The Object Of The Outrage

In the ways that seem to matter to her, the world is remarkably unchanged since Kathy Boudin essentially left it in 1970. There is still a chasm between rich and poor, white and black. Environmental concerns have a habit of giving way to the profit motive. The state of California is in thrall to an actor of marginal talents, and a Republican administration in Washington is devoted to self-perpetuation. There is even a nasty little quagmire of a war, one that many believe was ill conceived from the very beginning. Once again the government of the United States is determined to destroy the village in order to save it, whether the villagers like it or not. Cue the echo chamber.

But the world into which Boudin will emerge, after a decade underground and two more in prison, is changed in one important way, at least as far as her crimes are concerned. In the years she has been away the American people have been treated, over and over again, to political frustration expressed through violence. And the result has been a full and bitter understanding of the tragic disconnect that those actions represent.

Boudin was the crown princess of the antiwar movement in the late '60s, brilliant, committed and from rad aristocracy. Her father, Leonard, was one of the country's best-known civil-rights attorneys; her uncle was the radical journalist I. F. Stone. She became a household name when a Greenwich Village brownstone cum bomb factory was blown to smithereens and three members of the Weather Underground died in the explosion. Boudin survived, and disappeared, only to surface again just more than a decade later when she was part of the getaway team for an armored-car robbery by the Black Liberation Army. Two police officers and a security guard were killed. Kathy Boudin has been in prison ever since.

But out in the world, versions of the frustrated radical, enraged by the intractability of the political landscape and fired by the rightness of the cause, have gone about their bloody business. Across the country and the globe they seem to erupt every day now: suicide bombings in Israel, abortion-clinic murders in Florida and New York, the destruction of the federal building in Oklahoma City and, of course, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. In just the last few weeks there have been a brace of killings by those who believe their actions are justified by their beliefs. When you read that Kathy Boudin, looking back on her younger self, identified with Joan of Arc, the incredulity is mixed with recognition. So many erstwhile Joans and Johns have emerged over the last three decades to bear witness by their actions to the belief that political change trumps innocent blood.

Revolutionary or reactionary, the problem with this is that it is ideology divorced from humanity, empty as the transparent carapace of a cicada, the living thing gone from within. Political protest through killing the children in a day-care center, or the restaurant workers at Windows on the World, or a doctor who has delivered hundreds of babies--no matter how you configure that equation, it will not compute. Boudin said at a parole hearing that in her former deluded state the Brinks robbery was "like Robin Hood, taking from the rich and giving to the poor." But the robbery left three working-class guys dead and three families to soldier on without any mythical figure riding up with a bag of gold. It is not possible to destroy the workers in order to save them. Peter Paige, Edward O'Grady, Waverly Brown. They were real people, not political theory.

Boudin deserved to be paroled under the rules of our system, a system she once rejected and the murdered men were paid to uphold. She's been a model prisoner, and she will probably do some good in the world when she re-enters it. The families of the three men killed in the Brinks robbery don't agree; they've been lobbying to keep her in prison for the rest of her life. I wouldn't presume to speak for someone who has lived with that kind of loss, but I suspect that nothing is ever enough to redress it. The families have suggested that, irony of ironies, it was class privilege that got the radical sprung, that because of her family circle of influential intellectuals she got preferential treatment. The opposite was probably true. If Kathy Boudin had been an ordinary inmate in for being a party to an ordinary robbery, without political overtones or constant publicity, she likely would have been paroled two years ago.

It's hard to find a way in today's world to make a dent in all the inequities that exist and seem likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Political avenues seem like cul-de-sacs, and radical groups have become parodies of themselves. Boudin, who got a master's degree in prison, has said she wants to be a social worker and perhaps work with AIDS patients. Think globally, act locally: somehow it doesn't seem entirely sufficient. The other day I drove by a car that had the bumper sticker if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention. The question is where outrage leads you. Destroying people to save mankind is not an option.