I have received a great deal of feedback regarding Saturday’s interview with Bill Ayers. This is the introduction I am working to:
Modern media tends to render the individual as cartoons, filler for an endless news cycle or worse, ideological bludgeons for propaganda and hyperbole. But before us today sits a man of flesh and blood. This interview is not a response to the Right’s demonization of Bill Ayers, but an attempt to render his humanness more fully. Like everyone of us he is filled with contradictions, faults, blessings, burdens, dreams and regrets. Bill Ayers chose a path in life that set him on a collision course with the state in its prosecution of a wholly unnecessary war and its persecution against an American system of racial and social apartheid. On the frontlines of any struggle for justice there is friction, confusion, passion, anger; danger. While the path becomes unclear the struggle becomes everything, the world becomes an outside place eclipsed not by the struggle itself, but in the resistance wielded by the oppressor.
What did the tumult of the 1960s and early 1970s accomplish, with the days of rage, protest, unrest and, yes, violence or the threat of violence? In a speech last year at Dartmouth Ayers asked an audience if they opposed slavery and then reminded that audience that before the civil war and during the founding of this nation that they would have been considered abolitionists in opposition to their nation, government and economy all of which relied on slavery. Ayers, as a member of the controversial and decidedly militant Weather Underground stood, sometimes violently, but always resolutely against the deaths in Southeast Asia, over the course of more than a decade of war, of more than 2 million people, including 58000 Americans. The Vietnam-era lottery and draft was an illusion of populism with disproportionately high numbers of minorities and poor pressed into service, while the wealthy, like Donald Trump, Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Ted Nugent. Michael Savage and many more able to avoid service.
Ayers and the Weather Underground stood unwavering with Black Americans struggling for basic civil rights. Recall that Black veterans were barred from the benefits of the GI Bill and veterans benefits after the second world war, advantages that built the middle class in this country. The stark injustices and hypocrisies they struggled to correct were no different from the struggle of miners on Blair Mountain, John Brown, Sojourner Truth, Jeremy Hammond, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden.
There is a myth of non-violence in struggles for justice. An emasculated and reconstructed pacifist Gandhi once said “…Hence also do I advocate training in arms for those who believe in the method of violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.”
Protest and discontent are words of agitation. Protest should rightly be peaceful if the oppressor is accepting of change and willing to dialogue, but when the tactic of the oppressor is greater oppression and tyranny then violence must always remain in the arsenal of the oppressed. Malcolm X said “Kill that Dog! If a man uses a dog to keep you from what is rightfully yours, kill that dog!” A protest without the possibility of violence, should the state choose the road of greater oppression is a parade, and parades are for children and clowns.