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. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Fearsome: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail