Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Weathermen/ Weather Underground Organization

1) Explosion on 18 W 11th St. after accidental detonation by Weather Underground, March 6, 1970 ( 2) Weather Underground Logo (Wikipedia). 3) 18 W 11th:

-Former site of 1970 Weather Underground Explosion, 2007 (

18 West 11th Street

Just a few blocks from NYU and a site that we, as students, have most likely passed countless times without any suspicion holds a significant place in radical New York City history. It is at this site, 18 West 11th Street, that the Weather Underground Organization almost forty years ago prematurely detonated a bomb “intended for an officers' dance at Fort Dix in New Jersey and for Butler Library at Columbia University”. What resulted was the unplanned death of three Weather Underground members in their continued effort towards strict militancy and anti-institutional radicalism. The bomb, which was being created at the townhouse belonging to the father of member Cathy Wilkerson, went off on March 6, 1970 and not only represented the organization’s lack of planning but also the privilege they held as a radical organization.

The Weather Underground formed as an aggressively militant offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Their creation was a reaction to the inadequacy of the New Left. Instead, they proposed a “white fighting force to support the black liberation movement,” through which they would employ “armed propaganda” and an “urban guerilla strategy,” where youth played an essential role in an armed struggle against government actions. The organization’s radicalism was evident in several episodes across the country: from the “Days of Rage” riots in Chicago to the bombing of the Pentagon and United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The organization eventually changed from a very visibly violent organization to the formation of their underground movement, where they continued bombings but went further “underground” and became significantly less visible and cohesive.

I initially chose this site because the radicalism of the organization, of which I only marginally knew about, intrigued me. The militant activism against the status quo and rampant conservatism seemed at place within a historical context of the 1960s and 70s. However, upon further investigation, the organization seemed to represent oblivious white privilege and a short sightedness of the radicalism of that era. The organization was very much white, and despite their allegiance to the Black Panther Party and Black Nationalist Movement, they embodied a white privilege, of which those other radical groups could not enjoy the luxury. Thus, through their explicit radical actions and the minor political repercussions, the Weather Underground maintained the “legitimation of expectations of power and control that enshrine the status quo as a neutral baseline, while masking the maintenance of white privilege and domination.”

It seems fitting and appropriate that the Greenwich Village of today, with the effects of gentrification that NYU undoubtedly spurred, is home to some of the highest real estate in the country. Where the white privilege of the Weather Underground radicalism was once home and once devastated almost an entire block, that same white and class privilege remains.

- Josefina Peralta and Tiffany Chang


Harris, Cheryl. 1993. “Whiteness as Property.” Harvard Law Review: 106-8.

Jacobs, Ron. 1997. Way the wind blew a history of the Weather Underground. London: Verso.

Murtagh, John M. 2008. Fire in the Night. City Journal: 19-4.

Wakin, Daniel J. 2003. Quieter Lives for 60's Militants, but Intensity of Beliefs Hasn't Faded. New York Times, August 24.

Weather Underground Organization. 1971. Outlaws of Amerika: Communiques from the Weather Underground. New York: Liberated Guardian.

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