Running on Empty
Braudy leans heavily on John Castellucci's The Big Dance: The Untold Story of Weatherman Kathy Boudin and the Terrorist Family That Committed the Brink's Robbery Murders (1986) for material on Boudin's experience renting vehicles for the Family, and on how her attention to Family politics began to wander after Chesa was born. There is more about the ties between the New York Black Panthers, the Black Liberation Army and the Family she might have used, but the focus on Assata Shakur (a k a Joanne Chesimard) seems right. Boudin had admired her for years, and wrote poetry about her; but two years before the Brink's robbery Assata had been broken out of prison and flown to Cuba.
According to Braudy, Boudin lacked the kind of access to the Family that might have warned her of their slide into drugs. Braudy focuses instead on the tug of war between Leonard and David Gilbert in the months before Brink's over whether Kathy should turn herself in. Kathy's own mind is missing from this drama, and it's no easier to imagine it now--except to point out the obvious connection between Boudin's early involvements with civil rights and her admiration for Assata Shakur, and to suggest that she felt it was her duty as a white revolutionary to offer uncritical support to the Family. In this commitment to rid herself of "white skin privilege" she differed from most of her political generation, and for the manner in which she fulfilled her duty, she has paid the price.
Braudy has a weak grasp of Boudin's formative years with SDS and Weatherman. She relies on FBI reports of dubious accuracy, and on two memoirs of questionable propriety, by Susan Stern and Jane Alpert, who share her underlying belief that the personal is political. The alternative paper The Rat is cited for the coverage of SDS's last hurrah, in Flint, Michigan, at the end of 1969, and the collage Braudy pieces together is barely recognizable. I was there for the Venceremos Brigade, which was recruiting students to go to Cuba, and saw the huge cardboard gun lettered "PIECE NOW" but didn't see punch spiked with LSD (I don't remember any punch), or dance with Dohrn and Diana Oughton (whom Braudy keeps calling by her Bryn Mawr nickname, "Das"), or lead Weather songs like "I'm Dreaming of a White Riot," or shout about "political assassinations." Later that night, Braudy has Boudin joining "women making love on the dance floor," and dancing again, copying young blacks, punching and kicking, jumping "high, winking at admirers, her face red, her curling hair flying and damp with sweat, stamping her bare feet, and shouting at the top of her lungs in unison with the other young people, 'EXPLODE, EXPLODE.'" An awfully long sentence, and one of the better ones. But true? I recall Tom Hayden leading karate, but in this version Hayden is no longer part of the scene she tries to re-create.
It's hard to do justice to a book about history that ignores history. It's not a place where Braudy goes, and when she does, as in "President Harry Truman suddenly declared a 'cold war,'" it precedes a statement about a family member: "Jean was a self-described parlor revolutionary. 'I'll pay you come the revolution,' she would say, hanging up on a bill collector." Braudy writes (with Jean as source) that in the early 1960s Kathy joined Leonard in Havana, and then went off to harvest sugar "as a member of the Venceremos Brigade, made up of students from Cuba and the United States with stars in their eyes..." But the Brigades didn't start until 1969. With no discussion of what's actually happening in the world that interests the activists, it's hard to judge their actions. What makes a second-rate exposé the stuff of first-class reviews--most of which more or less agree with Braudy's conclusion that Leonard Boudin's daughter was lost before she started--is the prevailing dismissal of the protest movements of the 1960s and early '70s. The circumstances behind the movements are forgotten, gone, and so the book is free to tell another story, closer in mood and temper to the present.