If you could take Vietnam and all that happened then, put it in 2004, would you make the same choices that you made then? Would you strategize differently?
Dohrn: I like the bridges that have been built between the feminists and the gay and the environmental movements. All the progeny of the Sixties. All the many movements that have happened since then are now part of a kind of a big tent of anti-globalization and anti-empire. So it’s a different world, but trying to act on your principles, trying to use humor, trying to tweak power, trying to be willing to take the consequences of what you believe in.
I do feel we are in a very similar situation… Isn’t it haunting? Don’t we want to know how many Iraqis are injured every day? Why are we not seeing caskets coming back? What about the Americans injured there?
Ayers: And the one thing we do know now is that, like then, our government is lying to us…. This is not the big deal, but young people know that the government lies to them routinely. Certainly, if I was looking back and saying what can we do differently, I’d say, “Let’s not be sectarian, let’s not be hierarchical, let’s not split every time we turn around.”
I would say for the young: Don’t be straight jacketed by ideology. Don’t be driven by a structure of ideas. But at the same time, I think we would be, should be, and we should be today, activists. We should open our eyes, see what’s in front of us, and act.
And is there something positive that you see? I’m hearing a lot of objections, understandably, but is there some positive tack that you see the government is taking?
Dohrn: The positive energy is coming from below. I think that there is a lot going on with young people today.
Rest of the Interview
1962: Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, holds its first convention in Port Huron, MI, calling for progressive alliances among activist groups.
1964: The Civil Rights Act passes, while America’s involvement in the war in Vietnam escalates.
1965: Berkeley Free Speech Movement spurs massive student protests against the Vietnam War. The first SDS anti-war march in Washington attracts 15,000 people.
1966: Huey Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California.
1968: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy are assassinated. Anti-war demonstrations turn violent at the Chicago Democratic Convention and shut down Columbia University.
1969: Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark die in a Chicago police raid. The Weathermen form.
March: Three Weathermen are killed when bomb manufacturing goes awry. The organization becomes the Weather Underground as key players including Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers and Kathy Boudin go into hiding.
Bernardine Dohrn gives a tour of her underground hideout on the San Francisco Bay View Video
June: New York City police headquarters are bombed and the Weathermen take credit, issuing a communiqué from underground.
July: Thirteen Weathermen are indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring to engage in acts of terrorism. A New York bank is bombed in retaliation.
September: Timothy Leary issues a statement from the underground after escaping from prison with the help of the Weathermen.
1971: 50,000 anti-war protesters march on Washington, D.C.
1973: Cease-fire accord in Vietnam.
1977: Weathermen Mark Rudd and Cathy Wilkerson emerge from years of hiding and surrender to the police, receiving two years of probation and three years in prison, respectively.
1980: Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers resurface from the underground, pleading guilty to bail-jumping charges from a 1969 anti-war protest. Dohrn is fined $1,500 and given three years’ probation.
1981: The unofficial end of the Weather Underground occurs when Kathy Boudin resurfaces to participate in an armed robbery in Nanuet, New York, which results in the shooting deaths of three men. Boudin is sentenced to 22 years in prison, and is released in 2003.
PBS Independent Lens Special (link to videos & more info)