Ayers, born in 1944, was raised in a Chicago suburb. He became active in the anti-war leftist group, Students for a Democratic Society, while he was a student at the University of Michigan in the mid- 1960s. In 1969, Ayers helped lead a group that splintered off from SDS, Weatherman (known as the Weathermen). The group set off a number of bombs against U.S. targets in the early 1970s, earning it the label of "domestic terrorist organization" from the FBI.
Ayers has described his own transition to active, and then violent, protest in his memoir, Fugitive Days, as having taken place at a teach-in against the Vietnam War in 1965. There, the president of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), Paul Potter, asked "How will you live your life so it doesn't make a mockery of your values?" The question galvanized Ayers, who records having thought, "You could not be a moral person with the means to act and stand still ... To stand still was to choose indifference. Indifference was the opposite of moral."
Ayers own objectives were wrapped up in those of the organizations he helped led, SDS and later the Weathermen. SDS was a leftist student organization that sought to push the advances of the civil rights movement forward and encourage participatory democracy in the United States. In the mid-1960s, anti-Vietnam war sentiment and activities were a prominent part of their activities.
The goal of the Weathermen was to create a force that would fight with the Black Panthers, in the service of creating a classless, racism-free society.
As a member of the Weatherman, Ayers had a hand in several attacks, all designed to protest the Vietnam War and racism in the United States, including:
- 1970: Bombing of New York City Police Headquarters
- 1971: Bombing of U.S. Capitol Building
- 1972: Bombing of Pentagon
Where He Is Now:
Ayers, who by profession has always been an educator, is currently Distinguished Professor of education at the University of Illinois. He is the author of a number of books on parenting, education, and the relationship between ethics and education.