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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
Vijay Prashad
After Aleppo: the State of Syria
John Wight
Russia Must be Destroyed: John McCain and the Case of the Dodgy Dossier
Rob Urie
Meet the Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
The Russian Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over Saddam’s WMDs
Eric Sommer
U.S.-China War: a Danger Hidden from the American People
Andrew Levine
Are Democrats Still the Lesser Evil?
Linda Pentz Gunter
What’s Really Behind the Indian Point Nuclear Deal?
Robert Fantina
Trucks, ‘Terror’ and Israel
Richard Moser
Universal Values are Revolutionary Values
Russell Mokhiber
Build the Bagdikian Wall: “Sponsored News” at the Washington Post
Yoav Litvin
Establishment Narcissism – The Democrats’ Game of Thrones
David Rosen
Return of the Repressed: Trump & the Revival of the Culture Wars
Robert Koehler
War Consciousness and the F-35
Rev. William Alberts
The New Smell of McCarthyism Demands Faith Leaders Speak Truth to Power
John Laforge
Federal Regulator Halts Move to Toughen Radiation Exposure Limits
Norman Pollack
Farewell Address: Nazification of Hope
David Swanson
Imagine the Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Peace
CJ Hopkins
Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works
Ron Jacobs
Striking in Reagan Time
Missy Comley Beattie
The Streep
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: The Potential Impacts of Collective Inaction
Uri Avnery
Confessions of a Megalomaniac
Kenneth Worles
Black Without a Home: King’s Dream Still Deferred
Geoff Dutton
The Russian Patsy
Jill Richardson
The Coming War on Regulations
Jeremy Brecher
Resisting the Trump Agenda is Social Self-Defense
Peter Lee
Is Obama Behind the Hit on Trump?
Christopher Brauchli
Why Did Congress Do It? Because They Can
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail