In the wake of Sarah Palin’s revival of the unconscionable smear that Obama is “palling around with terrorists” (and Joe Lieberman’s shameful abandonment of any and all scruples by defending that smear as raising “legitimate questions”—about the candidate who put his own progressive cred on the line to endorse Joe in Connecticut’s 2006 Senate race!)…

this public statement is worth sharing. It’s reasonably well documented at this point that Obama’s relationship with Ayers was a relatively casual professional one, and that Obama does not support the vandalism the Weather Underground committed decades ago. What’s not getting heard is that there’s nothing wrong with Bill Ayers, period. While Ayers himself is keeping his profile prudently low, 900-plus fellow educators and scholars are speaking up to make that point:

We write to support our colleague Professor William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who is currently under determined and sustained political attack. Ayers is a nationally known scholar, member of the Faculty Senate at UIC, Vice President-elect of the American Educational Research Association, and sought after as a speaker and visiting scholar by other universities because of his exemplary scholarship, teaching, and service. Throughout the 20 years that he has been a valued faculty member at UIC, he has taught, advised, mentored, and supported hundreds of undergraduate, Masters and Ph.D. students. He has pushed them to take seriously their responsibilities as educators in a democracy – to promote critical inquiry, dialogue, and debate; to encourage questioning and independent thinking; to value the full humanity of every person and to work for access and equity. Helping educators develop the capacity and ethical commitment to these responsibilities is at the core of what we do, and as a teacher he has always embraced debate and multiple perspectives.

The current characterizations of Professor Ayers—“unrepentant terrorist,” “lunatic leftist”—are unrecognizable to those who know or work with him. It’s true that Professor Ayers participated passionately in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, as did hundreds of thousands of Americans. His participation in political activity 40 years ago is history; what is most relevant now is his continued engagement in progressive causes, and his exemplary contribution—including publishing 16 books— to the field of education. The current attacks appear as part of a pattern of “exposés” and assaults designed to intimidate free thinking and stifle critical dialogue. Like crusades against high school and elementary teachers, and faculty at UCLA, Columbia, DePaul, and the University of Colorado, the attacks on and the character assassination of Ayers threaten the university as a space of open inquiry and debate, and threaten schools as places of compassion, imagination, curiosity, and free thought. They serve as warnings that anyone who voices perspectives and advances questions that challenge orthodoxy and political power may become a target, and this, then, casts a chill over free speech and inquiry and the spirit of democracy.

To right-wing ideologues still trying to refight the battles of the ’60s, of course, there’s no room for forgiveness. (Except for the players who were demonstrably on the wrong side, like John McCain’s “good friend,” ex-con G. Gordon Liddy.) Those people will never vote for Obama anyway; they’re too determined to stay on the wrong side of history. For reasonable people open to considering actual relevant information, however, it’s important to offer opposition to the kind of widespread propaganda this election season has brought forth.

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One Response to “Some non-hysterical perspective on Bill Ayers”
  1. Chris says:

    Thanks for posting this. I’d encourage folks to pass on the website to any educators they know who may want to sign on and help inform this public dialogue:

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