A Contemporary Framing of 60s Radicalism

A Conversation With Bill Ayers

Bill Ayers, former 60s radical and now a professor of education, became a household name after last year’s presidential campaign. Less than a month before Election Day, he was clumsily referred to by Sarah Palin as the “terrorists” that Barack Obama was “palling around” with. Mr. Ayers, who will be in Athens, GA on May 3 to speak at the annual Human Rights Festival, took a break from his work to converse with me over the phone about America’s wars, public education, the state of marriage, and much more.

Jeff Gore: Seeing as you’re coming to Athens to speak at the Human Rights Festival, do you see any big human rights issues now that are as pressing as the ones that you and many others were involved with over forty years ago?

Bill Ayers: I do. First of all, I think the human rights framework continues to be vital and enlivening in a thousand different ways. I think if you go back and read the [United Nations’] Universal Declaration on Human Rights, it still – I actually carry it around in my back pocket, I have for years, I’m just reaching for it – literally you open it up and there are things like Article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal with dignity and rights.” That still has very important implications. Or, here’s one: “Everyone has the right to a nationality. No one should be arbitrarily deprived of nationality.”

Here’s another one: “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.” That’s part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That’s not some, you know, crazy radical idea that a bunch of gay people have imposed on us; it’s right there from 1948. So one of the overarching human rights issues of right now for us here in the United States is the full recognition and full civil rights of GLBTQ people…that’s a huge issue.

Another human rights issue is the issue of torture…incidentally, torture not only [by] the US abroad, but torture, for example, in Chicago, where – you may not know this – the suspension of the death penalty in Chicago several years ago was based on torture cases. That is, innocent men were tortured into confessions that put them on death row.

So we’ve slipped in a terrible, terrible way in this country…you have the Attorney General of the Justice Department writing memos just a couple years ago explaining why waterboarding is not torture, even though [after WWII,] Japanese officials were tried for war crimes, one of [which] was waterboarding. But here you have the Department of Justice issuing an opinion that waterboarding is not torture, because as soon as you remove the gag from the person’s mouth, his mental suffering ends – well that’s just insane.

Then of course, another human rights issue that’s overarching and quite relevant is the issue of war and peace. People have a right to a peaceful existence, and war destroys all human rights, yet we are a nation that is pretty much in a perpetual state of war; we’re fighting at least two wars now – some would argue three or four…

JG: Speaking of war, it seems like Obama put the antiwar movement in an awkward position. He’s going to supposedly end the war in Iraq and pursue the “good war” in Afghanistan. What do you see the antiwar movement doing, or what do you hope that it could do during an Obama presidency?

BA: Well I don’t think anyone should be deluded, I think that we have lots and lots of historical examples, for example Lyndon Johnson, the most effective politician of this generation and the man who passed, and really was responsible in many ways for, the most far-reaching civil rights legislation in the history of the country.

But there’s two things to remember about that. One is that Lyndon Johnson was never a member of the Black Freedom movement; that the civil rights movement brought the agenda to Johnson – it wasn’t the other way around. Or another way of saying that is: the civil rights movement provided the force and the energy and the moral framework for Johnson to do the right thing. So Johnson didn’t save the civil rights movement – the civil rights movement, in many ways, saved Johnson.

There’s a lesson there for us today, which is, all the hope that Barack Obama will somehow do the right thing for us is misguided. With any luck, the peace movement, the justice movement can save his presidency, but it doesn’t work the other way around – we don’t have kings to save us, that’s not how it works. So to me the injunction is to get busy and build a movement.

But secondly, Johnson burned up his presidency in war. All the effective things he might have done were destroyed in the furnace of Vietnam. That was his responsibility and that then, is his legacy. So none of us who are anti-war in temperament or activism should be resting easy at this moment. All of us should be naming this moment as a moment of rising expectations and real possibilities, but also a moment of danger and dread. And we should get busy and rebuild the antiwar movement – which we can, and we must.

JG: In a Democracy Now! interview, you suggested that our educational system should try to “educate for initiative and courage,” as well as “imagination and hope and possibility.” Could you put that in more concrete terms – or for example, could you propose something that President Obama could do right now to improve our public education system?

BA: Absolutely. The one thing he could do immediately is to work against No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind should be left behind. That’s something that the Obama administration should do.

Another thing it should do is it should spend that stimulus money to rebuild the educational infrastructure in places like Chicago and places like rural Georgia. Why is that? Well because we have in this democracy, where we assume that all people are equal, and we build social policy around that assumption. We have – for example, in Chicago – school systems that educate kids at the rate 30-40 thousand dollars per kid per year, and schools standing just a few miles down the road that spend less than five thousand dollars per kid per year. That’s a savage inequality in a country that thinks of itself as a democracy. So that’s a second thing that he could do right away.

A third thing that he could do is to stop spending any money at all on test prep. In other words, he should dry up that beast…test preparation is not an education, and the kids who need access to the arts, sports, to clubs and games and after-school – those kids have had those things stripped away from them in the last eight years, and those should be restored.

OK, and I’m going on until you stop me – you should get the military out of the schools. Education is a civilian, and not a military undertaking. And the idea that Chicago, the most militarized school system in the country, has whole schools designated “military schools” – public high schools that are called “military schools” are an outrage in a democratic society. The fact that JROTC is proliferating like mad, and not to make any mistake about it: the Department of Defense has JROTC and military high schools in its recruitment budget. So when they say “Well, it’s not really about recruitment,” they’re lying. It’s completely about recruitment.

…Notice where these military schools are. They’re in poor communities. No one would dare put a military school in Winnetka – the rich Chicago suburb – there’s no way. But in the Chicago public schools, who’s going to resist?

And parents are bought into because they’re led to believe there is no alternative, or the argument is made again and again that kids will learn to be disciplined and learn to be orderly. But what could teach you more discipline than playing in an orchestra? Or being in a theater group? These require enormous discipline. But of course the only discipline that counts, in the mentality of the military, is military discipline. In other words: obedience, conformity, uniformity – and these are not the qualities we need in a democracy. You know, I could go on for hours, I’d better stop right there.

JG: As you know, Students for a Democratic Society reformed in 2006. Have you been able to talk to the students involved with this, and perhaps gauge if they’re headed in the right direction?

BA: Yes, I know the SDS kids in the Chicago area…I know a lot of the SDS chapters and I’ve spoken at their campuses. I’m a huge supporter of multi-issue radical political organizing. In other words, organizing that connects the war with [global] warming, for example, or that connects civil rights with GLBTQ issues, or that connects GLBTQ issues with the right to universal health care. And on and on. So I like multi-issue organizing, SDS does a lot of that.

But the other thing that I feel very strongly about is that none of us should be so dogmatic or so certain that we know this is good organizing and this isn’t; we should have an attitude of experimentalness, and we should have an attitude of generosity. So I look at the formation of SDS as a hopeful sign.

…The one thing I would say is that the movement we need today is a movement of organizers, not just a movement of people who feel that they take the right position. People who go out and talk to strangers, knock on doors, find ways to get into the public square in unique and new ways, not in old, tired ways….engage the public in a conversation about the direction of the country. This is the moment of real opportunity, because the rising expectations people are experiencing everywhere are coming into deep collision with the realities of the environmental crisis, the economic crisis, and more, so I think that this is a moment when organizing is what we must do.

JG: Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, SDS and the Weathermen described America as being tainted by white and male privilege. Almost forty years later, many on the left still consider that sentiment a pretty good description of the society we live in today. Would you agree with them?

BA: Well look, I think the election of Obama was a significant blow to white supremacy – and an important blow to white supremacy. I don’t think it was a fatal blow. And if you think white supremacy has kind of gone [by the wayside], I think you have to look again. You have to look at the poverty rates, for example. Children born into poverty: overwhelmingly children of color. Or people arrested, and people who are involved in the criminal justice system: overwhelmingly people of color.

So yeah, I think white supremacy still exists. I think a lot of indicators still show that it exists, and the system of white supremacy is what has to be done away with, not this particular individual with a biased attitude, but it’s the system that privileges people because of their race, their background, their gender, and this does still go on, absolutely. Not uniformly, not universally – it never did. But I think that white supremacy is one of the founding principles of this country and it is not dead yet.

JG: What about male supremacy?

BA: Similarly, women still make significantly less than men for the same jobs, and that’s astonishing forty years after the modern feminist movement got underway. So that’s one way to measure male supremacy: access, recognition, and so on.

But there are other measures as well. One of the things that all of these identity movements have to come to terms with – and the women’s movement is such a classic example of this – is the question of access versus transformation. Is the goal of the women’s movement, for example, historically, is it to have access so they can be as fully equal in the society that has injustice built right into it? Is the goal, that if we had a woman president or a woman CEO of General Motors, would that be proof that women had made it?

Or is hope of the women’s movement [to] create a society based on certain feminist principles like cooperation, mutual recognition?

Same with the question of the gay movement. Is the idea that gays should be equal to everyone else in terms of rights? Well that’s part of it. But some people would argue – and I think convincingly, persuasively – that the real promise of the gay movement isn’t that you get to fight in the U.S. Army and go kill people, or that you get to enter into this moribund institution called marriage, but rather that we create a society in which being queer is not something considered horrible or an anathema, but as something that we build a society where the recognition of people in their wild range of diversity is acceptable, and that we don’t have problems with it. That’s a different vision.

JG: I don’t know if I heard you correctly, did you call marriage a morbid or a moribund institution?

BA: Moribund. M-o-r-i-b-u-n-d. A dead institution. An institution that ought to be killed off…think about it, if you’re married, you get 1500 rights that if you’re not married, you don’t get. One of my favorites, for example, is in Montana – you can pass your hunting license onto your spouse, so if you’re not married you don’t have that right. I know that’s silly, isn’t it?

But what’s the point of that? Why don’t we say instead: “We want universal health care, we want every human being to have the right to name who their heirs are. We need every human being to have a right to name the people they want at their bedside if they’re in a serious crisis or in a life-threatening situation…”

The point is: why are these things tied to marriage? What’s marriage got to do with it? Now if you want to get married and you belong to a temple or a church or an ashram or neighborhood or community of friends, go for it. Knock yourself out.

…At this point, since we do have civil marriages, everyone oughta have a right to marry anyone they want. But if we did away with civil marriage altogether, did away with marriage – then you could get married in your religion or your cult or your neighborhood and nobody’d give a shit. A group of friends could come together and toss you up and down on a trampoline and throw rose petals at you, and God bless you all…

…I mean, people can make all kind of decisions. Why marriage should be privileged above all others just strikes me as inhuman.

JG: But you’re married, aren’t you?

BA: Absolutely. All those rights, all those privileges that you get for married…and I don’t know if you know the circumstance of my getting married. Do you know?

JG: I don’t.

BA: …I had three kids, my wife [fellow Weather Underground member Bernadine Dohrn] was called before a grand jury to testify, she refused, she was put in prison. And at that moment, we had three kids and we’d been together for years and years and years….but at that point, we were vulnerable and fragile in front of the law. So we got her a furlough for two days to get married – so that we could provide some protection for her and me if she were to go off to prison.

But why should we have to do that? Why shouldn’t I have the right to visit her and so on and so on without the nonsense of marriage?

JG: Even beyond marriage, I recall that the Weathermen had a slogan of “Smash Monogamy…”

BA: It’s a great slogan.

JG: [Laughs] But you’ve been with the same woman for what, thirty years now?

BA: Forty.

JG: Forty! So would that be proof that you’ve…gotten over that slogan?

BA: No, I’ve never gotten over it. I think that…[laughs] You know, I mean it was a silly, outrageous, theater of the absurd kind of political theater kind of slogan. It had no literal meaning. But the metaphoric meaning is right.

And that is, the idea that — well first of all, smash marriage — but even the idea of this institutionalized deadening kind of relationship where you become a habit rather than a choice. Rather than saying we’re together for forty years and every morning I get up and say “Gee, I wonder if we should be together today? Yes, I think we should.” That’s a choice. The other way of doing it is a habit: “Ah shit, gotta be here, because: what the hell.” You know? So the metaphor is a good one and the metaphor is a challenge to the idea that human relationships naturally fall into these boundaries of exclusivity.

JG: Why, in the Weather Underground documentary, were you carrying a baseball bat on the streets of Chicago when you were retelling the story of the Days of Rage?

BA: Because the filmmaker handed it to me. He brought it and handed to me, and I hadn’t taken my meds that morning…nah I’m just kidding, I don’t take meds – he handed it to me, he thought it would be cute…I wasn’t thinking about it much. He said “Would you mind walking around with this baseball bat?” and I said “Nah, I don’t mind.” So I think he thought it was cute, and what do I care?

JG: Well here’s this event that was out of control– you know, rioting – and here you are as an adult, talking about learning from your mistakes…and yet you’ve got a baseball bat in your hand walking down the same street you smashed up forty years ago. I just found that funny.

BA: Yeah, it was ironic and I think that’s how the [filmmakers] meant it.

But you know, the truth is that that was a militant demonstration at a certain moment in time. Nobody should be controlled [by] or living in the nostalgia of the 60s – for good or bad. We’re in a new era; the 60s is mostly myth and symbol, it didn’t happen the way the kind of perceived wisdom tells us it happened. It was both more complicated, more layered, more contradictory than any single narrative can tell you.

So I think that it’s kind of one of the great problems for young activists: living in the shadow of this mythological 60s. When mythologically, we had the best music, the best demonstrations, the best sex…it’s not true. It’s so flatly not true that it still astonishes me that people take that narrative seriously.

Or the other side of the narrative is: “Oh, they were out of control, they were domestic terrorists, they were crazy, they were horrible.” That’s also not true. So I think that people have to get over the 60s and move on to some sense that we have to reinvent – right here, right now – a movement for social change and social justice and peace that doesn’t rely on the mythology of the 60s…we have to make the movement right now.

And just one example is that, you know, the peace movement – we became a majority movement over time. But the majority of Americans today want peace also, and are against the wars that we’re waging. So it’s not so different than it was back then. There is difference in terms of street mobilization, but let’s not romanticize that either – because remember, we didn’t end the war. That’s very important to remember: that we did not have the power to stop it. And the war dragged on for seven years after the majority of the American people opposed it. And it dragged on in a vicious way – six thousand people a week being murdered – so the idea that the anti-war movement then was remarkably successful whereas the anti-war movement today is not is just a myth. It’s just untrue.

Now, we have to find a new rhetoric of resistance; we have to find new ways to mobilize…that’s all true. But it’s not true that we should measure it against what happened forty or fifty years ago.

Jeff Gore is a freelance journalist based in Athens, GA. He is a frequent contributor to Flagpole Magazine and has also been published in the Orlando Sentinel and the Orlando Weekly during his formative years in central Florida. Read other articles by Jeff, or visit Jeff's website.

16 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. bozh said on May 1st, 2009 at 12:15pm #

    i do not put much faith in movements. I put a lot of faith in a party. after all that`s why uncle sam has is own party and working class none.
    uncle has its own education, jurisprudence, fbi, cia, city police, armed services, congress, constitution, and senate.
    low and lower classes have none of that. US had its movements and look at US now: serial wars and killings. More people on drugs or in jail.
    then there is torture; bailout for thieves; afrikanas, afrikanos, latinos, and latinas still much deprived and discriminated against.
    and if blacks become secretaries of state or in position of power, they are just tad left of hitler; so eager they are to please their payers and lauders. more cld be said. tnx

  2. mjosef said on May 1st, 2009 at 5:18pm #

    Dissident Voice is doing a fine service by putting these pieces out. Yet we go absolutely nowhere with them. And this one goes into the furthest reaches of nowhere…
    1. Professorial Self-focus. On and on the tenured professor goes, with his Great Words a beacon to us commoners – right? I understand the man has been improperly vilified, and has suffered for moral actions, but his performance has been uninspiring. There is no American left, and whoever killed it isn’t talking. If there is an American Left, why are we in more Vietnams, why did over a million Vietnamese die, why is the military budget so astronomical, why etc. on any topic you want?
    2. No Engagement. A couple of good questions, but no follow-up, and so piles up the words from this professor of whatever in the academe that has credentialed our elite, our Bushes and Rumsfelds and your local banking capo and the torture psychologists and all the rest. Why is there never any direct engagement with these words? Didn’t the 60s have some debate, whereas now it’s one Big Name at a podium, us mute nobodies listening to his or her every intonement, with not a spark of contest or clash every erupting? Or if it does, it’s from a sidewinding rage machine in the audience who is regarded as just some querulous nut?
    3. Apologies.The antiwar movement is dead, and the bombers are all flying today. So why is this gentleman so apologetic? Where are the apologies from the fine men who dropped the bombs, and keep dropping the bombs?
    4. Obama. And now we have this stepping lightly with this houseguest Obama. Thanks starting him on his “community activist” way back then – it’s obviously working miracles right now. You were right, Professor Ayers – the guy’s a champ!
    5. And who do these little droplets of rage reach in 2009 America? Hinterland comment sections, where politics has gone to die. Sorry if I bummed anyone out – buy your tickets, sit at his feet, join the crowd.

  3. Martha said on May 1st, 2009 at 6:39pm #

    I don’t see the point in this article. If there’s a reason to interview Bill Ayers is to ask questions such as, “Bunchy Carter, John Huggins, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark and many other true revolutionaries were shot dead. Many more were imprisoned and, in fact, former Black Panthers have been repeatedly targeted this decade. You, of course, got off thanks to your father’s mother and your race. Considering the rage and anger you elict in so many Black Panthers, why should we care what you say? And how do you justify using race and wealth to your benefit? Didn’t you at one point reject your White privilege?” When White writers are willing to ask Bill or Bernardine Dohrn questions like those and let them stop playing like toy radicals, I’ll be impressed. Until then, they are “the Man” and keeping a lot of us down.

  4. Martha said on May 1st, 2009 at 6:40pm #

    Should be “father’s money.” Sorry.

  5. deang said on May 1st, 2009 at 7:14pm #

    It’s discouraging that the interviewer doesn’t seem to understand Ayers’s thoughts on marriage. Ayers is basically saying we ought to be focusing on equality for everyone, fairness for everyone, rather than just trying to be part of institutions like marriage that are restricted to people who are able to participate in them. The interviewer’s bafflement that Ayers is calling the institution of marriage into question even though Ayers himself is married is something similar to what I’ve encountered when criticizing white racism as a white person. Some people just don’t get it: “But how can you say that?! You’re white!” Sometimes it’s hard to get through people’s limited thinking.

  6. lichen said on May 1st, 2009 at 7:18pm #

    I don’t think the article was that bad – and I don’t really give a damn who was supposedly a “true revolutionary” forty years ago or what some people still obsessed with sixties-era identity politics think (but of course I know that martha has by now been shot down in an epic battle with the white male imperialists…er, condoleeza rice and obama).

  7. lichen said on May 1st, 2009 at 7:23pm #

    But you are a hypocrite if you are a straight married person but are using the ‘fairness for all’ trash as an argument against gay marriage; you should be single in that case, because it will be decades and decades untill that fringe idea has a movement strong enough to get legislation passed, while gay marriage is enactable right fucking now, and some of us don’t want to continue to be excluded from that institution for decades more if we need to take advantage of it.

  8. Elena said on May 1st, 2009 at 9:14pm #

    Can somebody explain to me what the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights actually accomplishes? Is it just a pretty idea? Which countries abide by it? US certainly does not.

  9. bozh said on May 2nd, 2009 at 6:29am #

    we are echoing one another,
    ayers skirts the issues of great import; dwelling solely on peripheral matters. I have observed over decennia that that is standart msm fair.
    my observations of ayers ‘teachings’ are not influenced by what he did or does now or whether he advised or helped O get [s]elected.
    but let the free speech freely flow; i don’t think i wld read anything he contributes. tnx

  10. Erroll said on May 2nd, 2009 at 10:00am #

    I find it bizarre that Ayers of all people would claim that the antiwar movement had absolutely no effect upon stopping the war in Vietnam when, as John Prados points out in his magisterial work Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945-1975, the antiwar movement, along with the GI rebellion, most certainly was instrumental in not only forcing Johnson not to run for president in 1968 but through steady pressure caused Nixon, through increasing public opinion, to keep a wary eye upon the antiwar movement which then made him eventually listen to their demands. The lamentation is that there are no visible and vocal antiwar voices being seen and heard today in response to Obama’s militant actions against civilians of third world countries.

  11. Josie Michel-Brüning said on May 2nd, 2009 at 10:48am #

    I must confess: I’m bewildered by these comments. I can’t understand some short-tempered reactions on this interview.
    The Universal Declaration on Human Rights was authored after World War II, after painfull experiences by which human beings seemed to have learned. The need was obvious to have guidelines for all nations. The United Nations were established and international laws were signed by the US., as well. There are international agreements for protecting all of us, regardless of which colour, religion, nation or gender etc. we are.
    But instead of filing a suit on these laws or enforce a claim by actions of the people some of you seem to behave like your arrogant successive governments by neglecting those progressive achievements and chances for change.
    As long as you are only thinking of your own individual situation confined to your own circumstances and the right to speak out in this forum there is indeed no chance of improvement or survival of human beings at all. – Sorry, I’m disappointed by this small-minded discussions about the person of the author.

  12. mjosef said on May 2nd, 2009 at 1:20pm #

    Okay, you may be bewildered, and I do think your attempts at expression in English are worthwhile. Yet folks in Europe are in no way exempt: where are the great “progressive achievements’ ” in a heaving continent of economic collapse, disregard for the rights of immigrants, complicit politicians? To say that those of us who are fed up with the incessant blather from the intoning professoriate are acting like “our arrogant successive governments” – how? Where’s the analogy? “Smash monogamy” as a kid to 40 years of marriage, and a posed baseball bat – that cannot be objected to?
    Erroll, I will look for that book. The 60s were a watershed time, but even so, the Vietnam war was so devastating, over such a long time, that it should count in no one’s mind as as unalloyed antiwar victory.

  13. Tennessee-Chavizta said on May 2nd, 2009 at 5:20pm #

    Another thing is that Lyndon Johnson killed John F. Kennedy and overthrew Juan Bosch in Dominican Republic.



    Through the 1930s, ’40’s and ’50s, the Dominican Republic was ruled by the former cattle rustler and now dictator, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina – better known in the United States as simply Trujillo. He owned twenty homes, numerous businesses and one-fifth of the his nation’s agricultural land. He surrounded himself with murderers who kept the public intimidated. He promoted himself to his subjects as the Son of God, Savior of Mankind, Generalissimo and Father of the Fatherland. And he ignored the tourist industry, because he did not want a lot of Americans snooping around.

    With his enormous wealth, Trujillo supported a lobby effort in Washington D.C., and he had a friend as Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Harold D. Coole of North Carolina, who supported Trujillo’s interests in the growing of sugarcane.

    The Dominican Republic had never had a plantation economy. That, with black slave labor, had been on the western side of the island, in Haiti. Most common folk in the Dominican Republic were subsistence farmers, and there had been mixing between the races. But Trujillo wanted his fellow Dominicans to think of themselves as white, in contrast to Haiti, which was predominately black. In 1937 Trujillo had whipped up anti-Haitian fears and had massacred thousands of blacks. Under his leadership history had been rewritten, describing the Haitians as villains and the Dominicans as white. Mixed Dominicans were defined as Indians (the Indians, however, having been annihilated long before.). And Trujillo purged the use of the African hand drum from merengue bands and he banned voodoo ceremonies.

    In 1959, Trujillo was blaming Fidel Castro for a rising tide of discontent within the Dominican Republic. In 1960, Venezuela produced evidence that agents of Trujillo had tried to assassinate its president – while Trujillo was playing host to Venezuela’s former dictator, Pérez Jiménez. Venezuela appealed to the Organization of American States. An economic embargo was suggested, and Trujillo clamped down harder on opposition within his country.

    In 1975, A committee led by Senator Frank Church of Idaho investigated the CIA and suggested CIA involvement, but the committee did not find Trujillo’s death the result of CIA actions. It is also said that Trujillo had become an embarrassment to the U.S. and that the assassins had had the clandestine support of U.S. authorities.
    Trujillo met his end in May 1961. He was assassinated by young army officers in his private army who, it is said, were unhappy about delays in being promoted. [note] The assassins caught Trujillo in his car on a lonely road while on his way to meet one of his many mistresses. Nominal power shifted to Trujillo’s vice president, Joaquín Balaguer, while real power remained with military men, and while Trujillo’s sons maneuvered for position. Common people rallied and rioted, demanding democracy. Two of Trujillo’s sons left the island on October 22 and returned on November 15 in an attempt to seize power.

    The Kennedy administration intervened. Here was an opportunity to stand up for democracy – six months after the Bay of Pigs invasion and two months after the Berlin Wall had gone up. United States warships with 4000 Marines appeared just outside the three-mile limit. A jet fighter flew overhead, and all members of the Trujillo family fled the country, to live thereafter on savings from Swiss banks.

    The republic prepared itself for elections, and, in an atmosphere of freedom, political parties sprouted like mushrooms. Only the republic’s small Communist Party was outlawed, in deference to the United States. In the elections that year, the pro-Castro party did poorly. The winner, with 62 percent of the vote, was Juan Bosch, who belonged to the Dominican Revolutionary Party, or PRD – described by some as Social Democrats. He had been a writer and an academic and had spent years in exile as an activist opposed to the Trujillo regime.

    Juan Bosch was an anti-Communist reformer, as was common among Social Democrats. He began a land redistribution program and encouraged strengthening the labor movement. Business men did not much like Bosch. Nor did leading members of the Catholic Church. The republic’s new constitution provided for the separation of church and state. Divorces were now legal, and religious schools were obliged to be open for state inspection. Landowners were displeased with Bosch’s land program. And conservatives disliked the freedom of speech enjoyed by admirers of Castro and others. They were in panic, believing that Bosch was about to turn their country into another Cuba. The U.S. ambassador, Bartlow Marin, accused Bosch of being soft on “Castro Communists.” Also, Bosch’s reorganization of the military displeased high-ranking military officers, who believed that he was establishing his own rival military power.

    Bosch did not bend with the pressures from conservatives, and on September 3, 1963, in a bloodless coup, the military overthrew the democracy, driving Juan Bosch into exile again – to Puerto Rico. A civilian government was hastily created, while power remained with military men.

    For two years the Dominican Republic was in economic and political turmoil. In April, 1965, a group of military officers rebelled and led an attempt to restore Bosch to the presidency. The fighting spread to civilians, and, after four days, the rebels appeared to be gaining the upper hand. Alarmed by populist rhetoric, conservatives again saw a Castro-like revolution as imminent. The U.S. President, Lyndon Johnson, did not want to be seen as failing to contain Castroism. He believed that he could not win a re-election he if permitted a second Cuba. He was feeling threatened by developments in Vietnam, and he wanted to send a message to Hanoi that the U.S. was strong and willing to use its strength. Under the guise of defending U.S. citizens, President Johnson sent 42,000 Marines to the Domincan Republic, Johnson describing his move as an effort to stop a Communist rebellion. Latin members of the Organization of American States sided with Johnson and provided legitimacy of sorts for his move by creating an Inter-American Peace Force, of which the U.S. force was a part. Bosch was denied his return to power, and in 1966 new elections were held in which 300 of Bosch’s supporters were killed. The new president was the former vice-president under Trujillo, Joaquín Balaguer, who was believed to have become a moderate.

  14. deang said on May 3rd, 2009 at 12:09pm #

    lichen –

    Maybe you missed the part where Ayers says this:

    At this point, since we do have civil marriages, everyone oughta have a right to marry anyone they want.

    He’s not saying gays should not have the right to marry, but he does say the reason it’s an issue is because in the US more rights are given to married people than to unmarried people, for no logical reason. Thus, to get by in the society, even Ayers had to get married at some point in order to have certain rights that, at this point in the US, are only available to married people, a situation which is unjust and should be changed. That’s what he’s saying, not that gays shouldn’t have a right to marry in a society that irrationally restricts certain rights only to married people. There’s no hypocrisy there. And I think he’s still right in saying that larger, more inclusive goals of accepting the full diversity of human behavior should still be fought for, even if you have to conform to the standards of your society while you do so.

  15. lichen said on May 3rd, 2009 at 3:53pm #

    Deang, I wasn’t saying that was the position Ayer’s took, but it is a position that some people take, and they are homophobic hypocrites. I don’t what you mean by “even if you have to conform to the standards of your society while you do so” I will not “conform to the standards” of a homophobic, sexist-against-men, heterocentrist society, whether inside the confines of activism, or not.

  16. cass flower said on May 25th, 2009 at 1:33am #

    To be blunt, but with the distance of time, a lot of what Ayers and Dorhn were involved in looks like black flag operation. The collapse of their trial and their subequent career looks unreal.

    Why were the Pathers so angry with these two?