NYC
10/07/2011 05:59 pm ET | Updated Dec 07, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Mark Rudd, Former Radical Leader, Reacts To Protests

Mark Rudd was once a leader of an organization that advocated for the violent overthrow of the American government.

He is also the ex-husband of this reporter's mom.

In 1968, he led the occupation of five buildings on Columbia's campus to protest the university's funding of the Vietnam War. In many ways, he became the face of student organizing and mass protests. He traveled the country speaking at various schools and had his picture featured in the New York Times and Newsweek.

Rudd's formerly peaceful activism with the Students for a Democratic Society was abandoned in 1969 when he joined the Weathermen, a group of young white men and women who believed that any means necessary, including violence, was required to bring capitalism down.

His endorsement of violence is something Rudd now greatly regrets, as he mentions repeatedly in his book Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen. He's careful to assert that his extreme approach was adopted during a time of severe racism and repression and in the midst of the unjust Vietnam War. Still, he acknowledges that promoting violence was counterproductive.

"To act as if we could build a true revolutionary, anti-imperialist movement at a time when what we really should have been doing was uniting as many people as possible to end the war was a terrible mistake," Mark told the Weekly Alibi in 2009. "It's like taking a victory and turning it into defeat."

The now retired math teacher spoke with The Huffington Post about his take on the current protests that have sprung up across the country and the challenges the Occupy Wall Street movement faces. The interview has been condensed and edited.

What was your first reaction when you heard about Occupy Wall Street?
It's thrilling to see young people taking action on social, political and moral issues. I've been waiting a long time for this. This is well timed in terms of the economic and political crisis that the country is experiencing. It's a great response.

What do you think of the charge that protesters lack concrete demands?
The whole slogan of the protest is that one percent of the country owns and controls the entire government. That implies all sorts of demands. That's a pseudo-liberal phony criticism. Liberals in general, I use that word in the historic sense, the way we used it 40 years ago, as apposed to radicals, but Liberals are scared by upheaval. A radical analysis goes down to the root of the problem. The root is the terrible imbalance in this country.

What do you see as the biggest challenges Occupy Wall Street faces?
Maybe my biggest fear is that there might not be an evolution of the movement towards politics. That was part of the problem with the New Left. It never coalesced around politicos. That's not a criticism of Occupy Wall Street. But there has to be some eventual movement toward strategy and power and the only possible movement toward politics is a transformation of the Democratic party. Or you could form a third party, but those never work. It's gonna have to mean supporting progressive Democrats everywhere.

What do you see as the key differences between the Weathermen and Occupy Wall Street?
They're involved with real down-to-earth issues. Tax the rich, give the people power. We had a fantasy of revolution. Secondly, we were committed to a crazy notion of violent revolution. We are the 99 percent is a brilliant slogan. It's a metaphor. They are much smarter than we were. They understand the power of non-violence.

Were you surprised at how the movement has progressed and how many other demonstrations have sprouted up?
In a way I'm not, because I know there are thousands of people who were waiting to take action. It's gotta grow to a mass thing and it will, hopefully.

Occupy protests