[sixties-l] 'Fugitive Days': two responses (fwd)

From: sixties@lists.village.virginia.edu
Date: Wed Feb 20 2002 - 15:06:54 EST

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    Date: Mon, 18 Feb 2002 09:58:40 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: 'Fugitive Days': two responses

     From Portside

    'Fugitive Days': two responses

    1 From: Cathy Wilkerson
    2 From: Vladimir Escalante Ramirez (Mexico)

    I have been reading all of the responses to Bill's
    book and my review with great gladness, because this
    kind of discussion is exactly what I had hoped for,
    and what I wish had been more present in Bill's book.
    Obviously, many of us have both thought and felt a lot
    about the issues raised by what we did, and we have
    all learned a lot from it. Those lessons need to be
    passed on to the current generation who, while they
    have solved some of our mistakes by very innovative
    means, still have much to learn from our experience.
    When I became an activist I was driven by values and
    the civil rights struggles in the South. I knew
    little about the history of the internal struggles of
    the abolitionist movement, of the different stages of
    the women's suffrage movement, of the labor movement,
    of Garvyism, the left during the thirties, let alone
    historical development of the idea of nationalism and
    socialism. The mass media wants only to discard and
    move on. Yet, there are many good and honorable young
    people whose passion will cause them to repeat many of
    our mistakes without this conversation.

    John, I have actually been spending the last year and
    a half trying to write a memoir myself to try to share
    what I think I have learned both about the strengths
    of what we did and the weaknesses. I am finding it
    very challenging to live up to the standards of
    thoughtfulness I have set for myself, so I still have
    a ways to go and time is scarce. I have found
    everyone's comments to be helpful, including the hurt
    and anger expressed by several people including Katha
    and Nancy because it matters, and it matters to see
    how deep it still runs. I was deeply grateful to
    Katha Pollitt for her pieces after Sept. 11 as their
    passion helped me give voice to much of what I felt
    and so I see your passion here in the same vein. I
    would caution, however, around a few of the facts. We
    did not run bare-breasted through high schools; this
    was a sexist local press rendition of the sight of 40
    or so women appearing out of nowhere, chanting and
    yelling outside a high school and generally carrying
    on in an inexplicable way. It was hot, yes, and many
    may have been braless, but we were all fully clothed
    to my knowledge. The action didn't make any sense, I
    agree, but not because we were naked. Other
    participants can correct me if I'm wrong.

    Also, we never robbed banks with "black criminals",
    because after a dizzying spin into the glorification
    of violence and into suicidal, homicidal despair over
    the carnage created by the US government we rejected
    both trajectories after the explosion in the
    townhouse. I will not try to minimize the damage we
    did during those 6 to 8 months, however. And, the
    arrogance and superior judgements continued and got
    worse over the next few years. Several other groups
    did do bank robberies ostensibly to finance
    revolutionary struggle or, in the case of the SLA, to
    feed the people, in multi-racial groups but I would
    caution around oversimplifying who all those people
    were. There were undoubtably those - both white and
    black - who were primarily motivated by self interest,
    but many of those participants, like Sam Melville, who
    was killed later in Attica by NY State Troopers, and
    the SLA members burned up in the house by the LAPD
    were seriously misguided but not for reasons of self
    interest. Participants in the 1981 Brinks robbery,
    only a few of whom were ex Weather people, were
    primarily motivated by love and had years of saner
    movement service to document it even though their
    analysis later grew so distorted about how they should
    act and the results were horribly tragic for both the
    victims and themselves. Most of the white
    participants in all these actions were people who were
    so hurt by the racism of this country that they did
    the best they could to disassociate themselves from
    it, and to support those who they thought were trying
    to create a better way, a process complicated by their
    own personal tangle of struggles for self definition.
      The black participants also carried with them complex
    charges of damage from racism, courage, and a
    desperation to move beyond passivity. When a child
    learns to walk, they fall down a lot. The way I see
    it, humans will continue to gather together and rise
    up to fight to improve human rights - as we have for
    thousands of years. I have made as grave mistakes as
    almost anyone so I have a self interest, perhaps, in
    saying that I think we should not lightly discard the
    mistakes or the people who made them, if they - we -
    are willing to learn from them. I no longer believe
    that there is "one right way" or that we should spend
    hours trying to figure it out. I do believe, however
    that we need to learn from our mistakes, at the same
    time as we recognize the valor, when it exists, in
    those who made them. I wish that we could honor those
    who have died in our struggle, however misguided some
    of their thinking was, just as I wish that we could
    free those 30 or 40 people who are still in jail 30
    years later because they allowed their passion for
    justice and equality to rule their better judgement.
    How much time is enough to atone? Most of those still
    inside have been told they will never be released - by
    statute or by whim of parole boards, while many others
    with equivalent or greater crimes are allowed to serve
    their time and go free. It is because of these folks,
    as well as the young people who inherit the struggle,
    that this discussion matters. I, for one, feel
    strongly that they should be released to have the
    opportunity to contribute to society, as I have had
    that opportunity.

    I also don't think, Katha, that all our ideas were
    stupid, but I will try to argue that substantively in
    the book. Leonard, from Chicago, touched on some of
    the issues I consider important quite eloquently, I
    thought. But, yes, we do owe an apology. I thank
    everyone for weighing in again, and especially John
    and Ethan for getting the ball rolling. I hope the
    discussion continues, here and/or in living rooms and
    on the street. And Jim, I hope I did not try to in
    any way condemn Bill, or Bernardine, in the review,
    but rather tried to challenge the ideas. I hope I
    have learned, finally, to treasure the participants of
    the discussions, even while challenging the ideas.

    Cathy Wilkerson

    PS I'd love to hear from more women.


    Re: 'Fugitive Days' -- an exchange

    I have been reading with great interest the discussion
    on the Weathermen and their effect on the antiwar
    movement. Although I was in high-school at the time,
    I'd like to inform the portside group that in a recent
    strike movement at the National University of Mexico
    history just repeated itself -- just as Ethan Young was
    wondering whether the practice of violent confrontation
    made sense to us in 2002 in his contribution. Maybe not
    to us, but to others yes.

    A brief history follows. Around March 1999 students in
    Mexico City took over most buildings of one of the main
    Latin American public university and shut down teaching
    activities to protest the establishment of formal
    tuition fees (fees existed previously in the guise of
    "lab" or "library" fees), and to demand a tuition-free
    public university. Most students were truly committed
    to a movement of protest against education policies
    imposed upon Mexico by neoliberalism with its doctrine
    that "education is a commodity that must be paid for by
    the consumers, i.e. the students". Pretty obvious
    confrontation between the neoliberal system and
    working-class students? Not quite. From the start
    students rejected all political parties, groups or
    "doctrines" (read Marxism, Leninism, Marxism-Leninism
    and whatever) that may "raid" the movement to
    paraphrase Ethan. Leftist intellectuals throughout the
    country praised the students for their integrity and
    "ideological" purity.

    Four months later the "moderate" students had been
    expelled, accused of being manipulated by one political
    party, albeit a very moderate center-left one, which
    was accused gratuitously by the system of organizing
    the student strike. Meetings of the student strike
    committee were marred with internal violence:
    fistfights on the floor, barbed wire to protect the
    chair people, sexist remarks to woman speakers deemed
    too moderate. After ten months, several violent
    confrontations with police, and many stone-throwing
    demonstrations against the American embassy and other
    strongholds of neoliberal power, the police raided the
    campus rounding up striking students, passersby,
    nightwatch employees, you name it. The charges:
    terrorism was the most serious one. At least one group
    that puts bombs at bank buildings has emerged since
    then. The similarities with the SDS-Weathermen history
    are just amazing.

    Vladimir Escalante Ramirez

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