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OUTLAWS OF AMERICA: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity by Dan Bergen

In-depth examination of one of the best groups to come out of America in the 1960's – no, not the Beatles, but the Weather Bureaux (AKA the Weathermen, AKA the Weather Underground).

Previous accounts of the WU history have, unfairly, drawn comparisons with Germany's Red Army Faction/Baader-Meinhoff Gang. The gulf between the two movements is huge, and only on a superficial level is there any degree of similarity. Both were populated by white, middle-class students, and there the comparisons end.

The Weather Underground were a broadly supported guerilla organisation who were reflective and progressive and who took pains to ensure nobody got hurt in any of their many bombings. The RAF, meanwhile, were a minuscule group of arrogant mavericks who showed no compulsion in shedding blood, especially if it came out of a policeman.

In “Outlaws...” Bergen intertwines the history and legacy of the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army with that of the WU. By the end of the 60's, the CIA and FBI were shooting leaders of the Black civil rights movements – Martin Luther King , Malcolm X, the Black Panthers Huey Newton, to name but a few. The war in Vietnam was escalating beyond control, despite Nixon's promises to the withdraw all the troops. National Guardsmen turned their guns on striking students at Kent University, killing 4. Many felt it was time to hit back.

The weathermen went underground overnight, when a bomb some members were making went off prematurely, killing three of the bomb-makers (the only victims of the WU bombing campaign). Up until this point, Weathermen were involve in a number of Days of Rage, organised riots against the police and selected property, rather like today's Black Bloc's. Following the explosion, Weatherman became the Weather Underground and unleashed a series of high-profile bombings against the “military-industrial complex”. A book, “Prairie Fire”, was distributed overnight to shops all over the US, explaining the groups politics and analysis.

WU folded in 1976, though some of it's activists are still in prison or underground.

Since their demise, the group, and groups like it, are often criticise for being white, middle class and therefore acting out of a guilt complex. Such accusations are usually a lot truer of the critic than the accused. What becomes clear in Bergman's book is that these people acted because they felt it was the best thing they could do to help others being mercilessly bombed by the US government. While most white, middle class people retreated to their positions of privilege and did nothing, WU took advantage of their educations and social positions to affect positive change, acting out of rage, not guilt.

There is lots to learn in the WU's history for contemporary radicals. This book is a good place to start.

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