AFTER 24 years hiding from the law for his part in violent antiwar demonstrations, radical Weatherman member Jeffrey Powell took his secret fight to save children above ground this week after a Chicago judge said he had suffered enough and sentenced him to probation.
Living in various cities under assumed names, Mr. Powell had continued what he says was a major theme in radical 1960s and '70s philosophy: the fight for children's rights. But drawn by the desire to work openly against ``the growing tide of violence against children,'' he risked prison and turned himself in to authorities a few weeks ago.
``The gamble paid off,'' Powell said in an interview. He was only 19 when he went into hiding after a violent demonstration in Chicago in 1969 - the Days of Rage. He was accused of aggravated assault in the beating of a policeman.
As he appeared for trial last week in Chicago, Powell told reporters: ``I am proud to have fought for my country against the criminal government of Richard Nixon.''
``We tried to say there will not be business as usual while the Vietnam War is going on,'' Powell says. ``Conscience is the highest law. Remember, in the US at one time slavery was legal.''
Powell, who was a member of the antiwar Students for a Democratic Society chapter at Kent State University in Ohio, recalled a historic meeting with a radical street hippie clan from New York who, along with the Black Panthers, galvanized the students to form the radical Weathermen - named after the Bob Dylan lyric ``You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.''
``We tried to stop 2 million people [from] getting killed. We never killed anyone but we got killed doing it,'' Powell said, referring to four students killed by National Guard troops at Kent State in 1970. The Kent State shootings galvanized public opinion and helped divide America into two camps - for and against the war.
While awaiting trial on the Chicago riot charges, Powell disappeared. He worked as an advocate for poor children - even meeting with congressmen and state legislators to lobby for aid to the poor - and worked a variety of low-paying jobs.
Powell pledged to remain committed to social and political goals. ``We need people's movements to refocus the government on human needs,'' he said. ``It's time for the '60s generation, as it moves into power, to walk our talk and get something done. The basic thing is to take care of your young.''
When the Chicago prosecutor asked that Powell be sentenced to six months in jail on state charges of rioting - federal charges had been dropped years earlier - Judge Fred Suria Jr. said the years in hiding were punishment enough: ``You already paid a horrendous price,'' he said.
Judge Suria sentenced Powell to 18 months probation and ordered him to pay a $550 fine on a charge of mob action. The police officer injured in the riot agreed it was time to lay the whole issue to rest. Powell then asked the judge to help lobby Congress for more funds for food for low-income children. The judge agreed to help.