Friday, March 18, 2011


Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity by Dan Berger
Weight: 1.6 lbs
Method of Disposal: Selling

I finished reading Outlaws today. It was a fairly easy-to-read historical account of the rise and fall of The Weather Underground. There were times where I felt bogged down or frustrated but, for the most part, I was there, grasping for more. I do think the author, Dan Berger, has an obvious respect for and fascination with the organization. That is understandable. Bias is almost always there. There are people who acknowledge it and put it out there to be scrutinized and people who act as if they have been able to avoid it. The idea of armed propaganda and protest is always going to be on shaky ground. On the one hand, it has been necessary in the past. For people enamored with the foundation of the United States as we know it, the Revolutionary War was not a continuation of peaceful protests. And on the other hand, peaceful protest has brought us a long way. Martin Luther King and Ghandi are some of the most admired and quoted leaders we have seen in recent years. The taking of human life is almost always criminalized on an individual level, as it should be, but The Weather Underground took great strides to ensure that people were not injured or killed in their bombings, though it did happen. Three members of the organization were killed by their own bomb.

The other ethical problem that arises when studying revolutionaries of the 60’s and the 70’s is cultural context. Black people were being murdered with little consideration or legal action taken on their behalf. Does it not make sense then that they (and their allies) would have to stage a violent uprising to protect themselves? It was not Martin Luther King, on his own, that led the Civil Rights Movement. Was it not necessary to have both, militant and peaceful, protestors to create change?

The other truth is that activists of all sorts are smeared by the media and law enforcement of their time. They are a threat, a means for change. And change is scary. It is important to listen to all sides of the story. It is also important to recognize that the “majority” is really just the people in control and that there are all sorts of people struggling around them, and often beneath them. We have seen a lot of protesting lately and, as in Egypt, we have seen things change.
There is a lot to dislike about The Weather Underground, and this book exposes some of it. The sexism, for one. One member’s praise of Charles Manson, for another. The part that is fascinating, scary for some and inspirational for others, is the ultimate dedication to changing the world and improving the lives of others. The sacrifice of life and freedom for what is believed to be right. The author attempts to tie the movements of the 60’s into the current day, and it is a really great component of the book, but while reading it you cannot help but wonder where people like this went. A lot of revolutionaries are still in jail, while others are professors at universities. But where is the new generation? In one sentence, the author writes about animal rights activists as a group that is seen in a similar light.

I think this book is an important read for several reasons. The first being that it is important for any movement, non-violent or whatever, to understand what came before them. You need to know how you got to where you are today. The great thing about reading about the history of protest is that you can try to learn from other’s achievements and, more importantly, their mistakes. This book also offers an introductory look at some of the atrocities that have been committed by the U.S. government in this country and abroad. The part this country played in the assassination of Allende in Chile, the murder of sleeping black activists, and the intentional ignorance of crimes committed by the state against civilians—just to name a few things. Militant activists also made mistakes that ultimately eliminated lives. The point is not to make the same mistakes and not to let go of the rights that were fought for so vehemently. This book should not be read on its own, but it shouldn’t sit unread either. Go out and get your own collection. Go to the library. But try to understand why you have the life you have today and what needs to be done so that the children of now can have a better life later.


  1. Violent protests and demonstrations have always been a interesting/touchy subject. I have begun to question whether the peaceful activist leaders (King, Gandhi, etc.) have been pushed as the ideal and so popular partially because the main oppressors prefer the oppressed to react in such a way. Not to disrespect or diminish the great influence peaceful activist leaders have had- but it makes sense that the majority learns about them and is more familiar with them and their peaceful ways. That ideal is perhaps pushed on both the oppressed/dissenting and even majority/privileged because it would hurt the status quo/oppressors to truthfully talk about the impact and (good?) influence violent activists and protesters have had to forcefully take their rights.

  2. I have wondered that myself, though it is scary to think. However, in my constant struggle to not harm any living thing I still align myself with peaceful protest.