October 6, 2008


Support Bill Ayers

Dear friends and colleagues in the field of education,

It seems that the character assassination and slander of Bill Ayers and other people who have known Obama is not about to let up. While an important concern is the dishonesty of this campaign and the slanderous McCarthyism they are using to attack Obama, we also feel an obligation to support our friend and colleague Bill Ayers. Many, many educators have reached out, asking what they could do, seeking a way to weigh in against fear and intimidation. Many of us have been talking and we agree that this one gesture, a joint statement signed by hundreds of hard-working educators, would be a great first step. Such a statement may be distributed through press releases or ads in the future.

Please click on ENDORSE THIS STATEMENT in order to sign the following statement and, just as importantly, FORWARD it to other friends and colleagues who would like to stand up against these attacks. (*Title/Affiliation will be listed for identification purposes only. Please be assured that we have no intention of using your name for any other purpose than beneath the words on this page.)

Thank you!

Friends and supporters of Bill Ayers


All citizens, but particularly teachers and scholars, are called upon to challenge orthodoxy, dogma, and mindless complacency, to be skeptical of authoritative claims, to interrogate and trouble the given and the taken-for-granted. Without critical dialogue and dissent we would likely be burning witches and enslaving our fellow human beings to this day. The growth of knowledge, insight, and understanding--- the possibility of change--- depends on that kind of effort, and the inevitable clash of ideas that follows should be celebrated and nourished rather than crushed. Teachers have a heavy responsibility, a moral obligation, to organize classrooms as sites of open discussion, free of coercion or intimidation. By all accounts Professor Ayers meets this standard. His classes are fully enrolled, and students welcome the exchange of views that he encourages.

The current characterizations of Professor Ayers---“unrepentant terrorist,” “lunatic leftist”---are unrecognizable to those who know or work with him. It’s true that Professor Ayers participated passionately in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, as did hundreds of thousands of Americans. His participation in political activity 40 years ago is history; what is most relevant now is his continued engagement in progressive causes, and his exemplary contribution---including publishing 16 books--- to the field of education.

There's your debate moment: Senator Obama, I hold in my hand a list of names [may as well give them the full McCarthy] of American educators who call upon us to forget about Bill Ayers "passionate participation" in "movements" and his refusal to disavow his personal terrorist campaign, for which that euphemism stands, and to salute him instead for the "progressivism" he's demonstrated on education issues, for instance when you worked together on panels and boards of foundations. Yet the liberal columnist Michael Kinsley says of Mr. Ayers and his co-conspirator wife that: "They remain spectacularly unrepentant, self-indulgent, unreflective--still bloated with a sense of entitlement, still smug with certainty."

So, I wonder if you could clarify your position here: Should we just forget about Mr. Ayers's terrorist bombings, even though his only regret about them is that he didn't do enough or are these educators somewhat out of touch with American values, which require repentance before forgiveness?

Obama dogged by links to 1960s radical (Judy Keen, 8/25/08, USA TODAY)

When Obama was asked about Ayers in an April debate, he said, "the notion that … me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values doesn't make much sense."

After that debate, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley released a statement saying he doesn't condone what Ayers did in the 1960s. "It was a difficult time, but those days are long over," he said.

Ayers and Obama have moved in some of the same circles:

•In 1995, Ayers hosted a brunch for Obama, who was running for the Illinois Senate.

The ad says this meeting launched Obama's political career. Quentin Young, a physician who was there, says it was a typical Hyde Park event and to imply otherwise is "guilt by simultaneously being in the same place."

•In 1997, they were on a juvenile justice panel sponsored by the University of Chicago. They were on a 2002 panel on intellectualism that was co-sponsored by the Chicago Public Library.

•In 1997, the Chicago Tribune published a blurb from Obama about books he was reading. Obama said he was reading Ayers' A Kind and Just Parent: The Children of Juvenile Court.

•From 1999-2002, both men were on the board of the Woods Fund, a Chicago foundation that makes grants to arts and civic groups. Obama left the board in 2002; Ayers remains on it.

Laura Washington, chairwoman of the Woods Fund board, says suggestions of close ties are "an attempt to demonize Bill as a way of damaging Barack Obama."

•Ayers gave $200 to Obama's 2001 state Senate campaign.

No regrets or apologies?

Ayers did not respond to interview requests. Federal charges for crossing state lines to incite riots and conspiracy were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct. He was in hiding for years after three Weathermen died in 1970 when bombs they were making exploded.

In a New York Times story published by coincidence on Sept. 11, 2001, about his memoirs, Fugitive Days, he said, "I don't regret setting bombs. … I feel we didn't do enough." After that comment was raised in the April debate, Ayers posted his 2001 reply to the New York Times story on his blog. "I said I had a thousand regrets, but no regrets for opposing the war with every ounce of my strength," he wrote.

In March, Ayers wrote on his blog about demands that he apologize for his past: "In some part, apologizing is rejecting."

Ayers is married to Bernardine Dohrn, who was once on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List for inciting a riot and conspiracy. She is an associate law professor at Northwestern University.

Tom Hayden, an anti-war activist who met Ayers in the 1960s and later was elected to the California Legislature, says Ayers' past should be forgiven.

"I have met and like John McCain, but he bombed, and presumably killed, many people in a war I opposed," Hayden says. "If I can set all that aside, I would hope that Americans will accept" that Ayers has changed, too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 6, 2008 7:58 AM
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