"It is the good children, Madame, who make the most terrifying revolutionaries. They say nothing, they do not hide under the table, they eat only one sweet at a time.
If the revolution was to be televised, it is Joe and Rose who would be the golden couple. They are front and centre of it all. Theirs is the rhetoric and the charisma. Theirs is the intellectual rationale and the action. They are the beginning and (almost) the end of it all. And it is Rose rather than Joe who is the driving force. Ask Joe!
Afterwards, when she is living as a married woman and teaching law, Bernadine Dohrn would write that the New Left "arose in defiance of both the imperialisms of the West and the authoritarian state 'socialism' of the East. We imagined, we insisted upon, another way."
There is nothing contentious about the first sentence - it's standard stuff. The issue comes in the second sentence. What exactly is "another way"? The global New Left in the '60s took different forms in different parts of the world, and everywhere was riven with at least as many ideological disputes as the Old Left.
But they all had at least one notion in common: the existential commitment to action. And in the United States of America, one organization in particular came to represent the New Left and take the commitment to action to new levels. Who were they?
“We were a group of very half-cocked twenty year olds. We had no past, no history, no knowledge. I don’t think we thought it through ... Had we continued down a certain road, not only all of us would have died, but the things we believed in would have been set back deeply.”
“We”, in this quotation from an interview given by Bill Ayers much, much later, are the Students for a Democratic Society or SDS - AKA at one time or another during this narrative, the James Gang, the Revolutionary Youth Movement, Weatherman, the Weather Underground, the Weather Underground Organisation and simply Weather – they are all pretty much the same people. So unless it is specifically relevant, I will use the term Weather as a form of shorthand.
Weather is part of the opposition and resistance to the Vietnam War. Its mission was “to bring the war home”. Its members are all white, all privileged, all middle-class, all well-educated. They are people with whom much of the student left throughout the so-called developed world can identify, even when they progress from protest and riotous assembly to a form of urban guerrilla terrorism and then move back to what one of them calls “terrorism-lite”.
Their story is a short one, essentially concentrated into ten or so years between 1967, the year when the SDS rejected Tom Hayden’s original Port Huron Statement which advocated non-violent civil protest, was rejected in favour of what became to the late ‘70s and the surrender of a majority of the original Weather leaders. It drifted on into the ‘80s, but it is small-scale, isolated, though in some ways, more vicious and intense.
Changes in the Weather
Bill Ayers – AKA Joe Brown - begins his memoir, Fugitive Days, at the moment he hears that his lover, Diana Oughton, is dead. So I will too, because this is the moment when Weather grows up and faces some unpleasant facts. It's the turning point in the history of this organization.
Yet it is less than a year since the individuals who called themselves, initially, Weatherman, circulated their own founding position paper at the SDS convention in Chicago. The paper is called “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” and you shouldn’t need me to tell you where that famous line comes from. (A working knowledge of Dylan is assumed for the purposes of this story.)
It is also just six short months from the Days of Rage, three days of direct action in Chicago, when Weather attempts to prove their macho allegiance to ‘revolution’ but, to many, merely showed their weaknesses – numerically and intellectually. Jeremy Varon calls the Days of Rage a “death trip in that they courted excessive danger for doubtful gain”. He quotes Heidegger, drawing a parallel between the militant actions and the existentialist notion of “abiding with death”.
Three months later comes the police shooting, in his bed, of Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party. The murder of Hampton changed everything. David Gilbert, still in jail to this day, is clear: “There are Panthers being shot to death in their beds and if we’re a revolutionary movement we can’t just say, ‘Oh, we sympathise with them’. In terms of my personal experience, it was the murder of Fred Hampton more than any other that compelled us to take up the armed struggle”.
And Cathy Wilkerson makes the same point. “If there’s one moment when the Weather Underground was born, it was that moment. It was so brutal.”
At the subsequent SDS ‘War Council’ in Flint, itself a festival of violence, taking place under a huge papier-maché gun suspended from the ceiling, Weather takes charge. Bombing symbolic targets – the police memorial statue in Chicago, the Molotov cocktails thrown at the International Law Library at Columbia and more Molotov cocktails targeted at army and navy recruiting offices at Brooklyn College – is no longer enough. At none of these has there been any loss of life or even serious damage.
But things are changing and the new rhetoric reflects this:
"Dig it; first they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the room with them, then they even shoved a fork into pig Tate's stomach. Wild!"
That is the response of Bernadine Dohrn – “the most dangerous woman in America” according to J. Edgar Hoover - to the Tate-La Bianca murders by the Manson gang. It is difficult to maintain a non-judgemental approach when one reads this, and it’s not a one-off. Throughout the Flint War Council, Weathermen and women hold up four fingers, representing a fork, in greeting.
Dohrn is using the Manson murders as an example of their own strategy: "Being crazy motherfuckers and scaring the shit out of Honky Amerika".
The Flint War Council marks a parting of the ways for many SDS members, those who think that this was violence for the sake of violence and condemned it, those who think this is the end of the peace and love ‘dream’ and the start of a nightmare. It certainly scares the shit out of many who have been with them until that point. And not just because of the threat of violence. The culture is changing too. Those who have come to the movement through union organizing are apprehensive about the way things are developing – because the organization is now to be Leninist, a not very democratic centralist hierarchy.
So we fast forward three months. To that day, the turning point. It's a Friday the 6th of March 1970. It’s late morning in New York City. We’re in a townhouse belonging to Cathy Wilkerson's father at 18 West 11th Street – right next door to Dustin Hoffman as it happens. It’s a fashionable address.
In the kitchen, Wilkerson is ironing bed linen in preparation for the return of her father. Upstairs, Kathy Boudin is showering. And down in the basement, Diana Oughton and Terry Robbins are making bombs for a proposed attack on an NCO’s dance at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
It’s a military target and thus symbolic in that sense. But it’s also a dance - wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, civilians will be there. And it’s a nail bomb. It’s going to kill people. It is intended to kill people.
According to Ayers, "Terry is the one who knows how to build the timer and arm the device". And "this one was huge, many, many sticks of dynamite stolen from a railroad shed, taped together in a briefcase destined for the army base nearby".
The problem is, Gould has only a rudimentary knowledge of bomb-making, and Oughton even less. They have no real knowledge of what they are doing. Just as Ted Gould is walking into the house, a premature detonation caused – literally - by crossed wires leaves these three dead, Robbins unidentifiable, while Kathy Boudin and Cathy Wilkerson run out in a daze and varying degrees of undress. They are taken in by Anita Hoffman and Susan Wagner, the ex Mrs Henry Fonda, given clothing and allowed to disappear.
The explosion is a watershed. For both sides. But in different ways.
Law enforcement ramped up their efforts to capture and eliminate all members of the organization. The FBI announced that it was launching one of the most intensive manhunts in its history, but it managed to arrest only two, the Weatherwomen Dianne Donghi and Linda Evans at the cost of blowing the cover of its only undercover informant.
The left in general see the deaths of Oughton, Gould and Robbins as a form of martyrdom, as if they had been killed by the state. Paul Kantner of The Jefferson Airplane writes a song for Oughton. Talking about the song, in a Rolling Stone magazine interview of this time, he refers to her as “that chick who was killed with the Weathermen in New York”.
How do you feel to shoot down your brother now
And bury us in cages of cement and steel
How do you feel when you look at one another right now?
What do you see, tell me how do you feel
Sing a song for the children that are gone
Sing a song for Diana
When the explosion happens, Bill - he's still Billy at this point - Ayers is already underground. He is miles away from New York in the depths of rural America. For the third night running, at 8pm precisely, he is in an isolated phone booth, waiting for a call. When it comes, it is not Diana. It is Bernadine Dohrn.
Ayers reports the conversation: “Diana is dead, the sound of breaking glass rising up in her throat. And some of the others … dead as well.”
It is only three months since the shooting of Fred Hampton and the War Council. But Weather is going to take a long, hard look at themselves and what they are doing. In the words of one, we are taling "a deep, deep breath - and a step back".
And this is where the story of Joe and Rose really starts - at a safe house in Mendocino, northern California, over a period of several days in April 1970.
The key players are all there: Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, Jeff Jones, Mark Rudd, Kathy Boudin, and John Jacobs, JJ, who with Terry Robbins, had been in charge of New York operations and had initiated the proposed attack on Fort Dix. Jeremy Varon, in Bringing the War Home, also places Cathy Wilkerson in Mendocino, but she says she was not. She ‘heard’ about it all later, she says, but does not specify her source.
From the accounts of those participants who admit they were participants, it appears Bernadine Dohrn, representing the West Coast leadership, is the driver. Despite her rhetoric in Flint, she had disagreed with JJ’s strategy, arguing that thought without action was useless, but that action without thought was worse. Now she is convinced that, contrary to JJ’s assertion that the explosion was a technical issue, it is a more fundamental error: it is political.
Now, she is determined to change the original vision of the armed struggle. And she has plenty of support.
Jeff Jones, her then boyfriend, tells his comrades that they “have strayed far away from the essential humanity and commitment to democracy that had fuelled us in the first place”. Bill Ayers, her next boyfriend, has lost his best friend, Terry Robbins, and his lover, Diana Oughton. He needs no persuasion. Even Mark Rudd, who has committed his support to Jacobs - before the meeting, is convinced.
Jacobs makes one final speech. Ayers calls it “impasssioned’, but JJ always is. And JJ is no longer welcome. Dohrn tells him he is expelled from the organisation, with Mark Rudd stripped of his leadership stripes and sent off to re-educate himself about the youth culture.
That night, Rudd and JJ go out drinking. In Underground, his book on life with the SDS and the Weathermen, Rudd recalls that evening.
“JJ agreed he had to leave the group. ‘I’m accepting my expulsion for the good of the organisation’ he told me. ‘Someone has to take the blame. Bernadine, Billy and Jeff are right about the military error.’
‘But everyone knew what was being planned’ I said. ‘We were all together in New York with Terry the week before the action, and nobody raised any objections.’
‘It doesn’t matter. We have to create the fiction that they were always right so they can lead the organisation’ he replied.
It seemed to me like a victim of one of Stalin’s purges ready to falsely confess, for the good of the party, to being an agent of the imperialists. We talked about one of his favourite novels, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.
‘I always respected the fact that the old Bolshevik confessed for the sake of the revolution’ he told me, ‘there had to be a single unified revolutionary party, even under Stalin’s leadership. The individual doesn’t count; it’s only the party and its place in history that’s important.’”
Jacobs goes north, to Canada, where he lives a “a sad and lonely” life of petty crime, dope dealing and disillusionment. Rudd hitchhikes from one counter-cultural centre to another, trapped in and by the organisation, but isolated. His friend, lover and subsequent wife Sue LeGrand takes to calling the organisation ‘the Bell Jar’, a reference to Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel.
The others scatter underground, travelling widely, Ayers and Dohrn in a make-shift mobile home when away from their safehouse base on a houseboat in Sausolito. They are talking and arguing with members and supporters above and below ground, many of whom are confused by the abrupt change of direction. Johnny Lerner is one of them, querying the new leadership stance "seeing that they had been leading the other direction just two minutes before the townhouse."
Mark Rudd expresses this dilemma personally. By May 1970 he was in Philadelphia. "I realized that the mass movement was about to get bigger. And we weren't part of it. We were not even in relation to it. I got the realization while I was sitting on a bench in a park in Philadelphia, reading a newspaper. A half a mile away, there were thousands of people demonstrating.
"And I couldn't go."
Each member of the leadership takes an alias. This is when Joe Brown and Rose Bridges are born and fall in love, “slowly” says Ayers. They do so as they work on the new manifesto, which appears in December, signed by Bernadine, and entitled ‘New Morning – Changing Weather’. It’s another Dylan title, an album released in October, though the songs and much of the recording date from March. In New Morning the album Bob changes both his style and substance.
New Morning the communiqué is clear about the new direction right from the start:
“We want to express ourselves to the mass movement, not as military leaders, but as tribes at council. It has been nine months since the townhouse explosion. In that time, the future of our revolution has changed decisively. A growing illegal organization of young men and women can live and fight and love inside of Babylon … the townhouse forever destroyed our belief that armed struggle is the only real revolutionary struggle.”
From now on, killing people is wrong. “Kidnapping and assassinations are off the table” says Dohrn.
But attacks on property are not. These are 'demonstrative violence' or ‘propaganda actions’ – as is the involvement in September ‘71 in the jail-break of Timothy Leary, the guru of the acid tests and coiner of the hippy mantra ‘Tune in, turn on, drop out’.
From now on, bombings are to be ‘appropriate’, a punishment to fit the crime. With warnings call in ahead of the explosion.
David Gilbert, who is involved, much later, in the shooting to death of a Brinks security guard in an armed robbery, describes the position and its rationale"
“The point is that revolutionary morality has a very high standard. You don’t want innocent bystanders hurt. You try to minimize casualties. It’s not like reactionary violence, ruling class violence, that’s napalm on villages.”
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. By the time of the Brinks robbery, the war is over. Nixon has resigned. Ayers, Dohrn, Rudd, Jones are all legit again. They've handed themselves in, made deals with prosecutors. They are teaching and building homes. They are re-united with their parents and raising their own children.
What happened in the years between the townhouse explosion and the surrender is the subject of the next part.
'Life exactly as it should be'
The Days of Rage, the Flint War Council, the townhouse explosion, the Timothy Leary jailbreak - these are the events for which Weather is remembered, if it is remembered at all.
But Joe and Rose, when they look back, focus on a different time, that period after the ‘Peace Council’ in Mendocino, when they were underground. And if by being underground they were isolated from the mass movement which was emerging in opposition to the escalating war in Vietnam, Rose is clear that the Weather Underground was broadly supported.
“Weather was a clandestine force for seven years, and some remained underground for twelve or more years” Rose writes in her introduction to Sing the Battle Song.
“During that time we were recognized, sheltered, convened meetings, travelled worked and raised babies. To my knowledge, no-one turned anyone in to the FBI or police, no-one ratted. Tens of thousands of people, partisans and uninvolved, shut their doors on law enforcement authorities, refused to talk, went to jail rather than collaborate with fishing expeditions in the guise of grand juries. Solidarity and dissent prevailed.
“Weather may have been the prodigal daughter, the disreputable son, the renegade cousin, but we were part of the family.”
Joe recounts a story which illustrates this solidarity, this mingling of above and below ground worlds. It takes place in the (original) Yet Wah restaurant, a favourite of Joe and Rose.
“We had just ordered fried dumplings and tofu with string beans when two old friends from the movement, from the open world, walked in unexpectedly. A moment of frozen indecision, then a discreet nod, and they took a table on the far side of the room. We went on with our conversation and with our meal, and when our check came I paid and impulsively ordered a bottle of cabernet sauvignon sent to our friends table.’
Out of this everyday, unremarkable act, this Wordsworthian ‘spot of time’, Joe builds an epiphany.
“Perhaps it was our primitive circumstances or our vulnerability and then taking hold of ourselves, perhaps it was the ancient gesture, formal and honourable, but I felt then, for the first time in my life, grown-up. Yes, I was an adult suddenly with all the knowledge all people have ever had, and I felt fully the days of my years, the years of my life. I am alive right here, I thought, and Rose is here, too, in this place, at this precise and perfect time. We are in the going world, life exactly as it should be.”
Of course, this is not Joe talking. This is Bill Ayers. And it’s not contemporaneous. It is, to borrow yet another phrase from William Wordsworth, ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’ by a man who, at this time, is the Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, as he sits in the study of his beautiful home in Hyde Park, Chicago, which he shares with his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, formerly Clinical Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law.
Were Joe Brown and Rose Bridges really living 'life exactly as it should be'?
To read the accounts of both, one might assume so. They were on the road, with multiple sets of ID created from Social Security cards issued to dead babies, whose birth certificates cost a few dollars from a county courthouse.
(It's the same trick used by Frederick Forsyth in The Day of the Jackal, a best-selling thriller and later blockbuster movie, originally published in June 1971. Ayers makes no reference to this, so it appears that Weather and Forsyth were, coincidentally, on the same track at pretty much the same time.)
On the road, with their paper-made and paper-thin identities, Joe and Rose build a home in the pick-up truck which they use as they move from one centre to another. "Our lives underground, in outward form at least, resembled the lives of a generation" Ayers writes, " - moving from place to place, extending childhood indefinitely, entering and ending relationships, experimenting with love and work and all manner of ways of being".
This romantic and lyrical waxing from Ayers is not shared completely by others in the same underground life. And nor, to be fair, by Joe at the time. Weather is down to less than one hundred members, many having left in "an honourable retreat from the craziness". The FBI and law enforcement is ramping up the anti-Weather offence at the same time as Weather is working on new campaigns of 'demonstrative violence' and attempting, in a spirit of participatory democracy, to provide the intellectual justification for its existence and its actions.
In New Morning, the Weather response to the townhouse explosion, the organization commits to what it calls ‘demonstrative violence’. And they stick to it with a series of ‘appropriate’ actions.
In May 1970, the Kent State shootings provoke an attack on the National Guard headquarters. The invasion of Laos is met with an attack on the US Capitol. After George Jackson is killed in an escape attempt, Weather bombs the California Department of Corrections in August 1971. In September, the target is the New York Department of Corrections, a response to the Attica massacre. The following May, as the US bombs Hanoi, Weather bombs the Pentagon. Or a bathroom in the Pentagon anyway.
So far, so in accord with New Morning. But New Morning was a short-term response to the townhouse. In the months and years which follow, Weather is becoming irrelevant. “We were isolated and pretty marginalized” admits Joe.
Weather is in need of a more comprehensive, over-arching analysis, which places it in the context of a broad left movement.
Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism. Political Statement of the Weather Underground is that analysis. The first draft is the work of Ayers and Jones, but the final 185 page communiqué involves almost everyone in the organisation, at every level. Given that is written by a committee of close to 100, it is a remarkably coherent document which deserves attention.
It certainly received attention when it was 'published' in July 1974. Indeed, its very publication is something of a coup: it appears simultaneously in coffee shops, bookstores and community centres in close to fifty cities across the States. And across the States, the softer tone and content, the depth and honesty of its analysis and the renewed sense of hope, is widely welcomed, though it now faces vicious and hostile criticism from the left. We'll come to that shortly because there’s a lot of words here covering many aspects of the ‘struggle’, including a new priority for the women’s movement. A pdf of the complete text is available at www.sds-1960s.org but its introduction, dated May 9, 1974 and signed “for the Weather Underground” by Bernadine Dohrn, Billy (sic) Ayers, Jeff Jones and Celia Sojourn (a name invented to represent all fellow-collaborators in the project), deserves quoting in full:
“Sisters and brothers,
Here is PRAIRIE FIRE, our political ideology – a strategy for anti-imperialism and revolution inside the imperial US. It comes out of our own practice of the last five years and reflects a diversity of experiences. This paper is not the product of one or two people, nor even a small handful of us. rather PRAIRIE FIRE represents the policies and collective efforts of an organization. It has been the focus of our study groups and our political education. It has been chewed on and shaped in countless conversations, struggles and written pages. It has travelled around the country, growing, developing thru the attempt to understand the shape of shape of world forces and the revolutionary possibilities before us. The paper was rewritten four times and collectively adopted as the political statement of the Weather Underground. The twelve-month process of writing PRAIRIE FIRE, squeezed between on-going work and practice and action, has now reached a kind of end-point. A cycle is done.
We undertook this analysis to explain the changes in US and world conditions since the Vietnam ceasefire and to evaluate the consequences of the Vietnamese victory. We have come some distance in evaluating the political situation, the priorities for revolutionary work since we began this writing. Now many more revolutionaries will need to shape and change the paper. The politics cannot be realized unless and until the content of the program is activated in thousands of situations, among thousands of people in the coming period. PRAIRIE FIRE will be a growing thing.
We hope the paper opens a dialectic among those in the mass and clandestine movements; we hope people will take PRAIRIE FIRE as seriously as we do, study the content and write and publish their views of the paper as well as their analysis of their own practice. We will respond as best we can.
Our movement urgently needs a concrete analysis of the particular conditions of our time and place. We need strategy. We need to battle for a correct ideology and win people over. In this way we create the conditions for the development of a successful revolutionary movement and party. We need a revolutionary communist party in order to lead the struggle, give coherence and direction to the fight, seize power and build the new society. Getting from here to there is a process of coming together in a disciplined way around ideology and strategy, developing an analysis of our real conditions, mobilizing a base among the US people, building principled relationships to Third World struggle, and accumulating practice in struggle against US imperialism.
PRAIRIE FIRE is written to communist-minded people, independent organizers and anti-imperialists; those who carry the traditions and lessons of the struggles of the last decade, those who join in the struggles of today. PRAIRIE FIRE is written to all sisters and brothers who are engaged in armed struggle against the enemy. It is written to prisoners, women’s groups, collectives, study groups, workers’ organizing committees, communes, GI organizers, consciousness-raising groups, veterans, community groups and revolutionaries of all kinds; to all who will read, criticize and brings its content to life in practice. It is written as an argument against those who oppose action and hold back the struggle.
PRAIRIE FIRE is based on a belief that the duty of a revolutionary is to make the revolution. This is not an abstraction. It means that revolutionaries must make a profound commitment to the future of humanity, apply our limited knowledge and experience to understand an ever-changing situation, organize the masses of people and build the fight. It means that struggle and risk and hard work and adversity will become a way of life, that the only certainty will be constant change, that the only possibilities are victory or death.
We have only begun. At this time the unity and consolidation of anti-imperialist forces around a revolutionary program is an urgent and pressing necessity. PRAIRIE FIRE is offered as a contribution to this unity of action and purpose. Now it is in your hands.”
It is clear why, when ex-members of the Weather leadership look back, this is where they look back to. Prairie Fire is written in a sense of humility and relative reason. Mark Rudd says it “was an attempt to influence the movement that we had abandoned back in 1969. It tried to reach out to many thousands of New Leftist and former New Leftists by saying, in effect, 'Don’t despair, we’re all part of the same thing'.” It is notable for a change in the rhetoric: no claims to leadership, no – or not much - bellicose bravado. And, crucially for the mass mpvement, it is a call to ‘organize’. That’s a key word for the traditional left.
It worked. Half a dozen Prairie Fire Organizing Committees are established. Hundreds of aboveground activists are attracted to the new Weather vision. Weather make new contacts with Old and New Left, building a church which includes those as diverse as Tom Hayden and the Symbionese Liberation Army. For a while anyway, Weather has a role beyond even its bombings, now called “armed propaganda”. They think of themselves as romantic warriors, knights of the road. The very fact that they are still in existence is a snub to the government. At the same time, they talk of “inversion” – in which some Weather leaders would move up from the underground to lead mass aboveground activity, complementing and supporting the clandestine cadres.
But not everyone feels this way. Within Weather, factions are emerging, particularly on the east coast, which are determined to continue the armed struggle. Ayers, Dohrn and Jones, the long established leadership ménage a trois, are bitterly attacked in angry, acrimonious exchanges and issue grovelling recantations. Rubashov, in Darkness at Noon, would recognise much of the language.
Mark Rudd observes that, when movements reach the point of irrelevancy, they turn in on themselves. Weather did, big time.
But by the end of 1976, it is all over bar continuing shouting. Friendships, alliances, Weather itself, it is all finished. Some fight on, including Weather stalwarts David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin, who are responsible for the death of a Brinks security guard in the course of an armed robbery – they call it a “revolutionary expropriation” – in 1981. But by now, the majority are aboveground and rebuilding their lives.
Jeremy Varon reports that "they reintegrated themselves into 'normal life', raising families, developing careers, and sustaining their activist commitments around the issues, such as fighting racism, imperialism, and economic equality, that had always motivated them. Their professional lives, in all cases I have found, have some broad social value, whether education, various forms of political advocacy, or service to disadvantaged communities."
Mark Rudd is teaching math in Albuquerque. Naomi Jaffe is anti-racism activist. Cathy Wilkerson serves 11 months in jail and then spends 20 years as a teacher in high schools and adult education programs. Jeff Jones helps grassroots and progressive groups through his own strategy consulting company. Even David Gilbert, still in jail after being sentenced to 75 years, is active. He founded an inmate peer education program on HIV and AIDS at Auburn, and again, more successfully, after his transfer to Great Meadows prison.
And Joe and Rose?
Rose is once again Bernadine Dohrn, an associate professor at Northwestern, married to Joe, who is Bill Ayers again. Bill was a tenured “Distinguished Professor”, although his past comes back to haunt him when he is denied Emeritus status because the ‘dedication’ of Prairie Fire to "all political prisoners", a category which included, and specified, the name of Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated Robert Kennedy. But Joe as Ayers remains confident of his ethical justification during the time when he was Ayers as Joe.
In an interview with the New York Times, he compares his actions with those of a former Senator, who admitted leading a raid which killed Vietnamese women and children. “He committed an act of terrorism. I didn’t kill innocent people.”
Bill and Bernadine have three children, including Chesa Jackson, whom they cared for and adopted after his parents, David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin, were arrested.
They live in a stone-built, turn-of-the-19th-century home in the Hyde Park district of Chicago.
Perhaps now they are living “life exactly as it should be”.