Since Wednesday night’s Pennsylvania Democratic Presidential Debates, Beacon author Bill Ayers has been in the news for his connection to Barack Obama, after George Stephanopoulos pressed Sen. Obama to discuss his association with Ayers. Ayers is a widely respected and admired writer, activist, and professor of education, whose opposition to the war in Vietnam led him to be active in the Weather Underground 40 years ago. In media coverage over recent days, his record and career have been distorted. Here are some guides to setting the record straight.
The Washington Post investigated the relationship and Ayers' activities in a comprehensive article. Post reporter Peter Slevin writes:
The two men served for three years on the board of the Woods Fund, an anti-poverty group. The board, which Obama has since left, was small and collegial, said chair Laura Washington, who served with them. It met four times a year for a half-day, mostly to approve grants, she said. The atmosphere was "friendly but businesslike."
Washington praised Ayers as "an admired and respected member of Chicago's civic community" and "a very big proponent of self-determination in education: Community schools and for the community to have a role in improving education."
The article also cites a statement by Chicago mayor Richard Daley, whose father was Mayor of Chicago during the protests at the 1968 Democratic Convention in which Ayers participated: “I also know Bill Ayers. He worked with me in shaping our now nationally-renowned school reform program. He is a nationally-recognized distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois/Chicago and a valued member of the Chicago community. I don’t condone what he did 40 years ago but I remember that period well. It was a difficult time, but those days are long over. I believe we have too many challenges in Chicago and our country to keep re-fighting 40 year old battles.”
A comment Ayers allegedly made after the September 11th terrorist attacks in an interview about his memoir Fugitive Days has been cited as well. Ayers has been quoted as saying on that day “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.”
The New York Times points out that the comment was actually made prior to September 11th: “Mr. Ayers did not make the remarks after the attacks on the World Trade Center that day. The interview had been conducted earlier, in connection with a memoir that he had published, Fugitive Days.”
A “Fact Check” article, states “Clinton's implication that Ayers made hurtful comments connected with the terrorist attacks is wrong”, but perpetuates a myth about what Ayers actually said, which he corrects in his own blog:
“I’m often quoted saying that I have ‘no regrets.’ This is not true. For anyone paying attention—and I try to stay wide-awake to the world around me all/ways—life brings misgivings, doubts, uncertainty, loss, regret. I’m sometimes asked if I regret anything I did to oppose the war in Viet Nam, and I say ‘no, I don’t regret anything I did to try to stop the slaughter of millions of human beings by my own government.’ Sometimes I add, ‘I don’t think I did enough.’ This is then elided: he has no regrets for setting bombs and thinks there should be more bombings.”
In response to the media focus on him because of his acquaintance with Obama, Ayers shared this email he sent in response to an invitation to appear on the Alan Colmes Show:
“Thanks, but I'm not interested. None of this current attention is about anything remotely related to my work, my writing, or my political organizing and advocacy. None of the critics or commentators have read a word I've written. So I'm being used as a prop in a predetermined and profoundly dishonest narrative. I don't think Colmes can break from that story, no matter how well intentioned.”
Bill Ayers has published three books with Beacon Press: A Kind and Just Parent: The Children of Juvenile Court which Jonathan Kozol called “…a very important and disturbing book…”, Teaching Toward Freedom: Moral Commitment and Ethical Action in the Classroom and Fugitive Days. Beacon is moving up its planned paperback re-release of Fugitive Days to mid summer. His books have also been published by The New Press and Teacher's College Press.
Ayers' blog is: http://billayers.wordpress.com; you can view his CV at: http://billayers.files.wordpress.com/2007/03/9882vita_2006.doc