If you take the Obama campaign at its word, the contention that there is a relationship between Bill Ayers and Barack Obama is “phony,” “tenuous,” a “stretch.” In Obama’s own words, Ayers was just “a guy who lives in my neighborhood,” certainly not a long time close political ally.
But a review of just the publicly known highlights of the Ayers-Obama relationship suggests a twenty year pattern of connections between the two.
At the heart of this “Top Ten” list is the Chicago Annenberg Challenge
, which Ayers founded and Obama and Ayers co-chaired for five years, raising and spending at least $110 million in an effort to bolster a “radical” (Ayers’ word) reform program in the Chicago Public Schools from 1994 to 2001.
1) Out of the Woods:
The Woods Fund financed the hiring of Obama in 1985 by the Developing Communities Project.
According to The Nation: “The Woods Fund, in many ways, is responsible for helping start Obama as an organizer and shaping his political identity. In 1985 the foundation gave a $25,000 grant to the Developing Communities Project (aka the “DCP”), which hired Obama, at 24, as an organizer on Chicago’s economically depressed South Side.”
The Woods Fund was founded by the Woods family
which owned the Illinois-based Sahara Coal Company, a major supplier of coal from its mines to major Illinois power companies. Commonwealth Edison, the giant Chicago-based electric power company was headed by
Thomas Ayers, father of Bill Ayers.
Obama served on the board of the Woods Fund from 1993 until 2002. Bill Ayers joined the board of the Fund in 1999 and continues to serve on the board today. He chaired the board for two years during that time.
2) Know your ABCs:
Obama’s DCP supported radical school reform project together with Bill Ayers.
In 1987 in the wake of a controversial strike by the Chicago Teachers’ Union, the Alliance for Better Chicago Schools, or ABCs, was formed to lobby for a new Illinois law that would mandate the establishment of a new power center in Chicago public schools. Local school councils would be established to watchdog union teachers and their principals and they would have the power to fire principals at will.
Bill Ayers was a contact person for the ABCs (although we do not know precisely when he attained this position) and later its chair. Barack Obama worked on school reform efforts for the DCP at that time, the DCP played a leading role in the school reform effort and the DCP was a member of the ABCs. Chicago United, a business group established by Tom Ayers, Bill’s father, was also a leading organizer of and member of the ABCs.
The Woods Fund also provided additional financial support to the DCP in 1988 to support its school reform efforts. A program officer of the Woods Fund at the time was Ken Rolling who would later be hired by Bill Ayers and Barack Obama as Executive Director of the $110 million Chicago Annenberg Challenge.
3) Putting on the White Shoe:
Obama and Dohrn worked for elite law firm Sidley and Austin
After surfacing from the Weather Underground in 1980 Bernardine Dohrn, wife of Bill Ayers, pled guilty to criminal charges related to the violent Days of Rage
in Chicago in 1969 and received three years probation. She later refused to testify in front of a grand jury convened to investigate a bank robbery carried out by former comrades of Dohrn’s from the Weather Underground. Currently a clinical faculty member at Northwestern University School of Law, she told the New York Times that she thought grand juries were “illegal” and “coercive.” She served seven months in jail.
Because of the criminal convictions Dohrn, who received a law degree from the University of Chicago in 1967, was refused admission to the New York bar. Nonetheless, she was hired as a legal clerk by Sidley and Austin, a major Chicago law firm, in their New York office in 1984. Howard Trienens, then managing partner of the firm, recently told the Chicago Tribune
that he arranged the hiring of Dohrn as a favor to his fellow Northwestern University trustee and classmate, Tom Ayers. Tom Ayers’ firm, Commonwealth Edison, has used Sidley as outside counsel for many years. She later worked in their Chicago office when she and Bill Ayers moved back to Chicago in 1987. She left Sidley in 1988.
Barack Obama left Chicago in the fall of 1988 to attend Harvard Law School. In the summer after his first year at Harvard he became an associate in the Chicago office of Sidley and Austin.
4) A hard rock miner:
Chicago lefty lawyer and Dohrn classmate Judson Miner hires Barack Obama out of Harvard.
Barack Obama returned to Harvard after his summer at Sidley and Austin in the fall of 1989. That academic year he was elected the president of the Harvard Law Review, the first black person to hold the position. Although Obama could have returned to Sidley or perhaps clerked for the United States Supreme Court, a natural step for Law Review officers, he chose instead to work for Judson Miner, a partner in a small civil rights law firm in Chicago. Miner had been counsel to Chicago’s late black mayor, Harold Washington. Miner was also classmates with Bernardine Dohrn at the University of Chicago law school in 1967 where they were both were involved in anti-war activity.
5) Rising to the Challenge:
Ayers is named Chairman of the Board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge founded by Bill Ayers
In late 1993, Bill Ayers, now an associate professor of education at the University of Illinois Chicago Circle Campus, organized a team to put together a grant proposal to secure nearly $50 million from the Annenberg Challenge. The money was to be used by Ayers and co. to bolster the radical Local School Councils reform project that Ayers and Obama had championed back in 1988.
The grant application was successful and in early 1995 Barack Obama was named chairman of the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Ayers was named co-chair of the Challenge’s operative and strategic body, the Chicago School Reform Collaborative. Ayers and Obama work together for the next five years on raising an additional $60 million in matching money from local foundations and corporations and using the money to intervene in the governance of the Chicago public schools.
The Challenge through a multi-million dollar Leadership Development Initiative intervened in the School Council elections in the middle of what was known as the Chicago School Wars. At the same time Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was pushing, successfully, to gut the power of the Councils.
The Chicago Annenberg Challenge paid for a team headquartered at the University of Chicago to assess the impact of the more than $100 million they spent in Chicago public schools over that six year period,1995-2001. Their conclusion in a 250 page 2003 report
was that the money had no impact at all: test scores in schools that received money from Annenberg went up, but at the same rate as all other schools in Chicago. There was, in the words of the report, “no Annenberg effect.”
6) In the Palmer of his hand:
Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn host Obama’s state senate kick-off in their Hyde Park home
In the fall of 1995 Barack Obama began his first electoral campaign to replace State Senator Alice Palmer who was attempting to run for Congress. Palmer accompanied Obama to the Hyde Park home of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn for an introduction of Obama to the Hyde Park left. Unnamed Obama campaign aides told the New York Times
that this was the first time that Obama met Ayers and Dohrn, part of the campaign’s effort to minimize the relationship between their candidate and the two authoritarian leftists. Of course that was wrong, as clearly Obama and Ayers had already met well before this “meet and greet.”
7) The “lost years”: Ayers and Obama to the rescue of troubled youth
In 1997 Bill Ayers published a book that criticized the treatment of juvenile defendants in the criminal justice system including the practice in some states of trying these individuals as adults. Barack Obama praised the book
as a “searing and timely account” in the Chicago Tribune.
In late 1997 and 1998 a bill to impose “blended” sentencing on certain juvenile offenders was proposed in the Illinois legislature where Obama was now a state senator, representing the south side Chicago district that included Ayers and Dohrn’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The bill would have allowed parallel juvenile and adult sentences with the adult sentence held as a threat to be imposed if serious offenders violated terms of their juvenile conviction.
Obama, Dohrn and Ayers opposed the bill. Michelle Obama, now working at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, organized a panel discussion there in late 1997 as the new bill was gaining momentum, to discuss Ayers’ book. Barack Obama and Ayers were on the panel and Obama was described in the event’s press release as “working to block proposed legislation that would throw more juvenile offenders into the adult system.”
8) The “R” word:
Obama advisor promotes a reparations approach to education reform; Ayers endorses it
In 2006 Professor Gloria Ladson-Billings of the University of Wisconsin, the then president of the American Education Research Association (AERA), the nation’s leading School of Education professional association, proposed a new policy to tackle the problems of America’s public schools: the repayment of centuries of “education debt” that allegedly is owed to people of color as a result of slavery and discrimination. She rooted the concept in the literature supporting reparations for slavery.
In 2007 Linda Darling-Hammond, a prominent and respected professor at the Stanford University School of Education, endorsed the same idea in an article in The Nation
. In late 2007 Darling-Hammond was named an education advisor to the Obama campaign. In February 2008 Darling-Hammond issued a blueprint for education reform by the next President that set as its #1 priority the repayment of the “education debt,” as proposed originally by Ladson-Billings.
Bill Ayers has endorsed the idea of repayment of the “education debt.” Ayers is now a Vice President-elect (Division B: Curriculum Studies) of the AERA.
A chapter called “Education for Democracy” by Darling-Hammond appeared in a volume co-edited by Ayers called A Light in Dark Times. A chapter co-authored by Ladson-Billings on “racing justice” appeared in a book co-edited by Ayers called Teaching for Social Justice: A Democracy and Education Reader. Ladson-Billings wrote the foreword to Ayers’ book, To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher. Ayers and Ladson-Billings are co-editors of City Kids, City Schools: More Reports from the Front Row just published. Ladson-Billings contributed a chapter in a book edited by Bill Ayers, Rick Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn and Jesse L. Jackson called Zero Tolerance: Resisting the Drive for Punishment published in 2001.
More fundamentally, Bill Ayers introduced the concept of “white supremacy” as America’s original sin within the new left group SDS as part of his effort, together with his future wife Bernardine Dohrn, to hijack the student-led antiwar movement for his still-to-come terrorist actions as a leader of the Weather Underground.
Ayers argues that the fundamental issue in American life is “white skin privilege” – that white Americans benefit from being white at the expense of blacks.
Ayers himself wrote on his website in a January 19, 2008 essay on school reform:
“The dominant narrative in contemporary school reform is once again focused on exclusion and disadvantage, race and class, black and white. ‘Across the US,’ the National Governor’s Association declared in 2005, ‘a gap in academic achievement persists between minority and disadvantaged students and their white counterparts.’ This is the commonly referenced and popularly understood ‘racial achievement gap,’ and it drives education policy at every level. Interestingly, whether heartfelt or self-satisfied, the narrative never mentions the monster in the room: white supremacy….Gloria Ladson-Billings upends all of this with an elegant reversal: there is no achievement gap, she argues, but actually a glancing reflection of something deeper and more profound—America has a profound education debt. The educational inequities that began with the annihilation of native peoples and the enslavement of Africans, the conquest of the continent and the importation of both free labor and serfs, transformed into apartheid education, something anemic, inferior, inadequate, and oppressive. Over decades and centuries the debt has accumulated and is passed from generation to generation, and it continues to grow and pile up.”
Several times during the campaign Obama has suggested that the kind of reparations he supports is increased spending on education.
9) A toast to the maoist:
Bill Ayers long time comrade Mike Klonsky blogs for Obama
One of Bill Ayers’ and Bernardine Dohrn’s comrades in the late 60s Students for a Democratic Society was Mike Klonsky. When Dohrn and Ayers moved in one direction toward the violent tactics of the Weather Underground, Klonsky, in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, dropped the pro-Russian communist politics of his parents and became a committed Maoist. As leader of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) in 1977 he travelled to Beijing and was toasted by the senior Beijing leadership.
When the crazy left of the 70s died in the 80s, Klonsky went to graduate school in education in Florida and then moved to Chicago. While driving a cab there he was recruited by his old friend Bill Ayers to head up a new project called the Small Schools Workshop in 1991. Its offices were in the Department of Education building at the University of Illinois Chicago Circle Campus where Ayers taught. In 1995 the newly formed Chicago Annenberg Challenge headed by Ayers and Obama gave the Workshop a grant of $175,000. The Annenberg Challenge also had its office space in the same building as Ayers’ Department and the Workshop, rent free courtesy of the University.
In 2008 Klonsky ran a blog on the official Obama campaign website on education policy and “social justice” teaching. When discussion of the Klonsky blog emerged in the blogosphere, it was promptly shut down
by the campaign and all of the posts made by Klonsky were removed from the site.
10) The Great Debate: George v. Barack
There is little publicly available information on the precise relationship between Obama and Ayers today. I have been told by Linda Darling-Hammond that Ayers does not have any role in the campaign, although I do wonder how Ayers’ buddy Mike Klonsky could blog on the Obama website unless Ayers had a hand in it. Obama himself did not exactly eliminate any doubts on this score when asked about his relationship with Ayers during a debate with Hilary Clinton by George Stephanopoulos
of ABC News.
Obama said that Ayers was a professor of English (not Education) and was just a guy who lives in his neighborhood. Well, clearly not “just,” as we now know. But then Obama said that he does not exchange ideas with Ayers “on a regular basis.” Whatever that is supposed to mean (they debate the future of the world on an “irregular basis”?) it certainly fails to put the issue to rest.