Monday, November 10, 2008

Bill Ayres looks back...

So what does William Ayres think about the campaign?
Ralph Nazareth forwards this to us:
 What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been
Friday 07 November 2008
by: Bill Ayers, In These Times
   Bill Ayers looks back on a surreal campaign season.

   Whew! What was all that mess? I'm still in a daze, sorting it all
out, decompressing.

   Pass the Vitamin C.

   For the past few years, I have gone about my business, hanging out
with my kids and, now, my grandchildren, taking care of our elders (they
moved in as the kids moved out), going to work, teaching and writing. And
every day, I participate in the never-ending effort to build a powerful
and irresistible movement for peace and social justice.

   In years past, I would now and then - often unpredictably - appear in
the newspapers or on TV, sometimes with a reference to Fugitive Days, my
2001 memoir of the exhilarating and difficult years of resistance against
the American war in Vietnam. It was a time when the world was in flames,
revolution was in the air, and the serial assassinations of black leaders
disrupted our utopian dreams.

   These media episodes of fleeting notoriety always led to some
extravagant and fantastic assertions about what I did, what I might have
said and what I probably believe now.

   It was always a bit surreal. Then came this political season.

   During the primary, the blogosphere was full of chatter about my
relationship with President-elect Barack Obama. We had served together on
the board of the Woods Foundation and knew one another as neighbors in
Chicago's Hyde Park. In 1996, at a coffee gathering that my wife,
Bernardine Dohrn, and I held for him, I made a $200 donation to his
campaign for the Illinois State Senate.

   Obama's political rivals and enemies thought they saw an opportunity
to deepen a dishonest perception that he is somehow un-American, alien,
linked to radical ideas, a closet terrorist who sympathizes with
extremism - and they pounced.

   Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) campaign provided the script, which
included guilt by association, demonization of people Obama knew (or
might have known), creepy questions about his background and dark hints
about hidden secrets yet to be uncovered.

   On March 13, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), apparently in an attempt to
reassure the base,- sat down for an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox
News. McCain was not yet aware of the narrative Hannity had been spinning
for months, and so Hannity filled him in: Ayers is an unrepentant
"terrorist," he explained, "On 9/11, of all days, he had an article where
he bragged about bombing our Pentagon, bombing the Capitol and bombing
New York City police headquarters. ... He said, 'I regret not doing

   McCain couldn't believe it.

   Neither could I.

   On the campaign trail, McCain immediately got on message. I became a
prop, a cartoon character created to be pummeled.

   When Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin got hold of it, the attack went viral.
At a now-famous Oct. 4 rally, she said Obama was Ïpallin' around with
terrorists.- (I pictured us sharing a milkshake with two straws.)

   The crowd began chanting, "Kill him!" "Kill him"- It was downhill
from there.

   My voicemail filled up with hate messages. They were mostly from men,
all venting and sweating and breathing heavily. A few threats: "Watch
out!" and "You deserve to be shot." And some e-mails, like this one I got
from "I'm coming to get you and when I do, I'll
water-board you."

   The police lieutenant who came to copy down those threats deadpanned
that he hoped the guy who was going to shoot me got there before the guy
who was going to water-board me, since it would be most foul to be
tortured and then shot. (We have been pals ever since he was first
assigned to investigate threats made against me in 1987, after I was
hired as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at

   The good news was that every time McCain or Palin mentioned my name,
they lost a point or two in the polls. The cartoon invented to hurt Obama
was now poking holes in the rapidly sinking McCain-Palin ship.

   That '60s Show

   On Aug. 28, Stephen Colbert, the faux right-wing commentator from
Comedy Central who channels Bill O'Reilly on steroids, observed:

   "To this day, when our country holds a presidential election, we
judge the candidates through the lens of the 1960s. ... We all know Obama
is cozy with William Ayers a '60s radical who planted a bomb in the
capital building and then later went on to even more heinous crimes by
becoming a college professor. ... Let us keep fighting the culture wars
of our grandparents. The '60s are a political gift that keeps on giving."

   It was inevitable. McCain would bet the house on a dishonest and
largely discredited vision of the '60s, which was the defining decade for
him. He built his political career on being a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

   The '60s - as myth and symbol - is much abused: the downfall of
civilization in one account, a time of defeat and humiliation in a
second, and a perfect moment of righteous opposition, peace and love in a

   The idea that the 2008 election may be the last time in American
political life that the '60s plays any role whatsoever is a mixed
blessing. On the one hand, let's get over the nostalgia and move on. On
the other, the lessons we might have learned from the black freedom
movement and from the resistance against the Vietnam War have never been
learned. To achieve this would require that we face history fully and
honestly, something this nation has never done.

   The war in Vietnam was an illegal invasion and occupation, much of it
conducted as a war of terror against the civilian population. The U.S.
military killed millions of Vietnamese in air raids - like the one
conducted by McCain - and entire areas of the country were designated
free-fire zones, where American pilots indiscriminately dropped surplus
ordinance - an immoral enterprise by any measure.

   What Is Really Important

   McCain and Palin - or as our late friend Studs Terkel put it, "Joe
McCarthy in drag" - would like to bury the '60s. The '60s, after all, was
a time of rejecting obedience and conformity in favor of initiative and
courage. The '60s pushed us to a deeper appreciation of the humanity of
every human being. And that is the threat it poses to the right wing,
hence the attacks and all the guilt by association.

   McCain and Palin demanded to "know the full extent" of the
Obama-Ayers "relationship" so that they can know if Obama, as Palin put
it, "is telling the truth to the American people or not."

   This is just plain stupid.

   Obama has continually been asked to defend something that ought to be
at democracy's heart: the importance of talking to as many people as
possible in this complicated and wildly diverse society, of listening
with the possibility of learning something new, and of speaking with the
possibility of persuading or influencing others.

   The McCain-Palin attacks not only involved guilt by association, they
also assumed that one must apply a political litmus test to begin a

   On Oct. 4, Palin described her supporters as those who "see America
as the greatest force for good in this world" and as a "beacon of light
and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy." But Obama, she said,
"Is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America." In
other words, there are "real" Americans - and then there are the rest of

   In a robust and sophisticated democracy, political leaders - and all
of us - ought to seek ways to talk with many people who hold dissenting,
or even radical, ideas. Lacking that simple and yet essential capacity to
question authority, we might still be burning witches and enslaving our
fellow human beings today.

   Maybe we could welcome our current situation - torn by another
illegal war, as it was in the '60s - as an opportunity to search for the

   Perhaps we might think of ourselves not as passive consumers of
politics but as fully mobilized political actors. Perhaps we might think
of our various efforts now, as we did then, as more than a single
campaign, but rather as our movement-in-the-making.

   We might find hope in the growth of opposition to war and occupation
worldwide. Or we might be inspired by the growing movements for
reparations and prison abolition, or the rising immigrant rights movement
and the stirrings of working people everywhere, or by gay and lesbian and
transgender people courageously pressing for full recognition.

   Yet hope - my hope, our hope - resides in a simple self-evident
truth: the future is unknown, and it is also entirely unknowable.

   History is always in the making. It's up to us. It is up to me and to
you. Nothing is predetermined. That makes our moment on this earth both
hopeful and all the more urgent - we must find ways to become real
actors, to become authentic subjects in our own history.

   We may not be able to will a movement into being, but neither can we
sit idly for a movement to spring full-grown, as from the head of Zeus.

   We have to agitate for democracy and egalitarianism, press harder for
human rights, learn to build a new society through our
self-transformations and our limited everyday struggles.

   At the turn of the last century, Eugene Debs, the great Socialist
Party leader from Terre Haute, Ind., told a group of workers in Chicago,
"If I could lead you into the Promised Land, I would not do it, because
someone else would come along and lead you out."

   In this time of new beginnings and rising expectations, it is even
more urgent that we figure out how to become the people we have been
waiting to be.


   Bill Ayers is a Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior
University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the
author of "Fugitive Days" (Beacon) and co-author, with Bernardine Dohrn,
of "Race Course: Against White Supremacy" (Third World Press).

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