jump to navigation

How Obama and Valerie Jarrett Helped Launch Their Political Careers in an Outrageous ‘Urban Renewal’ Scheme February 24, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Chicago, Housing/Homelessness, Race.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Roger’s note: as anyone who has followed this Blog knows, I have characterized Obama as a fraud from the beginning (of his ascendency to the presidency).  I posted an article reprinted from the Toronto Star when Obama was elected the first Black editor of the Harvard Law Review, where a fellow Black student talks about his charismatic gifts always leading to a cop out.  In the article below, compare Obama’s history of “community development” in housing with that of Saul Alinsky in the 60s, where he organized popular protests against the University of Chicago’s plans to destroy neighborhoods for expansion.  Also, in the article below you will learn how Michelle Obama earned over $300,000 a year dumping poor patients to make room for richer ones at the University of Chicago Medical Center.      

AlterNet / By Allison Kilkenny

Developers and investors got rich on a project that destroyed the homes of thousands of Chicago’s poorest black residents.

January 25, 2013  |
 As President Obama’s second term begins, and inequality, especially for black Americans, is worse than it was when Obama first took office, it’s worth revisiting progressives’ and Obama supporters’ impression of the president as somebody who might actually care about equality and helping the most unfortunate in society. And a big centerpiece of that impression, which endures despite evidence that he’s at best ambivalent, is his early days in Chicago. The narrative that Obama is a salt-of-the-earth community organizer has been spoon-fed to the American populace since Obama first began campaigning. In reality, there’s a big piece of the president’s past that has gone under-reported that will help us to understand Obama and his closest adviser Valerie Jarrett a bit better: Obama and Jarrett built the nexus of political support that took him to the presidency by participating in one of the most appalling examples of neoliberal-corrupted City Hall-“urban renewal projects” in recent history that enriched developers and investors and destroyed the lives of thousands of Chicago’s poorest black residents, in some cases using his community organizer job as camouflage.
We have the opportunity to revisit our impression of Obama thanks to a speech by Robert Fitch, a radical journalist and activist who chronicled the destruction of public housing in his 1996 book, The Assassination of New York, in which he detailed the changing landscape of the city at the hands of bankers and developers. New York’s poorest were left to the mercy of the extremely rich, who used their power and money to gentrify, gut and obliterate public housing. Fitch’s accounts of the plunder of New York and Obama’s efforts in Chicago offer a different narrative than we’re often accustomed to hearing — they weren’t the “fault of Republicans,” but rather examples of the most frequent attack on democracy and the general welfare: how politicians “of all stripes” served the interests of the richest and most powerful in the society. In the case of NY and Chicago, the powerful took the form of a collection of interests that Fitch called FIRE: finance, insurance and real estate.
During a speech delivered at the Harlem Tenants Associations in November 2008, directly after Obama’s presidential win, Fitch explained how the new president and other middle-class blacks, including Valerie Jarrett and Obama’s wife Michelle, climbed the power ladder in Chicago at the expense of poor African Americans by aligning themselves with “friendly FIRE”:

…[A]s Obama knows very well, for most of the last two decades in Chicago there’s been in place a very specific economic development plan. The plan was to make the South Side like the North Side. Which is the same kind of project as making the land north of Central Park like the land south of Central Park. The North Side is the area north of the Loop—Chicago’s midtown central business district—where rich white people live; they root for the Cubs. They’re neighborhood is called the Gold Coast.

For almost a hundred years in Chicago blacks have lived on the South Side close to Chicago’s factories and slaughter houses. And Cellular Field, home of the White Sox. The area where they lived was called the Black Belt or Bronzeville—and it’s the largest concentration of African American people in the U.S.—nearly 600,000 people—about twice the size of Harlem.

In the 1950s, big swaths of urban renewal were ripped through the black belt, demolishing private housing on the south east side. The argument then was that the old low rise private housing was old and unsuitable. Black people needed to be housed in new, high-rise public housing which the city built just east of the Dan Ryan Expressway. The Administration of the Chicago Housing Authority was widely acclaimed as the most corrupt, racist and incompetent in America. Gradually only the poorest of the poor lived there. And in the 1980s, the argument began to be made that the public housing needed to be demolished and the people moved back into private housing. …

If we examine more carefully the interests that Obama represents; if we look at his core financial supporters; as well as his inmost circle of advisors, we’ll see that they represent the primary activists in the demolition movement and the primary real estate beneficiaries of this transformation of public housing projects into condos and townhouses: the profitable creep of the Central Business District and elite residential neighborhoods southward; and the shifting of the pile of human misery about three miles further into the South Side and the south suburbs.

Obama’s political base comes primarily from Chicago FIRE—the finance, insurance and real estate industry. And the wealthiest families—the Pritzkers, the Crowns and the Levins. But it’s more than just Chicago FIRE. Also within Obama’s inner core of support are allies from the non-profit sector: the liberal foundations, the elite universities, the non-profit community developers and the real estate reverends who produce market rate housing with tax breaks from the city and who have been known to shout from the pulpit“ give us this day our Daley, Richard Daley bread.”

Aggregate them and what emerges is a constellation of interests around Obama that I call “Friendly FIRE.” Fire power disguised by the camouflage of community uplift; augmented by the authority of academia; greased by billions in foundation grants; and wired to conventional FIRE by the terms of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1995. And yet friendly FIRE is just as deadly as the conventional FIRE that comes from bankers and developers that we’re used to ducking from. It’s the whole condominium of interests whose advancement depends on the elimination of poor blacks from the community and their replacement by white people and—at least temporarily—by the black middle-class—who’ve gotten subprime mortgages—in a kind of redlining in reverse.

Evidence of the public-private partnerships’ failures emerged almost immediately.

The public housing included in Senator Obama’s transformation plans, such as the 504 apartments in the squat brick buildings of Grove Parc Plaza, quickly fell into disrepair. Reports emerged of uninhabitable units with collapsed roofs, fire damage, mice infestations, and sewage backups. In 2006, federal inspectors graded the condition of the complex an 11 on a 100-point scale, a score so bad the buildings were demolished in 2011.

A Boston Globe review found that thousands of apartments across Chicago that had been built with local, state and federal subsidies — including several hundred in Obama’s former district — deteriorated so completely they were no longer habitable. Grove Parc, a project that was, along with several other prominent failures, developed and managed by Obama’s close friends and political supporters, became a symbol of the broader failures of handing over public subsidies to FIRE cronies, private companies to build and manage affordable housing, an approach lauded by Obama as the best, sometimes only, replacement for public housing.

At the time, Jarrett was the chief executive of Habitat Co., which managed Grove Parc Plaza from 2001 until the winter of 2008 and co-managed an even larger subsidized complex in Chicago that was seized by the federal government in 2006 after city inspectors found widespread problems. Jarrett had earlier served as Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development from 1992 through 1995. When questioned by the Globe, Jarrett defended Obama’s position that public-private partnerships are superior to public housing.

“Government is just not as good at owning and managing as the private sector because the incentives are not there,” said Jarrett, whose company manages more than 23,000 apartments. “I would argue that someone living in a poor neighborhood that isn’t 100 percent public housing is by definition better off.”

But as theGlobe pointed out, Daley’s plans to privatize Chicago public housing quickly drew criticism:

[Chicagoans] asked why the government should pay developers to perform a basic public service — one successfully performed by governments in other cities. And they noted that privately managed projects had a history of deteriorating because guaranteed government rent subsidies left companies with little incentive to spend money on maintenance.

Most of all, they alleged that Chicago was interested primarily in redeveloping projects close to the Loop, the downtown area that was seeing a surge of private development activity, shunting poor families to neighborhoods farther from the city center. Only about one in three residents was able to return to the redeveloped projects.

“They are rapidly displacing poor people, and these companies are profiting from this displacement,” said Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle of Southside Together Organizing for Power, a community group that seeks to help tenants stay in the same neighborhoods.

“The same exact people who ran these places into the ground,” the private companies paid to build and manage the city’s affordable housing, “now are profiting by redeveloping them.”

Obama believes deeply that privatization works. He once told theChicago Tribune that he had briefly considered becoming a developer of affordable housing, but after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1991, he turned down a job with Tony Rezko’s development company, Rezmar, to instead work at the civil rights law firm Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland. The firm represented a number of nonprofit companies that were partnering with private developers to build affordable housing with government subsidies.

The Globe reported that shortly after becoming a state senator in 1997, Obama told theChicago Daily Law Bulletinthat his experience working with the development industry had reinforced his belief in subsidizing private developers of affordable housing. “That’s an example of a smart policy,” the paper quoted Obama as saying. “The developers were thinking in market terms and operating under the rules of the marketplace; but at the same time, we had government supporting and subsidizing those efforts.”

What Obama is describing is corporate welfare: the government subsidizes private companies which then lack incentive to provide services to tenants because the government i.e. taxpayers will continue funding them regardless, and then the same private companies win new contracts down the road when they demolish and rebuild apartments as part of a “revitalizing” scheme.

Oftentimes, Obama’s community organizer veneer served to camouflage his FIRE roots. For example, Grove Parc Plaza opened in 1990 as a redevelopment of an older housing complex, and the new owner was a local nonprofit company called Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corp, led by two of the neighborhoods’ most powerful ministers, Arthur Brazier and Leon Finney. All of this sounded like grassroots in action. However, Woodlawn Preservation hired a private management firm, William Moorehead and Associates, to oversee the complex. The company then lost that contract and a contract to manage several public housing projects for allegedly failing to do its job, and was subsequently convicted of embezzling almost $1 million in management feeds theGlobe reported.

Woodlawn Preservation then hired a new property manager, Habitat Co., where Valerie Jarrett served as executive vice president. Residents told the Globe that the complex deteriorated under Moorehead’s management and the decline continued after Habitat took over. A maintenance worker at the complex told the Globe that money often wasn’t available for steel wool to plug rat holes, but regardless federal inspectors rated Grove Parc an 82 out of 100 as late as 2003.

In their extensive report on Obama’s private-public partnership failings, theGlobe profiles one of the largest recipients of government subsidies: Rezmar Corp, founded in 1989 by Tony Rezko, who between 1999 and 2008 used more than $87 million in government grants, loans, and tax credits to renovate about 1,000 apartments in 30 Chicago buildings. Companies run by the partners also managed many of the buildings, collecting government rent subsidies. Neither Rezko, nor his partner Daniel Mahru, had any development experience:

Rezmar collected millions in development fees but fell behind on mortgage payments almost immediately. On its first project, the city government agreed to reduce the company’s monthly payments from almost $3,000 to less than $500.

By the time Obama entered the state senate in 1997, the buildings were beginning to deteriorate. In January 1997, the city sued Rezmar for failing to provide adequate heat in a South Side building in the middle of an unusually cold winter. It was one of more than two dozen housing-complaint suits filed by the city against Rezmar for violations at its properties.

People who lived in some of the Rezmar buildings say trash was not picked up and maintenance problems were ignored. Roofs leaked, windows whistled, insects moved in.

“In the winter I can feel the cold air coming through the walls and the sockets,” said Anthony Frizzell, 57, who has lived for almost two decades in a Rezmar building on South Greenwood Avenue. “They didn’t insulate it or nothing.”

“Affordable housing run by private companies just doesn’t work,” Mahru told the Globe. “It’s difficult, if not impossible, for a private company to maintain affordable housing for low-income tenants.”

Most of Rezko and Mahru’s buildings have since been foreclosed upon, forcing the tenants to find new housing.

When Obama opened his campaign for state senate in 1995, Rezko’s companies gave $2,000 on the first day of fundraising, and as the Globepoints out, essentially “seeded the start of Obama’s political career.”

While Obama eventually distanced himself from Rezko, he maintained close ties to other developers. Jarrett became a close adviser, and Obama chose Martin Nesbitt, chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority, as his campaign treasurer. Nesbitt was one of the key overseers of the shift toward private management and development. And Obama kept the rich families around him.

From the Globe story:

As a result, some people in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods are torn between a natural inclination to support Obama and a concern about his relationships with the developers they hold responsible for Chicago’s affordable housing failures. Some housing advocates worry that Obama has not learned from those failures.

“I’m not against Barack Obama,” said Willie J.R. Fleming, an organizer with the Coalition to Protect Public Housing and a former public housing resident. “What I am against is some of the people around him.”

Jamie Kalven, a longtime Chicago housing activist, put it this way: “I hope there is not much predictive value in his history and in his involvement with that community.”

In a 2012 Harpersmagazinearticle, Ben Austen writes that the area around Cabrini-Green no longer resembles the neighborhood he remembered from his years growing up in Chicago in the ’70s and ’80s.

Down the street from 1230 N. Burling stood a mixed-income development of orange-bricked condos and townhomes called Parkside of Old Town. Its squat buildings were outfitted with balconies and adorned with purple ornamentation and decorative pillars. There was a new school, a new police station, a renovated park, and a shopping center with a Dominick’s supermarket and a Starbucks. A Target was expected on the site the last tower would soon vacate. Later, I would warm up two blocks south in @Spot Café, where employees from Groupon’s nearby corporate headquarters streamed in to pay full price for lattes and panini.

Today, what seems harder to fathom than the erasure of entire high-rise neighborhoods is that they were ever erected in the first place. For years the projects had stood as monuments to a bygone effort to provide affordable housing for the poor and working-class, the reflection of a belief in a deeper social contract.

Shortly before the demolition of 1230 N. Burling in 2012, Austen attended a Chicago Housing Authority meeting during which residents protested the board in response to the city forcing poor people off prime real estate. Activists included residents and supporters of a housing project called Lathrop Homes, a development in a well-off section of the North Side that was next in line to be demolished.

“The residents didn’t want to be forced into the private market or into temporary housing, especially since they doubted they’d be able to return to whatever replaced Lathrop; nor did they agree that market-rate apartments were needed in the redeveloped community, as the surrounding area was already full of market-rate condos,” Austen wrote.

Chicago’s $1.6 billion “Plan for Transformation” envisioned a mix of public-housing residents with market-rate condos and subsidized rentals or homes, with one-third of each in these new communities.

In late 2012, NPR detailed how after more than a decade in the works, one of the country’s most closely watched public housing experiments was badly failing, partly due to the flailing economy.

NPR profiled Lathrop resident Mary Thomas:

Thomas has lived here for eight years with her husband and 7-year-old son. Lathrop sits on what many now consider prime land, next to the Chicago River. A busy street splits the development into a north and south section.

The north side is completely shuttered, cordoned off by gates, a ghost town of boarded-up buildings. Thomas lives in the open southern section, where steam from the old heating system wafts into the street. About 170 of the 900-plus units are occupied.

Thomas says all three of the concepts for Lathrop should be dumped and there should be more input from residents. She says there’s little affordable housing in the area and there’s no need for market-rate units at all.

Far from adopting a reflective attitude in the wake of Chicago’s failed experiment in public-private housing partnerships, Obama has now taken his love of public-private codependence to a national level, touting public-private partnerships in everything from creating jobs to education to tackling insurance fraud to collaborations involving foreign nations, which you can bet means the wealthiest multinational conglomerates teaming up to increase their profits at the expense of the 99 percent.

The First Lady played her own part in the Chicago racket of profiting off the poor. Michelle Obama worked at the University of Chicago Medical Center “redirecting” low-income patients to community hospitals in order to use its own beds for rich patients. Nick Jouriles, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, released a statement saying the practice comes “dangerously close to patient dumping,” a practice made illegal by the Emergency Medical Labor and Treatment Act (EMTALA), and reflected an effort to “cherry pick” wealthy patients over poor.
“This is a dangerous precedent that could have catastrophic effects in poor neighborhoods across the country. Congress needs to hold hearings about the problems facing emergency patients. If other community, non-profit hospitals follow this example and shift the lion’s share of resources to its high-revenue elective patients and procedures, it will leave many emergency patients virtually out in the cold. The University of Chicago Medical Center is located in a poor neighborhood whose residents have few, if any, other options for emergency care.”
The media barely paid any attention to Michelle Obama’s role in all of this, though the Chicago Sun-Times reported in 2008 that her $317,000-a-year role as Vice-President of the hospital helped create the patient-dumping program.
Quoted in a related Washington Post article, Quentin Young, a South Side physician, remarks the scheme is nothing more than an “attempt to ensure that the hospital retains only affluent patients with insurance.”

“If you put enough money into it, you could save a whole bunch of community health centers,” Young said. “But to date, they haven’t.”

Edward Novak, president of Chicago’s Sacred Heart Hospital, declined to discuss the center’s initiative in particular but dismissed as “bull” attempts to justify such programs as good for patients. “What they’re really saying is, ‘Don’t use our emergency room because it will cost us money, and we don’t want the public-aid population,’ ” Novak said.

At the end of January this year, community residents launched a protest outside the University of Chicago Medical Center, angry that the hospital ignored their needs, especially for “victims of gun violence,” according to a news report: “One woman said her son, shot just blocks away from the university, died on the way to a hospital ten miles away.” Four were arrested at the protest.

Robert Fitch’s words hold true: the poor remain at the mercy of the rich, who are seeking profits on everything possible, including their homes, but also their water, healthcare and education.

Allison Kilkenny co-hosts Citizen Radio, an alternative political radio show. Her work has appeared in the American Prospect, the LA Times, In These Times, and Truthout.

The Worst Teacher in Chicago September 12, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Chicago, Education, Labor.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

 

Roger’s note: sorry to inundate you with articles on the Chicago Teachers Strike, but here is one more I found interesting and insightful.

By
(about the author) Become a Fan

opednews.com

For the OccupiedChicago Tribune
This is a true story. CHICAGO.   In a school with some of the poorest kids in Chicago, one English teacher–I won’t use her name–who’d been cemented into the school system for over a decade, wouldn’t do a damn thing to lift test scores, yet had an annual salary level of close to $70,000 a year.  Under Chicago’s new rules holding teachers accountable and allowing charter schools to compete, this seniority-bloated teacher was finally fired by the principal.
In a nearby neighborhood, a charter school, part of the city system, had complete freedom to hire.  No teachers’ union interference. The charter school was able to bring in an innovative English teacher with advanced degrees and a national reputation in her field – for $29,000 a year less than was paid to the fired teacher.
You’ve guessed it by now:  It’s the same teacher.I t’s Back to School Time!  Time for the editorialists and the Tea Party, the GOP and Barack Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan to rip into the people who dare teach in public schools.
And in Arne’s old stomping grounds, Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is stomping on the teachers, pushing them into the street.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves. This is what Mitt Romney and Obama and Arne Duncan and Paul Ryan have in mind when they promote charter schools and the right to fire teachers with tenure:  slash teachers salaries and bust their unions.


Greg Palast is the author of the new Book Billionalres and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps.  For two decades, Palast was an investigator for Chicago-area unions, including the Chicago Teachers Union.


They’ve almost stopped pretending, too.  Both the Right Wing-nuts and the Obama Administration laud the “progress” of New Orleans’ schools–a deeply sick joke.  The poorest students, that struggle most with standardized tests, were drowned or washed away.
One thing Democrat Emanuel and Republican Romney both demand of Chicago teachers is that their pay, their jobs, depend on “standardized tests.” Yes, but whose standard?

Here is an actual question from the standardized test that were given third graders here in NYC by the nation’s biggest test-for-profit company:
“…Most young tennis stars learn the game from coaches at private clubs.  In this sentence a private club is….”   Then you have some choices in which the right answer is “Country Club – place where people meet.”
Now not many of the “people [who] meet” at country clubs are from the South Side of Chicago–unless their parents are caddies.  A teacher on the South Side whose students are puzzled by the question will lose their pay or job. Students on the lakefront Gold Coast all know that mommy plays tennis at the Country Club with Raul on Wednesdays. So their teacher gets a raise and their school has high marks.
And while Mayor Rahm promises kids in “bad” schools new teachers (the same ones at lower pay) at high-score schools, in fact, they are never actually allowed in.
But Rahm, after all, is just imposing Bush education law which should be called, No Child’s Behind Left.
You want to know what’s wrong with our schools?  Benno Schmidt, CEO of the big Edison Schools teach-for-profit business is a creepy, greedy privateer.  But he told me straight: that before Hurricane Katrina, his company would never go into New Orleans because Louisiana spent peanuts per child on education.  He made it clear: You get what you pay for.  Not what you test for.
So the charter carpetbaggers slither in, cherry-pick the easy students, declare success. The tough cases and special ed kids are left in the public system so they can claim the public system fails.
Here’s what the teacher who was terrible at $70,000 but brilliant at $41,000 told me:
“They’re not doing this in white neighborhoods.  And they want to get rid of the older, experienced teachers with seniority who cost more.  Get rid of the teachers and, ultimately get rid of the kids.  And the charter school gets to pick the kids who get in.”
It’s simple.  When you look at the drop-out rates in New York (41%) and Chicago (44%), the solution offered is to pay teachers less. They punish those who dare to work in poor schools where kids struggle and you can bet that “washing away” half the kids in our schools is, in fact, exactly what they’ve planned.
It’s notable that, when he lived in Chicago, Barack Obama played basketball with city school chief Arne Duncan, but Obama sure as hell didn’t send his kids to Arne’s crap public schools. Those are for po’ folk.
His kids went to the tony “Lab” School in Hyde Park.  Obama believes what Duncan believes and what Romney believes:  there’s no need for universal education and no need to spend money on it.  Yes, they like to say that “children are our future.”  But they mean the children of China are our future, the Chinese kids who will make the stuff we want and the children of India who will program it all for us. After all, how much education does some obese kid from Texas need to stack boxes from China in a Wal-Mart warehouse?
Education is no longer about information and learning skills.  It’s now about “triage.”  A few selected by standardized tests or privileged birth will be anointed and permitted into better and “gifted” schools.
The chosen elite are still very much needed:  to invest in India and Vietnam, to design new derivatives to circumvent the laughable new banking laws, and to maintain order among the restless hundred-million drop-outs squeezed out of the colon of our educational system.
Democrats’ Bantustans, Republicans’ Value-less Vouchers.
The Obama/Duncan/Emanuel plan is to create Bantustans of un-chartered, cheaply-run dumpster schools within a government system.  But Romney and the GOP would give every child a “choice” even outside government schools with “vouchers.”
Of course, the “vouchers” don’t vouch for much.  Romney’s old alma mater, Cranbrook Academy, runs at $34,025 a year, not counting the polo sticks and horse.  The most generous voucher program is Washington DC’s, beloved of the GOP, which pays about $7,500, or if the student’s “choice” is Cranbrook, about 2 months of school.  Hyde Park Day School Chicago is $35,900.  To give each kid a real choice, not just a coupon, means a massive increase in spending per pupil.  I didn’t see that in the Republican platform, did you?
The experienced teacher in Chicago who took the pay cut was offered one consolation.  She was told she could make up some of the pay loss by quitting the union and saving on union dues.
So that’s the program.  An educational Katrina: squeeze the teachers until they strike, demolish their unions and drown the students.Chicago’s classroom war is class war by another name.

Class dismissed.

 

http://www.gregpalast.com

Author of the New York Times and international bestsellers, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse, Palast is Patron of the Trinity College Philosophical Society, an honor previously held by Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde. Palast (more…)

Mayor’s Kids Private School is What Public Schools Should Be September 12, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Chicago, Education, Labor.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment
Roger’s note: here are some more articles analyzing the Chicago teachers’ strike and issues of public education:
Published on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 by In These Times

Director of Private School Where Rahm Sends His Kids Opposes Using Testing for Teacher Evaluations

CTU President Karen Lewis says she would love to use University of Chicago Lab School as model for public schools

  by Mike Elk

Unlike occasional teacher union opponent Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not send his kids to public schools. Instead, Emanuel’s children attend one of the most elite prep schools in Chicago, the University of Chicago Lab School, where the annual tuition is more than $20,000. (Emanuel has repeatedly refused to answer questions about why he eschews public schools for his children, telling reporters that it is a private family decision.)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel eschews the city’s public schools in favor of the University of Chicago Lab School, who director eschews Emanuel’s idea of “reform.”   (Zol87/Flickr/Creative Commons)

The conditions at the University of Chicago Lab Schools are dramatically different than those at Chicago Public Schools, which are currently closed with teachers engaged in a high-profile strike. The Lab School has seven full-time art teachers to serve a student population of 1,700. By contrast, only 25% of Chicago’s “neighborhood elementary schools” have both a full-time art and music instructor. The Lab School has three different libraries, while 160 Chicago public elementary schools do not have a library.

“Physical education, world languages, libraries and the arts are not frills. They are an essential piece of a well-rounded education,” wrote University of Chicago Lab School Director David Magill on the school’s website in February 2009.

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis agrees with Magill, and believes what works for Mayor Emanuel’s kids should be a prescription for the rest of the city.

“I’m actually glad that he did [send his kids to Lab School] because it gave me an opportunity to look at how the Lab school functions,” Lewis told Chicago magazine in November 2011. “I thought he gave us a wonderful pathway to seeing what a good education looks like, and I think he’s absolutely right, and so we love that model. We would love to see that model throughout.”

One of the key sticking points in union negotiations is that Emanuel wants to use standardized tests scores to count for 40 percent of the basis of teacher evaluations. Earlier this year, more than 80 researchers from 16 Chicago-area universities signed an open letter to Emanuel, criticizing the use of standardized test scores for this purpose. “The new evaluation system for teachers and principals centers on misconceptions about student growth, with potentially negative impact on the education of Chicago’s children,” they wrote. 

CTU claims that nearly 30% of its members could be dismissed within one to two years if the proposed evaluation process is put into effect and has opposed using tests scores as the basis of evaluation. They’re joined in their opposition to using testing in evaulations by Magill.

Writing on the University of Chicago’s Lab School website two years ago, Magill noted, “Measuring outcomes through standardized testing and referring to those results as the evidence of learning and the bottom line is, in my opinion, misguided and, unfortunately, continues to be advocated under a new name and supported by the current [Obama] administration.”

While Magill could not be reached for direct comment on the specifics of the Chicago Teachers’ strike, his past writings on the school’s site suggest he might be supportive.

“I shudder to think of who would be attracted to teach in our public schools without unions,” Magill wrote on the school’s website in February 2009, adding that, even with unions, many teachers “have had no choice but to take on second jobs to make ends meet.“

But Magill’s writings also note just how fine a line CTU will have to walk to keep public sentiment, which currently supports the strike 47% to 39%, on its side according to one recent poll. Acknowledging the “distressing…generational change in the public’s attitude toward teachers,” Magill writes, “Some would say that teachers are responsible for this change by publicly participating in actions designed to bring attention to sub-standard working conditions and compensation. These actions often cause unintended collateral damage to students. Parents and the public at large have long memories when the education of their children is interrupted. We must find a way to conclude collective bargaining without raising doubts about the professionalism of those whose work should be valued the most.”

© 2012 In These Times

Why We’re Striking in Chicago September 10, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Chicago, Education, Labor.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment
Published on Monday, September 10, 2012 by Common Dreams

‘Join Our Fight for Education Justice,’ says CTU President Karen Lewis

  by  Karen Lewis

Teachers, paraprofessionals and school clinicians in Chicago have been without a labor agreement since June of this year. Following the inability of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to reach an agreement over benefits, the role of standardized tests in teacher evaluations, and physical improvements to schools that teachers say are harming both teacher and student performance, the CTU has announced that a city-wide stirke will begin today — the first teachers strike in 25 years. Pickets are expected at 675 schools and the Board of Education. The following are remarks from CTU

Negotiations have been intense but productive, however we have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike. This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could avoid. Throughout these negotiations have I remained hopeful but determined. We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve.

Talks have been productive in many areas. We have successfully won concessions for nursing mothers and have put more than 500 of our members back to work. We have restored some of the art, music, world language, technology and physical education classes to many of our students. The Board also agreed that we will now have textbooks on the first day of school rather than have our students and teachers wait up to six weeks before receiving instructional materials.

Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation. However, we are apart on benefits. We want to maintain the existing health benefits.

Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.

We want job security. Despite a new curriculum and new, stringent evaluation system, CPS proposes no increase (or even decreases) in teacher training. This is notable because our Union through our Quest Center is at the forefront teacher professional development in Illinois. We have been lauded by the District and our colleagues across the country for our extensive teacher training programs that helped emerging teachers strengthen their craft and increased the number of nationally board certified educators.

We are demanding a reasonable timetable for the installation of air-conditioning in student classrooms–a sweltering, 98-degree classroom is not a productive learning environment for children. This type of environment is unacceptable for our members and all school personnel. A lack of climate control is unacceptable to our parents.

As we continue to bargain in good faith, we stand in solidarity with parents, clergy and community-based organizations who are advocating for smaller class sizes, a better school day and an elected school board. Class size matters. It matters to parents. In the third largest school district in Illinois there are only 350 social workers—putting their caseloads at nearly 1,000 students each. We join them in their call for more social workers, counselors, audio/visual and hearing technicians and school nurses. Our children are exposed to unprecedented levels of neighborhood violence and other social issues, so the fight for wraparound services is critically important to all of us. Our members will continue to support this ground swell of parent activism and grassroots engagement on these issues. And we hope the Board will not shut these voices out.

While new Illinois law prohibits us from striking over the recall of laid-off teachers and compensation for a longer school year, we do not intend to sign an agreement until these matters are addressed.

Again, we are committed to staying at the table until a contract is place. However, in the morning no CTU member will be inside our schools. We will walk the picket lines. We will talk to parents. We will talk to clergy. We will talk to the community. We will talk to anyone who will listen—we demand a fair contract today, we demand a fair contract now. And, until there is one in place that our members accept, we will on the line.

We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters throughout the state and country who are currently bargaining for their own fair contracts. We stand with those who have already declared they too are prepared to strike, in the best interests of their students.

This announcement is made now so our parents and community are empowered with this knowledge and will know that schools will not open on tomorrow. Please seek alternative care for your children. And, we ask all of you to join us in our education justice fight—for a fair contract—and call on the mayor and CEO Brizard to settle this matter now. Thank you.

<!–

–>

Karen Lewis

Karen Lewis is the president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Says No Thanks to Public Schools for His Children July 22, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Education.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment
Roger’s note: Rahm Emanuel, as Obama’s chief of staff, was the main force behind the Obama Administration turning into little more than Bush Three;  a man as hawkish as any hard line Republican.  That both the Emanuels and the Obama’s send their childrent to private schools is all you need to know about their commitment to public education.  They are Republicrats, and more Repub than Crat.  What progressivism that was left in the Democratic Party after Clinton got through with it is pretty much disappeared.  What a joke Emanuel claiming that sending his kids to priviate schooling is a personal and not a political decision.
Published on Friday, July 22, 2011 by the Chicago Tribune

Critics say choice sends message about Chicago’s public schools

  by Kristen Mack

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will bypass Chicago Public Schools, like many high-profile politicians before him, and send his children to the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in Hyde Park this fall.

“We understand why he would choose a school with small class sizes; a broad, rich curriculum that offers world languages, the arts and physical education; a focus on critical thinking, not test-taking; a teacher and an assistant in every elementary classroom; and paid, high-quality professional development for their teacher,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said. “It’s wonderful that he has that option available to him.” (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

 

The mayor’s administration confirmed Thursday that Emanuel and his wife, Amy Rule, decided to send their children, Zach, Ilana and Leah, to the same school once attended by Barack and Michelle Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha.

Emanuel, who was in New York for an Obama fundraiser when the news broke, has maintained that where the couple send their children to school is a personal, not a political, decision. But the choice led inevitably to criticism that city leaders who send their children to private schools have no personal stake in Chicago’s public schools.

“I’m not in a position to question his choice. Every parent has the right to do that,” said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education. “But I do think he has to recognize that his choice has sent a message to Chicago public school parents.

“It sends a message that he has not found a Chicago public school that he is confident enough to send his kids to.”

Emanuel’s children previously attended a private religious school in Chicago before moving to Washington while he served as President Obama’s White House chief of staff. They attended private schools in Washington and finished the school year there.

During the mayoral campaign, Emanuel faced the question of whether Chicago public schools were good enough for his kids. He declined then to say where his children would go.

At a recent news conference, Emanuel said the decision was one to make privately with his wife, taking into consideration what is best for their children and their education.

“This is what you have to respect. I live in public life. I’m a father to three great children, and that’s a private life,” Emanuel said. “If I use my kids’ education in any political context, I’d be less of a father than I want to be.”

Former Mayor Richard Daley sent his children to Catholic schools, even as he made it clear Chicago could not survive without vibrant public schools. Emanuel, too, has made improving CPS a key focus of his young administration.

The Emanuels’ home is in Ravenswood, where the local schools are Lake View High School and Ravenswood Elementary.

Many families who live in that neighborhood, however, compete for elite Chicago public high schools — selective enrollment schools such as Northside College Prep — where students need top grades and high test scores for admission.

Those high schools also allow principals to admit a handful of students using principal discretion. The controversial process has come under fire in recent years over whether clout plays a role in students landing the coveted spots.

To gain admissions into magnet CPS schools, some of the top elementary schools in the district, students have to win a spot through a lottery.

Barbara Radner, director of DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education, said either way Emanuel was in a difficult situation.

“There’s no way they could’ve gotten into a selective enrollment school without heavy suspicion,” Radner said. “If it had happened through a lottery, everyone would’ve been suspicious too. It wouldn’t have worked out.”

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who has objected to Emanuel’s plans to withhold teacher pay raises and change work rules, issued a less-than-subtle statement about the mayor’s decision.

“We understand why he would choose a school with small class sizes; a broad, rich curriculum that offers world languages, the arts and physical education; a focus on critical thinking, not test-taking; a teacher and an assistant in every elementary classroom; and paid, high-quality professional development for their teacher,” Lewis said. “It’s wonderful that he has that option available to him.”

© 2011 Chicago Tribune

Obama Defends Republic Windows and Doors Workers December 8, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Labor.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

workers-rights

Workers refuse to leave the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago. President-elect Obama has weighed in, supporting the workers’ demands for severance pay. (Photo: M. Spencer Green / AP) www.truthout.org

 

by: Abdon Pallasch, The Chicago Sun-TimesAlso see below:     
In Factory Sit-In, an Anger Spread Wide    •

President-elect Barack Obama put himself on the side of the workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory Sunday:

 

    “When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right,” Obama said Sunday at a news conference announcing his new Veterans Affairs director. “What’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.

 

    “When you have a financial system that is shaky, credit contracts. Businesses large and small start cutting back on their plants and equipment and their workforces. That’s why it’s so important for us to maintain a strong financial system. But it’s also important for us to make sure that the plans and programs that we design aren’t just targeted at maintaining the solvency of banks, but they are designed to get money out the doors and to help people on Main Street. So, number one, I think that these workers, if they have earned their benefits and their pay, then these companies need to follow through on those commitments.

 

    “Number two, I think it is important for us to make sure that, moving forward, any economic plan we put in place helps businesses to meet payroll so we are not seeing these kinds of circumstances again,” he said. “Have we done everything that we can to make sure credit is flowing to businesses and to families, and to students who are trying to get loans? And to homeowners who have been making payments on their homes but are still finding their property values so depressed that it becomes very difficult for them to make the mortgage payments?

 

    “That’s where the rubber hits the road and that’s going to be the central focus of my administration.”

 :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

In Factory Sit-In, an Anger Spread Wide

Sunday 07 December 2008

 

by: Monica Davey, The New York Times

 

    Chicago – The scene inside a long, low-slung factory on this city’s North Side this weekend offered a glimpse at how the nation’s loss of more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs in a year of recession is boiling over.

 

    Workers laid off Friday from Republic Windows and Doors, who for years assembled vinyl windows and sliding doors here, said they would not leave, even after company officials announced that the factory was closing.

 

    Some of the plant’s 250 workers stayed all night, all weekend, in what they were calling an occupation of the factory. Their sharpest criticisms were aimed at their former bosses, who they said gave them only three days’ notice of the closing, and the company’s creditors. But their anger stretched broadly to the government’s costly corporate bailout plans, which, they argued, had forgotten about regular workers.

 

    “They want the poor person to stay down,” said Silvia Mazon, 47, a mother of two who worked as an assembler here for 13 years and said she had never before been the sort to march in protests or make a fuss. “We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere until we get what’s fair and what’s ours. They thought they would get rid of us easily, but if we have to be here for Christmas, it doesn’t matter.”

 

    The workers, members of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, said they were owed vacation and severance pay and were not given the 60 days of notice generally required by federal law when companies make layoffs. Lisa Madigan, the attorney general of Illinois, said her office was investigating, and representatives from her office interviewed workers at the plant on Sunday.

 

    At a news conference Sunday, President-elect Barack Obama said the company should follow through on its commitments to its workers.

 

    “The workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned,” Mr. Obama said, “I think they’re absolutely right and understand that what’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.”

 

    Company officials, who were no longer at the factory, did not return telephone or e-mail messages. A meeting between the owners and workers is scheduled for Monday. The company, which was founded in 1965 and once employed more than 700 people, had struggled in recent months as home construction dipped, workers said.

 

    Still, as they milled around the factory’s entrance this weekend, some workers said they doubted that the company was really in financial straits, and they suggested that it would reopen elsewhere with cheaper costs and lower pay. Others said managers had kept their struggles secret, at one point before Thanksgiving removing heavy equipment in the middle of the night but claiming, when asked about it, that all was well.

 

    Workers also pointedly blamed Bank of America, a lender to Republic Windows, saying the bank had prevented the company from paying them what they were owed, particularly for vacation time accrued.

 

    “Here the banks like Bank of America get a bailout, but workers cannot be paid?” said Leah Fried, an organizer with the union workers. “The taxpayers would like to see that bailout go toward saving jobs, not saving C.E.O.’s.”

 

    In a statement issued Saturday, Bank of America officials said they could not comment on an individual client’s situation because of confidentiality obligations. Still, a spokeswoman also said, “Neither Bank of America nor any other third party lender to the company has the right to control whether the company complies with applicable laws or honors its commitments to its employees.”

 

    Inside the factory, the “occupation” was relatively quiet. The Chicago police said that they were monitoring the situation but that they had had no reports of a criminal matter to investigate.

 

    About 30 workers sat in folding chairs on the factory floor. (Reporters and supporters were not allowed to enter, but the workers could be observed through an open door.) They came in shifts around the clock. They tidied things. They shoveled snow. They met with visiting leaders, including Representatives Luis V. Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky, both Democrats from Illinois, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

 

    Throughout the weekend, people came by with donations of food, water and other supplies.

 

    The workers said they were determined to keep their action – reminiscent, union leaders said, of autoworkers’ efforts in Michigan in the 1930s – peaceful and to preserve the factory.

 

    “The fact is that workers really feel like they have nothing to lose at this point,” Ms. Fried said. “It shows something about our economic times, and it says something about how people feel about the bailout.”

 

    Until last Tuesday, many workers here said, they had no sense that there was any problem. Shortly before 1 p.m. that day, workers were told in a meeting that the plant would close Friday, they said. Some people wept, others expressed fury.

 

    Many employees said they had worked in the factory for decades. Lalo Muñoz, who was among those sleeping over in the building, said he arrived 34 years ago. The workers – about 80 percent of them Hispanic, with the rest black or of other ethnic and national backgrounds – made $14 an hour on average and received health care and retirement benefits, Ms. Fried said.

 

    “This never happens – to take a company from the inside,” Ms. Mazon said. “But I’m fighting for my family, and we’re not going anywhere.”

 

 

Angry Laid-off Workers Occupy Factory in Chicago December 7, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Associated Press

CHICAGO — Workers who got three days’ notice that their factory was shutting its doors have occupied the building and say they won’t go home without assurances they’ll get severance and vacation pay.

About 250 union workers occupied the Republic Windows and Doors plant in shifts Saturday while union leaders outside criticized a Wall Street bailout they say is leaving labourers behind.

Leah Fried, an organizer with the United Electrical Workers, said the Chicago-based vinyl window manufacturer failed to give 60 days’ notice required by law before shutting down.

During the two-day peaceful takeover, workers have been shovelling snow and cleaning the building, Ms. Fried said.

“We’re doing something we haven’t done since the 1930s, so we’re trying to make it work,” she said, referring to a tactic most famously used in 1936-37 by General Motors factory workers in Flint, Mich., to help unionize the U.S. auto industry.

Ms. Fried said the company can’t pay its 300 employees because its creditor, Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America, won’t let them. Crain’s Chicago Business reported that Republic Windows’ monthly sales had fallen to $2.9-million (U.S.) from $4-million during the past month. In a memo to the union, obtained by the business journal, Republic CEO Rich Gillman said the company had “no choice but to shut our doors.”

Bank of America received $25-billion from the government’s financial bailout package. The company said in a statement Saturday that it isn’t responsible for Republic’s financial obligations to its employees.

“Across cultures, religions, union and nonunion, we all say this bailout was a shame,” said Richard Berg, president of Teamsters Local 743. “If this bailout should go to anything, it should go to the workers of this country.”

Outside the plant, protesters wore stickers and carried signs that said, “You got bailed out, we got sold out.”

The Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a civil rights group, announced in a news release Saturday that Jesse Jackson planned to visit the workers Sunday morning to offer his support.

Larry Spivack, regional director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, said the peaceful action will add to Chicago’s rich history in the labour movement, which includes the 1886 Haymarket affair, when Chicago labourers and anarchists gathering in a square on the city’s west side drew national attention after an unidentified person threw a bomb at police.

“The history of workers is built on issues like this here today,” Mr. Spivack said.

Representatives of Republic Windows did not immediately respond Saturday to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Police spokeswoman Laura Kubiak said authorities were aware of the situation and officers were patrolling the area.

Workers were angered when company officials didn’t show up for a meeting Friday that had been arranged by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat, Ms. Fried said. Union officials said another meeting with the company is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

“We’re going to stay here until we win justice,” said Blanca Funes, 55, of Chicago, after occupying the building for several hours. Speaking in Spanish, Ms. Funes said she fears losing her home without the wages she feels she’s owed. A 13-year employee of Republic, she estimated her family can make do for three months without her paycheque. Most of the factory’s workers are Hispanic.

 

Democracy Now! Exclusive: Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn of the Weather Underground, the McCain Campaign Attacks, President-Elect Obama and the Antiwar Movement Today November 24, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Political Commentary, U.S. Election 2008.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

In the late stages of the presidential race, no other name was used more by the McCain-Palin campaign against Barack Obama than Bill Ayers. Ayers is a respected Chicago professor who was a member of the 1960s militant antiwar group the Weather Underground. In their first joint television interview, Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn discuss the McCain campaign attacks, President-elect Obama, the Weather Underground, the legacy of 1960s social justice movements, and more. [includes rush transcript]

Guests:

Bill Ayers, distinguished professor of education and a senior university scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author many books, including his 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Antiwar Activist, which is being reissued this week.

Bernardine Dohrn, Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law and the Director of Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center.

Rush Transcript

This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
Donate - $25, $50, $100, More…

 AMY GOODMAN: It’s been ten days since Senator Barack Obama won the election, cementing his path to become the country’s forty-fourth president and the first African American president in US history. Over the course of his almost two-year campaign, Obama came under attack on a number of fronts. But in the late stages of the presidential race, no other name was used more by the McCain-Palin campaign against Obama than Bill Ayers.

Bill Ayers is a respected Chicago professor who was a member of the 1960s militant antiwar group the Weather Underground. On Wednesday, more than a week after Obama beat John McCain in the election, Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin again brought up Obama’s alleged ties to Ayers in an interview on CNN.

    GOV. SARAH PALIN: Well, I still am concerned about that association with Bill Ayers. And if anybody still wants to talk about it, I will, because this is an unrepentant domestic terrorist who had campaigned to blow up—to destroy our Pentagon and our US Capitol. That’s an association that still bothers me. And I think it’s still fair to talk about it. However, the campaign is over. That chapter is closed. Now is the time to move on and to, again, make sure that all of us are doing all that we can to progress as a nation, keep us secure, get the economy back on the right track. And many of us do have some ideas on how to do that, and hopefully, we’ll be able to put all that wisdom and experience to good use together.

WOLF BLITZER: So, looking back, you don’t regret that tough language during the campaign?

GOV. SARAH PALIN: No, and I do not think that it is off base nor mean-spirited nor negative campaigning to call someone out on their associations and on their record.

 

AMY GOODMAN: In the closing weeks of the presidential race, Governor Palin repeatedly invoked Bill Ayers on the campaign trail as a line of attack against Obama.

    GOV. SARAH PALIN: I’m afraid this is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country.

 

There’s no question that Bill Ayers, via his own admittance, was one who sought to destroy our US Capitol and our Pentagon. That is a domestic terrorist.

One of his earliest supporters is a man who, according to the New York Times, was a domestic terrorist and part of a group—part of a group that, quote, “launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and the US Capitol.”

 

AMY GOODMAN: The McCain campaign even put out automated robocalls to voters in swing states to highlight Obama’s alleged links to Bill Ayers.

    McCAIN ROBOCALL: Hello, I’m calling for John McCain and the RNC, because you need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the US Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge’s home, and killed Americans. And Democrats will enact an extreme leftist agenda if they take control of Washington. Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the judgment to lead our country. This call was paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Committee.

 

AMY GOODMAN: On television, an attack ad by the conservative American Issues Project was played in key battleground states linking Obama to Bill Ayers.

    AMERICAN ISSUES PROJECT AD: Beyond the speeches, how much do you know about Barack Obama? What does he really believe? Consider this. United 93 never hit the Capitol on 9/11, but the Capitol was bombed thirty years before by an American terrorist group called Weather Underground that declared war on the US, targeting the Capitol, the Pentagon, police stations and more. One of the group’s leaders, William Ayers, admits to the bombings, proudly saying later, “We didn’t do enough.” Some members of the group Ayers founded even went on to kill police. But Barack Obama is friends with Ayers, defending him as, quote, “respectable and mainstream.” Obama’s political career was launched in Ayers’s home, and the two served together on a left-wing board. Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the Capitol and is proud of it? Do you know enough to elect Barack Obama? American Issues Project is responsible for the content of this ad.

 

AMY GOODMAN: On Fox News, Bill O’Reilly made Bill Ayers his drumbeat.

    BILL O’REILLY: Hi, I’m Bill O’Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight. The Factor confronts William Ayers. That is the subject of this evening’s talking points memo. As I said before, the radical Chicago teacher Bill Ayers is Barack Obama’s worst nightmare. Here’s a guy who simply won’t go away, a man most Americans detest, but a legitimate issue in evaluating a potential president’s associations.

 

One caveat here, The Factor believes the economy and national security are the two most important issues in this campaign by far. We don’t believe William Ayers rises anywhere near those things. However, Ayers is interesting. Here’s a guy who calls himself an anarchist, has admitted committing terrorist acts, even participated in bombing a police station here in New York City. And Barack Obama gave him a blurb for his book in the Chicago Tribune? That, ladies and gentlemen, is no small thing.

Ayers has been hiding out. We watched him for a number of days before Jesse Waters finally caught up with him.

JESSE WATERS: How do you feel about being the centerpiece of this presidential election? What’s your relationship with Barack Obama, Mr. Ayers? Did he write a blurb for your book and sit on a panel with you?

BILL AYERS: This is my property. Would you please leave?

JESSE WATERS: Mr. Ayers, do you want to take this opportunity to apologize for your terrorist acts? Mr. Ayers? Don’t you think it’s time for some repentance? Do you still consider yourself an anarchist?

BILL O’REILLY: Did you notice the red star on his shirt there? You know, here’s the irony. After Jesse’s brief chat with Mr. Ayers, the guy calls the police, the same police he tried to kill back in the ’60s. That is called irony. Well, he police came and escorted Ayers back to his car. Don’t you just love this? When a terrorist guy needs some help, who does he call? The cops. Like everybody else.

Now, some misguided souls feel sorry for Bill Ayers; I don’t. He’s had plenty of time to apologize for trying to hurt fellow Americans. He has never said he’s sorry, most likely because he’s not sorry. I actually think Barack Obama should apologize for hanging with the guy. He should throw him under the bus, just like he did Revered Wright. Look, Senator, everybody makes mistakes. You made one. This is a bad guy. Just say you made a mistake in judgment. Then it goes all away. But Obama has not done that, so poor Jesse had to track Ayers down. That should be the end of the story, but, of course, it won’t be.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Throughout the entire presidential race, Bill Ayers did not once talk to the media. Today, he and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, a fellow member of the Weather Underground, are speaking out in their first joint television interview since the controversy began.

Bill Ayers is now a distinguished professor of education and a senior university scholar at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He’s the author of many books, including his 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Antiwar Activist, which is being reissued this week.

Bernardine Dohrn is an associate professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law and the director of Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center.

Well, Democracy Now!’s Juan Gonzalez and I spoke with both of them from a studio in their hometown of Chicago. In a wide-ranging conversation, we discussed the McCain campaign attacks, President-elect Obama, the Weather Underground, their plans for the future and much more.

I began by asking Bill Ayers to respond to the controversy surrounding him in the presidential race.

    BILL AYERS: We actually didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. We recognized that there was this cartoon character kind of thrust up on the screen, and I was an unwitting and unwilling part of his presidential campaign. We tried not to watch it, because, pretty much, it was distracting and kind of crazy-producing. On the other hand, as you played those, there’s so much that’s dishonest in it that it’s kind of impossible to kind of know where to enter it.

 

First of all, the idea that Bill O’Reilly says, you know, that I was in hiding. I wasn’t in hiding. I was teaching and speaking and writing and doing all the things I do. What I wasn’t doing was commenting on the presidential campaign to the media. And I decided not to do that. We decided not to do that when this all began, because we couldn’t figure out a way to interrupt what we took to be a profoundly dishonest narrative that, you know, had no—we had no purchase. We had no way into it.

And what’s dishonest about it, I mean, there are many things. One is, I was not a terrorist. I never was a terrorist. And the idea that the Weather Underground carried out terrorism is nonsense. We never killed or hurt a person. We never intended to. We existed from 1970 to 1976, the last years, the last half-decade of the war in Vietnam. And by contrast, the war in Vietnam really was a terrorist undertaking. The war in Vietnam was terror on a mass scale, with thousands of people every month being murdered, mostly from the air. And we were doing everything we could to stop it. So, again, it’s hard to know where to start to interrupt that narrative.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Bill, for a lot of younger listeners and viewers who may be not familiar with the Weather Underground—I remember back more than forty years ago I was in the Students for a Democratic Society with you and Bernadine—and could you talk a little bit about how the Weather Underground developed and what were its goals?

BILL AYERS: Sure. When I was first arrested opposing the war in Vietnam was the year that the United States built the war up, 1965. And at that time, I was arrested in the draft board with thirty-nine other students trying to disrupt the normal activity of the draft board. You know, one of the things to note about that arrest is, while thirty-nine of us were arrested and while hundreds of students supported us, thousands of students opposed us, because in 1965 the war was popular. Again, in retrospect, it’s hard to remember that.

In ’65, 70 percent of Americans supported the war. By 1968, 70 percent opposed the war. A lot had happened in those years. Certainly, the activism of the student movement was part of it. Perhaps more important was strong elements of the black freedom movement coming out unequivocally against the war. And perhaps most decisive was Vietnam vets coming home and adding energy to the antiwar movement, starting their own antiwar organizations and denouncing the people who had sent them there, telling us, telling all the American people, that the war was immoral, that they were asked to do war crimes on a regular basis as a part of policy, not by accident. And that just, you know, kind of deflated the whole idea of this so-called noble enterprise.

So here was this illegal, immoral war. In 1968, the sitting president announced that he would leave office at the end of his term, rather than run for reelection, in order to end the war. We felt that we had run a great victory when he made that announcement in March of 1968. Four days after that announcement, King was dead. A couple of months later, Kennedy was dead. And a few months after that, it was clear that the war was going to escalate. And the question was, what do you do? It’s 1968, there’s no end point in sight, and thousands of people are being murdered every month. People did many things. Some joined the Democratic Party and tried to organize a peace wing. Some left the country. Others decided to organize in communities. Some built communes. And we decided that we would build an organization that could resist and create a more militant response to the American misdeeds in Vietnam.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, obviously, when you say that the Weathermen was not a terrorist organization, many Americans, who would see that the organization set bombs in government buildings and in other places, would dispute that. Why would you say that it was not a terrorist organization?

BILL AYERS: Because—

BERNADINE DOHRN: No-–

BILL AYERS: Go ahead.

BERNADINE DOHRN: Can I jump in, Juan?

BILL AYERS: Sure.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Sure, Bernadine.

BERNADINE DOHRN: Nothing the Weather Underground did was terrorist. And, you know, we could make lots of choices if we were reliving it. Nothing we did was perfect. But decision was made, after the death of our three comrades in a townhouse, not to hurt people, to engage in direct actions that were symbolic, that were recognizable and understandable to the American people and that protected people. And that kind of restraint was widespread. There were tens of thousands of political bombings over that first three—1970, ’71, ’72, ’73, all across the country, not under anybody’s leadership, but they were overwhelmingly restrained, symbolic.

Now, nobody in today’s world can defend bombings. How could you do that after 9/11, after, you know, Oklahoma City? It’s a new context, in a different context. So you have to go back to the savage and unrestrained terror that the United States was unleashing in the world, in Vietnam, as Bill said, and at home. You remember that the assassinations of black political leaders in the United States was a regular feature of life. And, you know, it seemed—the context of the time has to be understood.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill O’Reilly, Bill Ayers, in the ad said that you admitted to bombing a police station and weren’t sorry about it.

BILL AYERS: What I wrote in my book, Fugitive Days, I wrote about the extraordinary decade in which many of us came of age and committed ourselves to fighting against war and against injustice and for peace. And mostly what we did was nonviolent direct action through that whole latter part of the ’60s. And then we reached a kind of crisis, which is, we had convinced the American people—we and forces—you know, it’s an interesting thing to think about the years ’65, ’68. In three years, the American people swung all the way over to oppose the war. Kind of reminds you of the recent events, where in three years a popular war became massively unpopular.

But in any case, the question was, what do you do? And in no way do I think, or in my book do I rationalize or argue, that what we did was the best thing or the only thing. But what I do say is it was understandable in its own terms. “Is it terrorism?” Juan asked. No, it’s not, because terrorism targets people and intends to intimidate and murder people in order to get a political—its political way. We never did that. We never intended to do it. And no one was hurt or killed. So that’s an important distinction.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn today on Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We return to our interview with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.

  •  
      SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Mr. Ayers has become the centerpiece of Senator McCain’s campaign over the last two or three weeks. This has been their primary focus. So let’s get the record straight.

 

Bill Ayers is a professor of education in Chicago. Forty years ago, when I was eight years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts. Ten years ago, he served and I served on a school reform board that was funded by one of Ronald Reagan’s former ambassadors and close friends, Mr. Annenberg. Other members on that board were the presidents of the University of Illinois, the president of Northwestern University, who happens to be a Republican, the president of the Chicago Tribune, a Republican-leaning newspaper. Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign, he has never been involved in this campaign, and he will not advise me in the White House. So that’s Mr. Ayers.

    FRED HAMPTON: So we say—we always say in the Black Panther Party that they can do anything they want to to us. We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary.

 

WALTER CRONKITE: In Chicago today, two Black Panthers were killed as police raided a Panther stronghold. Police arrived at Fred Hampton’s West Side apartment at 4:45 this morning. They had a search warrant authorizing them to look for illegal weapons. The state’s attorney’s office says that Hampton and another man were killed in the fifteen-minute gun battle which followed.

BLACK PANTHER: The pigs murdered Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton while he lay in bed. Their lies, their oinking to the people won’t—can’t bear up to the evidence that we have that they murdered our deputy chairman in cold blood as he lay in his bed asleep.

BERNADINE DOHRN: The Panther Party organized tours of the apartment that they were in when they were murdered, and I went with a group of people from the SDS national office, which is a couple of blocks away.

BLACK PANTHER TOUR GUIDE: Don’t touch nothing. Don’t move nothing, because we want to keep everything just the way it is.

BERNADINE DOHRN: It was a scene of carnage. It was a scene of war. You see this door ridden with bullets, not little bullet holes, but shattered.

BLACK PANTHER TOUR GUIDE: The room where First Brother Mark Clark was murdered at.

BERNADINE DOHRN: You walk through a living room into the bedroom, and there’s a mattress soaked in his blood, red blood down the floor.

SKIP ANDREW: Anyone who went through that apartment and examined the evidence that was remaining there could come to only one conclusion, and that is that Fred Hampton, twenty-one years old and a member of a militant, well-known militant group, was murdered in his bed probably as he lay asleep.

THOMAS STRIETER: This blatant act of legitimatized murder strips all credibility for law enforcement. In the context of other acts against militant blacks in recent months, it suggests an official policy of systematic repression.

BERNADINE DOHRN: We felt that the murder of Fred required us to be more grave, more serious, more determined to raise the stakes and not just be the white people who wrung their hands when black people were being murdered.

It’s two-and-a-half weeks since Fred Hampton was murdered by the pigs who own this city. And for people to be able to enjoy Christmas time in this country, without remembering and without making a choice about the struggle that’s going on in the world, without taking action about a blatant murder that takes place in the city against a revolutionary black leader, is an obscenity.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The allegations repeatedly raised by folks on the right throughout the country that you helped launch Barack Obama’s career, what were the actual facts, in your perspective, of that relationship with Obama and the event that you held at your house?

BILL AYERS: You know, we, like thousands of other people, we knew Obama, and we knew him as well, probably, as thousands of other people. He was a guy in the neighborhood. He was somebody that was active in civic life, as we are. And so, of course we would meet and see one another at meetings and so on.

The idea that we launched his political career is a myth that was created with the intention of hurting his candidacy. You know, like millions and millions of other people, we wish that we knew him better. I mean, you know, he is an extraordinary person who has accomplished something extraordinary. But did we launch his career? We were asked by our state senator if we would hold a coffee for him some, I don’t know, twelve or fifteen years ago, and we did, which we’ve done for many people and many causes. So it wasn’t anything extraordinary, and it wasn’t anything outside of our normal lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Ayers, we have the clip of Barack Obama in the debate talking about you, in the last debate, saying he was setting the record straight.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Barack Obama in the last debate. His comment within that quote, he said, “Forty years ago, when I was eight years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts.” Your thoughts on that, Bill?

BILL AYERS: Well, we were a radical domestic group, and he did condemn those acts. You know, I don’t think that what we did was exactly—it certainly wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t something that I’ve defended in every way. But on the other hand, I don’t expect somebody to today endorse what we did forty years ago or even to understand it. To me, nothing that he said is either, you know, false or wrong or terrible. The other thing I guess I would say about it is, we would disagree on our evaluation of what went on forty years ago, but we disagree on many things, so it’s not surprising.

AMY GOODMAN: Like what do you disagree with?

BILL AYERS: Well, you know, I would say calling those acts despicable forty years ago, I guess I would disagree with. But more to the point is that it’s an irrelevant—it’s an irrelevant issue in this campaign.

And what’s interesting is that it was raised up in an attempt to replay the culture wars. You know, there was this wonderful moment on Stephen Colbert where the word for the night was “the ’60s.” And he has a clip of Obama saying, “Can’t we just leave the ’60s behind?” And it comes back to Colbert, in full anger, saying, “No, Senator. We can’t leave it behind. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

And frankly, I think the fact that this may be the last time that the ’60s is raised in that kind of cultural warrior-ish way is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I think it is time to move on, and there’s a new generation. And a lot of the nostalgia for the ’60s, both the hatred of it and the love of it, is misplaced. I think it’s time to look forward. On the other hand, I think that it’s a sad thing that we’ve never really had a truth and reconciliation process about the war in Vietnam, about the black freedom movement and what happened. And that means, among other things, that we haven’t learned the lessons of invasion and occupation. We haven’t learned the lessons of what happens when people get involved in direction action and struggle, and both the advances that can be made and also the limits of those struggles. We haven’t learned the lessons that might make for a more peaceful, more just future. I think that’s the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: Bernadine, I wanted to stay there for a minute, and then, Bernadine, I wanted to get your response, with this clip actually focusing on you. And this is that film that came out a few years ago called Weather Underground. It perhaps gives some context to this. It begins with, well, the Black Panther who was killed soon after this, Fred Hampton.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Bernadine Dohrn in 1969, just after Fred Hampton was killed. And this is from the documentary The Weather Underground by Sam Green and Bill Siegel. Bernadine Dohrn, take us back then and continue with the context.

BERNADINE DOHRN: Well, the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, as we now know—it’s thoroughly documented and decided by courts, federal courts here in Chicago, in Illinois—was carried out in a conspiracy, in a secret conspiracy, between the FBI and the Chicago Police Department. It was covered up, denied. Lies were told. And it was, you know, one of many targeted assassinations of African American leaders in political life. You know, I think during this election campaign, still the echoes and fears for the safety of African American political leaders echoed, certainly from people in our generation, because of the traumatic experiences with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King’s assassination and so many Panthers targeted and assassinated.

The murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark certainly galvanized us and threw us into a level of activity and purposefulness, but so did the Vietnam War. And really, one of the extraordinary things was the merger of those two great rivers of struggle. And they were not separate, the black freedom movement and the war in Vietnam, eventually. So, you know, you had a situation in that era, almost unimaginable now and rarely remembered, where Dr. King, in one of the great talks, speeches of his life at Riverside Church in 1967, said, “The greatest purveyor of violence on this earth is my own country.” That was a painful and agonizing thing for him to say. He said it against the pressures of people around him, the civil rights movement, the labor movement, the Democratic Party. But he said it because he felt that it was true and that it required a certain kind of action. A year later, he was assassinated and dead.

I raise the question when I speak now, is that still true today? Is the greatest purveyor of violence on this earth our own country? Not the only purveyor of violence, but the greatest. If that’s true, we felt then and I still believe, it requires people who are citizens here, who care about the great moral issues of our time, to respond, to not let these crimes and suffering be done in our name. Now, how you respond is a whole other question.

And I think, you know, one of the things that’s interesting about reviving the ’60s, by using Bill as a caricature, as a placeholder during this election to try to make the ’60s seem dangerous and terrifying, is worth examining. In fact, the ’60s was liberatory and exciting and gave birth to a whole progeny of social struggles that transformed American life. Barack Obama could not have been elected president without the great struggles of the civil rights and the black freedom movement; without white people in the United States wrestling with the issue of racism and white supremacy; without the women’s movement; without the veterans’ movement, really, to tell the truth about the Vietnam War and all wars of occupation and conquest; the disabled rights movement; the environmental movement; the green movement; the labor struggles. So these are the part of the ’60s that are being pushed aside, disremembered, and in an attempt to really rewrite the notion that, you know, the issues of our day are defined by what people do.

On the other hand, the exciting thing about today—Bill and I were in Grant Park last week, the day of the—night of the election. And I think one wants to note that many of the tools of the ’60s—the participatory engaged organizing, the door-to-door, the volunteerism, people changing their lives to go listen and talk to people they don’t know about critical issues of our time—this is extremely hopeful. Many of the great tools of the ’60s have been picked up and transformed in the course of this campaign, in the course of these terrible wars we’re involved in, and now in the course of this economic collapse and global peril. So I’m hopeful that we can, not continually rerun the disagreements about the ’60s, but actually recognize that the ’60s were a springboard for this election and for really a historic and momentous milestone that just happened last week. And we can savor that milestone, before we have to critique it and disagree with it and fall to squabbling again.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Bernadine, when you quote Martin Luther King about the greatest purveyor of violence is our own country, that’s not a sentiment that is shared by most political leaders today, certainly not by Barack Obama. And the issue of whether that lesson has been learned or whether the movement that is marshaled behind Obama will perhaps once again be disappointed? As you say, in 1968, you were expecting that the war would be ended, because a majority of the population opposed it. Your concerns about how the political leaders in the United States today deal with the fact of our country being an empire?

BERNADINE DOHRN: Well, I think it’s in our hands, Juan. I think that there is a great peace movement. I think that the people—many of the people who worked in this campaign and were galvanized by this campaign want an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, want no US ongoing military bases in Iraq, want hands off—US hands off Iraqi oil, which I think is the only way that we can begin to repair the incredible harm done to that country and to the displacement of people all over the Middle East. And I think, you know, the same is true for the 160 military bases the US has around the world.

We’re in an incredible historic moment, where the question of the relationship between these issues—let’s just take, for example, war and warming. The global crisis we’re in is related to these wars over oil and control of oil fields. And, you know, we have to connect these issues and to continue to organize independent social struggles.

I think my favorite—our favorite moment of this whole election campaign—and there were certainly, really, many unprecedented and moving moments of the last year and a half—was when, at the height of the primary campaign, Senator—then-Senator Obama was asked, “Who would Martin Luther King support? Would you support you or Senator Clinton?” And without his frequent pauses in thinking, he said, “He wouldn’t support either of us. He’d be out in the street building an independent social justice movement.”

So, as a community—or as an ex-community organizer, he does recognize that social change and really justice comes from below. If we’re going to get universal healthcare, we have to have a movement that insists on universal healthcare. We can do it in stages. It doesn’t have to be all at once. But I think that relationship between social mobilization and participation by large sectors of the population, the whole population, and changing the direction of this country is recognizable and real.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website, democracynow.org. We’ll go back to the interview in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue with our Democracy Now! exclusive, I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez, in this first joint interview with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn since the Obama campaign has ended. They joined us from a studio in Chicago. Bill Ayers spoke about being at Grant Park the night Barack Obama was elected president.

    BILL AYERS: It was an extraordinary feeling. I’ve been in a lot of large crowds in my life, but I’ve never been in one that didn’t either have an edge of anger or a lot of drunkenness or kind of performance. This was all unity, all love. And what people were celebrating was this milestone, which was sweet and exciting and important. But they were also celebrating—there was—you could kind of cut the relief in people’s feelings with a knife. I mean, it was the sense that we were going to leave behind the era of 9/11 and the era of fear and war without end and repression and constitutional shredding and scapegoating of gay and lesbian people, on and on. And there we were, millions, in the park, representing everybody, hugging, dancing, carrying on right in the spot, forty years ago, where many of us were beaten and dragged to jail. It was an extraordinary feeling.

 

I don’t think at this moment we should be getting into at all the business of trying to read the mind of the President-elect and see where we, you know, might do this or that. The question is, as Bernadine is saying, how do we build the movement on the ground that demands peace, that demands justice? This is always the question. It’s happening—the question is being raised in a new context. So how do—you know, I often think, thinking historically, Lyndon Johnson wasn’t the civil rights movement, but he was an effective politician who passed civil rights legislation. FDR wasn’t a labor leader. Lincoln didn’t belong to an abolitionist party. They all responded to something going on on the ground. And in a lot of ways, we have to get beyond—progressive people have to get beyond the idea that we’re waiting for a savior. We’re not waiting for a savior. We need to transform ourselves, transform our movements, reach out to one another and build an irresistible social force for change.

BERNADINE DOHRN: I want to add one word about the election last week, because I’m not done with savoring it and being struck by the uniqueness of the moment. One of the things, I’ve been using the word “jubilant” to describe the feeling in Grant Park and in Harlem and in Soweto and in Indonesia and in, you know, India. It was a global celebration of an election. And it was somber at the same time that it was ecstatic. I think people felt that way when they were home with their kids or taking care of their elderly parents or whether they wanted to go out to some public place and just be part of the phenomena.

And it does represent two important things, at least. One of them, it seems to me, is a pretty decisive rejection of the politics of fear, whether it’s fear that there’s some secret cell of domestic terrorists from the ’60s hanging around or fear that our major primary approach to the world and to raising our children should be one of fear. Obviously, life is—includes tragedy and pain and suffering, and that will come along, but approaching the world as five percent of the world’s people now seems possible, adjusting how the United States thinks of itself in the world. That’s, to me, an enormous thing.

Secondly, you want to recognize here that the famous and much talked-about Bradley Effect, the notion that white people cannot leave behind some of the trappings of white supremacy and racism that have been the ugly river beneath all US discourse, is really important. I was struck when you were playing those tapes that the real coded message underneath those tapes that used Bill as a fear proxy is that you don’t know who Barack Obama really is. There was some notion of him being unknowable, exotic, strange, foreign, deceitful. And, you know, strangely enough, we feel like if all they could come up with was that he knew us casually, the guy is pretty clean, is pretty extraordinary. He’s been vetted and vetted and vetted, and there was nothing there to throw at him, except this question of maybe an African American man is not knowable to white people. And it’s worth—we don’t—neither Bill or I think that we’re in a post-racial world, but it is worth noting that that was rejected by almost all sectors of the population, including independent voters.

BILL AYERS: The attack on—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Bill, if I can, I’d like to change tack for a moment—

BILL AYERS: Sure.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —and talk a little bit about how you evolved from the period of Weathermen. Obviously, you were fugitives for awhile, then you came above-ground and settled your problems with the law. You became a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a leader of the reform movement in education in that city. This whole issue of public education and what you see as what needs to be done in public education to revamp our public school system, and what you would hope an Obama presidency would address?

BILL AYERS: You know, I think we’ve suffered so much in the last decades, really, under the wrong way of thinking about education, education reform, foreign policy, the economy, so much of the kind of meta-narrative, or the dominant discourse, is so mistaken and so misplaced. And a lot of what I’m—what I have fought for and what I am struggling for is simply to say, let’s change the frame on education.

I can give you a couple of simple examples. When somebody says, as people said in this campaign, “We really need to get the rotten teachers out of the classroom,” I mean, immediately we all kind of nod dully. But if somebody said, instead of that frame, somebody said, “What we really need is for every child to be in a classroom with a thoughtful, well-educated, caring, intellectual, well-compensated and well-rested teacher,” we’d all nod to that, too.

So, the question is, who gets to set the agenda? To me, the agenda for education in the last couple of decades has been so wrongheaded, because it’s been based on the idea that we do our best with a lot of competition, which is very narrowly conducted and highly supervised and surveilled. That, to me, is the wrong model for democratic education. In fact, the way I think we have to ask the question is, since all of us, no matter—educational leaders, no matter where they are—the old Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, medieval Saudi Arabia—we all agree that the kids should do their homework, not do drugs, be in school, learn the subject matters.

So what makes education in a democracy distinct? And I would argue that what makes education in a democracy distinct is that we don’t educate for obedience and conformity; we educate for initiative and courage. We educate for imagination and hope and possibility. And we recognize that the full development of each person requires the full development of all people. Or another way of saying it is, the full development of all is the condition whereby we can educate each. And that shifting of the frame is so important. And frankly, I’m hopeful that in this period of rising expectations, of rethinking so much, that this is where we can go.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Ayers, Juan mentioned that course of history, that time when you were fugitives and then when you came, surfaced above ground. But I was wondering if we could go back there, especially because you’ve just re-released your book Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Antiwar Activist. First of all, why are you releasing it now? Very significantly, it came out on a day that most people would not have noticed it, September 11th, 2001. And can you talk, actually, about what it was like to be underground, and then what happened as you chose, you and Bernadine chose, to resurface, and how you dealt with things from there, how you dealt with the law and then became the two professors that you have become?

BILL AYERS: You’re going to have to help me, I think. But, OK, the release of the book. I mean, the books—I’ve written several books. And the book was released now, because the publisher wanted to release it now, but it’s been in production for a while, this re-release. It was released initially September 11th, 2001. And, of course, like everything else, pretty much we forgot about what else happened on that day, except the terrible tragedy of the World Trade Center and the bombing of the Pentagon. So, the book had a life, and I, at the time, went on a book tour and was very lucky to be on a book tour, actually, because I found myself in independent bookstores all across the country, where there was, in effect, at that time, an ongoing rolling teach-in going on. You remember the months right after 9/11. There was an uncharacteristic questioning and wondering and conversation. And that was a very kind of tragic and also kind of hopeful moment. The book was published in paperback a year later. And then Beacon decided to bring it out again.

I’ll say a couple things about the book. One is that I didn’t want it to come out in the last few months, partly because I thought it would have been lost. I didn’t see how anybody could pick it up and read it when so much else was going on. So, you know, it was—it’s coming out now. But the book is a memoir. That is, it’s a story of one imperfect person set down in a particular historical and social context and how he makes his way, how he makes his choices. It’s not a political manifesto. It’s not a history. It’s one person’s memory of those times. And so, it’s a story about a very privileged kid, myself, going to the University of Michigan in 1963, having my eyes kind of painfully opened and seeing the world in flames, and making choice after choice after choice that—you know, on the kind of side of justice and peace and struggling for those things, and finding myself taking more and more militant positions and actions in order to end the war.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill, a quick question.

BILL AYERS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t Dr. King meet with your father? Talk about those years.

BILL AYERS: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: When Dr. King came to Chicago, he said he felt his life was more in danger there than anywhere else. Ultimately, as he tried to challenge segregation in the North and housing in the North, he was forced out of Chicago. But talk about those early years.

BILL AYERS: Yeah, I think Bernadine was very involved in that, and I want her to say a word about that. But it’s true. When King came north and was leading the movement in Chicago—and he had said this is going to be the hardest nut to crack. Before this, we were fighting feudalism. Now we’re actually taking on power in its own headquarters. And Mayor Daley negotiated with King, and the chief negotiators were two prominent businessmen, one of whom was my father. So my father was negotiating between King and Daley. He was the chairman of Commonwealth Edison at the time. Bernadine was in the streets fighting. I was in a few of those demonstrations. So it was a kind of an odd and interesting time.

BERNADINE DOHRN: I wasn’t fighting. I was being a law student.

BILL AYERS: Well, I know, I know. Well, we wrote a book together, about this and other incidents that’s also coming out this month called Race Course. And the subtitle is Against White Supremacy. Maybe talk a little bit about King and then come back to—and the Chicago days.

BERNADINE DOHRN: You know, one of the great things about both of us being from Chicago and from Hyde Park, you know, is that you have two generations of Daleys and many two-generation stories here: Bill and his father; my mom, who lived with us for the last five years of her life, growing up in an immigrant family here in Chicago. So, the threads are deep.

But for me, as a law student going to work with Dr. King on the West Side of Chicago in 1965, when he moved to Chicago, around the key issues of housing, habitable housing for poor people, and desegregated housing, which was tied to habitable housing, is that, you know, I had that great opportunity, which many law students still do today, of seeing law and justice tied to a social movement. And so, I went around with experienced community organizers from the South with an armband that said “Legal.” I was a second-year law student. I knew practically nothing. But my eyes were opened. I learned, I watched, I listened. And I was able to try to understand, you know, that new left kind of mantra, that the people with the problems are the people with the solutions and that you don’t hand people solutions, you encourage people to take up and remake their own world, a lesson for participatory democracy and community organizers today. So, for me, that relationship between justice and social change was forged right at that moment.

 

BILL AYERS: And, you know, the other thing about King coming north is that Martin Luther King, who’s mythologized as this person who led a bus boycott, had a dream, gave a speech, won a Nobel, all those things, and then kind of was quiet, misses 1965 to ’68, when King, the angry pilgrim, was becoming more radical every year, every day, as he tried to forge a unity between racial justice, economic justice and global justice.

And frankly, that’s very much what we have to do today. When we said before, you know, it’s the end of the era of 9/11, this vote is a repudiation of the era of war and fear, it’s also an affirmation of possibility. And we’re looking forward to kind of January ’09, rising expectations, new hopes, finding ways to unite movements. One of the things I think we have to do as progressives is get over the idea that we’re somehow a barricaded minority with some precious ideas that don’t fit with the larger vision of democracy and so on, because I think, actually, we are very much—you know, I’m sometimes amused to be called “in the mainstream.” I’m still a political radical. I’m still a progressive. I still consider myself an activist. At the same time, I’ll take it, because, frankly, I think the mainstream includes peace. It includes racial reconciliation. It includes a repudiation of white power. It includes the rights of all human beings for dignity and recognition, including and importantly gay and lesbian and transgendered people, and on and on. I don’t think these are minority positions. It sometimes startles me to read what the Chicago City Council passes as resolutions. They, too, are against the PATRIOT Act. They, too, are against nuclear weapons. So, why do I have to pretend that I’m protecting some precious turf, when actually I should join with everybody, link movements together and build a force for real fundamental social change.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Ayers, now a distinguished professor of education at University of Illinois, Chicago, speaking along with Bernadine Dohrn, his wife, attorney. She is an associate professor of law at Northwestern. She runs the Northwestern Children and Family Justice Center there. And that does it for part one of our Democracy Now! exclusive. We will bring you the rest of this interview on Monday. Tell your friends.

AMY GOODMAN: Right now we turn to the second part of our exclusive broadcast interview with former Weather Underground members Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. Until just a few weeks ago, Ayers and his anti-war actions from nearly 40 years ago formed a central part of the Republican attack on Obama. In their first joint television interview, education professor Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn spoke to Democracy Now! Today we bring you the final part of the interview. I asked them about their thoughts on why the John McCain campaign had focused on Bill Ayers in particular and not on Bernardine Dohrn.

BILL AYERS: Well, I think that there’s a couple of things, one is that, you know, it’s worth noting that this was an * to a New York Times reporter, I have no regrets for opposing this government and its war with every ounce of my being. I don’t have anything to apologize for. I wish we had done more. And by we, I mean you, I mean me, I mean everybody who’s over 50. I wish we had all done more. And more does not mean a particular tactic. It means we should have been smarter, more determined, more capable of uniting, more able to think of ways to bring this to an end. Because democracy failed us in 1968. Profoundly. It failed us because we wanted a war to end. We couldn’t end it. And we couldn’t figure out how. So I think we all should have done more. And frankly, today, an honest assessment of the wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are not doing enough. We should be doing more. And what that means is, we should be thinking harder, uniting harder, and working harder for peace and justice.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: And knocking on doors. I mean, I think we have the opportunity right now, hundreds of thousands of people have just experienced their first time of talking to strangers, listening to strangers about politics and *about the future of the planet. That’s a remarkable opportunity, because we have to do a lot more listening and a lot more talking to deal with, really, the future of the planet, massive starvation, the destruction of water and rivers and oceans, and the relationship of all that to war and armament. I don’t see how we can move forward out of this economic crisis without massive demilitarizing of the U.S. empire machine.

BILL AYERS: And, and…

BERNARDINE DOHRN: I think that’s what we have to do, but how do we have that? I don’t have any formula for how we do that. I want to talk to everybody about how key that question is of how much money and resources and off the budget, you know, budgeting of our tax dollars goes into that unaccountable, highly privatized war machine of domination and mayhem. When we have so many fundamental human needs here and around the world. And what?

BILL AYERS: And I was going to just say, I mean, not only do we need to reframe, kind of, foreign policy to say could it be about justice, could we be a nation among nations rather than the most militarized, dominant kind of nation. But the second part of that is, could we invest in people and could we imagine an economy not based on the idea that what’s good for the most wealthy is going to trickle down and be good for all of us, but rather based on the idea that investing in education—very important—investing in Social Security, investing in health, investing in employment, investing in rebuilding. This is what could transform the whole situation. So we’re at a moment, and this is—I think connect these ideas, these demands, these movements is really where we’re headed.

AMY GOODMAN: In a part of The Weather Underground, the film, you are reading from Fugitive Days, Bernardine Dohrn, from Bill’s book, and you’re talking about—when you’re underground, you’re talking about being surveilled and harassed. This is 40 years later. We see the police infiltrate peace groups, terrorist databases with thousands of names, the latest revelations in Maryland—
people opposed to the death penalty who are working for peace; on a database, Catholic nuns; on a database.

But if you could go back, because you do in this book, in Fugitive Days, what it was like to live underground and how you both decided to resurface. Where you were, how you dealt with—well, actually, not being known where you were, and then what happened when you surfaced? How did you deal with the law? I mean, Bernardine, you’re a lawyer today.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: That’s a big, long question, Amy. We—you know, being underground was more ordinary than you can imagine. Even though it was an extraordinary kind of Alice-in-Wonderland-through-the-rabbit-hole transformation because the day after, we disappeared. We didn’t really disappear of course, we just failed to show up for our court date in Chicago.

We—and Bill writes about this quite beautifully, I think, you know, we had to invent what it meant. We had to try to figure out how to live, how to work, and we found ourselves thrown into a part of the economy, a largely invisible but huge part of the economy, where people work off the books, where people are not who they say. Massive immigrant and undocumented population. People who at that time were fleeing the draft or military service for moral reasons, not out of cowardice. And people who were trying to live—women who wanted to live as who they were. Gay and lesbian people who couldn’t tolerate being denied and stifled. So, there was a really rich sea of people transforming themselves and making themselves up and inventing themselves.

We had to live, you know, work jobs. I worked cleaning women’s houses. I worked in the fields cutting grapes. I worked as a waitress. So all the jobs, transient kind of jobs, that people do brought us, I think, back into touch with how we got thrust into the peace movement and the student activist movement of the 60’s and how hierarchical and unfair large parts of American society are. So, we took care of each other and interestingly enough, we were protected. A lot of people from the 60’s were painted as a fringe element. And in some ways, of course, our rhetoric was wildly overheated. But in fact, for 11 years, we were protected. Nobody turned us in. People helped take care of us even when they disagreed with us and wanted to sit down and argue about various choices and what was the priority to do. And, so, there was large sea of support. We were part of a big umbrella that hated what was being done by the Nixon administration and thought that there was a tradition in U.S. political life that was better.

So, in some ways, it’s very similar today, even though the tactics and the framing of things are different. The Bush administration has been utterly discredited and repudiated—unprecedented. We have to immediately move to, you know, overturn the military commission act, probably the worst piece of legislation passed. Well, I think it probably surpasses the alien sedition act that denies habeas corpus, that gives the U.S. And the President the secret ability to define torture, that pardons everybody for war crimes that have been committed. And come to some—I think we should do now what we failed to do in the Vietnam War, which is, you know, a new forum, a U.S. forum of a truth and reconciliation, independent commission. To hear testimony about the last eight years and to find out who was responsible for the worst crimes that were committed. And then, I don’t really care what happens in terms of how much prosecution and who’s sent to jail, but I think an honest recounting and an honest listening of who’s paying the price for these policies from the top is really called for.

I’ve been teaching a class on torture for the last six years. We had a young man who was in Iraq come talk to the class. He was an interrogator and came to realize that what he was doing was torture, and left the military and has written a book about it. He just reflects, to me, one of hundreds of thousands of young people who are struggling to come to an ethical understanding of their own life and their role in relationship to power in this moment. And I think our attention, you know, the 60’s is past. It’s interesting, it sets a context. I think without the 60’s, we wouldn’t be where we are now, and yet, I think, Bill and I feel very much like our job is to live in the present and to be part of today’s social struggles.

AMY GOODMAN: How does it feel to speaking in the press, Bill Ayers, right now? You haven’t for many, many months since your name was first invoked.

BILL AYERS: Well, I mean it—you know, I speak all the time, so it doesn’t feel that unusual. Although, I didn’t want to comment on the presidential campaign while it was going on to the media. So that’s what—that’s the only thing that I didn’t do. Again, I couldn’t find a way—I couldn’t think of a way to disrupt the dishonest narrative of guilt by association or the dishonest narrative of unrepentent terrorists. I couldn’t find a way to object to that and push it back. So, that’s done now and moving on.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill, in the decision to resurface after 10 years that you and Bernardine made with your two boys, how did you resurface? What is the process?

BILL AYERS: See, I thought you were going to speak to that when you started.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: I meant to speak to that.

BILL AYERS: Why don’t you say something?

BERNARDINE DOHRN: There were charges against me. We didn’t know—Bill was his usual generous and patient self. After the end of the Weather Underground organization, most people…

BILL AYERS: Which was right at the end of the war.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: Which was in 1976, right after the United States—well, let me just divert for one minute. How did the war in Vietnam end? This is one thing from the past that we might note, here, because to listen to the Republican campaign, you would think that somehow the U.S., you know, wasn’t defeated in Vietnam—that something shameful happened. In fact, the U.S. was militarily defeated and driven out of Vietnam, both by opposition here and by the Vietnamese people. So, we might just note that moment, because how the war ended does matter in terms of how this war might end—better, sooner, quicker, save more lives.

But we—I was stubborn, and I couldn’t bring myself to turn ourselves in. So, Bill was generous and easygoing and let me come to it by myself. We regrouped. We had a life organized around our two children. We worked at a school and worked and jobs and became child-centered parents to the best of our ability. I came to realize after the birth of our second child, who’s now a teacher—a middle school teacher, that, you know, they couldn’t continue like this and there was no political reason for to us stay underground. So, we agreed to turn ourselves in, in Chicago, and not completely knowing whether there were secret charges and what had happened. Of course, all the federal charges from the old days had been dismissed because of massive illegal F.B.I. activity, and several F.B.I. agents had been indicted. So, we came to Chicago, left our two boys with dear family friends, not knowing what would happen, and walked the gauntlet, really, into a hive of media—that’s my main memory of it—and then went back to our fifth floor walkup apartment in New York and resumed our lives there. Just changed our names, as the kids said.

BILL AYERS: And like everybody else, made our twisty ways towards, you know, back to school, to work, and that’s what we continue to do—trying to figure out how to name the moment that we’re in, how to participate in it. We’ve been very involved in the last couple of years in a movement-building process with lots and lots of friends, and we’re hopeful.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Are there any final regrets? And, also, what you felt so far as you’ve led your life above ground, underground, and above ground again—what you felt were the greatest successes?

BERNARDINE DOHRN: You know, of course we have regrets. I think our sectarian errors, but they’re easy to say, Amy, and really hard to do. That’s what I’ve come to realize. We can list off, you know, what we wish we’d done better. I’ve written about it extensively. Bill’s written about it extensively. But doing it right, of course, is hard. I think we have an opportunity now for unity, for connecting issues and for popular organizing. That’s how I see it. In my lifetime, I’ve seen young people change the world. So, I remain very hopeful in Birmingham, in Beijing, in Soweto, in Seattle, at Stonewall. Young people standing up, not with any particular tactic or with any particular form of militancy. You know, the bus riders into the South changed the world. So, ye’re in a perilous moment, but tremendously hopeful moment.

BILL AYERS: You know, I think that I would echo Bernardine’s regret. I think that if we’ve learned one thing from those perilous years, it’s that dogma, certainty, self-righteousness, sectarianism of all kinds is dangerous and self-defeating. So, to me, the rhythm that we tried to live our lives by and that we urge on our students and others is open your eyes, see the world as it really is. Act. Take some action within the world. Engage. And then, importantly, and something we forgot to do in 1970, doubt. Act and then doubt. Question yourself. What did you do right? What did you do wrong? And then act again. So that rhythm of opening your eyes, seeing the world, acting, doubting, acting, doubting, it seems to me is what ought to power us forward.

What I’m proudest of, what I feel most strongly about, is that we’ve had this extraordinary 40 years together. We’ve raised three of the most extraordinary young men that I can imagine, and they continue to kind of help us, inspire us, awe us, and I guess the other thing is, I think, that Bernardine mentioned we had her mother living with us the last five years of our her life, we had my father living with us the last three years of his life. They both died at home with a lot of dignity, and, I guess, I feel that’s the best accomplishment, those two things—our kids, our parents, and onward from here.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: I want to say one last thing. The best of the new Left and the best of the social struggles of today have at their core the valuing of human life. All human life. You have to say both parts of that because people in the United States have to find our place in the world. And in some ways get off the necks and the backs of people of the world. We have to live differently. We have to live, and I say this with all humility too, you know. We have to all together learn to live differently so that others may live. So that core notion that animates social justice movements is really the valuing of all human life.

AMY GOODMAN: Bernardine Dohrn, law professor at Northwestern University in Chicago. Bill Ayers is an education professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 228 other followers