A Breath of Fresh Ayers | Letters | Chicago Reader

A Breath of Fresh Ayers 

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To the editors:

Ben Joravsky's cover story on Bill Ayers [November 9] proved to me that there is still room in the alternative press for the kind of quality journalism which can tackle the complexity of personal choices made by someone like Ayers without reducing the whole thing to some academic "checklist" of politically correct--or "incorrect"--actions. The fact that Ayers, through and through, is a true radical--radical in his beliefs as well as his actions--invites a far more loaded examination of the issues than you will normally have, and, to his credit, Joravsky allowed the complexity of those issues to come through, without succumbing to pat resolutions to the questions those issues raise. No one can be perfect all the time--but Ayers has made a career of almost always taking the hard way out, because he had a vision of a stronger, braver world that he wanted to bring to life.

Ayers makes no apologies for what he did with the Weathermen, because he knows the times demanded it. Every day innocent lives were wasted; every day someone came home in a body bag. It was Malcolm X who said "Violence is neither right nor wrong: it's an aspect of the situation." But people are funny: they can deal with nearly any collective atrocity, but crimes committed by individuals are somehow unspeakable; they are the work of an "unbalanced mind". It doesn't seem to occur to them that a psychotic society induces psychosis in the individual--not the other way around. And, while Ayers may have broken with the more overtly violent trappings of his past, it's clear that he has not wandered one iota from the radical agenda of his value system: far from it. Ayers knows that the fundamental problems with our society start with the classroom and its mentality of competition and performance. By entrenching himself in school reform, he's simply chosen to "subvert from within", rather than as an outsider: a decidedly more effective course of action, it seems to me.

Ayers' most valuable asset is his forward thinking; somewhat like the late Michael E. Harrington, he is one of those rare individuals so far ahead of his time that he can eloquently and cleanly dissect what is wrong with the present as surely as if it were the ancient past. Those are the kind of people we need among us now; there is the danger not only that we may stop moving forward, but that we may fall back into a society of witch hunts, papal bulls and death squads. We need radical minds like Ayers' among us now; we do not need tweed-jacket- and-Reeboks-wearing moderate-de- mocrat uh-oh-there's-nothing-but- blacks-on-this-train white "liberals" anymore. Bill Ayers says that if he could do it all over again, he wouldn't change a thing--and while Joravsky may have a doubt or two here or there, I think he knows that because Ayers took so many personal risks in his own life, the air you and I breathe is perhaps just a tad safer, a tad less savage, than it might otherwise be.

Patrick Andes

N. Wolcott

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