Swords in the Hands of Children: Jonathan Lerner with Jeremy Varon

This crisp, contemplative memoir of an American radical arrives at a moment of surging activism and rage. It is essential reading for progressives struggling with how to act and survive in the Age of Trump. Against the vividly evoked chaos and conflicts of the Vietnam Era, Jonathan Lerner probes the impulses that led a small group of educated, privileged young Americans to turn to violence as a means of political change. Beyond that, he tells the true story of an intellectually adventurous but insecure gay man immersed in the macho, misogynistic and physically confrontational environment of the Weathermen.

Variously known as the Weather Underground, the Weathermen, or Weatherman, the group unleashed a series of bombings across the United States, attacking the Pentagon, the Capitol Building, and the U.S. State Department, among many other places. At its height, the organization consisted of several hundred people, all committed to violent change and toe-to-toe battles with the police.

Inventing himself first as “minister of propaganda” for a movement — and along the way participating in the Venceremos Brigade in Cuba and observing the Native American uprising at Wounded Knee — and then reinventing himself as high-rolling gay hustler, Lerner recounts a wild and utterly American journey from idealism to destruction and beyond. Other Weatherpeople have written memoirs; none has explored the painful history of the consequential group with such penetrating honesty.

“Imagine if your favorite uncle, a brutally honest, worldly, self-reflective gay raconteur, had been, as a twenty year-old, a lieutenant in an underground guerrilla army dedicated to the violent overthrow of the government of the United States. Jonathan Lerner is that favorite uncle you never had, telling unbelievable true stories—no bullshit—from the 'revolution' fifty years ago. This is the closest you'll ever get to being there.” —Mark Rudd, national secretary of SDS, founding member of the Weather Underground and author of Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen

Jonathan Lerner dropped out of Antioch College and became a full-time activist on the staff of Students for a Democratic Society, the principal organization of the New Left. He was a founding member of the militant Weatherman faction, which took over SDS in 1969, and editor of its newspaper Fire!. He remained a member of the Weather Underground, while it carried out a campaign of bombings, until its demise in 1976. He is the author of the novels Caught in a Still Place and Alex Underground, and a journalist focusing on architectural, urbanist and environmental issues. He now lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Jeremy Varon is a professor of History at the New School. He is co-founder and editor of The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture and author of Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies.

Event date: 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 - 7:00pm

Event address: 

Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary Cover Image
ISBN: 9781944869472
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: OR Books - December 5th, 2017