An unusual public meeting recently took place between two members of the Brighton-based direct action group Smash EDO - Chris and Jessica, and a founding member of the Weather Underground - Bernadine Dohrn.
Bernardine Dohrn holding her FBI wanted poster
As a young lawyer in the late 60s, Bernardine Dohrn became one of the leaders of the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM), a radical wing of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Outraged by the Vietnam War and racism in America, a group of young American radicals including Dohrn broke from the SDS and announced their intention to "bring the war home."
The Weather Underground waged a low-level war against the U.S. government through much of the 1970s. They bombed targets across the country, including the Capitol building and the Pentagon, which they considered emblematic of the real violence that the U.S. was waging throughout the world. They broke Timothy Leary out of prison, and evaded one of the largest FBI manhunts in history. In an interview later in life, Dohrn said she considered the group to be an "authentic, aroused opposition to the U.S. empire and to racism at home".
40 years later, Bernardine Dohrn is currently the director of the Children and Family Justice Center, and clinical associate professor at Northwestern University School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic.
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Sing a Battle Song
Bernardine Dohrn, a former leader of the 1960’s and 1970’s revolutionary anti-war group the Weathermen, reading poetry by women of that group — on International Women’s Day in 1975. She reads from a book she co-edited in 1975 (with Ed Ayers and Jeff Jones), Sing a Battle Song: The Revolutionary Poetry, Statements, and Communiques of the Weather Underground 1970 - 1974.
In the same book Bernardine Dohrn writes about armed struggle (p14):
Everyone who came to conciousness in the sixties had to consider the reality of armed struggle. Uprisings of a political nature included a military component. In the Philippines, in Uruguay, Mozambique, Ireland, and Palestine - it could not be avoided. The African National Congress, the black consciousness movement, the Pan-African Congress - the varying dimensions of the struggle against apartheid had to take into account an armed component. Even in the nonviolent Southern civil rights movement, a close look revealed the Deacons for Defense of Justice, Robert and Mabel Williams, and Dr.King's Birmingham house crowded with shotguns and handguns for self-defense. Then there was Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party. Being a pacifict, anywhere in the world, was the beginning of the conversation. How militant, how condemning of others? Was pacifism a philosophy, a religion, a strategy, or tactical alternative?
Some two thousand people a day were killed during the twelve years of the Vietnam War. The terror of carpet bombings and napalmed children, cover-ups of torture, tiger cages, and My Lai by the brass, and secret but visibly bloody repression at home were the ordinary face of daily violence. That was the template, the default. Mundane habits, business as usual could not be permitted to go on, seemingly oblivious.
But what made the public meeting particularly unusual was that it took place in Tel Aviv, organised by Israeli anti-occupation activists. Activists from Brighton had been in Israel collecting evidence against the settlements. In January, Bernadine Dohrn had been part of the Gaza Freedom March, attempting to reach Gaza through Egypt on the anniversary of Israels attack on Gaza.
On one level the formation of the Weather Underground was a 'white' militant response of solidarity with the Black Panthers who at the time were the targets of FBI hit squads, their leaders being savagely murdered with impunity. When Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was murdered by the FBI, Bernadine Dohrn said "We felt that the murder of Fred required us to be more grave, more serious, more determined to raise the stakes and not just be the white people who wrung their hands when black people were being murdered." This aspect was touched upon but unfortunately not explored in the Israeli context.
Other liberation struggles like those in South Africa during apartheid saw some members of the privileged class side with the oppressed in armed struggle like Joe Slovo - a white Jewish South African who become a leader of the MK - the the armed wing of the ANC and was responsible for blowing up oil refineries, etc. This has not happened in the Israeli context - Israelis opposed to the occupation have not responded to the genocidal killings of Palestinians by taking up arms against the Israeli state. Without diminishing the role many Israelis have played in other forms of support for the Palestinian struggle, one must still ask - why not the armed struggle? Its a legitimate question, one that needs to be raised.
A very interesting meeting, well worth a listen. The 88min audio, initially released on Indymedia, is included below.