Mark Rudd, who chaired Columbia University’s Students for a Democratic Society chapter and co-led the celebrated 1968 student revolt there and co-founded the ultra-left Weatherman, recently took part in a talkback following Home/Sick, a drama about the Weather Underground which is being presented at Los Angeles’ Odyssey Theatre through July 3. The “Your Brain is a Bomb: A Revolutionary Conversation Series” that followed four Home/Sick performances also featured ex-SDS member and historian Jon Wiener, host of a KPFK radio program and The Nation’s weekly podcast.
For readers unfamiliar with the Weathermen, in 2008, when then-vice presidential GOP candidate Sarah Palin claimed Barack Obama “palled around with domestic terrorists,” the Godzilla from Wasilla was referring to Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, ex-Weathermen who lived in the Chicago district Obama represented in Illinois’ State Senate. As Home/Sick depicts, this self-styled vanguard guerrilla army carried out a symbolic bombing campaign against emblems of the “establishment” - police stations, statues, the U.S. Capitol Building, the Pentagon—in order to oppose the Vietnam War, racism and more (targets were phoned in advance and advised to evacuate the premises, pronto Tonto).
Like its action, the play’s dialogue is often politically charged and screamed—especially by Kate Benson as the doctrinaire, shrill Bernard, who seems based on Bernardine Dohrn. There are many inside baseball—or, rather, “inside Bolshevik”—lefty references, such as when actors debate over Mikhail Bakunin (the 19th century Russian anarchist) vis-à-vis Nikolai Bukharin (the 20th century Soviet Communist). The walls of the Odyssey are also covered with period graffiti espousing radical slogans, from Chairman Mao’s dictum that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” to “Free Huey” (in reference to then-imprisoned Black Panther leader Huey Newton) to that all time 1960s and 70s favorite: “Power to the people.”
The now 69-year-old Rudd—the former revolutionary youth who later wrote the 2009 memoir Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen (William Morrow)—discussed via email: The post-play discussion; Home/Sick; “vicious greedy tsunami”; Bernie Sanders; whether the onetime apostle of revolt still believes the Revolution will happen; and reflects on the extremist organization he co-created.
Q: How did the discussion after the June 19 performance at the Odyssey Theatre go?
Mark Rudd: I was interviewed by Stephen Aubrey, who is the [Assembly] company’s dramaturge and also one of the writers of Home/Sick. Stephen is absolutely brilliant. He’s read everything pertaining to this history, plus a lot more. For example, an audience member, a professor at CalArts, asked a question about Occupy and its significance. In my response I referred to a recent New Yorker article about Millennials at Oberlin, but admitted I didn’t understand several key issues, such as the differences between the older and younger cohorts within the Millennials. Stephen was able to explain “intersectionality” and its importance to the whole audience, including myself.
Q: What did you talk about?
Rudd: About half the questions had to do with the historical events depicted by the play and my personal reactions, then the other half had to do with the situation at the moment.
Q: What kind of questions were you asked?
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Rudd: People want to know if there’s something new and different happening now, as a result of the awareness of inequality. Obviously Bernie’s movement means something important. My question is what form of organization, with what goals and strategy, will be built?
Q: What was the tone of the audience’s questions?
Rudd: It was mostly old people like myself. We want to be assured that things won’t continue to get worse before we die, that there'll be some sort of sane turnaround of this vicious greedy tsunami that’s swamped this country for the last 35-plus years.
Q: What do you think of the play Home/Sick?
Rudd: Brilliant. I’ve seen it twice now and continue to learn about my own past, including stuff I’ve forgotten. For example, the show reminded me about how LOUD the times were—with all the shouting, bomb blasts, war, speeches, music. No wonder we couldn't think straight.
Q: Do you still believe a revolution is possible in America?
Rudd: No, I’m a social democrat, like Bernie. Right now just the belief that we’re all in this together, translated into social democratic policy, would be a revolution of sorts. But it certainly won’t be violent and it won’t involve transforming the entire governmental or even economic system. The best we can hope for is a little more equality, some more social justice and a little less militarism.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
Rudd: The whole Weatherman/Weather Underground phenomenon is a great negative example of what not to do. In a way it points to what needs to be done: mass organizing, to build a mass movement or movements for social justice and peace. It seems to be happening now among some young people.
Arguably the ideal play to see for the July 4 holiday to commemorate the American Revolution, the final L.A. performances of Home/Sick are: Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 4:00 p.m. at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90025. For more info see: www.odysseytheatre.com/ ; www.markrudd.com/ .