Wednesday, October 08, 2008

With Bill Ayers in Chicago

WITH BILL AYERS IN CHICAGO. The Students for a Democratic Society held their national convention in Chicago in the summer of 1969. College groups gathered in the dingy smoke-filled halls of the aging Chicago Coliseum on South Wabash Street. The Coliseum was a derelict facility, with leaking plumbing, torn linoleum flooring and battered folding chairs -- but it was a cheap rental for this meeting of 2,000 student radicals.

I had just graduated from college myself and I was at home in the Chicago suburbs contemplating my fate. Richard Nixon was President, the war in Vietnam was raging, and America was in turmoil. Those were black years.

So I took the subway down to the Coliseum to see the SDS people, more as a visitor and observer. I was strongly opposed to the war and inclined to the left. I had waved a few sign at student demonstrations and argued into the night with my college chums about how to change this country -- which seemed to be going off the deep end after the assassinations and the riots.

I was looking for an answer, or a means to confront the chaos. But the SDS convention that year was a bizarre and unmitigated disaster. Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dorn were up on the stage haranguing the crowd. A large and very militant gang from the University of Michigan was chanting slogans from Chairman Mao's little red book. Stalinist wannabes were hawking pamphlets that praised the governments of Albania and North Korea. Everybody was shouting in deadly earnest.

There sitting in front of me was a man wearing a beaten brown leather jacket. He had thick cascading curly hair. I heard him say, to no one in particular -- "These people are all nuts."

It was Abbie Hoffman. Now, if Abbie Hoffman, the premier madcap Yuppie, the purveyor of anti-war mayhem, thought the SDS was nuts -- that was saying something.

I could only agree with Abbie. I didn't stay long. The convention broke up into warring factions, and one faction became the infamous Weather Underground, led by Dorn and Ayers -- a bunch of idiots.

And what was I to do? Nixon was a mad man, the war still raged on, and the student resistance was equally insane.

I headed for the woods. A year later I, was living in a teepee in the Skagit Valley, working for the Forest Service and local farmers. I have avoided joining organizations ever since.

BARAK OBAMA AND BILL AYERS. Obama was 8 years old in 1969 when the Weather Underground went on its rampage. Well, I was there at convention and I don't recall seeing any 8 year old African-American boys running around the hall, so I don't think Obama had anything to do with it.

Forty years later, Obama is accused of association with former student radicals such as Ayers. I guess Obama should avoid my company too.