An article originally posted in the SJ-R
By BERNARD SCHOENBURG (email@example.com) The State Journal-Register
The Occupy movement should take credit for chasing the G-8 Summit out of Chicago in May, a founder of the radical 1970s Weather Underground said in Springfield Tuesday.
“They realized the couldn’t actually put on their little show of power,” Bill Ayers told about 50 people at the Golden Frog Cafe in an appearance hosted by a new Springfield group, Foundation for a United Front. “It’s a defeat for them and a victory for the people’s movement.”
The G-8 Summit brings together leaders of the world’s largest economies. The upcoming summit was abruptly moved to Camp David this week.
Ayers spoke about activism. He said he thinks it’s good that the Occupy movement doesn’t have a single focus.
It creates a public space, he said, “where every grievance is welcome.”
“Nobody was talking about income disparity before this,” he said.
Not a terrorist
In an interview, Ayers also said that, even though the Weather Underground was involved in bombings of government buildings in the early 1970s, he does not think it is fair to call him a “domestic terrorist.”
“Absolutely not,” he told The State Journal-Register. If terrorism is defined as indiscriminately targeting civilians, he said, “I never did that.
“We never hurt anybody,” he said. “We never killed anybody.”
Three members of the organization were killed when a bomb under construction detonated at a Greenwich Village townhouse.
“Had that gone forward, it would have been an act of terrorism,” Ayers said. “But it didn’t go forward.”
He said he wasn’t involved in the planning of any attack to hurt people.
“It was a catastrophe that they even thought of that,” Ayers said.
Ayers, a retired education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, became a campaign issue in 2008 because he had been on the board of a community foundation with now-President Barack Obama.
“I knew Barack Obama about as well as tens of thousands of people, and like millions of other people, I really wish I knew him better now,” Ayers said.
‘Question what’s before you’
In his speech, Ayers challenged his audience to examine the world around them. In the 1840s, to have actively opposed slavery would have gone against all the major institutions of the day, just as being for the right for women to vote would have been a radical idea before it was legal.
Someday, he said, people will look back on now and wonder why 2 1/2 million people are in prisons, or why schools are so unequal.
“Every day you have to get up and question what’s before you,” he said.
People disparage government, Ayers said, but “you all rolled over here on a socialist highway.” And in Chicago, where trash pickup is done by city workers, he said, “I’m actually glad that we have socialist garbage pickup. … The socialist fire department is a good thing.”
Ayers, 67, told reporters he’s now old enough to have “oceans of regrets.”
“But what I don’t regret is opposing the war in Vietnam with every fiber of my being,” he said.
He also told the crowd that humor is a good organizing tool. Comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and publications like the Onion “are able to reveal things that the earnest are hiding,” Ayers said.
A few people protested Ayers’ appearance at the cafe, which is on the north side of the Old Capitol Plaza, before the speech began. Philip Martin, 80, had one that said “Communist Chicago convict.”
“You can’t be just a little bit pregnant, not can you be just a little bit of a terrorist,” Martin said.
Inside the cafe, one of the people watching was Al Pieper, 61, a former president of the Springfield Trades and Labor Council.
“I agree with most of what he has to say,” Pieper said, “and I’m glad he came here to say this to these … mostly young folks (and) a few old folks like me.”
Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at 788-1540. Follow him on Twitter @bschoenburg.
Foundation for a United Front works with organizations and individuals to build a better and civil society that will rid oppressive communities, challenge elected officials that are barring productive work, and develop skills to help new leaders grow a quality of life.
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