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October 04, 1970 - Image 4

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1970-10-04

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sun day


tvilliam kunstler

Number 31

Night Editor: Erika Hoff

Sunday, October 4, 1970

Bill Kunst e
charges inti
THE BACKSTAGE of Hill Auditorium
rarely changes no matter what event is
scheduled. Though the clothes and the
hair may alter from one performance to
another, a speech by Fleming or a concert
by the Byrds, the same groups of self-
important people are always there. Edg-
ing into the shadow of public attention
showered upon another man, these hang-
ers-on, be they musical, political or cul-
tural, are always there.
Last Sunday there were large contin-
gents of these hangers-on, ourselves in-
cluded, waiting backstage at Hill to meet
William Kunstler. The press engages in
mild shop-talk, the politico's discussed
politics. Closer to the stage, University
security men watched the a u d i e n c e
through slits in the doors.
Kunstler, ,the most notorious of the
movement lawyers, criticized by his col-
leagues, despised by others and revered
by thousands of young people was late.
He had been in Southfield taping a TV
show and he was delayed in driving back.
The audience did not seem to mind too
much. After a half-hour of waiting the
man came through the stage door and into
the dressing room, followed by a string of
He wac introduced to almost every-
one, smiled and walked out onto the stage
to tumultuous applause.
He came, he saw, they listened, he left.
We were waiting for him when he
came back into the dressing room, relaxed
and plea-ed at a task finished.,
After the initial moment of embar- {
ravcment we introduced each other.
"Mr. Kunstler, this is Hester Pulling,
Dave Chudwin, Mike McCarthy, Jonathan
Miller and Martin Hirschman from The
Michigan Daily, the student newspaper."
"Hi." said Kunstler.1
"Shall we start then?"
"Sure, what do you want to know?"


White Knight





ple" or are you just aiming at recourse
through the legal system?
I think both. On one side I'm trying to win
in the courts; it's a very loyalite liberal ap-
proach-not even liberal, it's just a loyalite
approach. You want to win the case, come hell
or high water. On the other hand you're very
deeply conscious of the political ramifications
and that you can no longer be a lawyer in the
old traditional sense where you say to the
client: "Sit still, cut your hair, put on a
suit .. ." as they did in New Haven with Lonnie
McLucas. The need for an authoritarian law-
yer who says: "I run the show, no statements
to the press-I'll make all the statements," is
Would you have handled the Spock
trial any differently if you were counsel
for the defense?

tion well - or at all - with certain types of
defendants. So I want to wreck that part of
our legal system that makes it impossible for
all men and women to have a fair trial.
The other criticism is that you're on
some kind of "ego trip," going from trial
to trial, headline to headline?
I think there's truth to that. I think it's
a problem which affects all people who are
suddenly and spectacularly pushed into this
kind of a position. Every now and then you
have to get off by yourself and really analyze
yourself thoroughly. . . It would be stupid for
me to say I don't have any guilt and that it
(ego) wasn't involved in my work. It un-
doubtedly is. I think I really need to be honest
with myself and say that if I find it's only
my ego for which I'm working then I have to
do something about that. If I find that my


"My politics are very loose.. . . I want to fight repression in every way
possible. I want a free society, as free as you can get, where everybody
can do just what they want to do as long as it does not involve interfering
with other people. Whether they smoke dope, or if they want to screw all
day or pick flowers; whatever it happens to be, I think that everybody
should be given the right to do exactly what he wants to do with his or
her own body, even if it just means sitting around all year and painting

Well, firstly all the people involved are
political p e o p 1 e that belong to the White
Panther p a r t y. Secondly, I've seen taking
political people and using informers against
them becoming a stock-in-trade everywhere.
The informer only has to say: "I was with
them at such and such a place and they said
," all of which you c a n n o t disprove.
There is no way of disproving it except having
the defendant say: "I didn't do it." This is not
an objective thing, this is a conspiracy case
except in the case of Plamundon, so I think
that the two things, the political people and
the use of informers, makes it a political case.

From your firsti
Damon Keith who
bench, do you think
get a fair trial?

impressions of Judge
will preside on the
it will be possible to

Completely. With Dr. Spock I would have
tried to have a completely unified defense
(and of course you didn't have to cut Dr.
Spock's hair or anything like that) but I would
have tried to completely politicize the trial-
and Dr. Spock wishes it had been like that.
After he came to Chicago and saw our trial he
said he wished his trial could have happened
the same way. It would have been different
because there would be different personalities
involved; Dr. Spock is not Jerry Rubin, you
know, and William Sloane Coffin is not Abbie
5 5'
S.. .
f I
Hoffman or Rennie Davis. But within the
limits of their personalities I would have tried
to show why they issued the call of conscience,
why they issued the cry of resistance to illi-
gitimate authority... I would have brought in
people to testify on the war-what they saw
in Vietnam-and try to really go all out to
make it an ultra-political trial, as well as a
legal one.
There have been two charges that are
often levelled at you. The first is that by
trying to politicize trials you are trying to
wreck the American judicial system?
The answer is yes, but not the judicial sys-
tem. I want to wreck the applications of the
system to certain types of defendants, certain

ego is just an adjunct of something else which
I think is important, then I think I can live
with it. But I think that criticism is, probably
for all people in this position, a legitimate
one. It's very hard to be less or more than
What are your politics?
My politics are very loose. . . I want to
fight repression in every way possible. I want
a free society, as free as you can get, where
everybody can do just what they want to do
": x
as long as it does not involve interfering with
other people. Whether they smoke dope, or if
they want to screw all day or pick flowers;
whatever it happens to be, I think that every-
body should be given the right to do exactly
what he wants to do with his or her own
body, even if it just means sitting around all
year and painting pictures.
The only economic theory I have is that
everybody should have a guaranteed annual
income, and that should not be $1,600. That's
about it.
Do you think that your role as a lawyer
may have to end as you try to use other
means yourself to effect change?
Yeah, it could end very quickly. You know,
everyone is out to disbar me. At this point I
still think there is a usefulness in the process,
only because of its contradictions but I think
there is a use; a use to get people out of jail
on bail. There's a use to politicizing trials to
reach the public. There's a use to trying it a
certain way, in using a forum. When I feel
there is no use, whether I'm disbared or not,
then I'll leave. At this moment, however, I
think more than ever that there is a use.
Do you think 1 a w y e r s like yourself
should defend big-name cases?

Well, I would never say it was possible for
anybody in the category of a revolutionary or
a militant to get a fair trial. There are things
beyond Judge Keith's power - juries - so on.
What I've heard from the co-counsel is that
the first appearance was an eminently suc-
cessful one and that both attorneys felt that
Judge Keith was trying very much to be fair
and very much to make this a fair trial. So I
guess that, without any personal knowledge,
within the limitations of the system, Judge
Keith is trying to do that. I'm going to meet
C )
him tomorrow and file my notice of appear-
ance in court; I don't want to draw any more
conclusions than that. It certainly does not
seem to be a Julius Hoffman on the bench.
With the UAW strike going on some
people believe there is a lot of potential
for an alliance between students and
workers; yet it seems most workers see
students as enemies-or at least demons.
How do you view student worker alli-
ances? Is there any potential for organiz-
ing workers?
You know some people take the position
that you can't organize a successful revolution

in this country-of whatever type-unless you
organize the workers first. On my part, not
that I'm political, I think that's kind of an
impossibility - not that they shouldn't be
worked on - they are oppressed, they just
don't know it, but the point is they're very
anti-student, anti-movement now. It was the
workers who beat up the peace demonstrators
in New York, both the Longshoremen in the
docks and the hardhats. The labor unions have
become almost a symbol for power themselves,
bricks for the establishment. So I think there
is a certain difficulty, in how much effort you
can spend to go among the working class and
work on them.
From a very practical point of view I think
that students would do better working among
themselves and organizing themselves. The
French students were deserted by the workers
and thus the French revolution failed in
1968; the Communist party and the workers
left them. I think work has to be doneamongst
the workers but I don't know how much energy
we have. I'd feel better if students would or-
ganize on the campuses because they're con-
venient. On campuses you have easy com-
munications, people, of the same age group
and you have a lot of common factors pulling
people together.
I think if students were superbly organized
on the campuses, then maybe you'd have time
then to work on the workers. Detroit may be
an ideal area, if the strike deepens it prob-
ably is fruitful. I think you can't lose contact
with them and regard them as enemies be-
cause they're not really enemies. It's just that
they think they are part of the establishment.
They think they are as good as they can ever
be-and as, well off as they can ever be. As
long as they believe that, it will be very hard
for students to organize them; they're very
How do you see the progress of the Left
in the broadest sense of the word?
My fundamental role is to create a popular
front. I think it should be a popular front
against repression. That is why nobody on the
Left should be cut out, not the Weathermen or
those who believe in electoral politics. There
has to be a unity, not of ideology or tactics or
anything like that, but a belief that repression
must be stopped.
Do you think that students have
reached a radical peak; or if not, where
is the movement going?
The students reached one peak in May
from which they subsided. I think that it will
take some incident or some set of circum-
stances to bring them back to that peak. I
think they are waiting now, that's my feel-
ing. I've been to only seven or eight campuses
since the term began but they're widely scat-
tered: Minnesota, Arkansas, LSU, Alabama
and here.
I get the opinion that people are waiting.
They listen to my speeches, they- listen to
other speeches. They may applaud, they may
applaud vociferously. But they're just waiting.
The question, "what shall we do," always ap-
pears. You get the feeling they want to move
somewhere and yet no one knows. I think
myself that something will gravitate it, gal-
vanize it. .. But I don't know what that is.



You were in on the very early days of
the movement. Where do you think the
movement has gone since then?
Well, I started out on a wholly different
premise, I was the white liberal who was al-
most like St. George killing a dragon. I really
thought it was possible to win through the
courts, that you almost never lost a virtuous
case, that I was quite a great guy helping the
black people in the South. I now realize I was
essentially a middle class liberal confronted
with a defect in the system which I thought
I could repair for the system.
In the last couple of years I've changed
considerably. I don't think it's a question of
repairing a defect in the system, I think it's a
question of overhauling the system complete-


"I get the opinion that people are waiting. They l i s t e n to my speeches,
they listen to other speeches. They may applaud, they may applaud voci-
ferously. But they're just waiting. The question 'what shall we do,' always
appears. You get the feeling they want to move somewhere and yet no one
knows. 1 think myself that something will gravitate it, galvanize it... But
I don't know what that is."
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