Nick Lindsley: You were involved in the Weather Underground in the 70′s. You have expressed regret as well as defense about your actions while in the group. When the “Underground” was planting explosives in government buildings, how did the media label those actions, and how do you feel those actions would have been percieved in the media if they had taken place today?
Bill Ayers: The Weather Underground was called a terrorist organization by the government and the prostate, bought media at the time, and it’s still referred to that way. Of course, it was no such thing.
We should demand a definition each time the word “terrorist” is used, and we should insist on stable, universal usage applicable to crazed groups of religious fanatics, cults, political formations, but also to governments. If “terrorist” means attacks on innocents or non-combatants, for example, if it means random killing or injury, if it means coercion and intentional collective punishment… then, no, the Weather Underground was not terrorist. But the US government was terrorist in Viet Nam, and is terrorist in Iraq, and Israel offered a textbook case of terrorism unleashed last month in Lebanon.
NL: Can peaceful protest and violent protest, if successful, ever have the same positive outcome? And, which do you feel has more of a sway amongst those in politics?
BA: The point of progressive political action is always to educate, organize, and mobilize masses of people. You can judge your own effectiveness by a simple standard: did our activity teach us as well as others, did it strengthen the movement for change, did it engage and involve more people who are collectively working toward revolution?
I don’t advocate “violent protest.” We do, however, live in a sewer of violence in this country, the greatest purveyor of violence in history. The fact that the violence is largely exported or hidden or kept from your consciousness through a mighty range of mystifications and manipulations doesn’t make it less true. Part of our job is taking the pretty mask off the beast, showing what’s really there. And we need to remember that power concedes nothing without a demand, and that violent thugs rarely give up power willingly.
But back to the point of protest—we need to build a movement for change, a mighty radical mass movement. We don’t need to try to calculate whether this or that act will get this or that opportunist to vote our way in Congress. Remember, FDR was not a labor leader, nor was LBJ a Civil Rights leader—each was a brilliant politician responding to facts on the ground. Create a different reality—alter the facts on the ground—and watch what happens.