William Ayers, the 1960s radical who was linked to Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential election, sat down with "Good Morning America" today for an exclusive interview.
Along with defending his actions as a member of the Weather Underground group and fighting back against what he called a "dishonest narrative ... to demonize me," Ayers discussed the reissue of his book "Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Anti-War Activist."
Read Chapter 11 from the book below, then check out some other books in the "GMA" library.
Whenever I hear the thwack-thwacking of a helicopter overhead or the frantic approach of sirens in the night, I think back to Cleveland, 1966.
I remember a solemn line of troops early one morning marching noisily up Euclid Boulevard in full fantastic battle gear, bayonets fixed, rubber gas masks mutating each soldier into a monster from space, their tall black boots stomping on the pavement, their tin canteens and ammunition belts beating out a syncopated response. I remember a panicky patrol of police advancing toward a flaming building—pop! pop! pop! in rapid bursts—as the hook and ladder trucks idled nervously in reserve. I remember John Davis, a nineteenyear-old from the neighborhood, twitching and clawing at the concrete in the middle of Lakeview Avenue, his left leg bent to an impossible angle, before slumping forward kissing the street absently as blood pooled around his head and ran toward the gutter. And I remember lying facedown on a hard, hot street, gas in my eyes and smoke in my mouth, an M-16 poking into my ribs. It was off the scale, and something came unhinged then.
It was August, the end of a long, hot summer, and, improbably, I was swept up into a big city riot. But the story of any life includes a parade of non sequiturs.
I had come to Cleveland months earlier, recruited to the East Side Community Union to set up an alternative school for young children, on leave from the Children's Community.
The Community Union was part of a joint national strategy of SDS and SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), the beginnings of a shift away from attacking the legal barriers to integration largely in the South, now mostly in retreat, toward organizing around de facto segregation and economic injustice everywhere. Our focus was on building a powerful force of poor people in big northern cities—the grassy grass roots, we called them—who could not only change their own lives but could change the world.
Our slogan was "Let the People Decide," and our plan was to live among the poor, to share their travails and their triumphs, then to build action and organization around issues of broad and shared concern: tenant and welfare rights, for example, safety and police brutality, education and schools, racial discrimination. We believed fervently that any legitimate and just change should be led by those who had been pushed down and locked out, and we were certain that struggling in the interest of these forgotten people crushed at the bottom held the key to social transformations that would shake the whole world to its core and ultimately benefit everyone. We saw our political work—to build a mighty interracial movement of the poor—as ethical work. Organizing as righteousness.