‘Prairie Fire’ Memories

“I could wallow in nostalgia about my days with the Weather Underground in the early 1970s: at Coney Island with Bernardine Dohrn, eating Bill Ayers’ soufflés and Jeff Jones’ homemade breads and the thrill of having my left earlobe pieced by my wife, Eleanor, who was having the time of her life as a fugitive. But nostalgia would serve no purpose other than self-indulgence. Better to focus on the publication of Prairie Fire, 45 years ago, arguably as significant a manifesto as ‘The Port Huron Statement’ (1962) that helped to launch Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the mass organization Weatherman destroyed—with help from Progressive Labor (PL), the faction that urged members to go to factories and organize workers. The Port Huron Statement emphasized moral values, love, and honesty and expressed the desire for democratic social change. Prairie Fire (1974), the political statement of the Weather Underground, reverberated with ideology, endorsed revolutionary violence, and embodied a muffled desperation that underlay the bravado about Third World liberation. The paperback edition with a bright red cover, the words ‘Prairie Fire,’ and an image of flames was too big to fit comfortably in a back pocket, but it was portable enough to carry around as a badge of courage or defiance or an invitation to a brawl. The two documents published 14 years apart serve as bookends of the New Left, which offered hope in the midst of the Cold War, and that descended into factionalism and a cult that worshipped violence even as the fissures in American society became increasingly transparent during the war in Vietnam. I joined SDS in 1967, took part in the Columbia strike in ’68, was arrested along with 700 or so other protesters, and was active on campus for the next two years while I taught literature and wrote for Liberation News Service. I was not the only teacher arrested in ’68 but I was one of a handful. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Days of Rage, when a few dozen Weathermen and women, who had given up on the antiwar movement, trashed cars and battled the Chicago police. Eleven years later, in 1980, Weather leaders Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers came up from underground, surrendered to authorities, and put an end to a decade-long FBI manhunt that bordered on the pathological—as Freedom of Information documents testify. Today, the ex-Weathermen and former members of the Weather Underground belong largely to the pages of myth. Writing about them feels like excavating the archeological site of a lost culture. …”

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
This entry was posted in Bill Ayers, Black Power, Books, Chicano, Feminist, SDS, Tom Hayden, Vietnam War, Weather Underground and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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