Weathermen doc lets you make the call
By Anders Wright
The Weather Underground
Written and directed by
Sam Green and Bill Siegel
Starring William Ayers,
Bernadine Dohrn, Mark Rudd and Lili Taylor
Goes well with: The Free Speech Movement, Chicago 10, Why We Fight
Though I'm loathe to admit it, there's at least one thing on which I
can agree with that nasty beauty-pageant wannabe Sarah Palin: William
Ayers used to blow stuff up. Yep. It's true. Dude spent part of the
'70s off the grid, occasionally planting bombs with other members of
the Weather Underground as part of what now appears to be a misguided
attempt to foster some regime change right here at home.
Ayersas does his wife, fellow Weatherperson Bernadine Dohrn, and
several other members of the grouptalks candidly about his
experiences in The Weather Underground, the Oscar-nominated 2002
documentary that is making a timely appearance in theaters. It opens
Oct. 17 at Reading Gaslamp.
Co-directors Sam Green and Bill Siegel weave those interviews with
archival footage from the '60s and '70s, offering a mini history
lesson of the antiwar movement surrounding Vietnam and how members of
Students for a Democratic Society, dissatisfied with a nonviolent
approach, splintered off into the Weathermen, a faction dedicated to
using force to foster a revolution here in the United States. But
after the infamous 1970 explosion in a Greenwich Village townhouse
killed three of their members, who were preparing to attack a
non-commissioned officers dance at Fort Dix, most of the hardcore
members of the Weathermen, including Ayers and Dohrn, decided that
killing civilians probably wasn't the best way to win the hearts and
minds of America's Joe Sixpacks. But with the eyes of The Man upon
them, the key members of The Weathermen went underground, surfacing
occasionally to blow up a building or other symbol of government oppression.
Wisely, Green and Siegel don't judge their subjects. Instead, The
Weather Underground gives Ayers and several of his former comrades
the opportunity to explain not just what happened, but why. And
though it's almost impossible not to condemn their actions, it's also
equally impossible not to juxtapose the passionate anti-Vietnam War
movement with the considerably more muted antiwar movement of today.
The government may not have bowed to the demands of those calling for
an end to the war, but they realized there were real consequences for
not doing so. Planting bombs seems extreme, but there must be a
middle ground between the extremes of the Weathermen and our present apathy.
Most of the former Weathermen have mixed emotions about that time in
their lives. Mark Rudd, in particular, clearly regrets his actions,
while David Gilbert, serving life in prison for a botched robbery
after the dissolution of the Weathermen, seems to have no regrets.
Others have taken stands somewhere in the middlethey recognize that
their choices cost them any semblance of a normal life for years, but
they also believe their cause, if not their actions, was just.
For his part, Ayers comes across as intelligent and articulate, a hip
academic who's put his past behind him and become a distinguished
professor and a leading advocate for progressive education reform.
Linking Obama to him is ridiculous, since the presidential contender
was under 10 years old when the events in question occurred. But
all's fair in politics, as they say, and it's well worth watching The
Weather Underground to get a real sense of who Bill Ayers was during
the '60s, why he did the things he did and, more importantly, who he is today.
We're taught, as we grow up, to try to change the system from within.
Say what you want about Ayers and the rest of the Weathermen, but
they were a deeply passionate group that tried to go outside that
system during a fascinating time of turmoil, when our government was
deeply involved in unconscionable events. Some things, it seems,