Steve Diamond of Global Labor and Politics blog is a professor of law and teaches courses in global capital markets, business law, international human rights and labor law. Full profile || Read his other NoQ posts, including “The Biden ‘Gaffe’: A ‘race’ for the soul of the next President?.”
The relationship between the Democratic Party’s Presidential candidate Barack Obama and Bill Ayers, the founder and leader of the now defunct terrorist organization Weather Underground, is deeper and closer than currently understood, according to an individual who has had a senior role in the Obama candidacy. Ayers has had direct contact with the candidate.
The Weather Underground was responsible for a series of bombings during the 1970s that caused extensive property damage. [Only two bomb’s failures (at the front of the home and under the gas tank of the family car) kept an entire family from dying as they slept, reports John Murtagh, then the 9-year-old son of the judge whose family WU wanted to kill. - Ed.] Three of the Underground’s own members died when a bomb exploded accidentally in a New York town house in 1970. Among the dead was Ayers’ girl friend at the time, Diana Oughton.
The source has stated that Obama and Ayers have a direct personal relationship that extends back to the 1980s and that there are now close ties between both Michelle and Barack Obama and Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, also a former leader of the Weather Underground. Global Labor believes the source to be highly credible but has not been able to confirm independently the comments made by the source.
The source has said that either Obama himself or his wife Michelle communicate with Ayers or Dohrn on a regular basis, up to “several times a week,” including discussions about the “vetting” of potential advisors to the campaign as well as potential appointments to staff positions in the new administration should Obama win the presidential race.
The source continues to support the Obama candidacy but has expressed serious concern about the influence of what is known in the campaign as the “Ayers camp” on the candidate.
The Obama campaign itself has officially denied the existence of a close relationship between Ayers and Obama and continues to quote on its website mainstream media sources that contend that connections between the two are “tenuous.” While Obama himself attempted to minimize the relationship he has never denied that it existed and, in fact, hinted during a debate with Hilary Clinton that he had had dinner with Ayers at some point. Ayers himself has refused to talk to the media about his relationship with Obama.
Annenberg Challenge appointment a “culmination” of Ayers ties
Global Labor has reported that Ayers was responsible for the selection of Obama as Chairman of the $150 million Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a school reform effort that Ayers helped found and lead from 1994 to 2002. While that conclusion has been challenged by, among others, spokespersons for the Obama campaign and The New York Times, this source called the appointment of Obama to the Annenberg post the “culmination” of the relationship between Ayers and Obama at that point in time.
The same source has said that senior campaign staff including David Axelrod, Obama’s campaign manager, spoke directly with Ayers about preventing access by independent investigators to records of the Challenge. The source was in touch with an individual with first hand knowledge of the conversations that took place between Axelrod and Ayers but that individual was apparently reluctant to speak publicly.
Ayers is a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus where the records are housed and where the Annenberg Challenge had its offices when it was first established by Ayers, among others, in 1995.
When a conservative intellectual and writer, Stanley Kurtz, of the National Review, attempted to access the records earlier this year he was denied access for several weeks. Emails released by the University confirmed that the former Executive Director of the Challenge, Ken Rolling, who has had a long time relationship with Ayers and Obama in the Chicago education reform environment, was in touch with senior University officials during that period.
A reporter for the Chicago Tribune told Global Labor that Rolling contacted the University on the very same day that Kurtz did. Kurtz was then denied access to the University’s records the next day. When the Challenge donated its records to the University in 2002 they were supposed to be made available for research to the public.
Global Labor was later told by an independent source outside the Obama campaign that two individuals attending the Democratic Party’s National Convention in Denver this past summer heard long time Ayers’ colleague, Tom Hayden, “brag” that Ayers and Axelrod “would take care of the Annenberg issue.”
Hayden was a founder of the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, which for several years was among the most important groups in the 1960s anti-war movement. A putsch led by Ayers and Dohrn, among others, however, steered SDS towards the violent tactics of the Weather Underground. Hayden is now active in a group called “Progressives for Obama” that includes many former SDS activists including some who were vigorous opponents of Ayers and Dohrn in the 1970s.
The Weather Underground
The Weather Underground had a destructive impact on the effort of tens of thousands of Americans to end the Vietnam War. A manifesto titled Prairie Fire issued by Ayers and Dohrn at the time outlined their neo-stalinist worldview and included a dedication to Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert Kennedy, whom they called a “political prisoner.” A recent re-issue of the manifesto by Ayers and Dohrn edited out the reference to Sirhan.
Dohrn turned herself into authorities with Ayers in 1980 and later served six months in prison for a refusal to testify to a New York grand jury about her possible role in a bank robbery led by black nationalists and former Weather Underground cadre that left two police officers and a bank guard dead. Ayers himself had pending charges against him dismissed due to legal problems with the manner in which evidence against him was collected.
Ayers and Dohrn continue today to advocate an authoritarian political agenda based on their view of America as a congenitally racist country. A book they plan to publish early next year is called Race Course Against White Supremacy. They travel regularly to Venezuela where Ayers has expressed strong support for the authoritarian regime of Hugo Chavez.
Ayers and Obama Chicago efforts
The Annenberg records indicated that Ayers and Obama worked closely together to implement an agenda built in part on Ayers long held race based and authoritarian political perspective. Ayers and Obama had both worked in 1988 in Chicago to implement a radical restructuring of the governance of Chicago schools that aimed, in part, to rein in the power of the Chicago Teachers’ Union after an unpopular strike in 1987.
The Challenge disbursed millions of dollars over a six-year period in the late 1990s in Chicago during a period of controversial school reform. As a result of his role in the Challenge, Obama was able to come into contact with numerous prominent Chicagoans who are now important to his political campaign, including Penny Pritzker, of the powerful and wealthy Pritzker family. The Pritzker Family Foundation donated $100,000 in matching funds to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and Penny Pritzker now serves on the board of the Chicago Public Education Fund, which was the successor organization to the Challenge. Ms. Pritzker now chairs the Obama campaign finance committee.
Several months after his appointment to the Challenge board by Ayers, Obama launched his first political campaign for a seat in the Illinois state senate. An early campaign event was organized by Ayers and Dohrn and held in their Hyde Park town house. Ayers, Dohrn and the Obamas later joined together in an effort to support reforms to the Illinois juvenile justice system.
Ayers and Obama later sat together on the board of the Woods Fund, a Chicago based foundation that funded a wide array of groups including the Arab American Action Network headed by Mona Khalidi. Khalidi’s husband Rashid is a close friend of Ayers and credits Ayers with assisting him in writing a book. Obama spoke at an event in honor of Khalidi, a scholar of the Middle East, when he left the University of Chicago for a post at Columbia University.
The McCain/Palin campaign has limited its comments on the Ayers/Obama relationship to suggestions that Obama “pals around with terrorists.” While Ayers and Dohrn have admitted they engaged in violent actions during the 1970s they now engage largely in propaganda efforts for their authoritarian worldview.