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

From: Ronald M. Jacobs (
Date: Wed Feb 20 2002 - 17:36:18 EST

  • Next message: Ron Jacobs: "[sixties-l] All Out War in Colombia?"

    This conversation has been (and continues to be) interesting both in
    historical terms and in relation to the state of the movement today. I
    appreciate Cathy's comments immensely and hope that they reach an audience
    beyond that of this list or Z magazine (can I suggest Clamor--a great
    journal out of Ohio that is co-edited by two personable and intelligent
    individuals). I was recently asked to write an article on the SLA and
    Sara Jane Olson's trial(s) for the German left journal subtropen. In
    there i spoke of the origins of the SLA's mysterious leadership and their
    misguided acts, while respecting the revolutionary commitment of the
    members. My translator told me of a similar trial going on in Germany
    right now of some members of the underground organization Rote Zelle.
    Many similarities in both political analysis and origins.
    Since I wrote the book THe Way the Wind Blew:A History of the Weather
    Underground, I have received several dozen messages, ranging from
    laudatory to downright nasty. Some of each were from the ultra-left of
    the 60s-70s and some of each were from other political perspectives of the
    era. The missives I found most interesting, however, were those from
    various anarchist and ultraleft groupings in the US who operate today.
    Many found the weather story to be a lesson in how not to make change.
    Many, however, thought they had the right idea. The point of my book was
    to provide a concise histroy of the group's central members actions and a
    bit of time-capsulized political analysis. Since then, I have talked
    about Weather to several groups of students and young people (mostly on
    the US' west coast) and have found the audiences at these talks to be
    split between support for "terrorist" acts without popular support and
    various levels of opposition to such acts, even with popular support.
    Being a sundicalist, I find the only way to make change is by mobilizing
    mass numbers of people to take it to the streets--something we are far
    from right now, at least as far as the majority of people in the West are
     I have constantly updated my analysis of where Weather went wrong in its
    day and would be happy to share that with the group once I go back to work
    (where it is stored on my hard drive)
    ron jacobs
     On Wed, 20 Feb 2002 wrote:

    > ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    > Date: Mon, 18 Feb 2002 09:58:40 -0800
    > From: radtimes <>
    > 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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