[Marxism] Cliff Conner/Bill Ayers

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 6 07:59:02 MST 2008

To the Editor:

I was glad to hear William Ayers rebut, in his own words, the 
meanspirited and absurd campaign of demonization that the right-wing 
blogosphere conducted against him. I encountered Mr. Ayers many years 
ago in the movement against the Vietnam War and I would like to offer 
some context in which his retrospective evaluation of that movement 
can be better understood. Bill Ayers and I have opposing views about 
the effectiveness of that movement. He sees it as a mostly empty 
glass (it couldn't stop the war) and I see it as a glass half full 
(it did stop the war, but it took many years to do so).

There were, broadly speaking, two very different and opposed "wings" 
of the antiwar movement of the 'sixties. Bill Ayers and I were on 
opposite sides. He was (again, generally speaking) in the wing that 
most people will remember because its leading figures, like Abbie 
Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, were very colorful characters who naturally 
became the focus of the mass news media. The other wing, to which I 
devoted several years of my young life, was much less exciting. 
Instead of dramatic pronunciations and spectacular actions designed 
to attract media attention, we went about the boring business of 
organizing mass protest demonstrations under the prosaic slogan: 
"Bring the troops home now!" Between 1965 and 1974, although the size 
of the demonstrations ebbed and flowed (mostly ebbing in election 
years and flowing in between), the general trend gave evidence of an 
explosive growth of antiwar sentiment in the general population of 
the United States.

I agree with Bill Ayers that the wing of the movement he represented 
was ineffective. I would go further and say it was counterproductive, 
because its sophomoric ultraradicalism tended to discredit the 
antiwar movement and alienate most of the American population from 
it. But the movement as a whole nonetheless persisted and, in my 
opinion, eventually played an essential role in ending the war. From 
handfuls of protesters in its early days, the movement grew to being 
able to bring hundreds of thousands of people into the streets. Those 
demonstrators were not, for the most part, radical students, but 
ordinary people from all walks of life. Once the message of the 
antiwar movement began to take hold among the general population, its 
spread among those who were sent to fight the war could not be 
prevented. And once the GIs in Vietnam themselves turned solidly 
against the war, it was only a matter of time before it ended.

Cliff Conner

Website: www.PeoplesHistoryofScience.com


NY Times, December 6, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor
The Real Bill Ayers


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.

William Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois 
at Chicago, is the author of "Fugitive Days" and a co-author of the 
forthcoming "Race Course."


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