By Matthew Rothschild on April 04, 2009

You remember Bill Ayers? He’s the former Weather Underground leader who has since had a distinguished academic career, teaching education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

You’ll recall that his name surfaced during the Obama campaign as Palin and McCain tried to smear Obama with the old guilt-by-association brush.

When that failed, I thought Ayers could go back to his life, and we could all grow up.

So did he. But no such luck.

“I thought it would end,” he tells me, “but it’s escalated in a very weird way. I was canceled at a University last December, and then at the College of DuPage.”

Earlier this week, Boston College yanked Ayers. “After meetings between administrators and students, the decision was made to rescind the invitation,” spokesman Jack Dunn said, according to the Boston Herald. “We feel the appropriate decision has been reached.”

Also this week, Naperville High School, near where Ayers grew up, changed its mind and said no to Ayers. According to the local Daily Herald, the superintendent had received “more than 100 e-mails and numerous phone calls.” “It just wasn’t appropriate,” said Superintendent Alan Leis. “Any value here is completely lost. It is truly amazing the level of anger and emotion around this issue.”

To cap off the week of suppression, Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville cancelled a book signing by Bill Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn. They were to discuss their new book, “Race Course: Against White Supremacy,” published by Third World Press. The bookstore, in a statement, said it canceled the book talk “due to our concerns about the safety of our customers and staff.” It added, “We are not happy about having to make this decision. . . . This week freedom of speech was threatened.”

The bookstore cancellation “never happened to me before. They were literally in tears when they called,” he says. “I always feel bad for people who do the wrong thing.”

Ayers takes it all in stride, though he’s concerned about the climate at large.

“I don’t feel like I’m the aggrieved party,” he says. “I’ve got a day job and book deadlines I’ve got to work on. But it’s an attempt to shut down conversation and dialogue, which is the lifeblood of democracy. The real danger isn’t to me. But there’s a sense that if the mob gathers outside the gate with torches and pitchforks, people collapse.”

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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