Since Barack Obama doesn’t know him well, and since I’ve clearly endorsed Barack Obama for president, I’d like to take a quick moment to make a distinction between my own view of Bill Ayers and Senator Obama’s. Senator Obama is of course running for the highest elected office in the United States, so political reality necessitates that he strongly condemn Ayers’ actions during the late 1960s and early 1970s (and he has). I, on the other hand, feel that Ayers is being demonized unfairly. If I were trying to win the presidency, I probably wouldn’t say that. But most of America is still stuck in the violence-numb state of slumber that Ayers and the Weathermen were protesting with their bombs. It’s crucially important to tell or remind people that the Weather Underground bombings never killed anyone except Weather Underground activists (by accident). Right-wing critics have tried to blame several contemporaneous fatal bombings, for which no responsibility was ever claimed, on the Weather Underground. But after the accident that killed several Weathermen in a Greenwich Village townhouse on March 6, 1970, no one was killed by any Weather Underground-claimed bombings. The acts of property destruction occurred mostly at night, or with warning given to evacuate the area, or both. The intended aim of the Weather Underground was to wake America up to the genocide it was inflicting in southeast Asia.
In the course of this election cycle, Obama’s critics have frequently e-mailed this article about Ayers’ memoir, which coincidentally was published in the New York Times on September 11, 2001. Read it, but be sure also to read Ayer’s letter to the New York Times of September 15, 2001, in which he corrects the record on his disposition toward explosives and terrorism—and repudiates the 9/11 attacks for the depraved acts of intolerance and hatred that they were. And if you’re not familiar with the Weather Underground, the Wikipedia entry about it is a good place to start.
Without belaboring the point, I’d just like to say that I believe the actions of the Weather Underground were called for by the urgency of their era, and that Bill Ayers should be recognized as a courageous activist who took extensive personal risks to make a stand against terror and genocide. He is neither a murderer nor a terrorist, but he is a great American.