All Posts Tagged With: "Bill Ayers"
Former radical militant denied entry to Canada in 2009, scheduled to return in June
In about a month and a half’s time, former education professor and intellectual theorist Bill Ayers will try to enter Canada to speak at a higher-ed conference being held in Toronto in June. However, the last time he tried to do that, he didn’t quite make it to the podium. Back in 2009, Ayers was stopped by Canada Border Services Agency in a detention he called “arbitrary.” “The border agent said I had a conviction for a felony from 1969,” he remarked at the time. “I have several arrests for misdemeanours, but not for felonies.”
Ayers has a less-than-stellar resume from a border agent’s perspective–there’s no doubt about that. In 1969, he co-founded a group called the Weather Underground that was vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War and expressed its disapproval through coordinated bombings of public buildings. The Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, and New York City police headquarters were all targeted by the Weather Underground. When that shtick got old, he eventually moved on to work in education reform, becoming a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, but didn’t really become a household name until 2008 when he was connected to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
It was then that Ayers’ past started garnering widespread attention. Public appearances and speaking engagements featuring Ayers were cancelled, and of course, it wasn’t long after that Ayers found himself being denied entry to Canada, despite having visited more than a dozen times.
Now, the organizers of the Worldviews Conference on Media scheduled this June are looking to the Government of Canada to ensure Ayers makes it in this time. They issued a press release last week in which Prof. Mark Langer, President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) said, “This is an issue of academic freedom, not one of a potential ‘threat’ to Canadian security. In the interests of open debate and the democratic exchange of ideas, Prof. Ayers must be allowed to speak.”
Former militant, current education professor was last turned away in January
The Ottawa Citizen is reporting that William Ayers, the Chicago-based education professor who was denied entry into Canada last January, has been barred from coming to Ottawa to speak at a major academic conference.
He was set to speak today at a humanities and social sciences conference hosted by the Canadian Society for the Study of Education.
Although Ayers was a co-founder of the radical group Weather Underground in the 1960s, he has since made a name for himself in the field of education. He was set to prepare a lecture entitled “Bridges and Borders: Democratic Education in a Time of Crisis.”
The talk was expected to draw a crowd at the conference, which was expected to attract around 8,000 academics to Carleton University.
However, according to the Citizen, Ayers called conference organizers a few days ago and said he couldn’t get an entry visa.
A conference organizer says Ayers will still deliver his Monday lecture by video conference.
“We’re disappointed,” she said. “We were happy to have him come and speak. And so were our members.”
For more on this story, click here.
A bad decision—but the former terrorist isn’t exactly an innocent victim
As reported earlier today (including here), U.S. education professor William Ayers, who was to give a speech in Toronto, has been denied entry to Canada. As our own blogger (and Memorial University education professor) Dale Kirby points out, the decision by Canada Border Services Agency to turn Ayers back at the border is “ridiculous.” Ayers, who is old enough to enjoy the seniors discount and is a professor of education at a major U.S. university, is no threat to the peace and security of Canada. The man may have a violent past—he first career was as a terrorist, as well get into in a moment—but the only bombs he’s coming to Canada to throw are rhetorical. He should of course be let across the border to give his lecture on education policy, or whatever else he wants to talk about.
But it’s worth remembering, before we run off and canonize Ayers as a martyr for the cause of free speech, that the man used to be a real-life bomb thrower. He used to be a terrorist. That fact is not unconnected to why he was denied access to Canada. He used to be one of America’s most wanted men. He was a founder of the Weather Underground, an organization of well-to-do radicals who planned and committed bombings, robberies and murders in the 1970s; he was once a fugitive from justice; he was a close associate of people given life sentences for their part in the murder of police officers. Ayers was involved in bombing both the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol. (Due to prosecutorial misconduct back in the ’70s, the most serious charges against him were dropped; the same was not the case for many of his associates). Some may find his record romantic; the audience for his Toronto event, when it eventually takes place, will likely be primarily made up of such people. The people he and his friends robbed, assaulted and killed surely have other ideas. (But they, alas, don’t have Ph.Ds).
The Weather Underground were, fortunately, almost as good at accidentally blowing themselves up as killing cops, soldiers and capitalists; in 1970, three members of the Underground, including Ayers’ girlfriend, blew themselves up while assembling a nail bomb in a Greenwich Village townhouse. They were apparently planning to attack a soldier’s dance at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Ayers, who went on to become an education professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, has never exactly disowned this past, instead offering half-baked regrets and evasive excuses for the activities of the Weather Underground, including claiming that they weren’t terrorists because they attacked symbols and property, not people. And even that isn’t entirely true: in his autobiography, Ayers admits involvement in robbings and muggings (to fund the Weathermen’s activities). Though as Slate magazine’s review of Fugitive Days noted, “Ayers reminds his readers that he’s had to omit or change many facts throughout his narrative because they describe actions on his part that are, well, illegal.” The pages and pages of evasions left the reviewer wondering “if he’s ever read a memoir quite so self-indulgent and morally clueless.”
You get a sense of why the Republican party worked so hard last year to link Ayers to Barack Obama: Ayers not only symbolizes a nightmarish era in American history, he was one of its primary causes. The giddy rage and lust for blood in the streets that fringe groups like the Weathermen represented was understandably terrifying to most Americans; Americans wanted the Vietnam war to end, they didn’t want an outbreak of murderous chaos at home. Fear and backlash against the chaos were instrumental in Richard Nixon winning two electoral landslides. (The revolutionaries were scarier than Nixon. Much scarier. If you want to get a flavour of what it was like to live in that time, as the world was falling apart and the proudly insane were having a run at taking over, read this novel.)
Should Ayers be allowed to speak in Toronto? Of course. It might be fascinating. I hope he will address his past. Even if he doesn’t, I want to hear him. Ideas are no threat to Canada.
There is a good argument to be made that, like his associates Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, Ayers once upon a time deserved a long spell behind bars. (Gilbert remains in prison for the murder of a Brinks guard and two police officers in 1981; Boudin was convicted of the same and paroled in 2003.) But that was a matter for the U.S. justice system, and it never successfully prosecuted him. For all I know, all these years later, he may even have some worthwhile educational ideas. He’s no threat, not anymore. But he’s no hero. Not then, not now.