FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Get Bill Ayers!

by RON JACOBS

I remember reading the New York Times review of Bill Ayers’ first book Fugitive Days while sitting on a curb in Greenwich Village on September 11, 2001. The haze from the demolished towers hung on the air as thick as the fear felt by almost every person in the city that day.  After reading the review, I thought to myself about how the book’s release could not have come at a worse time.  The destruction of the Twin Towers and the media hullabaloo around that destruction was already overriding any shred of common sense.  It would be a long while before any rational discussion of the Weather Underground would take place in the United States.  For some segments of US society, there would never be a rational discussion.

Bill Ayers writes about that first book and the reaction to it in his newest release, Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident.  He discusses why he wrote Fugitive Days, the interaction with the media in the wake of its publication and the attacks of September 11, 2001, and much, much more.   It is the much, much more that is the real story in this book.  Ayers writes about raising children and he writes about teaching them.  He also writes about helping friends in prison and responding to public campaigns attacking himself and his family.  The narrative Ayers provides is honest, personal, political and occasionally funny.  The best example of the latter is the story he tells about him and his wife Bernardine Dohrn having dinner with a group that included right-wing bloggers Andrew Breinbart and Carlson Tucker.  The dinner was the result of a fundraiser for a humanities council Ayers and Dohrn were part of.  The dinner guests had bid the highest for the opportunity to get inside the Ayers/Dohrn home.  Despite whatever they were anticipating, it seems everyone had a great time, enjoyed the food, drink and even the conversation.  Ayers’ retelling is bound to evoke a few chuckles from almost every reader, if only for the absurdity of the spectacle.

During Obama’s first presidential campaign Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground Organization (WUO) ayersbecame a campaign issue.  In Public Enemy, Ayers writes about receiving death threats thanks in large part to (what he calls) the caricature of him being broadcast by the mainstream media, especially from the studio of FOXNews host Sean Hannity.  Reading his narrative about those months, and as another indication of how implacable this element of the media can be, I was reminded of my own interaction with Hannity’s staff when they called me in October 2008 asking if I would like to appear on his show to discuss the WUO.  I responded by telling the staffer on the phone that I disagreed with pretty much everything Hannity said and found him to be a disagreeable human being.  After a quick consultation with Hannity, the staffer called me back and rescinded my invitation by saying that they would find a more agreeable guest.

Public Enemy is mostly a collection of anecdotes from Bill Ayers recent life.  He does begin the book with a chapter about his last years underground and he touches on the reasons he and Bernardine decided to surface in 1980. He also writes about the circumstances he and Bernardine faced after the 1981 Black Liberation Army/May 19th Communist Organization Brinks holdup in Nyack, NY went wrong and resulted in the deaths of lawmen and robbers.  Two former WUO members were involved in the action and both were charged with several crimes, including murder. As part of a fishing expedition by the authorities, Bernardine was called before a grand jury, refused to testify and ended up behind bars.  Ayers writes tellingly about the stress and emotional changes the entire episode put him and his family through.  Politics are part of the story in these pages, but the primary impetus is on family and friendship. Indeed, the truest hero in the book is the family’s New York child care provider, BJ.

In no way apologetic, the book is a well-written consideration of an engaged life lived in a contentious time.  In his anecdotes and discussion, Ayers portrays a political world where too much (if not everything, to borrow a line from Bob Dylan) is broken.  When one lives in such a world, the best we can do is to try and make it work for as many as possible.  Just as importantly, one must try and live a life that one will not be ashamed of when the reckoning day comes.  To be sure, there are those whom Ayers discusses in his book that think Bill Ayers very existence is a major blemish on the human race.  However, to his credit, the book doesn’t spend time lambasting his critics, although it does poke a little fun in their direction.  Public Enemy is not an attempt by Ayers to reconstruct his public persona.  He makes it clear that he has no control over how people perceive him and, even if he did, he probably wouldn’t change much.  The title itself seems slightly tongue in cheek, but pointedly so.  Here, says Ayers, is your public enemy.  Take it however you want.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

 

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 23, 2017
Dave Brotherton
Trump, Moral Panics and Resistance
Jonathan Cook
One State: Trump Has Reminded Palestinians What It Was Always About
Bill Quigley
Ten Examples of Direct Resistance to Stop Government Raids
Linn Washington Jr.
Bigot Boy Business: Trump Exposes His Ignorance and Intolerance, Again
John W. Whitehead
The Illusion of Freedom: the Police State Is Alive and Well
Ralph Nader
Restricting People’s Use of Their Courts
David Macaray
Women As Labor Union Organizers
Kathy Kelly
Friendship in Defiance of War
Doug Weir
Why Did the US Use Depleted Uranium Weapons in Syria?
Steve Horn
Former GOP Congressional Staffer Follows Revolving Door, Now Latest Keystone XL Lobbyist
Binoy Kampmark
From Rights to Repentance: Norma McCorvey and Roe v Wade
Thomas Knapp
The Target of the “Border Adjustment Tax” is You
Chris Zinda
Open Letter to Neoliberal Environmentalists
February 22, 2017
Mike Whitney
Liberals Beware: Lie Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas
John Grant
On Killers and Bullshitters*
Peter Linebaugh
Catherine Despard, Abolitionist
Patrick Cockburn
The Bitter Battle for Mosul
Ted Rall
Sue the Bastards? It’s Harder Than You Think
Yoav Litvin
The Emergence of the Just Jew
Kim Scipes
Strategic Thinking and Organizing Resistance
Norman Pollack
Mar-a-Lago, Ideological Refuge: Berchtesgaden, II
Fred Donner
Nixon and the Chennault Affair: From Vietnam to Watergate
Carl Kandutsch
Podesta vs. Trump
Ike Nahem
To the Memory of Malcolm X: Fifty Years After His Assassination
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Tough Talk Won’t Fix Chicago
Paul Donnelly
Betsy DeVos and the War on Public Education
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson
The End of an Alliance for Police Reform
Richard Lawless
Wall Street Demanded the Nuclear Option and the Congress Delivered
Liaquat Ali Khan
Yes, Real Donald Trump is a Muslim!
Ryan LaMothe
“Fire” and Free Speech
CounterPunch News Service
Bloody Buffalo Billboards
February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail