February 24, 2007

Each month, starting in February, Crooksandliars.com will select and review a book we feel should be of strong interest to our readers. This is the first in the monthly series.

February Book of the Month Club Selection:

Sing A Battle Song: The Revolutionary Poetry, Statements, and Communiqués of the Weather Underground 1970-1974; Edited By Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Jeff Jones; Seven Stories Press; $19.95.

“You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows,” exclaimed Bob Dylan via “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” in 1965. Dissecting that phrase for political purposes after the summer of 1969, former members of the Students for a Democratic Society formed a more radical organization called, The Weathermen. The new group, frustrated by the lack of political progress in opposition to the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and other social areas felt that militancy would be far more effective than non-violent protests. They began a series of non-injurious, high profile government bombings throughout the United States, which ended with them blowing some of themselves up in a Greenwich Village townhouse.

Their belief that violent guerrilla actions would ignite a national revolution was in the air in radical political circles throughout the United States, as it was in Paris in 1968 and other hot spots around the globe. The Weathermen were particularly enthralled/inspired by the black uprisings in urban ghettos as well as the national success of the Black Panther Party.

To many, a similar stench is in the air today. Riots in Paris. Massive street protests. A quagmire of a war. A Nixonian imperial president. It was a long time ago, yet there seems to be no change in the status quo. Everything sounds so familiar. Déjà vu all over again.


Are the anti-WTO protestors the bastard stepchildren of the Weathermen?

The anti-WTOers would have a lot to live up to. Hundreds of bombings. The making a documentary film while on the lam from the feds (“Underground” by Michael Antonioni) and various other spectacular, media-catching events.

In perhaps one of their most cinematic moments, the Weathermen accepted $25,000 in cash from the so-called Brotherhood of Eternal Love to break LSD guru Timothy Leary out of prison and whisk him away to a rendezvous with black radical leader Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria.

(Now that’s a movie we would all like to see - and apparently we might as Leonardo DiCaprio has purchased Leary’s life rights.)

“Sing A Battle Song” released this month by Seven Stories Press is actually three publications in one – “The Weather Eye,” “Prairie Fire,” and “Sing A Battle Song” – all three produced by the Weather Underground (for sexual/political reasons, Weather-“Men” later became “Underground” also signaling the group’s descent into hiding) during their heyday of 1970-1974. Included here are the poetry, songs, press releases, statements and the communiqués of the revolutionary group at their peak. Also featured are fascinating brief Zinn-like essays on the controversial history of the United States. The text, for the most part, while written forty years ago seems strangely fresh and current. (Although some is so wacky as to make you laugh aloud.)

The editors of the book: Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayers and Jeff Jones know what they are writing about. They are the founders and the survivors of the organization itself.

The group successfully evaded authorities for over a decade finally turning themselves in one by one during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

If, as they say, history repeats itself, one may want to read this book to see the scary similarities to today’s simmering society. While many have “theorized” and “pontificated” both yesterday and today about what actions to take, the Weather Underground – for better or for worse – actually did something violently physical. One has to ask themselves today – does the system actually work? Millions have marched, thousands of articles and editorials have been written, voters have voted to switch parties in power, governments have been toppled in Europe and yet 20,000 more troops are heading to Iraq as we enter the fifth year of a brutal military occupation that has led to the deaths of nearly a half a million people. When is enough enough? Do we simply continue to write letters to our representatives?

The founders’ beliefs seem to have shifted little since that time. Bill Ayers, who is now a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said he doesn’t “regret setting bombs. We didn’t do enough.”

Bernadine Dohrn, once considered the political pin-up girl of Radical Chic, served ten years on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. She ended up doing seven months for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury. Today she is the Director of the Children and Family Justice Center and Clinical Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern University.

Jeff Jones, a spokesman for the Weather Underground, fled underground himself in 1970 and was on the run from the FBI for years facing conspiracy and riot charges. He is currently a consultant on media for various grassroots and progressive organizations.

If you have seen the Academy Award nominated film, “Weather Underground,” (if you haven’t, see it) you will probably enjoy this book as it fills in the gaps in the literature department. The radical poetry may be a hoot to some but it is heart felt and strong in the political department.

As a collection of historical documents that should be (if they aren’t already) in the Smithsonian, this book provides not only a record of the past but possibly a mirror reflecting today’s world as well.

A screenwriter/producer based in Hollywood, California, Mark Groubert has been a frequent contributor to Crooksandliars.com. He has produced numerous documentaries for HBO. Groubert is a former editor of National Lampoon Magazine, MTV Magazine and The Weekly World News. In addition, he has written for the L.A. Weekly, L.A. CityBeat, Penthouse, High Times and other publications.

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