R.I.P. Kathy Boudin, Former Member of the Weatherman

Former left-wing radical, member of the Weatherman (aka Weather Underground), long-time fugitive, participant in a Black Liberation Army robbery that went terribly wrong, wife, mother and former prisoner Kathy Boudin, has died at age 78 of cancer.

What a life she led. I did not know her, but like many people in college during the Vietnam war and the 1970 explosion at an East Village townhouse where the group was making bombs, I followed their activities in the news and at anti-war rallies.

I did not know (or forgot) until reading the NY Times obituary today that the Weatherman took their name from the Bob Dylan's song, "Subterranean Homesick Blues", and the line "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"). When I started TalkLeft (20 years ago next month), I gave it the tagline, which still appears at the bottom of the home page, "The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles"-- also from Subterranean Homesick Blues. [More...]

Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised that we both were so taken with the lyrics of the same song -- I remember first hearing it in a political context at an NACDL board meeting (National Assoc. of Criminal Defense Lawyers) when former NACDL President Jerry Lefcourt, a former lawyer for Abbie Hoffman during and after the Chicago 7 trial) was criticizing some government policy and ended his talk with that line, and then sat down. The line never stopped resonating with me. In fact, it has never been more appropriate than during the siege of Donald Trump.

Back to Kathy Boudin. In December, 2002, I wrote a post called "Children of the Left". Chesa had just been named a Rhodes Scholar at Yale. It was a long and emotional post, as much about my son as Chesa. It ended with:

I have to believe that Chesa Boudin's parents are as proud of him as I am of my child--in the end, there is no greater contribution any of us can make as parents than to send our children out into the world to find their own way, and watch as they choose a career of public service, or one dedicated to improving the plight of those less fortunate, be it in medicine, law, politics, education, or any other field. Even law enforcement. I hope I get to meet Chesa one day.

In August, 2003, I advocated for her parole on TalkLeft, as she was coming up for hearing. It was granted. The next day, I followed it up with "Chesa Boudin, Son of Kathy Boudin". I linked to an article" Chesa wrote in 2001, I am the Son of Prisoner 83A6158, about what it was like visiting his parents in prison for 17 years. I called him "a remarkable young man."

There are several other posts here over the years about the Boudins and children of the Incarcerated. On Fathers' Day in 2020, I wrote about Chesa again:

Where is Chesa today? First, he became a state public defender. In November, he ran for District Attorney of San Francisco, and won. He was sworn in in January.

I quoted from an article in The Appeal (which also has a smiling photo of him):

Boudin, a reformer who ran on a platform of ending mass incarceration, eliminating cash bail, and tackling racial disparities in law enforcement, reiterated his commitment to overhauling the office before a capacity crowd at the Herbst Theatre.

“Until we distribute opportunities with more equity, until the institutionalization of punishment and retaliation is replaced with the institutionalization of restoration and redemption—until then, we will continue to fail those harmed by crime,” he said. He called on attendees to reject the notion that “to be free we must cage others,” and that “jails and prisons should be the primary response to all our social problems.”

Fast forward to today, and Chesa Boudin is facing a recall election in San Francisco over his progressive policies. The Editorial Board of the San Francisco Chronicle urges its readers to vote against the recall. The biggest funder of the recall effort appears to be Republican billionaire William Obendorf.

I have never believed that individual prosecutors can make a big enough change in the system just by exercising discretion in choosing who to prosecute and who to imprison. To really make a difference, you need systemic change. That comes from changing laws, and most of all, changing the views of the voting public. People-powered politics.

I hope Chesa survives the recall effort, but if he doesn't, I know he can have an illustrious and prominent career as a defender of constitutional rights -- a career I still find rewarding even after more than 40 years.

To Chesa: My sincere condolences on the loss of your mother. May she rest in peace. I hope and believe you will continue to fight against the injustice and oppressive policies that unfairly target those who have the least among us, and especially their children.

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  • Display: Sort:
    All three obituaries that I saw (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by Peter G on Mon May 02, 2022 at 07:36:38 PM EST
    said she was 78, not 76. I only met her once, about four years ago. She and her team from Columbia came down to Philadelphia to give a training for volunteer lawyers (I was one) on re-entry planning for the many "juvenile lifers" who were being re-sentenced to parolable sentences pursuant to a recent Supreme Court decision finding unconstitutional the imposition of life without parole for any crime committed before the defendant turned 18.
      Kathy Boudin graduated from the sister school of where I went to college, albeit six years earlier.  Like you, J, with some fascination I also followed her and the others who went off the deep end into the Weathermen and then the Underground. (I, in contrast to their actions, quit SDS when it embraced violence as a justified strategy for ending the War in Vietnam.) She or some of her compatriots returned to campus in 1969 or '70, when they first went "underground," to steal IDs of contemporaries that they could use. My younger sister's was one they got; she was visiting me that weekend.
      As your post might have mentioned, she came from a legendary and highly talented family. Her uncle was I.F. Stone, the radical independent journalist. Her brother Michael, the black sheep of the family, is a Bush I-appointed conservative (now retired) federal judge on the First Circuit. I was lucky to be able while in law school to take an advanced class on "Criminal Conspiracy" from her father, Leonard Boudin, a visiting lecturer, who was a renowned radical lawyer of the 1940s to 1970s. Nothing was said when Kathy came to Philly to give that training about who she was or her background. I and maybe a couple of others in the room knew. I went up to her at a break to say hello and mention how much I had admired her father.

    thanks Peter, I made the (none / 0) (#6)
    by Jeralyn on Fri May 06, 2022 at 02:43:59 AM EST
    corrections you mentioned. Much appreciated.

    BTW, that Greenwich Village townhouse blast: The three people killed were Weatherman, and it was owned by the father of one of the women who got away after the blast with Boudin (named Kathy Wilkerson). Her father was Charles Merrill of Merrill Lynch.

    In 2019, the townhouse was listed for sale at $21 million.

    I never joined SDS even though they were obviously very active in Ann Arbor so I didn't have to quit them -- I stuck to the anti-war movement and marching to free John Sinclair (who got 10 years for possessing a joint)--  SDS was a bit too extreme for my taste.


    Gerry Lefcourt was, of course, a member (5.00 / 5) (#2)
    by Peter G on Mon May 02, 2022 at 10:16:23 PM EST
    of the defense team for the Chicago 7, not a member of the Seven. But he did go to jail one day just before the trial began, when it was still the case of the "Chicago Eight." The notorious Judge Julius Hoffman ordered Gerry and Michael Tigar (along with the other young motion-writers on the team, Dennis Roberts and Michael Kennedy), on the basis that their names appeared on motion papers filed on behalf of all defendants, to take over the representation of defendant Bobby Seale, co-leader of the Black Panthers, when Seale's counsel of choice, Charles Garry, became unavailable for health reasons. Tigar and Lefcourt refused Hoffman's order, in support of Seale's Sixth Amendment right to choose his own counsel, and Hoffman (on a Friday afternoon) ordered them to jail without bail for defying him, thinking they would have no recourse but to spend the weekend in the notorious Cook County Jail. One of their colleagues, however, managed to get a judge of the Seventh Circuit appeals court to order them released after a few hours. On Monday, Hoffman reversed himself (what exactly had pressured him to do so I believe remains unknown) and dismissed the contempt citations. Lefcourt and Tigar became life-long inspirations to me, and happily today are both friends of mine.

    Fascinating, Peter. (none / 0) (#3)
    by oculus on Tue May 03, 2022 at 12:00:56 AM EST
    sort of soft-pedals it... (none / 0) (#4)
    by thomas rogan on Thu May 05, 2022 at 09:14:24 PM EST
    I'm sure she was a fine person when the time came for her parole, but saying that she was a "member of the weathermen" kind of soft-pedals what that organization was, especially in the day and age when people organized an insurrection on the capital in 2021.  

    Well, "Street-Fighting Man" is one of (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Jeralyn on Fri May 06, 2022 at 02:24:54 AM EST
    my favorite Rolling Stones songs. :)

    SITE VIOLATOR (none / 0) (#8)
    by Peter G on Thu Jun 02, 2022 at 12:45:00 PM EST
    on most threads

    got him (or her) (none / 0) (#9)
    by Jeralyn on Thu Jun 02, 2022 at 08:09:25 PM EST
    He had made 18 comments. All are erased.