Former Radical Activists Speak in Berkeley

Photo: William Ayers addresses an audience at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. His talk discussed new ways to facilitate peace.
Tim Maloney/Photo
William Ayers addresses an audience at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. His talk discussed new ways to facilitate peace.

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Generations converged yesterday when two former activists from Weather Underground, a controversial 1960s anti-war group, addressed a receptive crowd in Berkeley.

Although both William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn have adopted more moderate approaches in their pursuit of peace, they are still best known to many for several bombings in protest of the Vietnam War.

"I came out because I admired Ayers' radical politics," said Peter Feltus, an Oakland resident who attended the talk with another friend active in 1960s leftist politics. "We're old guys, and old guys remember other old guys."

The speakers, who have been married for 37 years and are now professors in Illinois, focused on how to build a grassroots movement that challenges the government to facilitate peace.

"In many ways, we look in the wrong direction when we look exclusively at the new administration," Ayers said to a crowd of 250 at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. "We need to look at ourselves. What are we doing and what can we do?"

Ayers faced renewed notoriety during the 2008 presidential election season, when Sarah Palin accused Barack Obama of "palling around with terrorists." Ayers and Obama had served on the same two non-profit education boards throughout the 1990s.

"(Ayers and Dohrn had) been so maligned by people like Sarah Palin, we thought it would be a good idea for people to hear what they really have to say," said Penny Rosenwasser, spokesperson for Middle East Children's Alliance, which provides aid to children in Gaza and is the benefactor of the event.

At the two-hour talk, the couple also touched on white supremacy, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the difficulties of aging as 1960s activists.

Although one audience member verbally attacked Ayers and was escorted off the premises, most attendees, including UC Berkeley junior Nick Palmquist, listened engagedly and applauded.

"I see (Ayers) as a guy who understands that social change is necessary, but he's also moved on from that standpoint to how to make it all actually happen," Palmquist said.

Ayers emphasized intergenerational cooperation as the key to building a peace movement in the modern day.

"The old people have to join the young people. They have to get over the idea that they're all people of the '60s and '70s," Ayers said. "We're all people of now."


Contact Leah Greenbaum at [email protected]

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