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Column: Texas A&M Professor Supports Activist Bill Ayers

This story was written by Patrick Slattery, The Battalion


I support Bill Ayers. In fact, I proudly and enthusiastically support Bill Ayers. I wish I could do more to support my friend.

For two decades Ayers has been a leader of school reform in Chicago and an advocate for educational equity. He has served on foundation boards with Republicans, Democrats and Independents. In recognition of his tireless efforts, he was named "Citizen of the Year" in 1997. He is a role model for community service.

As professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Ayers has written many books -- some of which I use in my courses at A&M. In 2007, he was elected vice-president of the American Educational Research Association, the most prestigious research organization in education. Ayers has the support and admiration of his academic peers.

In my role as the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies, I work on many committees with Ayers. I even "pal around" with him at social events after our meetings, and there is always a crowd of graduate students engaged in complicated conversations with him.

In addition to being a professor of education, I am also an activist and pacifist, a conscientious objector to war and a member of the campaign to end the death penalty. I organized teach-ins at the Sul Ross statue prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I do not own any weapons, though I once had a shotgun as a kid that I used to hunt ducks. In my most recent book, I write about Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Thich Nhat Hahn, Rosa Parks, Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jane Addams and Jesus's sermon on the mount as my philosophical inspiration. So why would a non-violent activist like me support Ayers?

In short, Ayers is not the caricature of a "domestic terrorist" presented by politicians in the presidential campaign. I am angered by the politics of fear, innuendo, misinformation and guilt by association. I want my name to be added to the list of people who stand against this disingenuous and degrading maneuver. Our fragile democracy depends on people speaking out in rebuttal to these types of tactics.

A second reason why I signed the petition to support Ayers is that the Vietnam era was a complicated time in history that deserves a more robust analysis. Our political climate mitigates against rigorous scholarly analysis. I would like to see all sides of the events of the 1960s presented in a reasoned and reflective seminar. I believe that Ayers' characterization of the 1960s -- including the Weather Underground -- in his interview on National Public Radio on Nov. 20 advances such a robust analysis. I urge people to listen to this interview and consider multiple viewpoints.

As a college student in 1970, I marched in protest of the war. Some of my friends joined the military and died in Vietnam. Some of my friends fled to Canada. Some burned draft cards. Some joined groups like the Weather Underground. Civil Rights leaders including Martin Luther King were harsh critics of the Vietnam War. None of us did enough to stop the tragedy of Vietnam. This is what Ayers meant when he said, "We did not do enough." We need to revisit this time and learn from our mistakes because we keep repeating our errors in Iraq.

I chose the path of non violent protest in the late 1960s, and I did not join the Weather Underground. I follow that same path today as I protest the war in Iraq. In hindsight, some of the actions of my friend were stupid and dangerous. Some of his actions exceeded a reasonable threshold of an appropriate response to an insane and unjust war. I also believe that the actions of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and the agents of the U.S. military at Kent State, My Lai, the Gulf of Tonkin and elsewhere in Vietnam crossed a moral threshold to a level of vilent injustice and deadly evil. I could be wrong. But let's have a reasoned discussion and scholarly analysis of these events rather than name calling and threatening Wanted posters. I signed http://www.supportbillayers.org/ because I wanted to stand up against the McCarthy-era-style slander of those who were attacking Ayers.

There is still much to learn from Vietnam. This perhaps is the primary reason why I signed the support for Ayers. I want to move from sound bites and character assassination to rigorous investigation of the 1960s. We have a "teachable moment" here at A&M, and I will organize an event next semester for my students that includes voices from every possible perspective. We will all listen respectfully and learn something new. We will study with this attitude: "My interpretations of events in U.S. history are limited, and perhaps my opinions are misinformed." In this same spirit, I support the right of the Young Conservatives of Texas to present their viewpoints -- hopefully in more appropriate ways in the future.

I conclude that Ayers did commit acts of vandalism, property damage and violence in the late 1960s and early 1970s during a time of national duress, but Ayers did not kill anyone. I believe him when he tells me that he never intended to kill or harm any people in the past and does not now seek to kill or harm anyone. Nevertheless, his protest actions were dangerous and could have resulted in the death of innocent people. In fact, three members of the Weather Underground died when one of their bombs accidentally detonated. Additionally, his tactics to end the Vietnam War were in no way morally equivalent to the devastation and death of innocent civilians perpetrated by the U.S. government and some in the U.S. military during the Vietnam Era.

Thus, as a non violent activist, I reject the destructive actions of the Weather Underground and the deadly actions of the U.S. government in the Vietnam Era; I reject political campaigns based on fear and guilt by association; I reject bullying tactics of intimidation and death threats; and I support Bill Ayers with a clear conscience.

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