One of the questions Bernadine Dohrn addressed was whether she thought the self-righteous way in which her goals were pursued produced a populist blowback that’s tearing apart our country today. This is the full question and answer:
Q David Goldberger: Lifelong friends. Bernardine and I knew each other in college. And I was going to… You know, I really respect and admire your willingness to stand up and look back in retrospect, because God knows you’ve been a controversial character in my life, and the lives of many of us.
I was going to look for a nice softball question, but I can’t resist asking you a tough question that’s been bothering me a lot. And that is, do you think our commitments. and the work that we did in the self-righteous way that we did. led to the blowback, the populist blowback, that’s tearing the country apart.
A Bernadine Dohrn: It’s a great question. Of course, I think about it a lot. I think the answer is no.
And I think about… but I do think that we were so righteous, self-important, certain about our, you know, what we thought was right. And that we bear responsibility for that overweening self-importance.
But I actually think it’s also true that the United States has had, long had a…I don’t know what to say… a base for fascism, and long had… that the racism in the United States is so profound. And we didn’t grow up being taught that at all, at least I didn’t. I don’t know whether you all did, but I certainly didn’t.
And even recognizing it through, you know, the upheavals that happened during the time we were in law school across the country, and then the assassination of Dr. King, even with all that, we underestimated the power of white supremacy in the United States. I think, you know, I don’t know how to explain that other than that way.
And I think that it has risen and then pushed back and risen and pushed back and… But that’s the contention and I think that’s the contention we’re still in.
That’s why I mentioned Black Lives Matter. I think, you know, it has made a huge difference what I saw on TV, because I was gripped by the strategy, and the plans, and the extraordinary work of the legal team. But you know, and then the … I mean the number of cases that have happened since then that are at least exposed to the light of day. And when they come to trial many of them, well, it’s an interesting… It’s been an interesting public piece of theater really, where you don’t get to see the jury, but you get to see great lawyering, and you get to see the most important issues of our day unfolding.
So, I… Am I saying yes, and no? I’m saying we were part of the problem. I was, I think by that arrogance, and by that sense that we could will our way into a changed society.
But I also think that the depth and virulence of white supremacy is very much here right, right at our hands.