Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Coming of Age of Radicalism: 1966 in the Affluent North Shore Suburbs.

An article appearing last week in The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic weekly.

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—My first experience with the immediate predecessor of the Barack Obama “we-want-change-and-don’t-care-how-we-get-it” generation came in 1966. I was working for Quaker Oats as a public affairs officer (euphemism for lobbyist) and got involved, in deference to my CEO boss, with a group of young affluent types—staffers and volunteers--trying to elect Charles H. Percy to the U. S. Senate. The Vietnam war was hot and seemingly endless. A number of these children of affluence were embittered, angry at the war and chafed that they wanted change. What kind of change they didn’t know or care.

Percy was the wunderkind of upward, materialistic mobility, a young, (then 47) blond business executive who had started as a poor kid selling newspapers under the El tracks in Rogers Park during the Depression. While teaching Sunday school, he impressed and got virtually adopted by a wealthy guy owner of a small camera-manufacturing plant who saw Percy as the son he never had. He hired Percy after he got a University of Chicago BA degree. Percy’s suave salesmanship got the company invaluable federal government defense contracts which made Bell & Howell a big-time industry leader. The owner then made him heir, vice president and director of the company in one fell swoop at age 23. Promising Bell & Howell he’d come back, he enlisted in the Navy in World War II.

When Childe Chuck returned from the Navy he made CEO at 27, became a multi-millionaire at 31, hit the covers of Time and Fortune and turned into a world-famed salesman for free trade. Thereupon he became (a) a liberal Republican--meaning an internationalist and “compassionate” regarding the disadvantaged as well as an early supporter of Planned Parenthood; (b) a regular staple in the media, a model for everything the “socially responsible, progressive, new wave of Rockefeller Republicans should be” and (c) a guiding star for those youthful ambitious liberals who sorely wanted to imitate his career. But there was a sprinkling of early radicals included. Those who talked change but didn’t define what the change would be.

Because of an affected eastern accent, resonantly-attested support for more governmental help for “the poor” and contradictorily wearing a hearing aid although a Christian Scientist, Percy struck me early as a 14 carat phony. His daughter marrying a Rockefeller helped him with the then influential eastern seaboard Republicans immensely. Sharon married Jay, who flitted interminably around during the Percy senatorial campaign and became the Democratic governor and senator from West Virginia, a cornpone state whose votes you could buy for 25 cents on the dollar just as his uncle Winthrop had done in Arkansas.

As the corporate political officer, I was told to help Percy’s campaign--if I wanted to eat. Ah, yes. Put like that, the answer was easy. So I became familiar with a variety of would-be change agents, for the most part the affluent progeny of Big Business successes, vastly different from me in outlook--who looked disdainfully at that time at the workaday commercial processes that made their daddies rich.

They were rich (my parents weren’t). Their fathers were moguls i.e. the Galvins of Motorola, the Stuarts of Quaker Oats, the Ingersolls and Beres of Borg-Warner (mine was an ex-newspaperman turned travel agent). They matriculated at big name eastern universities (I went to St. John’s, a small Benedictine college in Minnesota). They were reared for the most part on the upper-crust North Shore near the Lake (I lived on the un-trendy bungalow belt of Chicago’s northwest side). They were either fashionably Presbyterian or Episcopalian (I am Catholic), Most of them spent spring breaks from their eastern colleges at Hobe Sound, Fla. and summers at the Cape. I clerked at in railway freight houses in Chicago. Well, one Spring break I drove with my folks to Waupaca, Wis..

Billy Ayes: Change Agent.

Most of the Percy political staffers continued being infected with their mild Protestant liberalism and receded once placed in corporate jobs--but for two radical exceptions. One was Diane Oughton, whose father was a wealthy stock broker, a denizen of the North Shore. Another: was Billy Ayres, the son of the socially prominent and corporately liberal Tom Ayres, CEO of Commonwealth Edison, the giant utility which had been founded by Samuel Insull to monopolize generation of electricity in Chicago and its exurbs. Billy Ayres was professedly interested in politics solely as an agent of change. Change for what? He really didn’t know. Nor did Oughton. Uninterested in history, unfettered by absolutes, bored by religious thought, they just wanted action—or locomotion. They got it.

Oughton and Ayres resemble many of the Obama generation--frankly uninterested in details or issues or history, bored with incremental change, hotly opposed to “lobbyists” and “exploitation.” They had absorbed a kind of ennui from their universities and wanted to “rumble” which was the word then used to produce seismographic eruption of change, not knowing or caring what disruption it would mean so long as it was a break from the past. Not long later Oughton and Ayres left for New York to join two Kathys: Bodine and Wilkerson.

Boudine, differing from her fellows by being born to a radical New York Jewish family was educated at fashionable Bryn Mawr where she studied medicine before dropping out, had studied in the Soviet Union the year preceding for which she was paid 75 rubles a month by the Soviet government for teaching on a collective farm (what she could possibly have taught Russian peasants is anybody’s guess). Wilkerson was also from New York, had gone to Swarthmore, had been consumed by civil rights voluble about “change” but so poetic about it she never really defined what she wanted.

After Percy got elected, Boudine, Wilkerson, Ayres and Oughton moved out of Chicago and became a team, They got heavily involved in the Weatherman Underground. Boudine described herself to one of her friends as a “fifth column” of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army. The Weathermen put into practice their love of change, bombing the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, the New York Police Benevolent Association, the New York Board of Corrections, the offices of several multinational companies.

Boudine returned to this city for the purpose of getting involved in the Days of Rage at an Oct. 8, 1969 rally in Chicago that was coordinated with the trial of the “Chicago 8” that fomented rebellion at the Democratic National convention. Two years later, she, Wilkerson and Oughton and two others moved into Wilkerson’s dad’s town house in Greenwich Village which she borrowed on a ruse while Pop was on vacation. It was a brownstone built by a founder of Merrill Lynch. They were making a pipe bomb in the basement intended to wreck a soldiers’ dance at Fort Dix, N. J. when it exploded prematurely killing three including Oughton. But the high octane of the explosion and the ruins of the pulverized house didn’t deter Boudine—although it did Wilkerson who went into hiding for 10 years, surrendering in 1980 and serving a year in prison.

Boudine achieved the maximum change in 1981 when at age 38 she and other members of the Weather Underground and Black Liberation Army robbed a Brinks armored car in Nanuet, N. Y. Having dropped her infant son off at a baby sitter’s as befitted a proper mom, she took over the wheel of the getaway vehicle, a U-Haul truck and waiting in a parking lot as her accomplices confronted the Brinks truck making a delivery. They leapt into the truck, wounding a guard and killing his co-worker. They took $1.6 million in cash and rendezvoused with Kathy. Police chased Kathy as she was driving the U-Haul and stopped her. She got out and feigned innocence to four police officers while the rest of her crew hid in the back. She convinced the cops to relax as they questioned her. Then her accomplices leaped out of the U-Haul and surprised the cops. One was killed. The gang scattered along with Boudin but were later apprehended.

In Bedford Hills, Connecticut facility, Boudine worked with AIDS patients and in adult education, devising teen programs to help adolescents whose mothers are incarcerated, a parent education program helping inmate mothers to be responsible parents, an adult literacy program and a college program which provides courses to incarcerated women. You will be interested to know that while incarcerated she published articles in the Harvard Educational Review and has become a published poet. While in stir, she pursued her advanced education as a doctoral student at the City University of New York. She was granted parole in August, 2003 and was released. She never expressed contrition, has been regarded as having masked her radical politics to gain freedom. She still wants change although no one really knows what change to her means.

Kathy Boudine, now 65, is still not interested in history or issues. She’s mute now, having testified before the parole--so we don’t know how she feels. Kathy Wilkerson now 62 with a grown daughter, is different. She has just written a memoir where she says “I abandoned myself to the sanctimoniousness of hating my enemies.” She’s completely contrite. That leaves Ayres and his famous consort now wife—Bernardine Dohrn.

The Sedate Hyde Park Couple: Ayres and Dohrn.

I met Billy Ayres a few times in the campaign, but saw his father, Tom often. The CEO of Commonwealth Edison, chairman of the board of Northwestern University and the Chicago Symphony orchestra, he was the mediator between Mayor Richard J. Daley and King when Martin Luther King marched in Cicero to protest segregation. Tom Ayres was ever-present when the chieftains of Chicago corporatocracy would dine at Room 100 in the Chicago Club and think up joint projects for their gofer (me) to report on to them at the next luncheon. After the Percy campaign, Billy also was dissatisfied with what passed as change, although he couldn’t define what change he wanted. So he joined the “Weathermen,” composed of radical leftists who split from the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), taking their name from the Bob Dylan song “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

The only strict rule of the Weathermen was they were to be polygamous and Ayres dallied a bit with Oughton and many others but after Oughton was killed in the bombing, settled down in old-fashioned monogamy with Bernardine Dohrn. Born in Milwaukee, an honors graduate from the University of Chicago and a J.D. at its law school, she had traveled to Cuba and met there with representatives of the North Vietnamese and Cuban governments.

Theirs was revolutionary love at first sight. They did such togetherness things as writing a Weatherman philosophy that read: “Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home. Kill your parents: that’s where it’s really at.” And since the family that bombed together stays together, they participated in such homey projects as establishing a “white fighting force” to help the “Black Liberation Movement,” issuing a “Declaration of War” against the U.S. government to achieve a classless world of communism and carrying out such projects as bombing government buildings.

Ayres and Dohrn were the Gold Dust twins, she often decked out in thigh-high boots and miniskirts. In 1968 after the Mansion family murders in Beverly Hills, Dohrn told an SDS audience admiringly: “Dig it! Manson killed those pigs. Then they ate dinner in the same room with them. Then they shoved a fork into a victim’s stomach!” In 1969 she was arrested and charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. After she failed to appear in court both of them went underground. Later they were indicted for crossing state lines to incite a riot and for conspiracy to bomb police stations and government buildings.

Ayres and Dohrn were on the lam for ten years, turning themselves in to the law in 1980. All told they lived in 15 states (including Logan Square in Chicago) taking the names of dead infants who were born the same year as they, moving to safe houses of hospitality run by followers of Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh. They were never prosecuted despite their involvement in 25 bombings the Weather Underground boasted of--because the government violated the privacy of the two who bombed the Pentagon. I ask: bombers free because their civil liberties were infringed while they were trying to bomb away our liberties! Is this a great country or not?

“I don’t regret setting bombs,” Ayres told The New York Times in 2001. “I feel we didn’t do enough.” Now as residents of Hyde Park, Billy Ayres, 63 is a “distinguished” professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago and advocate of progressive education (what else?) and his wife, Dohrn, 66, is an associate professor of law at Northwestern, having earlier practiced law at the svelte Loop law firm Sidley & Austin.

They have been embraced by the liberal community of Hyde Park. It was at their house that retiring state senator Alice Palmer introduced them and their friends to her potential successor in the legislature, Barack Obama: community activist, lawyer and former president of the Harvard Law Review. Billy Ayres knew Obama well, having served on the Robert Wood Johnson foundation with him which dispensed monies for public health projects.

Hyde Park: Largely Protected from the Poor.

Where else could former bombers greet a liberal Democratic candidate but in Hyde Park, the largely wealthy University of Chicago neighborhood (1.65 miles), a core area grouped between 47th and 51st streets known often as “Hyde Park-Kenwood.”? Home to, in addition to the U of C, the Catholic Theological Union, a liberal seminary for 28 Catholic religious orders (not the archdiocesan seminary), the Chicago Theological Seminary (part of the United Church of Christ, Obama’s affiliation whose recently retired pastor cursed the United States) and the McCormick Theological Seminary (highly liberal Presbyterian).

Highly chic and highly tolerant of radicalism like New York’s Greenwich Village it is a protected community from racial riff-raff because of the University of Chicago’s controversial support of one of the largest urban renewal plans in the nation (the “Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference”) with “the goal of creating an interracial community of high standards.” Meaning quotas: no black poor need intrude. As result the community that was once threatened by ghetto intrusion saw its average income soar 70%, its black population decline by 40% with substandard housing purchased, torn down and replaced so that poor residents could not afford to remain while middle-class blacks were offered increased opportunities for employment and home ownership.

Result: an artificially managed “diverse” community which Barack Obama represented as a state senator. While other Chicago communities have to make do with the dislocation of poor into earlier middle-class neighborhoods, Hyde Park with its intelligentsia which preaches liberalism to the city is sacrosanct because of a quota goal that limits the poor. Thus does Barack Obama who talks change-change-change with no description of what is involved, who has not disowned a raving black racist pastor, whose description of middle class America shows condescension for them “clinging” to religion, guns and coldness to others who are not like them because of their “bitterness,” whose wife says she only became proud of America when voters supported her husband, is welcomed by two unrepentant bombers and a community that is encased in an artificial university-managed cocoon that has kept the riff-raff poor from intrusion.

When the word got out via ABC-TV’s debate that a key campaign meeting for Obama’s state senate run was held at the Ayres-Dohrn house, a furor engulfed the liberal community. Obama called it “a distraction.” Billy Ayres’ brother, Rick, called it “McCarthyism.” Both city daily newspapers complained editorially and liberals insisted it took the spotlight off Obama’s and Clinton’s views—but, of course, both are in agreement on all issues of substance.

And predictably, Obama supporter Mayor Richard M. Daley, the Catholic supporter of abortion rights and gay marriage—who can always be counted on to go with the liberal flow (unlike his father) joined in to the great praise of the news media. Ayres, he said, “worked with me in shaping our nationally renowned school reform program [sic] and is a valued member of the Chicago community.” Memo from me: I don’t know what school reform he’s talking about: after millions of dollars expended, Chicago is still near the nation’s bottom in literacy. But it sounds good.

Continued Daley: “I don’t condone what he did 40 years ago but I remember that period well.. It was a difficult time but those days are long over. I believe we have too many challenges in Chicago and our country to keep re-fighting 40-year-old battles.”

Daley, who wins by 70%, rents himself out cravenly on all liberal, even radical, issues. He doesn’t have to but is so panicky he might not get elected he feels he must. Had he stayed the course with his father’s beliefs he would still win—but by an estimated 68%, given the power of the machine and the beneficent giving of big business to his coffers. But he doesn’t believe in taking chances. So there he is—doing whatever it takes to garner the 70% even if he has to keep in stride with Ayres and Dohrn in order to win support from the Obama generation: Don’t talk to us about details or the past or history—but change-change-change. The Obama people can’t tell you what change they want. Daley can’t either.

The other day I interviewed a legendary Hyde Park liberal-radical on ABC radio, the dean of all Hyde Park liberals, former Alderman Leon Despres, who is 100 years old and still has all his buttons. To tell you how radical he was and is, he proudly attests that he brought a pile of fresh laundry to Mexico in 1939 to Leon Trotsky, the former second-in-command to Lenin who had fled there to save his life from a Stalin purge (Stalin finally to Trotsky by planting a mole in his staff and when Trotsky sat down to dinner and fastened his bib, the mole raised an axe and turned him into twins).

Before that, Despres gave Trosky clean clothes. And then he allowed Trotsky’s pal, famed muralist and active communist Diego Rivera to paint Despres’ wife’s portrait while Despres took Rivera’s wife the noted communist painter Frida Kahlo to the movies. Touching.

As he reminisced with me on the radio about Hyde Park , Despres said he wants to live long enough to be able to say that a president of the United States lived in Hyde Park. He meant Obama.

I didn’t have the heart to tell the wheel-chair bound centenarian that one already had. The only president to have lived in Chicago did so for two years as the toddler son of a shoe salesman at The Fair store on State street, a salesman with a severe drinking problem. The future president lived with his parents and year-older brother in a second-floor cold water flat in Hyde Park.

His name: Ronald Reagan.


  1. I don't believe Bernardine Dohrn ever practiced law. She passed the bar exam in New York but she was denied a license because she had served a seven month jail term for refusing to testify before a grand jury which was investigating the Brinks robbery. (Actually two police were killed in that robbery and one security guard). She then moved to Chicago and she never applied for a license. You do not need a license to teach law and Northwestern Law School cares not if you have one.

  2. Matt Nelson is correct: you do not need a license to teach law, only a degree from a law school. Your license is required to practice law and appear in court. It is highly doubtful that Dohrn could ever get a license since her criminal career would be reviewed by the Character and Fitness Committee of the Supreme Court of Illinois. For what it is worth, George Anastapalo, who graduated at the top of his class at the University of Chicago never obtained a license because of his refusal to swear and oath of loyalty to the Federal and State Constitutions and to foreswear engaging in revolutionary acts against the United States and the State of Illinois. This was and is a formal requirement. He litigated the case all of the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, but the requirement was upheld as constitutional. Afterwards, Anastapalo taught constitutional law at Loyola University despite his lack of a license.

    As is suggested by a close reading of Tom's excellent article, Tom Ayers' donations to various universities may have been the tie breaker that landed the aging hippies in academic sinecures.

    What hypocrisy! Damning the American system and calling for the murder of one's parents until Daddy Warbucks is needed to find you an attorney and to post bail.

  3. No man who drinks from Lake Michigan can amass the record and cut through the caffe, Like Don Tomas!

    Nice deconstruction of the Liberal Icon's Great Expectations - you are a literary Eichard Widmark, Tom.