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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Ayers Speaks at Brandeis

Published: May 2, 2009
Section: Front Page

Former weather underground leader William Ayers spoke to Brandeis students last night about the three steps it takes to be an activist.

Ayers, who was invited to speak by Students for a Democratic Society and Democracy for America, said that students who want to make a difference in their world must follow three steps: open their eyes, act, and then question their actions.

“Opening your eyes is easier to say than it is to do,” he said. “You don’t want to know too much because if you know too much, that means you’re required to do something. But we must look and see what’s happening.”

Ayers continued to say that after one sees what is happening, one must act “in the public square, even if it’s an imperfect act, you must do something.”

Even more important than acting, however, Ayers said, was for students to evaluate their actions and ask themselves if they had learned anything and if they had reached anyone.

“If you don’t do those two things, you get smug and you have an inability to doubt your actions that results in dogma,” he said. “You get too caught up in the well lit prison cell of a single idea and then that runs amuck, and you don’t have to be a hard core leftist or one of the Fox news lunes.”

Ayers said that he was worried that with the election of President Barack Obama, many people would put all of the responsibility to change the world on Obama, and neglect to act themselves.

“Every time I hear someone say to me ‘oh, I hope Obama will do this, I hope Obama will do that,’ I turn around and ask, ‘well, what did you do today to accomplish that?’”

“Obama will not save us,” he said. “But with any luck, we can organize and we can save Obama.”

While Ayers largely avoided his Weather Underground past during his speech, during the question and answer session he discussed what his time as an extreme activist taught him about the 1960s.

“Probably the biggest weakness of the Weather Underground was that we were so caught up in our own dogma, we never reevaluated,” he said. “We never stopped to realize that in reality we didn’t end the war.”

Ayers did make reference to the student protesters just outside of the auditorium, saying that he supported their right to free speech; however, he doubted whether the protesters would be there if his name hadn’t come up in the 2008 presidential campaigns.

“’Palin’ around with terrorists—I love that phrase. It makes me look like I was sharing a milk shake with two straws with Obama,” he said. “But, in all seriousness, I’m tempted to thank my agent Sarah Palin for bringing out this audience tonight. Because I spoke at universities before the election and no one ever cared as much as they do now.”

Outside of the auditorium, a group of student protesters stood in a “free speech zone” designated by Brandeis Public Safety for members of the community who disagreed with Ayers’ speech.

In the zone were students from Brandeis, Bentley College, Babson College and Holy Cross College.

Andrew Crowley, a junior at Holy Cross said “I think Bill Ayers ought to be in jail.”

“If I were a Brandeis student, I would be dissatisfied with the way my money was being spent.”