Bernardine Dohrn is a former leader of the leftist organization known as the Weathermen.
As a young lawyer with powerful oratory, Dohrn became one of the leaders of the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM), a radical wing of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), in the late 1960s. In the summer of 1969, the ninth annual national SDS conference was held. The event was marked by internal struggle over future directions for the organization. The RYM faction held a particularly attractive stance, arising from of a collective frustration over nearly a decade's ineffectuality of nonviolent techniques. SDS would collapse in a RYM-led upheaval at the end of the convention, which ousted the PL Worker Student Alliance. Rather than acquiesce to a change in leadership and political technique, the SDS disintegrated. "The Weathermen", as Dohrn's radical faction were now called, began a series of radical direct actions against the American government immediately.
One of these actions was Days of Rage, held on October 9, 1969. The event was advertised with the slogan "Bring the war home!". Hoping to cause chaos on a level able to "wake" the American public out of its complacency with the slaughter of the Vietnamese people, the Weathermen wanted the event to be as large-scale a protest as the decade had seen. Despite expectations of many thousands of radical activists, the Weathermen were surprised to find attendance somewhere between 200 and 300 persons. Disregarding the paltry attendance, the group armed itself with bats, pipes, and chains, and began its rampage by destroying a memorial to police officers of the Haymarket Riot of 1886. The activists ran through the streets of Chicago, smashing the windows of cars and storefronts.
In 1970, the Weathermen's activism was temporarily disrupted by an accidental explosion when bombs intended for a dance held at U.S. Army base Fort Dix destroyed a Greenwich Village brownstone, killing three members of the Weathermen. The tragedy shifted the Weathermen's sympathies back toward the prevention of any and all deaths. The initial shock of the event, combined with the FBI's killing of Black Panther Fred Hampton, moved Dohrn and other members to go underground. For half a decade, Dohrn and the Weathermen Underground carried out clandestine actions, largely bombings, against the U.S. government. She is well-known as the signatory on the Weather Underground's "Declaration of a State of War", which formally declared war on the U.S. Government. FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. Some of the targets of WU bombings have been the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, and police and prison buildings. The WU accepted $20,000 to break Timothy Leary out of a California prison where he was incarcerated for marijuana possession. Leary joined Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria; his initial press release contains revolutionary rhetoric sympathetic to the Weather Underground's cause. Dohrn and others also co-wrote and published the subversive manifesto Prairie Fire, and participated in a covertly filmed propaganda documentary, Underground. Dohrn later married former Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers, whose long-time girlfriend Diana Oughton had died in the Greenwich Village accident.
Ayers and Dohrn have two children together, whom they raised underground before turning themselves in to the authorities in 1981. While some charges relating to their activities with the Weathermen were dropped due to "extreme governmental misconduct" while searching for them, Dohrn did plead guilty to charges of aggravated battery and bail jumping, receiving probation. She later served less than a year of jail time, after refusing to testify against ex-Weatherman Susan Rosenberg in an armed robbery case. Shortly after turning themselves in, Dohrn and Ayers adopted Chesa Boudin, when his biological parents and former members of the Weather Underground, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, were arrested in connection with the Black Liberation Army.
From 1984 to 1988, Dohrn was an associate at the law firm Sidley Austin. In 1991, she became a Clinical Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern University in Chicago. She now serves on the board of numerous human rights committees. She also teaches comparative law. Since 2002, she has served as a Visiting Law Faculty at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.
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