Long Strange Trip of Bill Ayers

Fascinating1 article published in the Chicago Reader, circa 1990, about the man John McCain is trying his best to link to Barack Obama.

Haymarket Riot memorial, old version.
[The Haymarket Riot Memorial plaque that was placed at the Haymarket Riot location, 147 N. Desplaines, Chicago, IL 60661, after Bill Ayers (link to his blog) blew up the memorial to policemen. Now replaced by yet another memorial]

The students are already seated, quiet and polite in perfectly aligned rows of chairs, when Bill Ayers walks into the classroom.

It’s a Monday-evening political-science class at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a class devoted to the study of the “impact of the 60s on the 90s.”

“We’re very lucky to have Bill Ayers here,” says Victoria Cooper-Musselman, the instructor. “Bill was an active player in the 60s. You read about him in all the books.”

Ayers smiles, a boyish grin, and steps to the podium. He’s 45, but doesn’t look much older than most of the students. He wears his curly blond hair over his ears, with a rattail down the back. His T-shirt reads: “America is like a melting pot: The people at the bottom get burned and the scum floats to the top.”
He wears shorts.

“To me it’s funny that the 60s are studied,” Ayers begins. “I get rolled in like a Civil War veteran. I feel strange.”

The students laugh. As he continues, they fall quiet. His voice is raspy, sexy, a little mesmerizing. He’s completely at ease.

The story he tells, a condensed version of his life, is a tale of extremes. He wasn’t just any all-American, suburban-bred boy; his father, Thomas Ayers, ran Commonwealth Edison. And he didn’t just rebel; he was a leader of the Weathermen, the most radical of all 1960s revolutionaries, who among other things bombed the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol and sprung Timothy Leary from jail.

For three years Ayers’s wife, Bernardine Dohrn, was on the FBI’s list of ten most wanted criminals. They spent nearly 11 years as fugitives, living on the run “underground.”

“We were anarchists,” he tells the class. “We were willing to get thrown out of school. We were willing to go to jail. I make no apologies. There comes a time in your life when you face a moral challenge. You have to ask yourself: ‘Will I bow to conformity and accede to the world as it is, or will I take a stand?'”

These days, he takes his stands aboveground. He’s an assistant professor of education at UIC. He works in the university’s elementary teacher education program. His specialty is school improvement. He’s written one book on early childhood education, and he’s writing another about teaching. He publishes regularly in scholarly journals. Each year he trains dozens of would-be teachers for private, public, and parochial schools.

[Click to read more from Reader Archive–Extract: 1990/901109/The Long, Strange Trip of Bill Ayers He wasn’t just any suburban-bred all-American boy; his father ran Commonwealth Edison. And he didn’t just rebel; he was a leader of the Weathermen, the group that bombed the Pentagon and sprung LSD guru Timothy Leary from jail. Now he’s an assistant professor of education at UIC and an influential thinker in the school reform movement. And yes, he would do it all again]

Personally, the McCain smear is so weak to be laughable. I mean come on, Obama was 8 when Ayers was on the lam. Not every politician is Billy Pilgrim, able to look into the past of everyone they meet like the past was a Chinese New Year parade float. Now, McCain’s guilt by association trick actually works quite well on connections between McCain and Keating – actually as some wag put it, the McCain Keating connection is more of a “guilt by guilt” association.

(h/t Whet Moser via Twitter)

  1. albeit horribly formatted []

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.