Peace according to Bill Ayers

Vietnam-era activist Bill Ayers is slated to speak at the upcoming conference.

Educator, author and

Vietnam-era activist Bill Ayers is scheduled to give a talk at the seventh

annual Midwest Peace & Justice Summit on March 26. He'll deliver the

keynote address, titled "Organizing for Social Justice in Troubled Times."

Ayers is a retired distinguished professor of education and senior

university scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago and founder of both

the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society. He's authored

15 books on teaching and children's rights, as well as Fugitive Days, a memoir of his time in the Weather Underground. He

spoke with NUVO from his Chicago-area home.

NUVO: From the Middle

East to the Midwest, we've seen tremendous grassroots protests. Media coverage

of Egypt called them "Days of Rage." Were you having flashbacks to Chicago in



It wasn't just the media. The Egyptians and the Tunisians and the Yemenis all

called their demonstrations "days of rage." Ironic and funny, wasn't it?

There are two natural

responses to the kind of imbalances and injustices that we see around the

world. One is to be outraged. Like the bumper sticker says, "If you're not

outraged, you're not paying attention."

But the other response

that I think struggles with that is the idea that we could do better, that this

is not the best we could do — we could build [Martin Luther King Jr.'s] beloved community. There's a kind of tension between

being outraged and then imagining a different, better world. Saying, "Yes,

another world is possible," stands in direct opposition to Margaret Thatcher's

deathless phrase, "There is no alternative."

Of course there's an alternative, and it's critical that

people who are standing for peace and justice make a big point in their lives

of saying that whatever is the case, whatever the world looks like as such,

standing right next to that is the world that could be but is not yet. That's

the world we have to work toward.

So yes, rage is part of it, anger

is part of it, but that anger has to be tempered by a love of humanity. It has

to be tempered by a sense of justice and a hope for peace.

NUVO: Despite all our

efforts over the years, the war machine keeps on rolling. Beyond hope, what is

the actual work of peacemaking?


We should all note that the week before the Egyptian uprising, not one of us

was paying attention to it. Not one of us thought that it was coming. Not one

of us predicted it. This is the nature of rough and complex social change. Just

because we have an analysis of the injustice and general oppression of the

situation and we know that it has the potential to blow up, we can't predict

when or how or toward what end. The fact is that every revolution is impossible

until it happens, and then looking backwards, every revolution appears

inevitable. That's just in the nature of it.

So, one reaction I

have is not to despair that the war-makers continue against all common sense,

against all popular opinion, to have their way but to actually realize that

hope and investing in hope is itself a politics. I'm not optimistic because I

don't know where the world is headed, but I'm not pessimistic precisely because

I don't know where we're going. And no one can predict. Just because we can't predict what

pebble dropped into what lake will eddy out and make what change doesn't mean

we can't act. That's why sometimes when we don't know what else to do, we bear

witness. That's not only an important thing to do — it's essential,

because it changes us.

I do get up every

morning hoping that we can do better, and I think that's a political choice. I

think we would be ineffective if we didn't posit hope as an important element

in whatever we do.

NUVO: How has the growth

of the right-wing echo chamber to counter the so-called liberal media

influenced efforts to create a culture of peace?


It is troubling to hear all of the right-wing propaganda and see the way it

feeds on itself, and also the way The New

York Times does the bidding of the war-makers. The Times has been an absolutely appalling institution in terms of

marching us into Iraq, in terms of holding back information — most

recently about CIA agent Raymond Davis in Pakistan. Everybody else in the world

knew that this guy was a CIA agent. The only people who didn't know was us

because we didn't get the news from The New

York Times.

But looking on the

other side of it, don't you think it's interesting that it took the American

people three years after the invasion of Iraq to come to a majority opinion

against the war? Remember, that was in the face of a barrage of propaganda and

jingoistic thinking and demonization of Arabs. Still, we are not stupid. We

couldn't stop the war, but we came to our senses overwhelmingly.

NUVO: In your graphic novel, To Teach,you wrote that you want to create "a permanent readiness for the

marvelous." That's very poetic, coming from a former Weatherman. What's

different about your current activism?

Ayers:I've written several memoirs, and I've

certainly written about the years of the Weather Underground, and nothing in

what I've written tries to valorize or heroize or even defend what we did. I do

attempt to explain how a boy like this got into a place like that. But one of

the things that does surprise people is that I was a direct-action, nonviolent

activist long before the Weather Underground, and I've been one ever since.

I believed in the

power of direct action, and I think that it's our responsibility as dissenters

from the juggernaut to present a moral alternative. I don't think the Weather

Underground always did that, but I don't think we never did it either. I think

we can look at that period and see it as unique and deeply troubled and

troubling, but I also think there's no roadmap moving forward. Often, when I

hear the discussion of nonviolence, I get a little worried because nonviolence

doesn't mean sitting on your couch. It means nonviolent direct action.

And nonviolence

cannot be preached by Hillary Clinton. When you look at every gas bomb

and every tank in Tahrir Square made in the U.S., the U.S. has no standing to

preach nonviolence. But those of us who engage in nonviolent direct action have

every reason to stand up and make it a real moral alternative.


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