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Former '60s Radical Recalls Days of Rage

In the 1960s, Cathy Wilkerson was a young radical — a middle-class college kid who was drawn to the causes of civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam war.

In 1969, Wilkerson was a member of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, and joined the faction called Weatherman — a reference to a Bob Dylan lyric from "Subterranean Homesick Blues."

The group's tactics already had evolved from persuasion and organization to pugnacious forms of protest, designed to polarize and radicalize.

Weatherman accelerated that evolution: from confrontation to a clandestine armed struggle. They set out to blow up things.

But their biggest explosion was accidental; and the victims were three of their own.

In March 1970, Wilkerson and four others were using her father's townhouse on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village as a bomb factory. Her father and his wife were away.

Wilkerson was cleaning up when a box of dynamite sticks downstairs accidentally went off.

One of two survivors of the explosion, Wilkerson went underground for 10 years. Eventually she served a prison sentence, got out and now trains math teachers.

She is the author of a newly published memoir, Flying Close to the Sun: My Life and Times as a Weatherman.

In her book, Wilkerson is apologetic for Weatherman's tactics, but not for her radical politics: She is still a radical, but one who prizes the right to vote, which she regained several years ago.

As for her Weatherman years, Wilkerson describes a time when optimism turned to fear and anger — and when she surrendered curiosity to the need to know and independent thinking to orders from the top.

She discusses her participation in the week of vandalism and violence in Chicago in 1969 known as the "Days of Rage," Weatherman tactics and their denial about the human consequences of their acts.

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