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|Weather Underground, The
by Chris Parry
Many of us like to take solace these days in the misguided notion that only Arabs get involved in terrorism. Why, us nice white folks would never lower ourselves to such barbaric levels in pursuit of a political ideal. Terrorism - it just isn't done in polite society. Or at least, that's what we tell ourselves. The reality, of course, is far different; us white folk, we like to blow stuff up as much as the next guy! And over the last four decades of North American history, no group has been better at blowing stuff up than the Weather Underground - a collective of middle class white college students who decided to fight corruption and fascism in their own country with sticks of gelignite. This is their story.The Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, were a vocal bunch during the Vietnam war. They saw their elected government turning against the will of the people, cashing in the lives of their own sons to fight on behalf of corporate interests, nationalistic fervor and a bizarre, outdated theory that Communism only sought to kill Americans, no matter where it sprung up on the planet. The people were told that to protest against the Vietnam War was un-American. They were told that these people were "out to get us," and if we didn't cut them off at the pass, pretty soon the entire Asian region would be run by Russia. And then what?!
"Think terrorism is purely the domain of Muslims? Guess again."
Sound familiar? If you're thinking that North America is now gripped by almost a carbon copy of what happened forty years ago, you wouldn't be far wrong. The difference is that, back then, we weren't fighting against foreign terrorists... in fact, the terrorists lived right next door.
The SDS was pulled apart by two factions: one that wanted to tone things down, and another that wanted to step things up a notch. The hardcore group won control of the SDS, and soon began to raise the level of their protest far beyond civil disobedience and into the realm of active domestic terrorism. Their aim? Bring down the Nixon administration, end the war, and punish corporations who abused their riches at the expense of others.
A hardcore group marched in Chicago in 1969, wearing football helmets and swinging baseball bats, and generally rioting for nearly two straight days before the police dispersed the group. The Weathermen had hoped that their actions might have spurred others around the US to revolt, but the general population didn't heed the call. So they decided that Americans needed a wake-up call.
The decision was soon made to go underground and start some real fear in the halls of power through acts of guerilla violence. When there was a prison massacre in New York, The Weathermen bombed the offices of the Prison Administration. when corporations destroyed communities in the third world, the Weathermen would in turn destroy facilities belonging to that corporation. They blew up government buildings, busted Timothy Leary out of prison, spun their story in the press and managed, somehow, to avoid proseuction for nearly five years.
In the end, it wasn't the FBI that nabbed the Weathermen. Instead, as Nixon was impeached, the war ended, and peace reigned, the Weather Underground simply ran out of things to protest against.
Did they really have an effect on government policy? Did they have the backing of the people? And what is the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? These questions and many more are answered in The Weather Underground, Sam Green and Bill Siegel's groundbreaking documentary, which talks to the majority of the ringleaders of this fascinating and largely forgotten political activism group and finds that they weren't mindless zealots with a hankewring for death - rather they were simple kids who had witnessed massive injustice and saw no other option but to fight that injustice with violence.
As a documentary, The Weather Underground is impeccably crafted. It gives you the background of the organization, how it came to being, the mistakes it made, the reasons it existed, and talks to the people who took part in what we would, today, call the most un-American of un-American activites - the bombing of the US Capitol.
Yes, that's right, the US Capitol was bombed, and not by supposed 'towelheads' or 'camel jockeys', but by whitebread college kids. Kids who today are teachers, professors, businessmen and housewives. In hindsight, we may look back on their actions as legitimate protest against the horrors of Vietnam, but if someone of another race were to do the same thing today to protest US policies in the Gulf region, would we be so forgiving?
The Weathermen took part in over 30 acts of violence during their short lifetime and were never caught until they started turning themselves in, yet it took only one act of violence in the new millenium to set the US on a course to war and suspension of civil liberties for all.
As our media giants paint the Arab world as a group of barbarians with some kind of inbred genetic desire to kill, it may surprise and disturb some to realize that terrorism is only terrorism when you're looking at it from the other side. When you're fighting for your own rights with guerilla tactics and the last possible tool at your disposal - violence - you often don't consider yourself to be a terrorist. Rather, you consider yourself a freedom fighter. A rebel. A revolutionary. A defender of freedom.And The Weather Underground proves to those few of us who try to see both sides of an argument that evil is a mere perception; a label that is used to refute someone else's argument without actual debate. In the end, if we are going to spread 'democracy' to all parts of the world, is it really possible to do so at the end of a gun? In ten years time, will we look upon our modern day 'war on terror' any differently to how we look back on Vietnam today? Educate yourself - see The Weather Underground.
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originally posted: 01/27/04 16:27:16
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This film is listed in our political documentary series. For more in the Political Documentary series, click here.