Nation Oped on the Weathermen

I was an organizer for the Students for a Democratic Society during the period that the Weatherman faction sought to seize control of the organization. Prior to their rise, SDS was a free-floating but action-oriented anti-racist and anti-war group with a growing base among youth and students in North America.

The Weathermen, nearly all children of the rich, blew that up and destroyed the lives of a lot of honest youth--giving the press the chance to describe Weatherman as "radicals." But they were never radicals. Their analysis was that the people of the US, particularly working people, were not only guilty for the US' genocidal war in Vietnam, but that workers benefitted from Vietnam's loss and would never change. That led Weathermen to believe that the only thing to do was to start blowing things (and people) up, engage in mutually exploitative sex, and celebrate hopelessness: take drugs. They never supported the kind of patient and respectful organizing that understands that social change is both a massive change of mind, and actions of thousands of people--based on the realities and wisdom of our common experiences. Weathermen sought to replace real social change, and a change of consciousness, with arrogance. In that sense, they were just liberals with bombs.

Weatherman was never a majority group in SDS, nor was its little sibling: the Revolutionary Youth Movement. If there was any majority, it was probably the Worker-Student Alliance, led by the communist Progressive Labor Party. Many, if not most, of us, who had been educated by the ethics of the civil rights movement---doing something over being somebody, base-building, communal decision-making, etc.--were appalled by the hero-worshiping Weathermen. But we could not ignore them, as we saw quite a few of our friends drawn into their breast-beating (but superficially sensuous) acting out. Some of those kids' lives were wrecked by drugs; others followed Weathermen into the police trap called the "Days of Rage," in Chicago, an idiotic spectacle that could easily be described as fascist, not radical.

As things turned out, some of the rich-kid Weathermen played at being underground for awhile, did a few days in jail, went back to college, and are now prominent liberals--without bombs--living in penthouses.

Other ex- SDS big-cheeses married actresses, held high office, and urged their underlings into one lesser evil after another, the US electoral process that seems to just ratify evil, slowly. RYM too appears to have disappeared to the Left Bank in Paris, where they issue manifestos, telling former comrades what to do. Some ex-SDS leading lights became neo-conservatives, denouncing their former friends, looking for a HUAC to testify to. Paradoxically, in later testimony at trial, it became clear that much of the Weatherman violence was either inspired, or organized, by police agents seeking to destroy the huge movement against the Vietnam War.

But many, many of us, just kept at it. We continue to organize, and continue to be profoundly impressed by the sagaciousness of people who usually patiently show us the way. We are not Big Moles, and indeed we are becoming Old Moles, but we are underfoot, and all over the place. We are like the radical teacher in central Florida who would, on the face of it, be unacceptable to the community. But, against the wishes of his principal, he organized the Chess Club which has but one rule: Play Chess. Not long ago, the Chess Club put together a mass presence that halted a march of the Klan.

I have no brief about Kathy Boudin getting out of jail. But her life serves as a warning, not an example.

Richard Gibson

San Diego State University


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