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Flying Close to the Sun: My Life and Times as a Weatherman Hardcover – September 4, 2007
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About the Author
CATHY WILKERSON was active in the civil rights movement, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Weathermen. In 1970, she was one of two women to survive an explosion in the basement of her family’s townhouse that killed three Weathermen, forcing the group underground. For the past twenty years she has worked as a mathematics educator in New York City schools.
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Top Customer Reviews
The older I get (this on 5/6/11)- the more interested I became in this other strand of protest from ours (ours being the Catholic, non-violent left) - the SDS/ Weatherperson strand- about which I knew little in the 60's; Here is what Cathy Wilkerson- a wonderfully articulate spokesperson for the "other strand" has to say about the Catonsville 9 in her book Flying Close to the Sun.
Which tactic works best when?- non-violence? non violence? Who talks about these issues today? Not on the Today show- C's book should be a best seller. It should be in every library and taught in every university.
Ms Wilkerson describes the action of the Catonsville 9- "On May 17th, a different kind of drama took the spotlight for a moment. Nine members of the Catholic left concocted a batch of napalm from a recipe they found in a Special Forces handbook. They then broke (note by me- the correct word would be "walked") into a Selective Service office in Catonsville, Md., removed a large batch of draft files, poured their napalm all over the files, and burned them. These activists, I thought, challenged the government's irresponsible wielding of power, not with equal and like power but by arguing that morality and sanity should trump raw power. They could have done a lot of damage after breaking in (she means "walking"), but they believed that by exercising a restraint of power they would demonstrate a more humane and intelligent way to engage with and resolve conflict. It was this restraint that was perhaps the most powerful element of the action, indicating that the perpetrators were rising above their own personal anger and dismay at the war, setting an example of a kind of leadership that was far more creative and thoughtful than that of the current administration.
While I was moved by the action, I didn't see the power of this restraint at the time. Instead, I thought these Catholic activists seemed to only be appealing to the morality of the people in power, but they stopped short of challenging the structures that supported the economy and government (this isn't correct- de. The 9 - especially George Mische and the Melvilles, enunciated at the time the connections between Latin America and our government-
they took pains to do it at the trial.)
W goes on: "By then my thinking was that we had to raise the question of power at all times, finding ways to wrest concessions from those in power. I no longer thought that an appeal to reason or morality would convince anyone in the administration to replace the whole system with a more humane and egalitarian one." (Note by de- the 9 were appealing to fellow Americans- not to the power structure- they had no more illusions than did W.)
I found W's book to be exciting, revelatory, dead on, right on, very well written and incisively researched and inclusive and a little dull and humorless (we can't all be religious, humorous mystics like me- note how W blocked Jerry Rubin from taking the stage at one point!) (me- I think there is room for many approaches).. I wish there had been more interchanges between our
two strands at the time. I saw that she didn't like Bill Ayers book- which I found, like hers- to be very helpful.
It occurs to me that W was and undoubtedly still is into the womens issues and womens liberation- I see no reason for us to b squabbling- am sure that Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dorhn support womens lib.
following from Wikipedia: "The March 6, 1970 Greenwich Village townhouse explosion was a culmination of the political direction in which
Weatherman had been headed, according to Whitehorn. "We were out of touch with what was going on, and we lost sight of the fact that if you're a revolutionary, the first thing you have to try to do is preserve human life." Three Weathermen died in the explosion, Terry Robbins, Diana Oughton, and Ted Gold.
more thoughts re this period: 1) we (of the Catholic left) did not have an over all analysis- the welcome freight of history going back to Marx- to put all of our actions into the context of oppression by capitalism- the Panthers and Conway (still in prison in Md.) - to a degree- seem to get off on conspiracy theories like Cointelpro- or the government bringing drugs in the city- not once does Conway or Whitehorn mention this elephant sitting in the room- the fact that Capitalism must be turned over to Socialism-
why be so afraid to say so- I'm not!!
2 Non violence works as a tactic depending on the enemy- because of the racism in the country Conway ends up spending 40 years in prison and
me 2- the police and fbi squashed the Panthers whereas our movement carries on (Code Pink, Plowshares)
Non violence has the advantage of appealing to the best in the enemy and not assuming the enemy can't be changed!
3 The issue of transparency as opposed to secrecy in the draft actions- it would b one question i'd call and ask Phil Berrigan, were he still alive-
i'm hesitant to call weatherperson secret bombings or hit and run draft actions counter productive- but- it's an issue allright- i'm sure Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day would say so!
This book by Cathy W gets 5 stars from me- it is so eloquent- so revelatory of the issues that are still page one today. Books like these and Judith Rosenberg's and Mark Rudd's and Bill Ayer's and the books on ongoing anti war efforts- like Plowshares actions or the best book on the Berrigans - Disarmed and Dangerous- need to be taught from kindergarten on.
Joe Tropea is doing a movie on the anti draft actions- "Hit and Stay"- feel free to google it and my web site of memoirs on the movement- free to all on the internet- google david eberhardt poetry and prose.
Now I shall read the book again- and see what CW is really saying about violence vrs. non-violence. Please bear in mind that the Weatherperson bombings hurt no one!! Bear in mind that some property may have no right to exist. The actions of the United States government have resulted in needless deaths of millions- in Viet., in Iraq, in Afghanistan- our soldiers AND civilians. Contrast our actions of the 60's with that!!!!!!!!!!!
Ms. Wilkerson comes across as a person with strong beliefs and a true committment to back them up with action. Yet, she also comes across as self-absorbed and naive. She didn't seem concerned that her father's town house had been destroyed and that other innocent people could have been killed. She acknowledged that her cohorts had shown terrible judgement in messing with explosives but didn't seem to realize the town house explosian damaged the anti-war movement and helped move this country to the right.
The book was still a great read and did a nice job of describing the political climate of the late sixties. It showed, through her own strainted family relations, the dynamics of what was then labeled as the "generation gap." Yet, at times I thought the book wasn't reflective enough even though it looked back events almost 40 years old.
One of the things that sets Ms. Wilkerson's book apart from the rest of the radical memoirs is the fact that, unlike many other sixties icons who got book deals, Wilkerson waited until she grew up and became a parent up to write about her post-adolescence. Thus giving her a grander perspective on her politics and the actions of her cohorts and the movement in general.
I would have liked a bit more about her later life and how she had to rationalize to her child about her radical choices. The end felt rushed, for that I deduct a star, but I'm nit-picking. This is a book of historical significance, well written and one that should be read by all who study the Sixties and the New Left.