A Memoir From the Front Lines of the Sixties
Doubleday, Hardcover, 9780385533485, 464pp.
Publication Date: April 26, 2011
The political memoir as rousing adventure story—a sizzling account of a life lived in the thick of every important struggle of the era.
April 1973: snow falls thick and fast on the Badlands of South Dakota. It has been more than five weeks since protesting Sioux Indians seized their historic village of Wounded Knee, and the FBI shows no signs of abandoning its siege. When Bill Zimmerman is asked to coordinate an airlift of desperately needed food and medical supplies, he cannot refuse; flying through gunfire and a mechanical malfunction, he carries out a daring dawn raid and successfully parachutes 1,500 pounds of food into the village. The drop breaks the FBI siege, and assures an Indian victory.
This was not the first—or last—time Bill Zimmerman put his life at risk for the greater social good. In this extraordinary memoir, Zimmerman takes us into the hearts and minds of those making the social revolution of the sixties. He writes about registering black voters in deepest, most racist Mississippi; marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago; helping to organize the 1967 march on the Pentagon; fighting the police at the 1968 Democratic convention; mobilizing scientists against the Vietnam War and the military’s misuse of their discoveries; smuggling medicines to the front lines in North Vietnam; spending time in Hanoi under U.S. bombardment; and founding an international charity, Medical Aid for Indochina, to deliver humanitarian assistance. Zimmerman—who crossed paths with political organizers and activists like Abbie Hoffman, Daniel Ellsberg, César Chávez, Jane Fonda, and Tom Hayden—captures a groundbreaking zeitgeist that irrevocably changed the world as we knew it.
Praise for Troublemaker:
"For almost half a century Bill Zimmerman has labored with intensity for progressive causes as an organizer and political consultant. In this new memoir he looks back on his career with an unwavering commitment to his beliefs and an admirable intellectual toughness and pragmatism.... He has been a key player on dozens of issues including Wounded Knee, Central America, Harold Washington’s mayoral campaign and medical marijuana initiatives and fought with MoveOn.org against the Iraq War. His tense and harrowing account of literally risking his life by flying an airplane to drop food to the besieged American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee gives the book a drama not found in typical ideological memoirs... [His] is a unique and strong voice. Troublemaker is a well-written, passionate story of a personal journey through the Vietnam protest era, and a valuable model for progressive activists of our own time."—Danny Goldberg, TheNation.com
"A political activist looks back on an eventful life.
Zimmerman (Is Marijuana the Right Medicine for You?, 1999, etc.), a working-class kid from Chicago who lost relatives in the Holocaust, struggled from an early age with revulsion over the idea that he might become the American equivalent of “the Good German,” a citizen who passively condones the evil actions of his government. His rebellious nature was nurtured in 1960 during a year-long hiatus from studies at the University of Chicago by the sight of French students skirmishing with police on the streets of Paris in protest against the war in Algeria, something unheard of in Eisenhower America. Back in America, he joined a friend working for the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee in Mississippi one summer, during which he witnessed firsthand the sickening effects of Jim Crow racism. Politically ahead of the curve with his peers, he led student negotiations with the university during an occupation of Chicago’s administration building as a graduate student, then as an assistant professor of psychology at Brooklyn College. Soon, he was making a career fighting to end the Vietnam War, whether it involved confronting police or his fellow scientists and academics, shaming them for sharing research that could be used against civilians in the war. Zimmerman reveals here one extraordinary example of his activism: At a critical moment, he traveled to Europe to give North Vietnamese officials some stolen vials of newly developed penicillin that required no refrigeration, an act which, if he had been caught, might have earned him the charge of espionage or treason. The author’s experiences during the war (e.g., recording on film the damage American bombs did to cities and hospitals in North Vietnam) and after (flying a dangerously damaged cargo plane to drop food and medicine for besieged Indians at Wounded Knee) demonstrate that effective political activism requires no less physical courage than that of soldiers and federal agents. Perhaps overpacked with detail at times, Zimmerman’s memoir is, nevertheless, both a thoughtful eyewitness history of America’s war at home and a thrilling political adventure story.
An engaging exhortation to take risks and live a meaningful life."—Kirkus Reviews
“A riveting book. Bill Zimmerman is a shining example of Tom Paine’s ‘winter soldier,’ a patriot his country can count on in dark times to help it end a disastrous policy or realize its highest ideals. The war in Viet Nam, catastrophe that it was, brought out the best in many Americans, he among them. This is an inspiring story of a life committed to a better world. And, what a life! What a story!”
“Bill Zimmerman gives the lie to the old saw that if you remember the ’60s you weren't there. He was there and he remembers. He spent the ’60s making trouble from Mississippi to South Dakota to North Vietnam. You don't have to agree with his politics to agree he has written one hell of a page-turner.”
—Paul Begala, CNN Political Consultant
“Bill Zimmerman’s memoir is a great adventure story since he managed to be engaged in many of the dramatic scenes of civil rights and antiwar struggle in the sixties. We travel with him from Mississippi to Hanoi, from the steps of the Pentagon to Wounded Knee and many points in between, experiencing close-up how the events of the time compelled a brilliant young scientist to radical resistance. Zimmerman’s tales of derring-do are fused with insightful analysis, and a history we thought we knew is retold in surprising and moving ways.”
—Richard Flacks, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara and Co-founder of Students for a Democratic Society
“Bill Zimmerman’s tale is remarkable. I know him as a close colleague who helped create today’s internet-aided progressive resurgence, but he has a spellbinding story to tell of his political adventures in the 1960s and 1970s. Activists today will want to read this inspiring story.”
—Wes Boyd, Co-founder of MoveOn.org
“Bill Zimmerman’s wise and rollicking chronicle of his contrarian transit across the sixties and early seventies (a sort of cross between Zelig, Zorro, and Zapata) can help explain the political and cultural passions of that era, both to those who lived through them and to their progeny, better than any such text has yet managed to do. It’s a vivid tale, elegantly dispatched.”
—Lawrence Weschler, Director, New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU
“Troublemaker lives up to its title in every way. A smart, tough, incisive look at the politics of the ’60s and how they impact us today. A look at the past that gives us a lens on the present. Read it. Then go out and cause trouble.”
— Robert Greenwald, Producer and Director, Brave New Films