SANTA FE, N.M. — Two members of the Weather Underground, the 1960s-70s radical activist group most famously known for protesting the Vietnam War and black oppression through bombings of government buildings, will speak at the Santa Fe Art Institute Sunday about current-day issues and creative solutions for fighting back.
Though they are most famous for their activism in their teens and twenties, husband and wife Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, both now in their seventies and living in Chicago, say they are not stuck in the past. The two are still activists in what Dohrn called “perilous times” with the election of Donald Trump.
“We’re not looking wistfully at a ship that already left the shore,” said Ayers. “We’re very much living toward the future. Whatever the so-called ’60s was, it was mainly a prelude to what we need to do today.” He said what he and his wife were fighting for then, like stopping the “underlying causes of war” and white supremacy, still need resolution today.
Both Dohrn and Ayers began their activism in college protesting against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and for the Civil Rights Movement, a period during which Ayers said he participated in sit-ins and was arrested at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
They later helped organize the Weather Underground – sometimes labeled, then and now, as a terrorist group – that detonated small bombs at places like the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon to protest war and other social issues. Three members of the Weather Underground died in 1970 at a New York townhouse while creating an explosive.
Ayers and Dohrn, who was once on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, were on the run for several years until 1980 when they turned themselves in. By then, most of the charges against them had been dropped. Dohrn served less than a year of jail time for refusing to testify in a case, then went on to a career as a legal advocate and in teaching law. Ayers became an education professor in Chicago – whether he had any significant associations with Barack Obama there became an issue in presidential politics.
“My whole life I’ve been told that won’t work, that’s extreme or that’s crazy,” said Ayers about criticism of radical activism throughout the years. But he said activists can’t rely on what polls or powerful figures are saying about a movement and, sometimes, unpopular or new ideas are necessary.
Now, they’re retired college professors who keep up with movements like Black Lives Matter, as well as activism on climate change, women’s rights, protection of undocumented immigrants and other issues.
The two will participate in an “inter-generational” panel with several SFAI Equal Justice Residents, a group of local and national artists invited to work on political or social movement-related art pieces, to discuss alternatives to addressing today’s political climate.
The couple will offer a discussion of their lives, during which people can ask questions. They’ll be available afterward to sign copies of their books if audience members bring them. Dohrn said the couple welcomes all opinions and perspectives in the discussion, including those who disagree with their past tactics.
While there is no “road map” for activism, Dohrn says everyone has something they should be doing right now in response to today’s political situation. She hopes the conversation with artists will evoke some innovative ways of resistance.
“We need to talk to each other, we need to think deeply about other domains, other than just talking in which we can impact, inspire, ignite and imagine a different world,” said Dohrn.