Vermont Conversation: A child of the radical Weather Underground reconsiders its legacy

Zayd Dohrn, right, and the logo for his podcast, "Mother Country Radicals." Images courtesy of Zayd Dohrn

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Zayd Ayers Dohrn was born underground. His parents, Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, were leaders of the Weather Underground, the militant group that formed in 1969 to ignite a revolution in the U.S. and fight American imperialism and racism, sometimes violently. The FBI called Bernadine Dohrn  "the most dangerous woman in America." The group backed bombings of the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and the Department of State to bring attention to their cause. The only fatalities were three members of the Weather Underground who died in 1970 while making bombs in a Greenwich Village townhouse.

Dohrn, 45, spent the first five years of his life on the run while underground with his parents. He tells the story of the Weather Underground in a riveting award-winning 10-part podcast, “Mother Country Radicals.” Dohrn is a playwright and professor at Northwestern University.

I asked Dohrn how the Weather Underground differed from the pro-Trump insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

“The Weathermen were actually fighting systemic racism and a genocidal war. The Jan. 6 insurrectionists are white nationalists fighting for an authoritarian president who was literally sitting in the White House at that moment,” Dohrn replied. The Jan. 6 insurrectionists “were not a grassroots movement resisting oppressive government. They were literally a sort of a fascist putsch that was trying to keep this authoritarian president in office, contravening a democratic election. So I think it matters that one group was fighting for racism, one group is fighting against racism.”

Reflecting on how his parents and the Weather Underground changed the country, Dohrn said: “In a broad sense, the American antiwar movement helped end the war in Vietnam. There are some people who think that there were the good activists — the peaceful people marching in the streets — and then the bad activists who were doing more violent actions. I don't really see it that way. I think the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, the Black Liberation Army were on the extreme edge of a vast and powerful movement that was fighting to end an unjust war in America. And I think all of the activists involved in that, the peace activists and the radical activists, can take some credit for ending that war.”

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David Goodman

About David

David Goodman is an award-winning journalist and the author of a dozen books, including four New York Times bestsellers that he co-authored with his sister, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman. His work has appeared in Mother Jones, New York Times, Outside, Boston Globe and other publications. He is the host of The Vermont Conversation, a VTDigger podcast featuring in-depth interviews about local and national topics. The Vermont Conversation is also an hour-long weekly radio program that can be heard on Wednesday at 1 p.m. on WDEV/Radio Vermont.

Email: [email protected]

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