Remembering and imagining

April 30, 2018

Remembering the Past/Imagining the Future: Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama

~~~Bill Ayers~~~

On April 26 and 27 we joined thousands of people from around the country and around the world at the Peace and Justice Opening in Montgomery, Alabama. Days were filled with formal and informal gatherings, reunions and new connections, the Peace and Justice Summit featuring many powerful thinkers including Elizabeth Alexander, Jelani Cobb, Ava Duverany, and Michelle Alexander, and on the last night, the Concert for Peace and Justice. The focus of the gathering was the unveiling of two breathtaking new sites: the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the Legacy Museum, both projects of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).

Under the leadership of Bryan Stevenson, a civil rights lawyer who has for decades championed the most vulnerable people caught in the criminal justice system, EJI’s mission has been to advance an honest reckoning with the legacy of slavery, lynching, and segregation, and with building a process of truth telling and racial reconciliation. These sites are stunning illustrations of that larger project.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice records and memorializes the over 4000 people murdered in the terror campaigns that followed the abolition of slavery and the defeat of Black Reconstruction in the South. The Memorial sits on a grassy hill overlooking the state capitol which was also the heart and headquarters of the Confederate traitors who in 1860 were willing to blow up the entire country in defense of a single freedom: their assumed right to own other human beings. It is unlike any other memorial in the world.

Up a gently rising path you encounter several human figures, naked and in chains, each with a different posture and facial expression: fear, fury, resignation, pain, defiance. Continue up the path and enter the memorial square, face to face with row after row of tall metal rectangles, weathered and standing close together like grave stones. Each rectangle has etched on its face the name of a county where a documented lynching took place, followed by the names of the victims of the terror—one after another—and the date of each specific atrocity. Say their names.

The Memorial does the hard work of documenting and representing thousands of lynchings over many decades—it names the victims, person by person—and illustrates that the terror was systematic and pervasive. The Memorial tells the truth—hard, unblinking, trembling and real. By now you are engulfed in rectangles, disoriented and surrounded, and soon the names twist and surge toward you. The massive scale of the murders becomes palpable—the rectangles stretch into the far distance—and yet each name is distinct, each the one of one.

Continue walking, and the metal monuments seem to rise in front of you, higher and higher, as the floor gradually descends. Now they are swinging above, like bodies from a tree branch. The effect is devastating.

We seek out the Lowndes County, Alabama monument, looking for the name of Jim Press Meriweather and there he is, killed on 08-22-1935 for the “crime” of attempting to organize a Sharecropper’s Union. The Legacy Museum has been collecting earth from each lynching site, and  months earlier our family had made a pilgrimage to the place of Meriweather’s murder in order to gather soil to add to this sacred display. We pause in silence before seeking out four counties from our home state of Illinois—one is St. Claire County where at least 29 souls were slaughtered in a frenzied white race riot in July, 1917.

There’s a clear recognition here that there can be no racial reconciliation without a serious reckoning with the truth, and that the truth of history can never be unmade. Facing history can be agonizing, painful, sometimes horrifying—the Memorial is an unambiguous statement of that fact. But the cost of not remembering is excruciating as well, and willful ignorance and collective silence assure that the racial wounds will never heal, the horror will continue in evolving forms. The tragedy, shame, and pain of this country—kidnapping, slavery, rape, murder, genocide, torture, terrorism, predation, exploitation and oppression, degradation and humiliation—are both foundational and linked. Slavery begets lynching begets Jim Crow and segregation and voter suppression and mass incarceration. Lynching’s fingerprints are all over the killings of Trayvon Martin, Troy Davis, Mike Brown, Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd and thousands of other Black people whose lives were taken at the hands of police and America’s legal lynching apparatus, capital punishment, and white supremacist violence.

Lynching was ritual, and the ceremony required witnesses and a code of silence to protect the guilty as well as to commune with them. In this way the entire community teamed up and shared the experience. And this too is heritage: in the face of police violence and mass incarceration, to stay quiet is to collaborate.

In spite of everything and against expectation, a sense of hopefulness pervades the Memorial and the Museum, a hope that a new world might be created from the wreckage of this inheritance, a more loving and just and peaceful world. But only if we pay full attention to the crimes of history. The dialectic of horror and light, anger and love, is conspicuous in every corner. Once you see it, you can’t un-see it, true, but once you see it, you might be inspired to remove the stain, to get busy in a movement of repair—you can choose to become resident of a country that does not yet exist but is clearly in-the-making. And don’t call us the “resistance;” we’re the creators, the inventors, the visionaries; Trump is the resistance. Activists must always ask, Where is the love? And in this space, the love is peeking from behind every stone.

The experience of the Memorial is staggering, awe-inspiring, illuminating, breathtaking—beyond moving, it feels life altering. Plan a visit, and take the children.

Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama

April 28, 2018

Bernardine and I just returned from the official opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and a visit to the Legacy Museum, in Montgomery, Alabama, both projects of the Equal Justice Initiative. The experience was staggering, awe-inspiring, illuminating, breath-taking—beyond moving, it was life altering. Plan a visit, take the children and the students. The Memorial and the Museum tell the truth—hard, unblinking, trembling and real. And there is nonetheless a sense there that a more loving and just and peaceful world is in-the-making, and that we can choose to become the founding citizens of a country that does not yet exist. There’s a steady recognition that there can be no reconciliation without a reckoning with the truth, and that while the truth of history cannot be unmade, it can be faced honestly. The Memorial does the hard work of documenting and representing thousands of lynchings over many decades—it names the victims, person by person, name by name—and illustrates that the terror was systematic and pervasive, sweeping the South but including, for example, four counties in our home state of Illinois. The link between slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, voter suppression, segregation, and mass incarceration was made obvious. There was a deep sense that while the tragedy, shame, and pain of this country—slavery, kidnapping, rape, murder, torture, terrorism, predation, exploitation, and oppression, degradation and humiliation—was foundational, a new world could be built from that wreckage. The dialectic of horror and light, anger and love, was evident in every corner.

Monday @ CTU Headquarters…

April 25, 2018

Please come and spread the word:

Loud and Clear

April 24, 2018

On the Road, Singing the Dark Times

April 20, 2018
Sunday, April 29 | 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Comfort Station | 2579 N Milwaukee Ave

In the dark times, will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing.
About the dark times.
~~Bertolt Brecht

In December, 2017 we held the first meeting of a new public discussion group designed to open a space for serious and challenging conversation in these troubling days: Singing in Dark Times.

Singing in Dark Times has met several times at the legendary Seminary Coop/57th Street Bookstores in Hyde Park, Chicago, an important destination bookstore and an expanding public space. Participants have included Eve Ewing, Rachel DeWoskin, Kevin Coval, Lisa Lee, David Stovall, Monica Trinidad, Ethan Viets-VanLear, and Bill Ayers.Scores of people have joined us in dialogue, trying to make sense and make meaning of our lives and our work—to shine a bright beacon of hope and possibility into the gloom.

We invite you to join our first “On the Road Edition” of Singing in Dark Times on April 29th at the Comfort Station. Conversation-starters will be Tara Raghuveer, Christian Diaz, Bill Ayers, and few other local activists, artists, organizers and neighbors. Help us expand the emerging public space; become part of an intentional community-in-the-making; come and pursue an urgent question that drives so many of us today: What is to be done?

As the public is being steadily eroded and eclipsed, and as neoliberalism persists and fascism lurks close by, the goal of those of us who believe in freedom is to take full responsibility to reimagine, revitalize, and create anew a public square, a public presence, and a wide range of participatory public spaces.

An impressive array of wildly diverse artists and grass-roots activists are  on the move and on the rise—resistance is breaking out all over, and a revitalized public square is in-the-making. In Chicago, a cinema guild is running a series of films on authoritarianism followed by wide ranging teach-ins on the political environment we find ourselves in; the Co-op hosted a series of conversation led by U Chicago professors investigating contemporary issues under the banner “Free University of Chicago;” and Women and Children First’s “The Conversation” brings writers, artists, and politicians together to talk about an issue of political, social, or cultural importance. Elsewhere, a chain of restaurants in Detroit calling themselves “Sanctuary Cafes” is offering weekly facilitated  conversations (as well as bail to neighbors caught up in the system); a collection of renowned playwrights has joined forces to dramatize the Bill of Rights; block clubs around the country are hosting monthly pot-luck dinners to allow folks to face one another authentically and think through what the known demands of us now.

Be part of the resistance! Lets rise up together! Lets Build an Inclusive Community.

Loud and Clear

April 17, 2018


April 15, 2018

Maxine PRESENTE! @ AERA on her 100th Birthday.

April 12, 2018

NEW YORK all weekend, and this is one thing:

Dreaming in Greene — Friday Apr 13 – 12:00 – 1:30 PM

Symposium about Maxine Greene and her ideas about social imagination (and activism and the arts) and how they would play out in today’s world.

Beekman room, Hilton 2nd floor – Chair Carole Saltz

· Bill Ayers

· Michelle Fine

· Gloria Ladson-Billings

· Wendy Coley

· Janet Miller

Loud and Clear!

April 10, 2018

Bloody History, Resistance, and Resurrection

April 7, 2018
Our bloody and shameful history, and the good work of recovering the truth of resistance and resilience:
Readers of the May 24, 1796 Pennsylvania Gazette found an advertisementoffering ten dollars to any person who would apprehend Oney Judge, an enslaved woman who had fled from President George Washington’s Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon. The notice described her in detail as a “light mulatto girl, much freckled, with very black eyes and bushy black hair,” as well as her skills at mending clothes, and that she “may attempt to escape by water … it is probable she will attempt to pass as a free woman, and has, it is said, wherewithal to pay her passage.” She did indeed board a ship called the Nancyand made it to New Hampshire, where she later married a free black sailor, although she was herself never freed by the Washingtons and remained a fugitive.
The advertisement is one of thousands that were printed in newspapers during colonial and pre-Civil War slavery in the United States. The Freedom on the Move (FOTM) public database project, now being developed at Cornell University, is the first major digital database to organize together North American fugitive slave ads from regional, state, and other collections.