Remembering a Sixties Terrorist
By Donna Ron
FrontPageMagazine.com | 1/4/2006
I read occasionally of former Weatherman Bill Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn, both now not only accepted, despite their bombing campaign against America in the 1960s and 70s, but successful, establishment educators whose opinions on social issues are taken seriously. Every time I see Ayers’ name I shudder with fear and rage and realize that I will never be able to erase the mark he left on my life one evening 40 years ago.
It was at the Undergraduate Library at the University of Michigan on a Friday night in November 1965. I was a sophomore and was living in a sorority house -- Alpha Epsilon Phi. I was walking down the stairs to leave the library. Billy Ayers was standing on the first floor and started talking to me.
I thought he was cute. There seemed to be jovial kind of instant connection between us. As I am writing this now I think he must have noticed me before , boys were attracted to me in those days , and planned to try to pick me up. As we struck up a conversation, Ayers told me very quickly about his leftist activism as if he knew this would intrigue me. In fact, I had made attempts to join SDS and the anti Vietnam War Movement on campus during my freshman year but had been put off by what hustlers the young male “activists” were. They talked in lofty ideological abstractions, but they also used their political sophistication as a lure for young women who wanted to be on the right side of the great social issues of the day. I picked up on that cynicism early and so spent much of my freshman year at Michigan trying to figure out how to act. I was politically idealistic back then and believed in Tikkun Olam -- that we had to do something to make the world better.
My freshman year at Michigan I attended the Teach-Ins and the campus demonstrations against the Vietnam War and studied hard for my Chemistry exams once a month. At the same time, I decided to pledge a sorority, partially just to prove I could and partially because young women’s options for campus living arrangements were still quite limited in those years.
Despite the caution I’d learned about young ideologues on the make, I was charmed by Bill Ayers and by his savvy talk of politics and the children’s school he was involved with. He asked me to go to a party with him and I did. I have a vague memory of the house where the party was and the people there. I think he got quite drunk and I suppose I drank too. I remember walking home with him. He was very open about himself and told me he was one of 5 children and that he was from Chicago and that his father was rich.
I felt comfortable with Bill. Throughout my life I had always had a friendly buddy-kind of connection with certain boys and felt that I was developing such a connection with him.
I remember going back to his attic apartment -- he describes it in his book Fugitive Days. He had a roommate -- a black man who was 23 and married with children. There was a couch, a table, a stereo and a sink in the room. There were two beds – Ayers’ and his roommate’s on each side of the attic wall. I slept with him there.
I came there a few times afterward to talk and to listen to his LPs. I especially loved Glen Yarbough’s album Come Share My Life. I met Bill’s roommate who also worked at the children’s school. I also met Bill’s younger brother Rick. Bill was a year older than I and his brother was a year younger. He spent a lot of time at Bill’s apartment.
Bill Ayers’ apartment was around the corner and a half a block away from the sorority house. The more time I spent there, the more out of place I felt with my sisters. Sometimes I would stop by just to keep from having to go back to a place I had begun to think of as boring. I guess it was one of those evenings -- maybe on the way back from the library, maybe just to get out of the sorority house, I don’t remember exactly. What I do recall is that when I was getting ready to leave Ayers told me I couldn’t go until I slept with his roommate and his brother. At this point Bill and I had slept together just once. I was sexually inexperienced, having had only one serious boyfriend with whom I had recently broken up.
At first I thought Ayers was joking. I got up; and went to the door. He moved quickly to block me at the doorway. He locked the door and put the chain on it. I went to the couch and sat down and told him that I had no intention of having sex with his roommate and his brother or him. He said that I had no choice but to do as he said if I wanted to get out of there. He claimed that I wouldn’t sleep with his married roommate because he was black -- that I was a bigot. I had gone to school with black kids and had them as friends all my life. I couldn’t believe he was saying that to me
I felt trapped. I had to get out of the situation I was in and because he was so effective a guilt-tripper, I also felt I had to prove to him that I wasn’t a bigot. I got up from the couch and walked over to the black roommate’s bed and put myself on it and he fucked me. I went totally out of my body. I floated beside myself on the outside and above the bed looking at this black stranger fuck me angrily while I hated myself.
After that I had to go lie down on Bill Ayer’s bed for his brother to screw me. Rick Ayers was a decent person, unlike his brother, and couldn’t go through with it He started and stopped and let me go. I also thought I had to let Bill screw me but at that point he unbolted the door and I left.
I remember going back to the sorority house and talking to my best girlfriend and telling her what had happened. But there were no words yet to describe it. There was no term “date rape” yet in our political vocabulary. The notion of a psychological rape was not on the table.
I was a mess and felt it was my fault for letting it happen. I was ashamed. Back home at the end of the semester, I got my parents to send me to a psychiatrist. What had happened affected my ability to trust in a relationship with a man and I didn’t have a close relationship again for a long time.
I graduated in 1968 and went to Europe for the summer and came back right before the Democratic Convention. I worked for McCarthy in the Indiana primary. Wherever I went over the next few years, I carried with me the shame and guilt with me. I felt it had been my fault for not putting up more of a struggle against Ayers.
I started a PhD program in clinical psych at Yeshiva University in 1969. I was also working part time for a branch of the University of Chicago Institute for Social Research which was in the same building. I was there in a room with other employees one day sitting around a big table and coding questionnaires for a research study on Head Start when we heard a huge explosion. Soon after we discovered that it was a bomb that went off in the brown stone on 10th street which killed three buddies of Bill Ayers, who was now one of the leaders of the WeatherUnderground, a terrorist cult. One of the victims was Diana Oughton, his girlfriend at the time. I had known her: a kind soul who had worked at the Fresh Air Camp for troubled kids before she got mixed up with ever so persuasive Bill and the other Weatherman terrorists. When I found out she had been blown up, I thought how like him to send his girlfriend to make the bomb rather than do it himself.
I eventually moved to Israel, married and had a family. But for a long time I felt as if I existed in a time warp in relation to events in the US that were a continuation of the 1960s. In 1994 I returned to the States for my 30-year Mumford High School reunion. I was in NYC visiting a friend and asked about the Weathermen. He told me that Billy and Bernardine Dohrn had come up from the underground and resumed middle class life—including the radical politics—without being prosecuted for their crimes.
Later I read about Ayers and his book Fugitive Days on the Internet. This was just after the terrorist attack on 9/11 and he was entirely unrepentant for having been a terrorist himself. “I would do it again,” he told the Times when he was asked about having set a bomb in the Pentagon. I also discovered that he was a Distinguished Professor of Education at University of Illinois Chicago campus. I think that freaked me out more than anything. That a man so cruel and conscienceless could attain such a position enraged me. I contacted him by email through the University’s website. He wrote back that he didn’t remember me.
I was in Detroit in November 2001 and bought his memoir at Book Beat at Lincoln Plaza in Oak Park. I looked to see if there was some hint in it of what had become the defining event of my life. Nothing. But why should he remember me if he has convinced the world to forget, or is it forgive -- that he set out to launch a bombing campaign to blow up America?
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Donna Ron is involved in non-profit resource and program development in Israel where she has been living on a kibbutz for many years.
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