18 October 2008

Bill Ayers: sounds like my kind of guy

The Republicans have been making much of Barack Obama's association with former member of the Weathermen, William Ayers, who they delight in referring to as a terrorist. Obama and "the terrorist" once lived in the same neighbourhood in Chicago and their paths crossed from time to time. Both have worked on education reform and they served together on the board of the Woods fund of Chicago, a community anti-poverty group. Ayers has also contributed to Obama's political campaigns. The New York Times, however, has reported the relationship is not close.

Ayers was a founding member of the Weather Underground, a radical group that carried out bombings of public property during the Vietnam war. The Weathermen took great care to avoid harming people with their bombings, and they were successful. The only people they harmed were themselves when three of them died making a bomb. They were accused by detractors of a bombing in San Francisco that killed a policeman; however, they never claimed credit for it nor has any verifiable evidence connected them to it. They were generally quite specific about what they bombed and why. A Brinks robbery in New York in 1981 that resulted in the deaths of two policeman and a security guard is sometimes erroneously attributed to them. The attack was, however, carried out by another group which included three ex-members of the Weathermen (but not Ayers) well after the Weather Underground had disbanded.

As for Bill Ayers, he put all this behind him and went on to a highly successful and productive career. He is now a Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois, an expert in elementary education and a winner of the City of Chicago Citizen of the year Award. That he rose above his youthful foolishness, became an exemplary citizen, and has contributed significantly to his community, makes him a man worthy of respect and admiration, a man I would be honoured to have as a friend.

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