--Former counterterrorism official Larry C. Johnson, The Huffington Post, Feb. 16, 2008.
Ayers Can Speak For Himself
On Friday Bill Ayers, along with his wife and fellow Weather Underground member, Bernadine Dohrn, sat down to talk with Democracy Now! to actually explain their relations (or lack thereof) with Barack Obama, the Weather Underground, and the progressive movement in general.
Obviously, Bill Ayers did not turn out to be Obama's Willie Horton. And Karl Rove is no Lee Atwater--the puppeteer behind the Willie Horton ad believed to have cost Michael Dukakis the presidential win in '88. Further, Ayers and Dohrn are not present-day terrorists. They may have committed questionable acts that did not kill or harm anyone--performed while Barack Obama was in grade school--but to say that their current day association with Barack Obama in any way indicates that Obama is radical isn't just irrational, it's racist.
To hear Ayers and Dohrn speak today is both inspiring and enlightening. Dohrn gave critical contextual information about the political climate that her organization was responding to--namely the slaying of members of the Black Panther Party at the hands of a corrupt police force; a corrupt justice system. And Ayers is truly inspiring when speaking about his hope for the future of education and this country.
I hope Palin and all the other right-wing naysayers keep bringing Ayers up. I hope his name conjures images of a '60s radical turned progressive pioneer one day, rather than the myth that this professor, activist, and father is somehow a danger to society.
AMY GOODMAN: As we continue with our Democracy Now! exclusive, I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez, in this first joint interview with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn since the Obama campaign has ended. They joined us from a studio in Chicago. Bill Ayers spoke about being at Grant Park the night Barack Obama was elected president.
BILL AYERS: It was an extraordinary feeling. I’ve been in a lot of large crowds in my life, but I’ve never been in one that didn’t either have an edge of anger or a lot of drunkenness or kind of performance. This was all unity, all love. And what people were celebrating was this milestone, which was sweet and exciting and important. But they were also celebrating—there was—you could kind of cut the relief in people’s feelings with a knife. I mean, it was the sense that we were going to leave behind the era of 9/11 and the era of fear and war without end and repression and constitutional shredding and scapegoating of gay and lesbian people, on and on. And there we were, millions, in the park, representing everybody, hugging, dancing, carrying on right in the spot, forty years ago, where many of us were beaten and dragged to jail. It was an extraordinary feeling.I don’t think at this moment we should be getting into at all the business of trying to read the mind of the President-elect and see where we, you know, might do this or that. The question is, as Bernadine is saying, how do we build the movement on the ground that demands peace, that demands justice? This is always the question. It’s happening—the question is being raised in a new context. So how do—you know, I often think, thinking historically, Lyndon Johnson wasn’t the civil rights movement, but he was an effective politician who passed civil rights legislation. FDR wasn’t a labor leader. Lincoln didn’t belong to an abolitionist party. They all responded to something going on on the ground. And in a lot of ways, we have to get beyond—progressive people have to get beyond the idea that we’re waiting for a savior. We’re not waiting for a savior. We need to transform ourselves, transform our movements, reach out to one another and build an irresistible social force for change...
...JUAN GONZALEZ: —and talk a little bit about how you evolved from the period of Weathermen. Obviously, you were fugitives for awhile, then you came above-ground and settled your problems with the law. You became a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a leader of the reform movement in education in that city. This whole issue of public education and what you see as what needs to be done in public education to revamp our public school system, and what you would hope an Obama presidency would address?
BILL AYERS: You know, I think we’ve suffered so much in the last decades, really, under the wrong way of thinking about education, education reform, foreign policy, the economy, so much of the kind of meta-narrative, or the dominant discourse, is so mistaken and so misplaced. And a lot of what I’m—what I have fought for and what I am struggling for is simply to say, let’s change the frame on education.
I can give you a couple of simple examples. When somebody says, as people said in this campaign, “We really need to get the rotten teachers out of the classroom,” I mean, immediately we all kind of nod dully. But if somebody said, instead of that frame, somebody said, “What we really need is for every child to be in a classroom with a thoughtful, well-educated, caring, intellectual, well-compensated and well-rested teacher,” we’d all nod to that, too.
So, the question is, who gets to set the agenda? To me, the agenda for education in the last couple of decades has been so wrongheaded, because it’s been based on the idea that we do our best with a lot of competition, which is very narrowly conducted and highly supervised and surveilled. That, to me, is the wrong model for democratic education. In fact, the way I think we have to ask the question is, since all of us, no matter—educational leaders, no matter where they are—the old Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, medieval Saudi Arabia—we all agree that the kids should do their homework, not do drugs, be in school, learn the subject matters.So what makes education in a democracy distinct? And I would argue that what makes education in a democracy distinct is that we don’t educate for obedience and conformity; we educate for initiative and courage. We educate for imagination and hope and possibility. And we recognize that the full development of each person requires the full development of all people. Or another way of saying it is, the full development of all is the condition whereby we can educate each. And that shifting of the frame is so important. And frankly, I’m hopeful that in this period of rising expectations, of rethinking so much, that this is where we can go.
The second half of the interview will air tomorrow on Pacifica Radio.