William Ayers was a young radical in the 1960s — this is admitted, accepted, and not in question at all. Now William Ayers is a respected academic, somebody who is no longer advocating violence, who is a crusader for social justice and urban educational reform within the system, and that sounds like it ought to be an interesting and worthy story. So why is the Republican party trying to brand him as a terrorist? He’s a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago!
The latest sad twist is that he was invited to speak at a student research conference, and the craven University of Nebraska-Lincoln canceled the event under pressure from donors and politicians. The governor of the state called the invitation an “embarrassment” and said “Ayers is a well-known radical who should never have been invited to the University of Nebraska”; representatives and senators chimed in with similar sentiments; a regent called it “bad judgment”; donors to the university threatened to withhold further contributions. This is insane. Ayers hasn’t committed a crime, and he’s not a danger to society — this is a fellow who clearly has a deep commitment to improving society (perhaps, to Republican eyes, that is his crime).
Has anybody thought to look at what Bill Ayers actually promotes? He has a website, and it’s trivial to look up what he’s advocating. For instance, here is a description of his book, Teaching Toward Feedom:
In Teaching toward Freedom, William Ayers illuminates the hope as well as the conflict that characterizes the craft of education: how it can be used in authoritarian ways at the service of the state, the church, or a restrictive existing social order-or, as he envisions it, as a way for students to become more fully human, more engaged, more participatory, more free. Using examples from his own classroom experiences as well as from popular culture, film, and novels, Ayers redraws the lines concerning how we teach, why we teach, and the surprising things we uncover when we allow students to become visible, vocal authors of their own lives and stories. This lucid and inspiring book will help teachers at every level to realize that ideal.
Why, that sounds admirable. So why are these lunatics shrieking for his head, and condemning Barack Obama for simply attending meetings as a community organizer at the same time as Bill Ayers?
It’s obvious. The right-wing hate machine, desperate for a way to smear a candidate who has an unimpeachable history as an advocate for social justice, strained to find some dangerous association, and the worst they could come up with is a gentle, writerly academic who let the passions of his youth lead him into violent and illegal actions 40 years ago — actions that he considers just. They ignore his history ever since — apparently, there is no redemption unless you embrace Jesus and Republican intolerance, ala Chuck Colson — and they pretend that his words now simply don’t matter. They stir up the mob to hatred, and the mob calls in threats of violence against an educator, and UNL simply surrenders in cowardice.
Bill Ayers is a reason to vote against Republican demagoguery tomorrow.