This is a continuation of Nick Lindsley’s exclusive interview of Bill Ayers. The beginning of this interview was published in Issue 2; the second part was in issue 3.
As a reminder, Bill Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground, a radical leftist organization active in the ’60s. Today Ayers is a Professor at the University of Illinois.
Nick Lindsley: A friend told me, “When Bush won in 2004, I cried. I felt as if there was no hope for our country and I still haven’t totally recovered from it.” Is there hope for our country today and if so, where can we find it?
Bill Ayers: You have to live as if the world could be otherwise: you have to become the change you hope to see in the world.
For every human being life is, in part, an experience of suffering and loss and pain. But our living experience also embraces other inescapable facts: that we are all in this together, and that much (but not all) of what we suffer in life is the evil we visit upon one another, that is, unjustified suffering, unnatural loss, unnecessary pain – the kinds of things that ought to be avoidable, that we might even imagine eliminating altogether.
In the realm of human agency and choice, we come face to face with some stubborn questions: Can we stop the suffering? Can we alleviate at least some pain? Can we repair any of the loss? We lurch, then, toward deeper considerations: Can society be changed at all? Is it remotely possible – not inevitable, certainly, perhaps not even very likely – for people to come together freely, to imagine a more just and peaceful social order, to join hands and organize, to struggle for something better, and to prevail?
If society cannot be changed under any circumstances, if there is nothing to be done, not even small and humble gestures toward something better, well, that about ends all conversation. Our sense of agency shrinks, our choices diminish. What more is there to say? But if a fairer, more sane, and just social order is both desirable and possible, that is, if some of us can join one another to imagine and build a participatory movement for justice, a public space for the enactment of democratic dreams, our fields open slightly. There would still be much to be done, for nothing would be entirely settled. We would still need, for example, to find ways to stir ourselves and our neighbors from passivity, cynicism, and despair; to reach beyond the superficial barriers that wall us off from one another; to resist the flattening effects of consumerism and the blinding, mystifying power of the familiar social evils – racism, sexism, and homophobia, for example; to shake off the anesthetizing impact of the authoritative, official voices that dominate the airwaves, the media, and so much of what we think of as common sense; to “release our imaginations” and act on behalf of what the known demands, linking our conduct firmly to our consciousness. We would be moving, then, without guarantees, but with purpose and with hope.
Education is, of course, one arena of struggle as well as hope – struggle because it stirs in us the need to reconsider everything we have wrought, to look at the world anew, to question what we have created, to wonder what is worthwhile for human beings to know and experience, to justify or criticize or bombard or maintain or build up or overthrow everything before us – and hope because we gesture toward the future, toward the impending, toward the coming of the new. Education is where we gather to question whether and how we might engage and enlarge and change our lives, and it is, then, where we confront our dreams and fight out notions of the good life, where we try to comprehend, apprehend, or possibly even change the world.