Interview with Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers

After hearing Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers speak, I was able to ask them a few questions. In front of me in line to speak with Dohrn was Boots Riley from The Coup’s father! Later I remembered Boots wrote the introduction to ex-Weather Underground Organization cadre David Gilbert’s memoirs, but I didn’t remember him talking about his father being a radical also! He was already personally familiar with Dohrn, and they greeted each other warmly. It was cool to meet him and he gladly accepted a copy of Slingshot.

I introduced myself to Dohrn by giving her a copy of Slingshot which she was happy to get and telling her about the talk at Knox College in Illinois where we met and I heard her talk in 2010. She said she remembered the talk and would answer a couple questions.

AI: I read that Shin’ya Ono who had wrote You Do Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows [a weather faction of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) position statement re-printed in the Weatherman reader, available to borrow from the Long Haul Infoshop] was Japanese, I’m half Japanese, so I find that interesting. I tried to do some research about what he’s doing now and all that came up was about a prominent Japanese politician with the same name and I had no idea, like I never read anything that he did, like if he even went underground or anything, so I was wondering if you could tell me what became of him after that.

BD: I don’t know. That’s not trivia and I don’t know the answer. Shin’ya Ono was a really brilliant historian and activist and he played you know I think a very important role once we went underground because he wasn’t partisan and he wasn’t part of those wars. But also he loved the fire and the spirit that we represented and yet he thought we were foolish in a lot of ways, and I think he played a very important role but I don’t know if he’s still alive. He was a terrific, independent intellectual which we need more of.

AI: I also recently read in Jane Alpert’s memoirs (Growing Up Underground, also available to borrow from the Long Haul!) that the code name for the Weather Underground was the eggplant and I’ve got a comrade in town, that’s his street name so I thought it was kind of funny so I started calling him The Eggplant whenever I refer to him.

BD: laughs.

AI: I was just wondering why? Why the eggplant?

BD: The Eggplant That Ate Chicago. [A song by the Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band, which I think I remembered reading this in Fugitive Days by Bill Ayers years ago since I knew the song from Dr. Demento broadcasts.]

AI: Oh, okay, ’cause of the Days of Rage.

BD: Yes. Well just because SDS came out of the National Office, was in Chicago, and I was born there, some of us were from there. Just that was the connection.

AI: Thank you very much.

BD: It’s a pleasure!

Afterwords I gave Bill Ayers a copy of Slingshot which he was also already familiar with and excited to get.

AI: I came in on a press pass from Slingshot and you know from reading collections like Weatherman and seeing the old film Underground I realized the importance of controlling our own media. New Left Notes (SDS’s journal) and you even did a journal and a political statement (Osawatomie and Prairie Fire:  The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism, along with many communiques) while you were underground. You talked a lot about mainstream media but only a little about underground, not even underground but the DIY stuff like KPFA (the local Pacifica station which this event was a benefit for), could you expand a bit about the importance of controlling our own media?

BA: When you say that I talk a lot about the mainstream media, what do you mean?

AI: [Tonight] you talked about how the mainstream media made a cartoon of you.

BA: I spend very little time whining about the mainstream media. The reality is that every movement has and develops its own media, it’s part of building a movement, is develop your own media and your own means of communication. One of the things that I think is an indication of the weakness of the progressive movement now and then is that we get into these silly kind of arguments about how the press is reporting us as if that’s what makes a movement. That doesn’t make a movement. So if the New York Times says that there were 50,000 of us in Washington and really there were 100,000 a lot of progressives get very agitated and their nose out of joint about that I don’t. I don’t look to the New York Times for affirmation, I don’t look to the Washington Post to see if I’m a real person. As we build a movement we have to build our own ways to communicate. The wonderful thing, you can go through history, all social movements have done this, but the wonderful thing about this moment is that today, our generation, this generation has more access to more information, and to more different kinds of formats than we ever had in history.  We have to use that as a tool to help us build a revolution.  That’s what we have to do, so yes, independent media.

By the time Ayers finished answering we were outside of the hall.  I thanked him and remarked I was in the A-Zone Collective when he spoke at one of our events at the New World Resource Center when it was in Humboldt Park, Chi back in ’04.  He said he remembered the event and asked how could I leave town.  I told him the neighborhoods I spent the most time in were being gentrifucked out of existence (namely Uptown and Pilsen) to which he replied, Yeah, but you’ve got to stop and fight sometime.  I didn’t want to get into this discussion since it was pretty late and I regrettably had turned out Slingshot’s recorder, so I replied with the quick answer, But I’m from the South Bay, which received a round of Ohs including from Ayers as someone remarked He’s a homeboy!   

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