rhee of Washington D.C., the most ideologically-driven of the bunch, warranted a cover story in Time in early December called “How to Fix America’s Schools” in which she was praised for making more changes in a year and a half on the job than other school leaders, “even reform-minded ones,” make in five: closing 21 schools (15% of the total), firing 100 central office personnel, 270 teachers, and 36 principals. These are all policy moves that are held on faith to stand for improvement; not a word on kids’ learning or engagement with schools, not even a nod at evidence that might connect these moves with student progress. But of course evidence is always the enemy of dogma, and this is faith-based, fact-free school policy at its purest.

So I would have picked Darling-Hammond, but then again I would have picked Noam Chomsky for state, Naomi Klein for defense, Bernardine Dohrn for Attorney General, Bill Fletcher for commerce, James Thindwa for labor, Barbara Ransby for human services, Paul Krugman for treasury, and Amy Goodman for press secretary. So what do I know?

Darling-Hammond would not have been a smart pick for Obama. She was steadily demonized in a concerted campaign to undermine her effectiveness, and she would surely have had great difficulty getting any traction whatsoever for progressive policy change in this environment. Arne Duncan was the smart choice, the unity choice—the least driven by ideology, the most open to working with teachers and unions, the smartest by a mile– and let’s wish him well.

But there’s a deeper point: since the Obama victory, many people seem to be suffering a kind of post-partum depression: unable to find any polls to obsess over, we read the tea-leaves and try to penetrate the president-elect’s mind. What do his moves portend? What magic or disaster awaits us? With due respect, this is a matter of looking entirely in the wrong direction.

Obama is not a monarch— Arne Duncan is not education czar– and we are not his subjects. If we want a foreign policy based on justice, for example, we ought to get busy organizing a robust anti-imperialist peace movement; if we want to end the death penalty we better get smart about changing the dominant narrative concerning crime and punishment. We are not allowed to sit quietly in a democracy awaiting salvation from above. We are all equal, and we all need to speak up and speak out right now.

During Arne Duncan’s tenure in Chicago, a group of hunger-striking mothers organized city-wide support and won the construction of a new high school in a community that had been underserved and denied for years. Another group of parents, teachers, and students mobilized to push military recruiters out of their high school; Duncan didn’t support them and he certainly didn’t lead the charge, but they won anyway. If they’d waited for Duncan to act they’d likely be waiting still. Teachers at another school refused to give one of the endless standardized tests, arguing that this was one test too many, and they organized deep support for their protest; Duncan didn’t support them either, but they won anyway. If they’d waited for Duncan, they’d be waiting still. Why would anyone sit around waiting for Arne now? Stop whining; get busy.

In the realm of education, there is nothing preventing any of us from pressing to change the dominant discourse that has controlled the discussion for many years. It’s reasonable to assume that education in a democracy is distinct from education under a dictatorship or a monarchy, but how? Surely school leaders in fascist Germany or communist Albania or medieval Saudi Arabia all agreed, for example, that students should behave well, stay away from drugs and crime, do their homework, study hard, and master the subject matters, so those things don’t differentiate a democratic education from any other.

What makes education in a democracy distinct is a commitment to a particularly precious and fragile ideal, and that is a belief that the fullest development of all is the necessary condition for the full development of each; conversely, the fullest development of each is necessary for the full development of all.

Democracy, after all, is geared toward participation and engagement, and it’s based on a common faith: every human being is of infinite and incalculable value, each a unique intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, and creative force. Every human being is born free and equal in dignity and rights, each is endowed with reason and conscience, and deserves, then, a sense of solidarity, brotherhood and sisterhood, recognition and respect.

We want our students to be able to think for themselves, to make judgments based on evidence and argument, to develop minds of their own. We want them to ask fundamental questions—Who in the world am I? How did I get here and where am I going? What in the world are my choices? How in the world shall I proceed? — and to pursue answers wherever they might take them. Democratic educators focus their efforts, not on the production of things so much as on the production of fully developed human beings who are capable of controlling and transforming their own lives, citizens who can participate fully in civic life.

Democratic teaching encourages students to develop initiative and imagination, the capacity to name the world, to identify the obstacles to their full humanity, and the courage to act upon whatever the known demands. Education in a democracy should be characteristically eye-popping and mind-blowing—always about opening doors and opening minds as students forge their own pathways into a wider world.

How do our schools here and now measure up to the democratic ideal?

Much of what we call schooling forecloses or shuts down or walls off meaningful choice-making. Much of it is based on obedience and conformity, the hallmarks of every authoritarian regime. Much of it banishes the unpopular, squirms in the presence of the unorthodox, hides the unpleasant. There’s no space for skepticism, irreverence, or even doubt. While many of us long for teaching as something transcendent and powerful, we find ourselves too-often locked in situations that reduce teaching to a kind of glorified clerking, passing along a curriculum of received wisdom and predigested and often false bits of information. This is a recipe for disaster in the long run.

Educators, students, and citizens must press now for an education worthy of a democracy, including an end to sorting people into winners and losers through expensive standardized tests which act as pseudo-scientific forms of surveillance; an end to starving schools of needed resources and then blaming teachers and their unions for dismal outcomes; and an end to the rapidly accumulating “educational debt,” the resources due to communities historically segregated, under-funded and under-served. All children and youth in a democracy, regardless of economic circumstance, deserve full access to richly-resourced classrooms led by caring, qualified and generously compensated teachers. So let’s push for that, and let’s make it happen before Arne Duncan or anyone else grants us permission.

What Were Those 1960s Terrorists Thinking, Anyway?

December 27, 2008


We are forces of chaos and anarchy
Everything they say we are, we are
And we are very
Proud of ourselves.

–Jefferson Airplane, We Can Be Together

This is the inside story of how my late husband Stew Albert and I became prime suspects in CAPBOM, which is the FBI codename for the 1971 Weather Underground bombing of the United States Capitol Building in Washington D.C. Sarah Palin and her cohort of extreme right-wing really, really scary people used the Capitol bombing to link President-elect Obama with the not nearly as scary 1960s Weatherman and 1997 Chicago Citizen of the Year Bill Ayres. At the time, my widely quoted take on the Capitol bombing was: “We didn’t do it, but we dug it.”

As a former 60’s protestor, celebrating with everyone else the results of this historic election, I’d like to give my personal point of view about the attacks on the 1960s that were made during the campaign – specifically “guilt by association” and “domestic terrorism.” And also to reflect a bit on how I feel about those issues today.

Wrong Place, Right Time

In the spring of 1971, on the day the Capitol bombing takes place, I’m living in our nation’s capital organizing an anti-war demonstration. Along with Stew, Abbie and Anita Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, his girlfriend Nancy Kurshan and satiric journalist Paul Krassner, I’m an original Yippie. Yippies believe in the politics of theatre. We call ourselves Groucho Marxists and use comedy to turn serious issues on their head. We’re cultural revolutionaries who raise political awareness by having as much fun and getting as much media attention as we can. We’re a youth movement who doesn’t believe in hierarchy: every Yippie is her or his own leader. Our favorite Bob Dylan mantra is: Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and FederalReserve Chairman Ben Bernanke are not the first to throw money at Wall Street. In the spring of 1968, Abbie, Jerry and the rest of us stopped trading on the New York Stock exchange when we threw $1 and $5 bills at greedy stockbrokers who grabbed at the money floating down from a balcony. Yippies brought the New York Stock Exchange to a halt for a mere $250.

By the summer of 1968, at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, we’re running a pig named Pigasus for president as a send-up to protest the election and an unjust and illegal Vietnam War. In what is to become an iconic American moment, 15,000 of us — Yippies, mainstream anti-war demonstrators, the media and even a member of the British Parliament — are severely gassed and beaten by the Chicago police.

But three years later, by the time of the Capitol bombing, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find the fun in protest. All of us in the anti-war movement are frustrated by the seemingly endless parade of atrocities being committed in Vietnam, which we see in living color at home on TV every night, and a recent campaign of deadly, intense carpet-bombing in Laos.

The Mayday Tribe

I’m staying temporarily in Washington DC, in a collective house at 2226 M Street.

Chicago Conspiracy 8 defendant and anti-war activist Rennie Davis, and at least 30 others live in the surrounding neighborhood. The M Street house is situated directly across the street from a red-brick fire station that, in addition to fire-trucks, is outfitted with surveillance cameras so overtly visible in the front window that I occasionally lead a group of us out front just to dance and wave at the cameras.

We call ourselves the Mayday Tribe. Our name – Mayday — is intended to convey an urgent distress call about the war to the American people and motivate protestors to come to a demonstration scheduled for three months later. We’re putting together a People’s Peace Treaty on behalf of the American public to draw attention to the Nixon administration’s obdurate refusal to make peace. Our admittedly utopian demonstration slogan states: “If the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government.”

We predict thousands of people will take to the streets and block traffic to protest the war and this recent escalation in bombing.

At my initiation, Stew and I have officially broken off our two-year-old romance. As I recall, I feel fine. Liberated in fact. I have no qualms about publicly labeling Stew an arrogant, patronizing, sexist, male chauvinist pig, which, looking back on it, was about 35% true, and 65% women’s movement PC rhetoric. Besides, we’re still on speaking terms. I realize he’s lonely without me and know I can still get him to do almost anything I want, so I ask him to come and visit from New York and bring with him, on the plane, a large satchel of high quality marijuana donated to the cause by a sympathetic New York City lawyer. I’m trying to lighten things up by introducing some traditional Yippie medicinals into our ultra-serious organizing effort.

The Day of the Bombing

Early in the morning of Monday March 1, the M Street phone rings. We’re told that members of the Weather Underground, originally known as Weatherman, (from Bob Dylan’s prophetic mantra “You don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows”) are taking credit for placing a bomb in an out-of-the-way men’s bathroom. The Weathermen say:

We have attacked the Capitol because it is, along with the White House and the Pentagon, the worldwide symbol of the government which is now attacking Indochina.

When I first hear this news, I feel exhilarated. Irrationally exuberant in fact. My reaction is documented by an unknown person, possibly an informant who, in a later legal affidavit, describes me and the others in M Street as “exultant” – which is not so far removed from my own recollection. But why, you quite rightly ask — and I ask myself the same question — did I feel so positive about this act — especially when placing a bomb is something I could never do – or did – myself?

As an anti-war activist, I considered dissent to be patriotic. Still do. At the time of the bombing, I felt like I was rooting for David in the face of Goliath. I saw the Weathermen as courageous enough to take the lead in our very own, 60’s style Boston Tea Party. In my view, they blew up a U.S. Capitol bathroom on my behalf and on behalf of the entire anti-war movement. And I appreciated that they did so for the most compelling of reasons — to stop the endless, brutal killing war in Vietnam and Laos. Which is why I could, in good conscience, make the statement: “We didn’t do it, but we dug it.”

Hands Up!

Immediately after the bombing, M-street house surveillance intensifies. Firemen swarm. Burly new guys start hanging around outside the firehouse. They don’t look and weren’t even dressed like firemen. Stew and Leslie Bacon, a young, anti-war activist friend, decide to take a walk to Lafayette Park, directly in front of the White House. Beyond the macho of it, I can’t speculate about Stew’s motives. Most likely I disapproved because, at that particular moment in our on-again, off-again relationship, almost anything he said or did was enough to provoke my disapproval.

As the tension-filled, day-after-bombing dragged on, it became increasingly clear to me that there was no time like the present to get the hell out of Dodge.

Leslie chooses to remain in DC. I grab Stew, Colin and Michael, two other M Street residents, plus a couple of bags of clothing and we hop into my 1969 dark blue VW Beetle named “Lindequist.” (When I bought the car I found the previous owner’s name “Lindequist”, inscribed on the dashboard; I currently drive Lindequist 3.) A few blocks into our getaway I realize I’ve forgotten my all-time favorite hat – a fisherman’s cap made out of fluffy brown Canadian beaver pelts with a brown leather front brim. Stew and I immediately get into a huge fight. Stew, the pragmatist, now recognizes the wisdom of leaving town as quickly as possible. I, the Yippie fashionista, will not leave my favorite hat to the mercy of the pigs. It’s my car, I’m the driver: we circle back. I run in, save my hat and, Keystone Cops like, we once again beat a retreat. There’s no PETA yet to make my hat a political issue.

But in the early evening, just we’ve reached the outskirts of Baltimore, I suddenly notice flashing lights behind me. I pull Lindequist over and hear a loud, gruff male voice coming over a loudspeaker “get out of the car with your hands up.” Shotguns at our heads, the four of us are quickly spread eagled against the VW. Colin is shaking so hard I think he might pee himself – but he doesn’t. The boys are put in one police car; I’m alone in another for what feels like hours. I’m buzzy with adrenaline and really bored sitting alone in my personal Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome cage. I can’t see much except cops and the boys’ heads in front of me in the other car, so all I can do is bite my nails and obsess. Lindequist and the satchels are thoroughly searched. Eventually we are released and, in true Yippie absurdist fashion, are given a ticket for a bald tire by a local highway patrolman who signs his name James Bond

We’re not Weathermen. It literally didn’t occur to me we were being stopped because of the Capitol Bombing. I am really grateful we left the marijuana back in DC.

What Happens to Leslie

Five days before Mayday, on April 28, Leslie, who at the time is 19 years old, is arrested in Washington D.C. by the FBI and appears a few days later before Judge John Sirica, later of Watergate fame. Leslie is taken to a Seattle hotel where she is held captive in a room for weeks, with no access to family or friends, only to lawyers. She is questioned harshly about the Capitol bombing but there’s nothing she can tell them because there’s nothing she knows. On May 1, the Weathermen make public a communiqué addressed to Leslie’s mother:

Your confidence in Leslie is justified because she is completely innocent of any involvement in the bombing of the US Capitol. We know this for a fact because, as the FBI and Justice Department well know, our organization did the bombing.

Leslie said to me recently that her mother, an upscale, conservative, California homemaker, told the national and international press staking out their Atherton home:

I don’t see why everyone is so upset about someone blowing up a building when the government is blowing up people.

Standard operating procedure for FBI agents and prosecutors, then and now, is to target young women who they consider potential “weak links” in an evidentiary chain and most likely to give up information. These young women become their special victims. I’ve come to believe that Leslie’s kidnapping, imprisonment and resulting unwanted national media attention, was the moral equivalent of a rape. The federal prosecutor and the FBI violated a 19 year old woman’s trust and privacy, and, even though today Leslie is teacher and grandmother, this incident still poisons her sense of security and well- being.

Facing My Fear

I learned at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 that, when you’re in a true “face your fear” moment, you need to take action. Don’t delay. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t over think the consequences. By facing your fear, you can discover inside yourself the courage to take your life – and your freedom — into your own hands.

This is one such moment. My mantra serves me well. By the time I drop Stew off in New York City, check in with the marijuana-donating lawyer for free legal advice, and drive back home to Boston, I’ve talked myself into believing I’ve emerged from this incident shaken but unbowed.

In Boston, as my FBI files later reveal, agents have evicted my next door neighbor and ensconced themselves in an adjoining apartment. A group of Boston women, me included, take over a building at 888 Mass. Ave and turn it into a women’s center. The takeover becomes a springboard for the women’s demonstration that preceded Mayday — the April 10 Women’s March on the Pentagon.

The march attracts no more than 500 women — but the contingent I lead marches under a beautiful purple Janis Joplin banner.

Monday May 3, 1971 — Mayday

Our Mayday demonstration doesn’t stop the war – or the government.

The day before the demonstration, rock concert permits are cancelled. Police, reprising Chicago 1968, and presaging the 2008 Republican Convention, teargas as many demonstrators as they can; they destroy tents and use other coercive tactics to force protestors to leave a day early. Many do.

The remaining demonstrators begin assembling at 6 a.m. When it’s time to get up, I make a strategic decision, based purely on personal sloth, to let myself and my Boston affinity group sleep in — we’d been smoking too much of that dope and partying the night before. By the time we arrive downtown, streets are empty. Traffic is flowing smoothly. Stew and Abbie are among 7,000 demonstrators already arrested and locked up in an emergency detention center next to RFK stadium. Some claim Mayday is the largest mass arrest in U.S. history.

For me, Mayday is a bust. No pun intended. And it’s my own fault.

My failure of leadership is what my new fiancé David calls an AFOG – another f—-g opportunity for growth. It’s a harsh lesson that stays with me: don’t wimp out just before the end is in sight. Follow through on your commitment. No excuses. And never, ever smoke really strong dope the night before a big demo. Duh.

Guilt By Association

Three weeks after Mayday, Stew receives his subpoena to a Grand Jury investigating the Capitol bombing. He burns it publicly in New Haven to support Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale, who is on trial there at the time.

I receive my Grand Jury subpoena in Boston a few days after Stew. Why me? Perhaps no-one got the memo that Stew and I had broken up. Or perhaps the FBI was pissed about my arrogant, fuck you dance in front of the cameras on M-Street’s front porch. Or maybe the Feds just wanted to “round up the usual suspects.”

The eminence gris federal prosecutor responsible for all grand juries investigating Weather Underground bombings is a smartly dressed, slick-haired man named Guy Goodwin. Goodwin also convened a grand jury to investigate another equally false allegation — that Rev. Phil Berrigan and Elizabeth McAllister, a nun, are plotting to kidnap President Nixon’s evil national security advisor Henry Kissinger. He harassed Vietnam Veterans Against the War so much that, in 1972, they filed a $1.8 million civil suit against him.

My first response to my Grand Jury subpoena is to go numb. I’m facing a possible 20 year sentence. My “face your fear” mantra just doesn’t cut it. Denial works a whole lot better. Stew writes that I:
buried the great fear deep in her soul and beamed smiles that would bounce off the moon…but underneath the smiles, Judy was truly terrified. Even though we had officially parted, I knew that I still loved her, which meant that I had to look out for her so that, as a strange Canadian in a stranger America she would not come to harm.

On a PBS interview all I can say about being subpoenaed is: “It’s annoying. Uncool. But our lawyers will take care of it. Nothing to worry about.” Perhaps it’s a positive thing I grew up in a dysfunctional, alcoholic family – repression and denial are terrific short-term survival techniques for really tough times.

We Didn’t Do It But….

Pretty soon my inner Yippie re-emerges and my “face your fear” mantra kicks in. Stew and I decide the appropriate Yippie response is to hold a press conference in front of the Capitol Building.

Stew invites Jerry Rubin along for both his expertise and moral support. Abbie and Jerry believed passionately in the 1960s communications guru Marshall McLuhan’s dictum that the medium is the message — which led them to measure their success by how much media coverage they got and how frequently they got it. For all the time I knew them, and up until their deaths, a defining aspect of the Abbie/Jerry relationship was their constant competition with each other for the media spotlight. Manipulating the media to expose establishment hypocrisy was a primary Yippie value.

I paint my forehead with a Weather Underground Rainbow, cover one cheek with a woman’s symbol, the other with an NLF (otherwise known as Viet Cong) flag and I put a green marijuana leaf on my chin. And yes, that is a cigarette I’m smoking in the photo – I quit for good a few years later. In my press statement I quote a Weatherman communiqué that says:

The Weather Underground bombed the Capitol to bring a smile and a wink to all the kids in America who hate their government.

Then I pull off my 15 minutes of fame by adding: We didn’t do it but we dug it.

It’s obvious to me, almost 40 years later, that Sarah Palin did a remarkable job getting global media attention for Bill Ayres and his associational link to the Capitol bombing – way better than Billy, the Weather Underground, Stew, Jerry or I ever accomplished at the time. If Palin wasn’t a neo-fascist, I might consider giving her a Yippie Excellence in Media Manipulation award.

In the time immediately preceding our Grand Jury appearances, Stew and I are so overtly hostile to each other that we become famously difficult to be around. Observers who witnessed what Stew and I came to call our “pussycat fights” – meow, hissssss, scratch, pose – are horrified. In the photograph with Colin, I can’t tell if I’m gazing at Stew adoringly, or whether I’m just about to yell at him for some real or imagined sexist act. It’s clear to me now that Stew and I needed to break up, intensely and publicly, to allow us to get back together with each other as full and equal partners. Which we did two years later — and remained together until Stew’s death on January 30, 2006.

In the summer of 1971, I arrive to make my one time appearance before the Grand Jury dressed like a witch and surrounded by a contingent of women. In fact I am a member of W.I.T.C.H. — an early New York City based women’s liberation group appropriately named the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell. Back then, you could use the word terrorist in a joke and not be labeled unpatriotic.

I walk into an old, dimly lit New York City in my long witchy dress, alone but unintimidated. Two rows of older men and women, black and white, arms crossed, stare stonily at me. On our lawyers’ advice I refuse to testify. Instead I cite Constitutional Amendments 1, 4, 5, 6 and 9. These numbers are indelibly imprinted in my memory – although, as a Canadian, I was at the time a little fuzzy about what each Amendment actually stood for. But now I get it why America’s founders gave us freedom of speech and due process. It’s another reason I consider myself a patriot – just like Abbie and Anita who named their son America.

A few months after my Grand Jury appearance, our subpoenas are quashed — I assume because they can find no evidence of wrongdoing. That guard who claimed to Guy Goodwin he saw Stew at the Capitol building was either set-up, a liar or befuddled – or perhaps he conflated the historic Capitol building with Lafayette Park. It’s a huge relief. Guilt by association loses out to the real world. In the 1980s, in an act of true Yippie bravado, I buy a car with the proceeds of our successful lawsuit against the FBI and get for it a “CAPBOM’ license plate.

Reframing “Domestic Terrorism”

The recent media hysteria about the Capitol bombing has prompted me to revisit, if not re-consider, how I feel today about my long ago “didn’t do it, but dug it” statement. It’s one of those situations where I really miss Stew’s advice and counsel. What would Stewie say?

In the 1980s, shortly after Stew and I moved to Portland, Oregon, I was driving down a street and saw some picketers. My initial gut response is to identify with the protestors, to honk my horn in support, but as I get closer I realize they are anti-choice fanatics picketing what turns out to be the Planned Parenthood affiliate where I will later be employed. The anti-abortion fundamentalists and right-wing extremists – that same breed of bottom feeder who sent hundreds of e-mail death threats to Bill Ayres — have it all over the Weather Underground when it comes to domestic terrorism.

Lest we forget, just over a decade ago this country witnessed a horrific killing spree carried out by our very own, home grown American terrorists: in 1993, abortion provider Dr. David Gunn was assassinated; Dr. John Britton, another abortion provider, was shot in 1994; in that same year 25 year old Planned Parenthood receptionist Shannon Lowney and women’s clinic worker Leanne Nichols were murdered within hours of each other. In 1995, in the worst case of domestic terrorism this country has ever seen, right wing racist gun nut Timothy McVeigh and two of his “pals” killed 168 people including 19 children by setting a bomb in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. In 1998, an anti-choice fanatic killed abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian.

The Weathermen bombed bathrooms. They destroyed property. Which is why calling them “domestic terrorists” doesn’t resonate with me. In every case of a Weather Underground bombing there was an advance call warning people to get out of the building. The Weathermen who died were three of their own. Conflating Bill Ayres and the Capitol bombing with Osama Bin Laden’s terroristic destruction of the Twin Towers feels like an enormous truth stretch. It disrespects those who died.

I’m a widow. I’ve experienced the excruciating pain brought on by death of your loved one. I can’t condone action that results in the death of human beings.

In my humble opinion, members of the Weather Underground turned into purists who came to so completely idealize and romanticize the liberation struggles of anyone who was African-American, Vietnamese, or what we used to call “third world” that they fell into an uncritical objectification of violence for its own sake. Their stated doctrine of “lead by example,” resulted in groups attempting to imitate Weather tactics with devastating results. In 1970, an unaffiliated collective bombed the University of Wisconsin’s Army Math building, tragically killing a researcher. In the 1980s, a rogue splinter group that included former Weathermen killed a guard and two policemen in a disastrous, bungled robbery of a Brinks truck. Most of them are still in jail.

Personally, I feel this may be an appropriate moment for truth and reconciliation. Even if Henry Kissinger and surviving members of the Nixon war machine aren’t going to repent and atone for the enormous death and destruction they wreaked on Southeast Asia, I believe it’s time for former Weather Underground leaders to publicly acknowledge the collateral deaths, in addition to the deaths of their own comrades. And then they should be forgiven – and forgive themselves.

Judy Gumbo Albert is an original member of the 1960s countercultural anti-war group known as the Yippies. Judy is co- author of The Sixties Papers: Documents of a Rebellious Decade (Greenwood Press, 1984) and The Conspiracy Trial (Bobbs Merrill, 1970). For many years Judy was an award winning fundraiser for Planned Parenthood. She is currently living in Berkeley, California writing a memoir titled “Yippie Girl”. Her chapter about the Battle of Chicago, 1968 can be found at
Judy can be reached at

OP-ED December 6, 2008

December 6, 2008

The Real Bill Ayers
New York Times


IN the recently concluded presidential race, I was unwillingly thrust upon the stage and asked to play a role in a profoundly dishonest drama. I refused, and here’s why.

Unable to challenge the content of Barack Obama’s campaign, his opponents invented 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. The refrain was a question: “What do we really know about this man?”

Secondary characters in the narrative included an African-American preacher with a fiery style, a Palestinian scholar and an “unrepentant domestic terrorist.” Linking the candidate with these supposedly shadowy characters, and ferreting out every imagined secret tie and dark affiliation, became big news.

I was 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 “1984,” when the faithful gathered in a frenzy of fear and loathing.

With the mainstream news media and the blogosphere caught in the pre-election excitement, I saw no viable path to a rational discussion. Rather than step clumsily into the sound-bite culture, I turned away whenever the microphones were thrust into my face. I sat it out.

Now that the election is over, I want to say as plainly as I can that the character invented to serve this drama wasn’t me, not even close. Here are the facts:

I never killed or injured anyone. I did join the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, and later resisted the draft and was arrested in nonviolent demonstrations. I became a full-time antiwar organizer for Students for a Democratic Society. In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village. The Weather Underground went on to take responsibility for placing several small bombs in empty offices — the ones at the Pentagon and the United States Capitol were the most notorious — as an illegal and unpopular war consumed the nation.

The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be — and still is being — debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.

Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.

I cannot imagine engaging in actions of that kind today. And for the past 40 years, I’ve been teaching and writing about the unique value and potential of every human life, and the need to realize that potential through education.

I have regrets, of course — including mistakes of excess and failures of imagination, posturing and posing, inflated and heated rhetoric, blind sectarianism and a lot else. No one can reach my age with their eyes even partly open and not have hundreds of regrets. The responsibility for the risks we posed to others in some of our most extreme actions in those underground years never leaves my thoughts for long.

The antiwar movement in all its commitment, all its sacrifice and determination, could not stop the violence unleashed against Vietnam. And therein lies cause for real regret.

We — the broad “we” — wrote letters, marched, talked to young men at induction centers, surrounded the Pentagon and lay down in front of troop trains. Yet we were inadequate to end the killing of three million Vietnamese and almost 60,000 Americans during a 10-year war.

The dishonesty of the narrative about Mr. Obama during the campaign went a step further with its assumption that if you can place two people in the same room at the same time, or if you can show that they held a conversation, shared a cup of coffee, took the bus downtown together or had any of a thousand other associations, then you have demonstrated that they share ideas, policies, outlook, influences and, especially, responsibility for each other’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.

President-elect 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 to do with his positions. I knew him as well as thousands of others did, and like millions of others, I wish I knew him better.

Demonization, guilt by association, and the politics of fear did not triumph, not this time. Let’s hope they never will again. And let’s hope we might now assert that in our wildly diverse society, talking and listening to the widest range of people is not a sin, but a virtue.

From the Cape Cod Times, Decemer 2, 2008

December 5, 2008

Owning up to our connection to Ayers

Before we put this awful, sadomasochistic election campaign behind us, we need to deal with one of the most shameful parts of it — the treatment of Bill Ayers by both political parties.

There was a powerful lie of the “I didn’t inhale” sort in the whole use that was made of Ayers, the 1960s-era Weather Underground member. The vicious attack on Obama by the most absurdly tenuous guilt-by-association with this militant anti-Vietnam war protester (now a respected university professor) is one of several desperation moves one hopes lost McCain/Palin votes. But equally shameful is how the Democrats fell all over themselves dissociating Obama from Ayers.

It’s time for those of us who were there to stand up and put straight our connection with Ayers. If you were up and running in the late 1960s and early 70s, chances are very good you inhaled. And when Bill Clinton said that silly thing about not inhaling, you said, “Yeah, right. And you didn’t dig the subversive music of Dylan and Hendrix and the Stones, and you weren’t doing what you could to keep from wasting your life and spirit in that particular American war.”

To say you didn’t inhale is to declare yourself to have been the clueless Mr. Jones in Dylan’s famous song and expecting to get credit for it!

The fact of that time was that there was a terrible, tragic war going on, Iraq times 10, measured just in American casualties. Going on and on. By the time Ayers moved on to more determined antiwar action, a substantial and growing majority of the whole country wanted that war to stop. Chances are you were doing something in opposition to that war: trying your best to deprive it of your body for starters, participating in campus protests, boarding a bus for DC protests. Chances are that in one way or another you felt part of that vague but huge thing called the Anti-War Movement.

Smoking pot was not the only widely approved illegal activity. Going up against tear gas, getting dragged off to jail in protests, burning draft cards, occupying private university property were all considered by many to be gutsy acts in a good cause. Chances are that when you heard about more aggressive activities of the Weather Underground, you didn’t get on your high horse and blame them for going too far. I know I didn’t. I thought: Jeez, those guys are nuts; they’re going to get themselves jailed or killed. Don’t they realize what they’re going up against (the might of the U.S.)? Mostly, however, I felt challenged by what seemed their greater determination and willingness to put it on the line.

Ayers was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR on Nov. 18. Asked if he was a terrorist he was clear: Absolutely not. We targeted only property, not persons (the ones who famously got killed in their activities were three of them making bombs, including Ayers’ girlfriend). Did he now think planting a bomb in the Pentagon and other such militant actions had been effective in stopping the war? No, probably not. But, he asks, who had a better idea?

Stopping the murderous, indefensible war was a job that by the late 60s most of us wanted done. The more committed among us moved to more militant actions because the less militant, peaceful, symbolic protests (remember the chanting to levitate the Pentagon?) were not getting the job done.

Ayers’ reasonable conclusion is that none of the anti-war activity was effective. The war went on and on, killing untold thousands more on both sides, and ended finally only when we lost it. Ayers says he’ll apologize when we all apologize for not doing enough to get the job done.

It is wrong and a denial of history to disown the more committed anti-war protesters of the Vietnam era. Ayers is an uncomfortable reminder of the truth of that era, the situation we were all in, and what we did or didn’t do about it.

Brent Harold of Wellfleet, a former English professor, is the author of “Wellfleet and the World.”