[News] ''Storm the Heavens'': Notes From the Weather Underground on Resistance to Trump

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Apr 18 10:57:34 EDT 2017


  ''Storm the Heavens'': Notes From the Weather Underground on
  Resistance to Trump

Dahr Jamail - April 17, 2017

Those of us living within the borders of the United States currently 
find ourselves living inside the churning engine of a hyper-militarized 
corporate-fascist farce of a democracy that is spiraling into darkness. 
The blades of this death-machine are grinding what is left of our 
precious planet into dust.

Now, think back nearly five decades ago to the late 1960s. The Vietnam 
War was escalating dramatically and imperialism was lurching forward 
rapidly enough to cause ongoing demonstrations and political activism to 
spread like wildfire across the seething country. Some were fueled by a 
hunger for justice great enough they engaged in armed struggle against 
the US government.

It was they who comprised The Weather Underground Organization (WUO), a 
faction of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) that took up arms 
in solidarity with the Black Panthers and other militant groups with the 
aim to "Bring the War Home." Going underground to escape the relentless 
pursuit of the FBI and other law enforcement, the group managed to carry 
out several high-profile bombings -- including one of the Pentagon -- 
over a span of several years. Each action was tied to an act of imperial 
aggression abroad or within the US.

The Weather Underground's bombings targeted symbolic infrastructure: The 
group went to great lengths to make sure that no human was ever harmed 
in the bombings, and none ever was.

Our current political moment brings to mind resisters like the members 
of the Weather Underground. How might they view the current crisis of 
imperialism the US has brought upon itself and the planet? How would 
they connect today's struggles for justice with those of the past? What 
advice would they give to those working for social justice today?

Truthout caught up with several former leaders of the Weather 
Underground to find out.

*Revolution "Was in the Air"*

When it comes to mainstream perceptions of the 1960s, former Weather 
Underground member David Gilbert says, the struggle against imperialism 
is often given short shrift.

      "We have to remember that the source of imperialism’s strength,
      the global scope of intense exploitation, is also its greatest

"People looking at the 1960s through today's lens see only the horrors 
that had to be stopped -- the napalming of children and the massacres of 
villagers in Vietnam, the jailings and assassinations of civil rights 
activists at home," Gilbert, who was a founding member of the Columbia 
University SDS chapter, told Truthout in a letter from prison. "Yes, 
that was horrible; yes we were furiously fighting to stop that, as well 
as the many other military and economic atrocities imperialism rains 
down. But that's only half the story."

Gilbert, was arrested in 1981for his role in a Brink's armored car 
robbery. Gilbert and other white activists were part of a group they 
named the Revolutionary Armed Task Force. They were acting in solidarity 
with the Black Liberation Army, with whom they worked to rob the vehicle 
with the aim of acquiring funds for the movement. During the attempted 
robbery, two police officers and a Brink's security guard were killed, 
and Gilbert was sent to prison for felony murder, alongside several 
other activists, including his wife, Kathy Boudin. He is currently doing 
time in the Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, New York, and is not 
eligible for parole until 2056.

Like other "Weathermen" Truthout interviewed, Gilbert was motivated to 
join the radically oriented group because "revolution was on the march 
around the world."

National liberation movements were gaining steam throughout the Third 
World, and were actually able to seize power in about a dozen countries.

"The most oppressed, the 'wretched of the Earth,' were reshaping the 
world in a more equitable and humane way," Gilbert wrote. "Those of us 
who later formed the Weather Underground pored over these various 
revolutions, studying both how they won against imperialism's monstrous 
military machines and the changes they brought about in terms of 
education, health care, land reform, and women's rights."

      "Perhaps even more than our revulsion for the atrocities, we were
      propelled by the sense of possibility, that revolution was in the

Meanwhile, the US was quaking with internal upheavals. Inspired by the 
emergence of Black Power, mounting militant movements for 
self-determination grew among Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos 
and Asian Americans. The Weather Underground was made up of white 
organizers who were responding to the call of Black-led groups to put 
their lives on the line in solidarity with oppressed people around the 
world. WUO member Bernardine Dohrn, a leader of the group, said, "It was 
largely an era of revolutionary nationalism and racial separation. The 
Black Panthers called us -- not just the WUO but the anti-imperialist, 
anti-racist movement -- 'white mother-country radicals.'"

Waves of other radical movements also swelled, including antiwar, 
student, women's rights, lesbian/gay liberation, environmental and 
workers movements.

"Perhaps even more than our revulsion for the atrocities, we were 
propelled by the sense of possibility, that revolution was in the air 
... and advancing on many fronts on the ground," Gilbert continued. "If 
I had to put the differen[ce] between the 1960s and today into one word 
it would be HOPE ... hope that the world could be changed, was being 
changed, fundamentally, by and for the vast majority on Earth."

In our interviews, the Weather Underground's leaders emphasized the 
interconnectedness of the many struggles afoot. Dohrn, who was a 
principal signatory of the group's declaration of a state of war on the 
US government, stressed the connections between the war in Vietnam and 
racial injustices playing out in the US. She explained that the Weather 
Underground Organization was not singularly aimed at stopping the war in 
Vietnam, but also targeted the ongoing FBI assassinations of and attacks 
on members of the Black Freedom Movement, as well as being part of the 
broader international struggle for justice.

"We (the broad 'we') had convinced the population that these wars were 
wrong and unpopular, but the US continued its efforts to destroy the 
crops, the terrain and the lives of Vietnam," Dohrn, who was placed on 
the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list for three years, said.

Dohrn explained that the Weather Underground's bombings against the 
obvious pillars of war, like the Pentagon and the US Capitol, "showed 
that what looked invincible and overpowering was also very weak and 
vulnerable. These actions did not need a communiqué to explain who was 
responsible and why. By then, the sequence of WUO actions spoke for 
themselves, and had established a clear pattern of damaging property, 
but not human lives."

Over the past two decades, Dohrn has done groundbreaking work within the 
fields of juvenile justice and human rights.

Another founding member of the WUO was Naomi Jaffe, who joined the group 
to be in solidarity with the efforts towards Black self-determination, 
and because of its Marxist ideals.

"We hoped to weaken the US from within, to give the liberation forces 
around the world a better chance to defeat it from without, to be part 
of Che's strategy of 'Two, three, many Vietnams,'" Jaffe explained to 
Truthout, citing Che Guevara's model of guerrilla warfare and 

Like the other three former WUO members, Jaffe acknowledged that none of 
them were speaking for other veteran activists of their generation, and 
noted that they were all white.

"There are so many veteran activists from other sectors of our '60s and 
'70s movements, particularly people of color, who are still deeply 
engaged," Jaffe explained. "I believe some of them are at Standing Rock 
right now [at the time of this interview]. Some are in prison."

Like Gilbert, Jaffe was inspired by international revolutionary 
movements. She saw that the Vietnamese people, against all conceivable 
odds, were winning, and did eventually win the war. US General Curtis 
Lemay had threatened to bomb Vietnam "back to the Stone Age." Yet the 
Vietnamese -- despite rampant poverty -- came together and, through 
ingenuity, unity and sacrifice, went on to defeat the world's mightiest 
military power.

"This astonishing feat accounts for the gradual coming to consciousness 
of the famed US anti-Vietnam War movement," Jaffe said. "It took being 
defeated by a small poor country to awaken large numbers of US Americans 
to the injustice of invading them in the first place."

Jaffe pointed to the militant resistance of the Vietnamese people as a 
powerful sign that things could change in the US -- and that the 
violence wrought by the US government was not inevitable.

"The resistance of a small underdeveloped country against a mighty 
military power became a model that created the possibility that the 
world might defeat US imperialism, which I believed then, as I do now, 
was the scourge of the earth," she added. "I joined the Weathermen, not 
out of despair, but out of inspiration and the hope that we too could be 
part of the liberation forces that were sweeping the world."

Dohrn's husband Bill Ayers was also a leader and cofounder of the 
Weather Underground. Looking back on his years with the group, Ayers 
frankly acknowledged the persistence today of the systems against which 
the Weather Underground struggled.

"If you take perhaps our most straightforward and easily understood 
goals, you would have to say that we failed," he explained. "We wanted 
to end a particular war, and even after much sacrifice and struggle and 
success at persuading people to oppose it, the war ground on for 10 
excruciating years, and 3 to 6 million people were thrown into the 
furnaces of death; and then we wanted to end empire and usher in a world 
of equality and mutual recognition, a world without war, and look where 
we are."

According to Ayers, they had set out to lay siege to white supremacy and 
create a society built on a foundation of racial justice and yet, 
decades later, massive disparities (life expectancy, infant mortality, 
incarceration, school success, employment, premature death) are still 
etched sharply along the color line, still reflecting the pervasive 
entrenchment of white supremacy.

"We wanted to eradicate poverty and upend economic exploitation, and yet 
the yawning chasm between haves and have-nots intensifies," Ayers, whose 
current work focuses on education justice among other areas, said.

*Then and Now*

Many people now feel a sense of urgency for deep change. But Jaffe 
wonders why folks haven't felt that same urgency for decades 
"particularly in relation to the destruction of the Earth and US 
aggression and slaughter around the world."

While she is finding hope and solace in the increasing political 
awareness the Trump administration has generated, along with the Black 
Lives Matter Movement, which has challenged "the culture of 
normalization of contempt for Black lives," she remains horrified by 
what has become "normalized" in the US.

"2.3 million people, mostly of color, in prison; a dozen countries 
destroyed and their populations exposed to monumental suffering; the 
extinction of species," she said. "How do we challenge this 
normalization now and prevent it from overcoming the anti-Trump outrage?"

Jaffe said the biggest difference between what we are facing today and 
what the world faced in the '60s and '70s is not in the magnitude of 
white supremacy and brutality. "Remember that the Black Panthers and 
other liberation forces arose in response to police killings similar to 
those being exposed today," she said. Instead, the difference is the 
level of global resistance.

"Our generation saw resistance and liberation movements around the world 
that had a vision of global justice, a common enemy in US imperialism 
and racism, and a chance of success," she said. "Those movements were 
largely crushed by US and European military and economic power; even the 
liberation movements that won militarily and politically, like Vietnam 
and South Africa, were more often than not overwhelmed afterward by the 
force of Western economic dominance."

Jaffe sees the convergence of three massive events in this moment as a 
trenchant history lesson for us: the election of Trump; the death of 
Fidel Castro, at 90 years old -- about 60 years after the Cuban 
revolution; and one of the largest and most defiant Native American 
resistance movements in this country's history, which occurred at 
Standing Rock.

"Win or lose, every resistance redefines the moment, carries the torch 
forward for the next generation, and keeps alive the possibility of a 
better world," Jaffe said.

Ayers sees many parallels between the 1960s and today.

"In 1965 I felt that the terms of the struggle were stark: a humane 
future versus annihilation, love versus hate, humanity versus the 
machine, balance and peace versus chaos and war," he explained. "I was 
driven by the 'fierce urgency of now' and the palpable choice between 
barbarity and community. That sense only intensified by 1968 and 1969."

Today, he sees the stakes as being both higher and more transparent, 
with "the furnaces of war more intense and the chaos rising, the waters 
rising, the world on fire."

"Look at the country today: a trillion dollars a year on war, invasion 
and occupation, a tiny group of over-privileged -- under 5 percent of 
the world's people -- on the wrong side of any hope for a world in 
balance and gobbling up the common and collective resources in a drunken 
frenzy of consumerism, acting as if large swaths of humanity and the 
earth itself are entirely disposable ... and more."

Despite that bleak analysis of our current predicament, Ayers still 
finds hope, and feels the "fierce urgency" even more strongly than he 
did five decades ago.

"I have enormous hope and confidence that the current generation, all of 
us, can and will find new ways to resist the madness and to build toward 
a world at peace and in balance, powered by love, joy, and justice," 
Ayers said.

Dorhn, too, pointed to the political currents that have persisted across 
the decades, and noted that the election of Donald Trump reminds us of 
the kind of country we live in: a place rife with "naked white 
supremacy, armed neo-fascist forces becoming united with each other at 
the border, in statehouses, in rural areas from Oregon to Oklahoma to 
North Dakota."

She believes the Trump election serves as a wake-up call for everyone to 
realize that the progress we've made is not nearly enough, and yet is at 
risk of being dramatically reversed. Those reversals have already become 
apparent: the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, the 
restriction of voting rights, the proliferation of lying media sources 
driven solely by profit, the unraveling of the US/Iranian/European 
agreement on reducing nuclear weapons, and intensifying US hostility 
toward Cuba, to name a few examples.

Dohrn emphasizes that today is a time for telling the truth and being 
reliable as individuals, acting on those truths, and organizing among 
those who disagree. Her prescription for moving forward? "Resistance, 
counter-offensives, poetry, art, music, dance and more organizing."

*"We Have a Chance to Win"*

Despite the dramatic march of US imperialism since the height of their 
actions in the late '60s and early '70s, all four former Weather 
Underground members retain a remarkable sense of hope.

Gilbert expressed solidarity and appreciation for the many activists who 
are fighting imperialism worldwide.

"The times and conditions are so different today that the WUO isn't 
exactly replicable or a direct model," he explained. "The aspects of our 
history that do apply are our sense of urgency, our passion, our 
commitment to fundamental change; and most crucially, the basis for 
that: a deep identification with all oppressed peoples worldwide."

Gilbert believes now people must continue to find creative ways to 
resist. He says it's vital to make the human costs of climate disruption 
and other major issues more vivid and immediate to large numbers of people.

"To recapture that crucial sense of hope and possibility," he added. "We 
want to identify with and fight alongside the vast majority of the world."

Gilbert noted that never before in world history has there been a ruling 
class as powerful and destructive as today's, nor have the challenges 
the world faces ever been as formidable or daunting as they are currently.

"But we have to remember that the source of imperialism's strength, the 
global scope of intense exploitation, is also its greatest weakness, 
with literally billions of people having a fundamental interest in 
revolutionary change," Gilbert said. "The very scope ... of the system 
also makes it unstable and volatile in ways that will undermine its 
viability, which may open up dramatic new possibilities. There's 
literally everything in the world at stake. When we fight, with love in 
our hearts, we have a chance to win."

Dohrn noted that it is important to work to connect today's various 
struggles, uniting whenever ethically possible. She mentioned a few of 
the dots that we must connect: "War and global warming. Indigenous 
rights and clean water. De-militarizing borders and immigrant 
rights. Exposing police violence against people of color. Demanding 
universal health care and housing. Free, universal public education that 
rejects testing, privatization and drilling for 'correct' 
answers. Expanding the arts, the humanities and thinking. Acting with 
love and solidarity."

Jaffe, like the others, stressed that it is of the utmost importance to 
get politically involved, in whatever way one feels pulled to do so. The 
evils embedded within the system go way beyond Trump, she emphasized, 
and circumstances necessitate something revolutionary in response.

"That 'something' has to be with other people, face to face, and in some 
way build survival, community, resistance and solidarity," she said. "In 
the wake of the Trump victory, a lot of that is happening all over the 
country -- rallies, vigils, sanctuary cities, anti-Islamophobia and 
pro-LGBTQ rights marches, political strategy meetings ... all valuable."

Ayers also saw multiple points of entry for activists.

"The challenge is to dive in where you are, whatever your issue, 
location, or talent, and then to reframe every issue, and connect the 
issues to one another," he said. "War and warming, work and Black lives, 
human rights and environment. When the upheaval is upon us we must be 
prepared to find one another, link up, and storm the heavens."

    Dahr Jamail <http://www.truth-out.org/author/itemlist/user/44706>

Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of /The Will to 
Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan 
(Haymarket Books, 2009), and /Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an 
Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq 
(Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, 
as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last 10 
years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative 
Journalism, among other awards.

His third book, /The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and 
Who Is Responsible 
co-written with William Rivers Pitt 
is available now on Amazon.

Dahr Jamail is the author of the book, /The End of Ice/, forthcoming 
from The New Press. He lives and works in Washington State.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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