‘The Weather Underground’ Directed by Sam Green and Bill Siegel (2002)

Heavy viewing this, that left me torn on opinion and blessed with the gift of hindsight. Quite intrusive thoughts come from this brilliant documentary, that left us proper shook, and obsessively contemplating other paths that the lives of friends and ourselves might’ve gone. To be honest, throughout the entire viewing it was on of two extremes; either waves of disappointment that we never stayed active and dedicated to change, or thankfulness about decisions that veered us away from it.

To rewind a bit, The Weathermen aka Weatherman – later to infamously become The Weather Underground or Weather Underground Organisation – were the activist group of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that took real violence to the US government, protesting against the war in Vietnam, aiming for a revolution. The timing was right, and worldwide we’ve never been closer to launching it, but unfortunately the revolutionaries, despite all their positive work fell short.

The Weather Underground is a feature length documentary from Sam Green and Bill Siegel, essentially split in to three segments and extraordinary highs and lows. The first part deals with the formation of the organisation, the founders and key players and the social and political reasons for their goal of ‘bringing the war to the people of America.’

While their violence taken to the streets during ‘Days Of Rage‘ in 1969 got them publicity, it also saw them isolated and split from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and The Black Panthers among others. Here’s where things turn, as they become more violent, a mentality of ‘with us or against us’, and saw the general public – ‘passive Americans’ – doing nothing to stop the war in Vietnam as legitimate targets.

This middle part is incredibly engaging, with interviews from the FBI squad and amazing use of memoirs and archive. It’s where we found ourselves relating to their ideals, the decision and commitment to make a difference, and even watching it can make you turn on your own life choices to have not pursued what you may have once believed in. The justification is there; a lifetime of peaceful methods wasn’t working, it’s time to get serious, and the bigger the mess the better.

It’s a sudden and drastic shift then, when an incident and an explosion creates a turning point for The Weathermen, and forces them underground. With a newly found dedication to keep their own war alive, and without harming innocents, they draw the line in front of terrorism. They’d brought themselves to the stage of being mass murderers, they were training with guns, and now had to re-examine and redirect their organisation’s operations to align with working Americans, not view them as the enemy. The sixties were over, Manson was on a killing rampage and the revolution had gone past peacefulness for many. The leaders of the group were also in the top ten on the FBI most wanted list, where they’d sit for years to come.

The final part deals with ‘going underground’, saying goodbye to their families and disappearing. Now known as The Weather Underground, the group still had it’s core leaders who tightened their own security, and ‘safely’ (no casualties or injuries) went carried out a bombing campaign, always with a communicated message and always in response to actions by the American government.

We don’t want to give too much away on this, just highlight a few things.

These people were in the revolution, so close to having it happen, but it never did. The war in Vietnam ended, the bond that brought them together initially was broken, and the group eventually came out from the underground, many just to get on with a life. There’s something sad in there, and the messages are intense, mainly that we’ve never come so close globally as we did during this time.

For me this was really driven home in the middle section of the documentary, regarding a story about a leftist activist group called The Citizens Commission To Investigate The FBI, who broke in to FBI headquarters and stole boxes of files, leaked anonymously the following year, containing details of illegal surveillance and suggesting assassination of key figures such as Fred Hampton and Martin Luther King.

Forty years later and I can’t but help draw comparisons to the work of Ed Snowden.

The archive used in The Weather Underground is amazing, and how they found the budget for it is impressive. From the horribly famous scene of napalm on a girl’s back in Vietnam, to news reports, live protest speeches we’ve not heard before and high-profile murder scenes of the sixties, they’ve put it together in an astoundingly effective fashion.

The first part of the doco sets the scene quickly and powerfully, then drops the mood so drastically it’s confronting. Arguably the best archive work we’ve ever seen.

We’ve got to take a second to name the non-perfect high-profile players in Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, Mark Rudd, Brian Flanagan, Naomi Jaffe, Laura Whitehorn, David Gilbert, Kathleen Neal Cleaver and Todd Gitlin. There’s too much insight and honesty to share on these pages, make sure you hunt down a copy of this documentary to see what they say.

via The Weather Underground (Official Documentary Site)
Thirty years ago, with those words, a group of young American radicals announced their intention to overthrow the U.S. government. In THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND, former Underground members, including Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd, David Gilbert and Brian Flanagan, speak publicly about the idealistic passion that drove them to “bring the war home” and the trajectory that placed them on the FBI’s most wanted list.

Fueled by outrage over racism and the Vietnam War, the Weather Underground waged a low-level war against the U.S. government through much of the 1970s–bombing targets across the country that they considered emblematic of the real violence that the U.S. was wreaking throughout the world. Ultimately, the group’s carefully organized clandestine network managed to successfully evade one of the largest manhunts in FBI history, yet the group’s members would reemerge to life in a country that was dramatically different than the one they had hoped their efforts would inspire. Extensive archival material, including, photographs, film footage and FBI documents are interwoven with modern-day interviews to trace the group’s path, from its pitched battles with police on Chicago’s streets, to its bombing of the U.S. Capitol, to its successful endeavor breaking acid-guru Timothy Leary out of prison. The film explores the Weathermen in the context of other social movements of the time and features interviews with former members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Black Panthers. It also examines the U.S. government’s suppression of dissent in the 1960s and 1970s.

Looking back at their years underground, the former members paint a compelling portrait of troubled times, revolutionary times, and the forces that drove their resistance.