A rueful—but not entirely so—account of years spent in the Students for Democratic Society and its militant offspring, the Weather Underground.
Lerner, now enjoying a quiet, small-town life with his husband, came to radicalism, like so many others of his generation, as a result of the Vietnam War. As an Antioch student in 1967, bookish and born into a liberal Jewish family, he fell in love with the shock tactics of guerrilla street theater. We might call it performance art today, but suffice it to say that setting a life-sized mannequin ablaze and then proclaiming that the conflagration is the suicide of an anti-war student is a good way to capture attention. “Nowadays,” he writes on a get-off-my-lawn note, “doing something like this on the campus of a liberal arts college might be found objectionable for not being preceded by a trigger warning.” From there, the author was on to the Weather Bureau, which evolved into the Weathermen and then the Weather Underground as its members, having gone on to rob banks and bomb draft boards, fled from the law. With admirable candor if not admirable behavior, Lerner positions himself as a revolutionary compromised by sure desire to keep out of trouble, willing to endorse the most drastic actions but not necessarily to get his hands dirty. As he writes, having gone underground all the same, “fear can be a disincentive to action. Shame, on the other hand, as I came to know well, can be a great motivator.” With a dawning awareness of himself as a gay man with other battles to fight (“in those days admitting to being gay was an enormous humiliation”), Lerner distanced himself from a movement that disintegrated in the mid-1970s.
Readers with a memory for the time will appreciate some of Lerner’s dish, which involves other now-well-known radicals. Those too young for it will find inspiration in his latter-day commitment to tiny acts in the face of Armageddon.