Exploring The Weather Underground

I watched this documentary, directed and produced by Sam Green, yesterday. My husband and I both agreed that while we remembered the group–and in particular I remembered knowing that some of them had blown themselves up in Greenwich Village–we did not remember how active they had been in bombing various buildings. I suppose it’s a testament to my age–I was 13 when the Vietnam War ended in 1975–but also to the lack of widespread media in the 70s. The news just wasn’t as big a deal as it is now.

The PBS show Independent Lens has an extensive website devoted to the documentary. In an interview frm the site, Green says that he and his co-director, Bill Siegel, tried to give a fair and balanced account of the history. I guess I agree. They did interview a former FBI agent involved in the hunt for the Weathermen. They also included Todd Gitlin, former SDS president, who is clearly negative towards them for taking over his organization. And the members of the group themselves seemed to cover the various points of view. For instance, Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers seem to have little regret for what they did while Mark Rudd discusses feeling ashamed by their actions. I guess I just can’t imagine what it would be like to be them. They are close to 60 years old now, with jobs and families, one of them even went on Jeopardy and won some money. So, what do they tell their grandchildren? “When I was your age, I was at war with the government.”

It also turns out that they really were being harassed by the government since once they came out of hiding, most of the charges against them were dropped because of the methods used by the FBI to get evidence. The film discussed the alleged murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton. Here’s where it seems to be biased as it seems to clearly support the theory that this was “extrajudicial punishment” by the Chicago Police Department. This murder was a turning point for the WU and along with the bombing accident led many of them to go underground. I do have memory of some of them coming out of hiding in 1980. Even at that time, they seemed like old radicals to me.

But I also had this weird sense of being part of history. All their documents are hosted at the Radical Education Project website. The communist rhetoric seems old fashioned but the issues they were dealing with such as women’s work and women’s rights are still very much with us today.

One of the things I think the film did well was to paint a picture of the radical revolutionary culture that was going on throughout the world at the time. The Weather Underground was very much a product of the times. Its movement away from the nonviolent resistance of the Students for a Democratic Society towards violent overthrow of the government mimics that of other groups of the time. I wonder what would happen if such a group showed up now, declaring war the way Dohrn did? There is no stomach for such revolution anymore.


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