The real Bill Ayers

Bill Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn spent ten years underground and did a number of  bombings in opposition to the Vietnam War. It is important to realize that, no matter what you think of the bombings ethically or as a tactic, that no one was ever killed or even slightly injured by them, and that they were planned that way. That should count for something.

From a Bill Ayers op-ed in the New York Times

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.

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.

I was a radical back then too. And had more sympathy for the actions of the Weather Underground back then than I do now. For those who have said, when will Ayers ever apologize, I think they just got one, or as close as he will ever get. Ayers is a respected educator now, Dohrn is a law professor. They became legal guardians of Chesa Boudin as an infant and raised him when his parents went to prison. Chesa has become a Rhodes scholar and activist. The lives of Ayers and Dohrn after the Weather Underground have been, by any standard, exemplary and successful.

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.