No Regrets

From our August 2001 issue: “Kill your parents!” urged sixties leftist Bill Ayers, whose father was the chairman of Commonwealth Edison here. In Ayers’s new memoir, Fugitive Days, he reconciles his militant past with his present identity: father of three, esteemed professor at UIC—and unabashed patron of the great bourgeois coffee chain, Starbucks

(page 1 of 3)

At 55, Bill Ayers, the notorious sixties radical, still carries a whiff of that rock ‘n’ roll decade: the oversize wire-rim glasses that, in a certain light, reveal themselves as bifocals; a backpack over his shoulder—not some streamlined, chic job, but a funky backpack-of-the-people, complete with a photo button of abolitionist John Brown pinned to one strap.

Yet he is also a man of the moment. For example: There is his cell phone, laid casually on the tabletop of this neighborhood Taylor Street coffee shop, and his passion for double skim lattes. In conversation, he has an immediate, engaging presence; he may not have known you long but, his manner suggests, he’s already fascinated. Then there is his quick laugh and his tendency to punctuate his comments by a tap on your arm.

Overall, it is not easy to imagine him as part of the Weatherman, a group that during the late sixties and early seventies openly called for revolution in America, led a violent rampaging protest in Chicago, and took credit for numerous bombings around the United States.

One of the Weatherman leaders was Bernardine Dohrn, a smart, magnetic figure who, in part because of her penchant for miniskirts and knee-high boots, was dubbed “La Pasionaria of the Lunatic Left” by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. After a bomb exploded accidentally and killed three of their colleagues, Ayers and Dohrn “hooked up,” in the parlance of the day, and, since 1982, they have been married. This—violence, death, and white-hot rhetoric—is his past and Ayers insists he has no regrets. “I acted appropriately in the context of those times,” he says. But it’s hard to reconcile this quick-witted man with that revolutionary. Today Bill Ayers seems too happy to have ever been so angry.

Ayers, now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, claims to abhor nostalgia (“Nothing is more boring than some old person going on and on about the way things used to be"). But he has been thinking lately about the past—both his and the country’s—and soon he will likely be engaged in what he calls “a dialogue” about the sixties, the antiwar movement, and the radical life he led. The spur for this dialogue will be the publication of Fugitive Days (Beacon Press, $24), a memoir Ayers has written about the trajectory of his life, from a pampered son of the Chicago suburbs to a young pacifist to a founder of one of the most radical political organizations in U.S. history.

In the pantheon of radicals of the sixties and seventies, Ayers’s place is unique. “He was not as notorious as Bernardine Dohrn,” says Don Rose, a political consultant who has written about those times. “But what made Ayers of particular interest then was that he was the son of a captain of industry. Now he’s interesting because, of all the farther-out radicals, he has achieved the most scholarly reputation.”

Writing the book has been “a daunting task,” Ayers says, “because I want to be true to those times. I don’t feel nostalgic for the sixties, but there is no doubt in my mind that the events I write about were shaping events, and they provided for me a way of seeing the world that seemed so alive and so resonant that I can’t escape it, no matter what I do.”

Certainly there are moments when Ayers has the sound of the sixties down pat, like when he tells me, “Imperialism or globalization—I don’t have to care what it’s called to hate it.” And then there are moments when he sounds light-years away from his radical sensibilities, more like an old grump lamenting today’s uninformed youth: He tells me a story about going into Starbucks and having the young woman behind the counter mistake his photo pin of John Brown for Walt Whitman. “And when I told her, no, it’s John Brown, she said, ‘Who is John Brown?’”

But I am struck by another part of that story. What are you doing in a Starbucks? I ask the man who professes to hate globalization.

“Oh,” he says. “I have an addiction to caffeine.”

There you have the complexity of Ayers: a man who once tried to overthrow his country’s government and now works for a state university; an opponent of the bourgeoisie who has been married for 20 years; a left-wing radical who loves a good cup of imperialist coffee. Maybe he’s always known how to choose his battles. Once one of his sons wanted to hear about how Ayers had been a draft card burner. “Tell me again how you burned your credit card, Pop,” his son confusedly asked.

“I’m not that radical,” Ayers retorted.

* * *

 

Photograph: Jeff Sciortino


Share

comments
6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

POS

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Doesn't surprise me in the least. There are plenty of old national socialists that aren't apologetic about their "Good Old Days" either. Why should this Left-wing fascist be any different?

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

>>> "Teaching has always been, for me, linked to issues of social justice," he says. "I've never considered it a neutral or passive profession."

Of course not. Neo-Marxists don't view education as the conveyance of information and skills, but as a means of political indoctrination for the next generation. No wonder his views are so popular amongst the American education monopolists.

Would love to hear his arguments in opposition to school choice and voucher programs, or rather why parents shouldn't be allowed to influence the educational system in any way. I bet he dances a merry jig around that one.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

The irony of people like this is hard to fully comprehend, in my opinion. Here's a guy that literally tried to start a bloody revolution in this "evil" country, yet never had to pay any price for his crimes. If he had done the same thing in one of his socialist utopia's, he would have been executed as a traitor. Instead, he's a rich man with ties to a potential (if not likely) President of the United States.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall.
Proverbs 16:18

6 years ago
Posted by freods

I wonder how Mr. Ayers would feel if a bunch of old vets decided to bring the war home - to his home. Oh, if Mr. Ayers agonizes over how his beloved blew herself up I'll tell him. She screwed up the bomb along with the other nitwits. Finally, how's this for the free exchange of ideas Mr. Ayers so passionately desired. Abortion is murder, Islamists are murderous barbarians, the Jews are right and the Palestinians are wrong, socialism is evil, capitalism is good, and the baby boomers are the most worthless, self obsessed generation in history. I would imagine Mr Ayers' present day comrades would not allow discussion on any of these ideas except maybe the last. But of course I doubt you could find anyone to take the other side of that argument since Mr Ayers' re-emergence makes the propostion self evident. How pathetically tiresome these retreads are still trying to justify their worthless lives and lousy choices. (don't bother to point to Mr Ayers' academic career as evidence of a life well spent. I taught in a university English dept. and have more respect for folks who work the midnight shift in a convenience store or who can wire a three way switch than I have for ANY liberal arts or ed. dept. faculty member)

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Remove his american citizenship

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

"The Days of Rage," as the 1969 protest was called, brought several hundred members of the Weatherman—many of them attired for battle with helmets and weapons—to Lincoln Park. The tear-gassed marches, window smashing, and clashes with police lasted four days, during which 290 militants were arrested and 63 people were injured. Damage to windows, cars, and other property soared to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Around this time, Ayers summed up the Weatherman philosophy as "Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents—that's where it's really at."

- Gee, I wonder how this historical account would have differed had the exact same protest taken place in China, Cuba, or the Soviet Union? My guess is it would have lasted 4 hours instead of 4 days with 0 arrests, 0 injured, and lots of body parts strewn around.

But hey, what do I know? I'm just a capitalist pig...

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

"There you have the complexity of Ayers: a man who once tried to overthrow his country's government and now works for a state university; an opponent of the bourgeoisie who has been married for 20 years; a left-wing radical who loves a good cup of imperialist coffee"

Nope, there you have typical liberal hypocrisy.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

typical. Hypocrite. scumbag.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

"The next year, a Weatherman killed a Brink's guard and two state troopers in a bungled armored truck robbery."

I must have missed the part where Ayers details how much of his University salary he has donated to the families of the guard and the 2 troopers, not to mention how he reimbursed the hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage done by his group's bombings and Days of Rage.

I guess he is too busy sipping his lattes and writing his memoirs to be worried by that.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Why, again, is it that this "esteemed professor" and demonstrable fool is not in jail?

-- Brian Kennedy

Kaohsiung, Taiwan

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I am trying to imagine an article about say, a 60s Alabama Klan member who bombed churches, and his cool swagger, and how he loves Starbucks now.
Yeesh.

Karen Barefield
Arlington Virgina

6 years ago
Posted by Nathan Patrick

Hey, don't be so hard on Bill Ayers. This is a free country. He is perfectly free to be an idiot. Lord only knows how many upstanding American men and women in uniform have laid down their lives in defense of our nation so nut jobs like him can drink lattes and contaminate the minds of young people with left-wing dribble.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

He's a piece of garbage.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I remember their mantra of "Don't trust anyone over 30" well how does it feel being twice that age? The fortunate thing about these 60's rejects is that the inevitability of their own mortality is rapidly approaching and they will soon have to face the six foot deep dirt nap and leave the rest of us alone. All their treasonous actions will fade into the history books as a sad footnote to the 20th century. It will be nice to have you feed the worms to help renew our environment - at least that is a worthy contribution along with your books in the landfills. Don't anybody dare drape an American flag over the coffin of this terrorist, he prefers a hammer and sickle or maybe a swastika since he is trying to create his own version of Hitler Youth through his teaching degree.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Is the University of Illinois a state-funded university? If so, do the residents of Illinois not have a say as to whether or not this terrorist remains on the faculty?

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Give the guy a break, he's not the testosterone-fueled radical of his youth. He's cleaned up his act and is a productive member of society.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Give him a break??? You have got to be kidding me? He wished he could do more so now he teaches our youth to follow in his footsteps. He got enough of a break because of a technicality and isn't rotting away in prison. Take a close look at the photo, isn't that an American Flag under his feet? Cleaned up his act? What drugs are you on?

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

"Give the guy a break, he's not the testosterone-fueled radical of his youth. He's cleaned up his act and is a productive member of society."

I doubt the 3 people the Weathermen killed think he deserves a break, and ol' Professor Ayers sure doesnt sound remorseful in the least now that he is a so-called productive member of society:

Ayers interviewed in the New York Times on September 11, 2001, of all days: “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” Translation: “We meant to kill that judge and his family, not just damage the porch.” When asked by the Times if he would do it all again, Ayers responded: “I don’t want to discount the possibility.”

http://www.city-journal.org/2008/eon0430jm.html

Submit your comment