Bill Ayers

Part of William Ayers’ response to his villification by just about everybody:

McCain and Palin demanded to “know the full extent” of the Obama-Ayers “relationship” so that they can know if Obama, as Palin put it, “is telling the truth to the American people or not.”

This is just plain stupid.

Obama has continually been asked to defend something that ought to be at democracy’s heart: the importance of talking to as many people as possible in this complicated and wildly diverse society, of listening with the possibility of learning something new, and of speaking with the possibility of persuading or influencing others.

The McCain-Palin attacks not only involved guilt by association, they also assumed that one must apply a political litmus test to begin a conversation.

On Oct. 4, Palin described her supporters as those who “see America as the greatest force for good in this world” and as a “beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy.” But Obama, she said, “Is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America.” In other words, there are “real” Americans — and then there are the rest of us.

In a robust and sophisticated democracy, political leaders—and all of us—ought to seek ways to talk with many people who hold dissenting, or even radical, ideas. Lacking that simple and yet essential capacity to question authority, we might still be burning witches and enslaving our fellow human beings today.

Maybe we could welcome our current situation—torn by another illegal war, as it was in the ’60s—as an opportunity to search for the new.

Perhaps we might think of ourselves not as passive consumers of politics but as fully mobilized political actors. Perhaps we might think of our various efforts now, as we did then, as more than a single campaign, but rather as our movement-in-the-making.

We might find hope in the growth of opposition to war and occupation worldwide. Or we might be inspired by the growing movements for reparations and prison abolition, or the rising immigrant rights movement and the stirrings of working people everywhere, or by gay and lesbian and transgender people courageously pressing for full recognition.

Yet hope—my hope, our hope—resides in a simple self-evident truth: the future is unknown, and it is also entirely unknowable.

History is always in the making. It’s up to us. It is up to me and to you. Nothing is predetermined. That makes our moment on this earth both hopeful and all the more urgent—we must find ways to become real actors, to become authentic subjects in our own history.

We may not be able to will a movement into being, but neither can we sit idly for a movement to spring full-grown, as from the head of Zeus.

We have to agitate for democracy and egalitarianism, press harder for human rights, learn to build a new society through our self-transformations and our limited everyday struggles.

At the turn of the last century, Eugene Debs, the great Socialist Party leader from Terre Haute, Ind., told a group of workers in Chicago, “If I could lead you into the Promised Land, I would not do it, because someone else would come along and lead you out.”

In this time of new beginnings and rising expectations, it is even more urgent that we figure out how to become the people we have been waiting to be.

I don’t know what Bill Ayers did or didn’t do forty years ago, but I’m hearing him now.  I am frankly sick of people judging “the ’60s” and “the boomer generation” and finding it and them entirely wanting.  There were contradictions in what people were doing and in the results; but a lot of people tried.  Sometimes, I wonder why people aren’t doing now what they did then.  I try not to come up with “answers” that would blame another whole generation.  It’s worth looking at some of that history with a clear and critical, but fair, eye.  Someone might learn something helpful.  The ’60s was by no means a dead loss.  If the election of Barack Obama is recognized, at least in part, as the result of the struggle for civil rights undertaken by white and African Americans of that time, perhaps there was also something of merit in the struggles for civil liberties, peace, justice and economic equality both within America and beyond it.  Not that those struggles can be separated.

Bill Ayers’ full statement is here

UPDATE:  One day I’ll change my smelly socks and sandals, dye my grey hair another colour, pick up my saggy ideals and uncool slogans and respond to this piece of sloppy, ahistorical misunderstanding.

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