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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Chicago Riots-August 1968 (The Whole World Was Watching!)

This is going to be one of those times where I sort of give you pieces of the scene from the book so you get the drift of everything that was going on when Liz, Brian, and Julie went to Chicago without getting too much. This is something that is going to become more common the further along we get as the book gets more personal than factual. So, let's get started, shall we?
I already gave you guys the part that led up to Liz having the seed about Chicago planted in her pretty little head thanks to Abbie and why she decided to go. Of course, she had no idea it was going to be what it became. In the weeks leading up to the Democratic National Convention, there were rumors abound concerning the intentions of the little hippies who planned to descend upon the city and there were many people, high ranking people, who did NOT want them there at all. Not everyone knew about this. Not everyone knew that there were those going around telling people that the hippies planned to poison the city's water with LSD (What a fucking trip I'm sure that would have been...) or that attempts to keep everyone out started long before the convention itself. But Liz knew that the tides were turning when it came to protests in general. And I think (Yes, this is where the crazy writer tells you all that I cannot say for sure because I just didn't get this information as I was writing it) that she did know things had the potential to go wrong. So much around her was doing just that, after all, that she may have even expected it. Still, I don't think she realized just how wrong things had the potential of going....
'The following week everything in my life picked up. Abbie began calling about Chicago on an almost daily basis as road block after road block was put in front of the whole thing. The closer we came to the date, the more shit went wrong. Mayor Richard Daly refused to grant permits to the yippies or the MOBE for the parks. This set off a chain reaction and many of the performers who said they would show canceled. Among these stars was our very own Janis. The first week of August it seemed as if my only mission in life was to get her to reconsider but she would not budge. She told me it was too damned risky and if I had any sense I would stay home too. Shortly after the bands announced their withdrawal from the project, a group called The Hog Farm did the same. I had heard of The Hog Farm as they were one of the most notorious communes of the time and they could usually be counted on to appear at big events with anything they had to help. When they announced they would not come I thought Abbie was going to have a coronary. 
 “Well, kid,” He announced over the phone wire, “it seems everyone thinks that this is going to end in a massacre or something.”
I had my doubts as well. But I wouldn’t pull out. I was going to be there regardless of the consequences and if it came to a fight, so be it. I was ready for one. “What do you think?” I asked.
     He sighed. The whole thing was taking a toll on him. Thinking back on the ease with which we walked into the protest at the Pentagon, it was hard to imagine that anything that big had been so easy to pull off. “I think we’ve got to do this and if no one else can see that, fuck ‘em!”
       The festival technically did not start until August twenty fifth but Abbie asked if we could make it at least two days early so I could be in the loop about how things were supposed to go. He was renting an apartment for the week and he invited us to stay. It was a place to park our car, store our clothes, and take a shower. I accepted the invitation. Thursday morning, Brian, Julie, and I got into my car with clothes and a cooler and we set out for a city that Brian hoped to never see again. “We need a plan, Liz, in case shit goes wrong. It’s going to go wrong. I can feel that. Nothing good ever happens in Chicago.”
“That’s not necessarily true. Can’t you try to imagine only good things coming from this?”
     He looked at me and I had a familiar flutter in my stomach. I had forgotten how well he could read me. He knew that I was worried. “Can you?” When I said nothing he nodded. “So, about that plan…Don’t try to be a fucking hero. Both of you stick close to me. If something goes down let me handle it. You guys take off and get the car. It will be worse for everyone involved if you try to step in. If clubs are swinging, get the fuck out!” I said nothing but I knew there was no way I would let him take the heat. It wasn’t the way I did things and I think he knew that.
    While we were fighting traffic and time constraints to make it by Friday, the battle in Chicago had already begun. Apparently that afternoon a young American Indian hippie boy named Dean Johnson was shot dead near Lincoln Park by (you guessed it) the Chicago P.D. They said he pulled a gun on them. Of course, no evidence was ever found to support this claim. Within twenty four hours we would be just minutes from where he was killed fighting for the right to be in Lincoln Park. The festival started out ominous with that particular cloud over the event. It caused even more people to turn away, it caused an amount of devastation in Abbie that would prevail throughout the days, and it allowed us to take a look at what we were up against. I can’t think of anyone who liked what they saw.
      Friday morning we arrived at the address Abbie had given me. We were dirty, tired, and worried. We had all heard about the shooting on the radio. Abbie had just come in as well and one look at him told me that we were not the only ones who heard. “Man, what the fuck is wrong with these guys? He was a kid! What, seventeen, eighteen, something like that? A fucking kid, man! And they shot him…for what? Why are they all so goddamned afraid of us?” He demanded as he helped us bring our stuff in. Anita was standing close by shaking her head. It was a moment so surreal that I wondered later if it had happened at all. “We’re doing a memorial thing for him after we set up. What do you think?”
      “I think it’s a great idea. Someone needs to remember him and someone needs to have the balls to say what happened to him!” I was angry. Who wouldn’t be?
      We were allowed showers and a few hours of much needed sleep before being briefed on how everything was supposed to happen. “Tomorrow we are going to the park to hang out and have a good time but the festival doesn’t start until Sunday so that’s when we are putting everything up. Without a permit to be there we don’t have any choice on that one. We’re going to have a first aid area, balloons…I talked to a guy on the phone about renting a flatbed truck so we’ve got a stage. There’s going to be cops everywhere, Lizzy. I know that. Do you realize what you are walking into?”
     “Yeah. Chicago has made it clear since yesterday how they do shit around here. I know what I’m doing.”
     Abbie nodded. This was his way of telling me I still had time to back out. This was his way of telling me that this time would be different than anytime before it, that there was real danger here. I accepted all of that. If that was how it was going to be I would deal with it. “Let’s head down to the park and try to find Jerry. I haven’t seen that schmuck since I got here!”
      We walked, Abbie, Anita, Brian, Julie, and I from the apartment to the park like a posse. All of us were looking over our shoulders and there was no denying the tension that was in the air. It was like electricity. Abbie was entertaining us with some of the things he had heard that we were supposedly up to. “Hey, did you know that we are all putting acid in the water supply? Oh yeah. Like we would waste acid on these tight assed dick wads!”
     His words stopped when we got to the park and saw Jerry with a big ugly pig in his arms. “What the hell is that?” I asked.
      “I guess he decided to go through with it.” Anita said softly.
    “Go through with what? What the hell is he doing?”
   Abbie put his arm around me and pointed at Jerry and his new pet. “That is Pigasus, the official presidential candidate of the Yippie party. We expect he’ll be nominated on his charm alone.” He laughed at that and led me forward.
     Jerry was making a speech, announcing our “candidate” for the 1968 election and we were all getting a laugh out of it. The sight alone was hilarious but to hear the seriousness of his tone as he made campaign promises on behalf of Pigasus was hysterical. In the middle of this speech, we all heard a shout of, “Get Ruben!” as guys rushed toward him and five others.
    “What the fuck is going on?” I asked.
  “Plain clothes. Come on!”
    Abbie was going to try to talk to the plain clothes police officers and see what Jerry was being taken in on, but Brian spoke up and talked him out of it. Our mission for the rest of that day was to find out how much bail was for Jerry and the others and get them all out. It took hours but by midnight everyone was safely tucked away in the little apartment talking about the plans for Saturday while Jerry silently mourned the loss of Pigasus.
    Saturday was beautiful. The sun was shining, there was a wonderful breeze not unlike the ones that come through Frisco, and headquarters were unofficially opened up in Lincoln Park. Signs announcing the Festival of Life were being put up around town and torn down almost as quick but no one cared. By mid afternoon there were about two thousand people gathered in the park in a way that reminded me of the Be-In a year and half before. People played guitars and sang, everyone was smoking grass, and it seemed like every face I saw had a smile on it. I brought my camera and my tape recorder with me to capture everything and I got some great shots that days. I also got some insightful responses to the one question everyone would have: Why are you here? It all boiled down to a desire for peace and a frustration so bone deep that it was felt by an entire generation.
   Abbie had allowed a chemistry student to use the kitchen in the apartment to make hash cookies and the smell was too tempting to pass them up. I never figured out the amount of hash that this guy packed into those delicious honey cookies but it was enough to have all of us lying in the grass watching the sky above us. Brian, Julie, and I laughed more that day over things like the shape of the clouds and the faces around us than we ever had. By evening the effects were gone but the happy feeling remained. People began leaving and when the cops came in to clear us out that night only about half the people remained. Abbie decided that the cops could kick us out of the park but there were plenty of streets in Chicago. We set out protesting all around Lincoln Park and we kept at it for hours until the cops put a stop to that as well. Some of our group was clubbed, some arrested, but for the most part everyone was ok.
We awoke early the next morning to get to the park and get things ready. Abbie had us all gathered around so he could prepare us for the fact that, because of the night before, Sunday would probably not go as smooth as Saturday had. We all figured that and we moved on toward the park with our heads held high and our backs up straight. When we first arrived there was no one there. By the time we finished setting up the First Aid stand, hanging balloons from the trees, and setting up a Free Theater of sorts, the place was packed. Not with protestors but with cops, journalists, and photographers. When Abbie’s rented flatbed truck that was to be the stage arrived the cops refused to let it into the park. MC5, one of the few bands that hadn’t canceled, began playing on it while it sat in the grass and the cops responded by cutting off the power supply. Abbie was irritated beyond belief because there was no sense in any of it. The cops were being pricks without any provocation because they could be. Abbie decided to try once more to get the truck into the park but the cops blocked it. All of us watched this and saw the power struggle that the cops had turned it into. We were done. In a show of group unity we surrounded the cops who blocked the truck.
    Abbie was trying to negotiate like a civil person with these assholes but that did nothing. Instead of listening to him they began arresting people around them. Brian led Julie and I away from the crowd as people began shouting, “Pigs eat shit!” and the cops responded by calling everyone “fags” and telling all of us to go back where we came from. “This is where I came from!” Brian shouted suddenly. “Everyone see why I got the hell out?” People laughed. We sat down on the grass, a small group of us, and began singing. ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee.’ This seemed to further enrage the self-called patriots with the badges and when guys who had not been around twenty minutes earlier threw bottles at the cops the shit was on! They came into the crowd beating anyone in their way and I, on instinct, went towards them while Brian fought to pull me back. “We’re getting the hell out of here now!” He shouted at me. But I couldn’t leave. I saw Abbie off to the side trying to talk to the police as if they were human beings. I could have told him that was pointless. But as I stood there looking at our leader and theirs I realized that we really were better off being us. Christ help us all if we ever became the people we saw coming towards us.
     Abbie broke away from the police and began coming toward the rest of us just as Brian managed to pull me away from the clutches of an angry copper. Bullhorns and walkie talkies had been destroyed all around us but Abbie’s remained intact and he used it like the Pied Piper to lead us away from the park. “Come on!” He shouted and we followed.
     I was stunned when reporters followed us to a nearby baseball diamond. I would have figured they would have never had the guts. I took a moment to turn around and snap a photo of the mess we were leaving behind and there they were asking questions as we walked. As if any of us knew what the hell was going on. Once we were at the diamond, Abbie wiped sweat from his brow and sighed. “Did anyone recognize the fuckers throwing shit?” Everyone shook their heads no. “That’s what I thought. I am almost positive they were fucking agents or plain clothes because I know most everyone who was at the park and I didn’t see those fuckers around until show time. Now they have the excuse to use violence. We don’t want that, man! I didn’t come here to lead everyone to a slaughter! We’ve just got to be cool and calm down. Let them do their thing. It doesn’t have to stop us from doing ours. Everyone understand?” We nodded. “Everyone ok?” Again, nods. “Well, let’s go back. I think Ginsberg stayed and he won’t know what the fuck to do if they get hostile.”
With that we turned around and headed back towards the madness. Sure enough, when we returned Ginsberg was there sitting in the grass chanting “Om” with a group around him. I liked Ginsberg and I loved the way he always seemed to handle bad situations. I couldn’t help but take his picture. He was a lamb amongst the lions in my mind. For the rest of the day everyone just sort of wondered around and as night approached people began lighting camp fires. Brian decided this was a good idea as the temperature was dropping and none of us brought anything warm to wear. Gathering the necessary materials, he made us a fire and others naturally gravitated toward it. We all sat around smoking as Abbie went from fire to fire urging everyone to form groups and stick together when the cops came, as we all knew they would. We knew that because of the shit that happened earlier the cops were going to be far more aggressive than the night before so when people began talking about exercising their right to the park and staying put, Abbie grew alarmed and tried to speak reason to everyone. “There is no reason for anyone to get hurt tonight and that’s what the fuck will happen if you try that. When they come, we’ll go. That’s it.”
       MOBE marshals came in and they were also helping Abbie on his quest to calm everyone down. All they got for their troubles was more hostility as people began shouting, “Fuck the marshals!”
   Just before curfew the cops came in and just as we thought, they were looking for a fight. The procession of police was led by a jeep with barbed wire in front and that told us all we needed to know about how this was going to go down. We were not given a chance to leave peacefully as cops marching behind the jeep came straight in tossing tear gas and clubbing anyone who got in their way. Thanks to Brian’s powers of maneuverability, Julie and I stayed out of the way. Ginsberg was still trying to keep people calm but it was too late. Both sides were mad as hell and ready to have it out. People were running onto other streets only to find that the streets were closed to traffic and squad cars were everywhere forcing people to stand behind barricades. We stood behind them for a while shouting things like, “Peace, now!” “End the war!” and of course, “Pigs!”. When officers without name tags began pulling people over the barricades and clubbing them we all split into two groups. Some of us south toward what was known as The Loop or west toward Old Town. Brian led us west, declaring it the best way to go. We were so exhilarated, confused, and pissed off that we were cracking jokes about the cops chasing us. “That fat bastard there,” Brian actually turned around to point at one, “will be dead of exhaustion before he catches us!”
     Later we would hear about the way that cops acted. They clubbed anyone they saw including Chicago residents, reporters, and, worst of all, medics in white coats who were clearly not out protesting. Just as Brian had predicted, the group that headed toward The Loop were scattered by cops who blocked off the bridge over the river. Those of us who headed west eventually broke up as we all tried our best to hide out for the night. While we were hiding out Abbie was once more working to get a permit that was again denied. The next day he told us how he compared the decision to keep people out of the park to ‘protect the city’ as a military tactic as dumb as the Trojans letting the Trojan horse through their gates and that nothing else compared with that stupidity. But he suspected, as we all did, that the city of Chicago from the mayor down to the street patrol knew exactly what the hell they were doing when they denied those permits and they wanted everything that happened because of it. 
     We made our way back to the apartment as light began to coat the city again. I was surprised that Brian said nothing about leaving. I got the impression that this had become personal for him. He wasn’t just out there fighting for what was right anymore. This was Brian McVie versus the city that haunted him and he would be damned if Chicago walked away the victor.
 Later that morning, shortly after our arrival at the park, Tom Hayden and a cat named Wolfe Lowenthal were arrested. A cat that we sort of knew through Abbie by the name of Rennie Davis organized a march to the police station. After the events of the previous night none of us were sure how that would go but Rennie negotiated with city leaders and everything was peaceful. It was the first light we had seen at the end of the tunnel since we got to that damned place. After protesting for a little while outside police headquarters, he then decided that we needed to go to Grant Park across from the Hilton Hotel where most of the delegates of the Democratic National Convention were staying. Every TV station seemed to have cameras and crews scattered around. It seemed like the perfect place to be and so we stayed there in Grant Park for the rest of the day forming a picket line and all. As night fell we knew that the cops would come after us just as they had in Lincoln Park and chase us off. Rennie was telling everyone to break up and head to Lincoln Park thinking it would be better if we were there. By that time there was about three thousand people gathered around in part because they wanted to see what the cops were going to do at curfew. It was a circus.
when the cops came in swinging at exactly eleven p.m. we were there. So many went out without a word but Brian was determined to stay so stay we did. The cops attacked with tear gas and smoke bombs before Brian came to his senses and once again we ran like hell to escape being caught. The convention opened that night with Daly giving his bullshit speech basically blaming all of us for what was going on in the streets. We only heard second hand accounts of what he said because we were too busy to catch the news that night. We were running for our lives. When at last we made it back to the apartment I was exhausted, drained, and I went right into our makeshift bed on the front room floor and slept like I couldn’t remember sleeping before.
     The next day many people were hiding out in the free theater, afraid of what might come. I didn’t make it to the park until later that afternoon and I was pleasantly surprised to see Bobby Seale there. He rarely made any anti-war appearances outside of California and when I saw him I went up to him and gave him a hug. “I can’t believe you came out, man!”
      He smiled at me and shook his head. “Little Lizzy, I’ve been watching the shit going down here and I’m mad as hell today.”
      A few minutes later, Jerry introduced him to the crowd gathered around and Bobby went up in front to make a speech unlike anything I had ever heard from him before. His anger was apparent when he said, “If a pig comes up to us and starts swinging a billy club and you check around and you got your piece you gotta down the pig in defense of yourself.” I was shocked because this was not the Bobby I knew. The Bobby I knew saw violence as an absolute last resort. He was not the sort of guy to get up and tell people to put bullet holes in cops. But even though I was surprised, I understood where he was coming from. What was going on around us was completely insane and it went against everything that America was supposed to be about. And yet it was allowed to go on with all of us portrayed as the bad guys at the end of it.
      We all went that day from Lincoln Park to the Chicago Coliseum where thousands of people were gathered for a rally. The rally went off without incident and after it was over we headed back to the park where we met up with people who had just been driven out of Lincoln Park for no reason. All of us united and went towards Grant Park. This was it. Enough had become enough and if they wanted a fight this time we would oblige. We all had the mind set that nothing was going to stop us and I think that is what got us through to a part of the park that was directly in front of the huge stone hotel where most of the government fools were camped out. We had absolutely no intentions of storming the hotel. That would have been going too far. Taking over a nearly empty university is one thing but a Hilton Hotel full of innocent people? No way in hell. We just wanted to get under the skins of the assholes inside. Brian, Julie, and I helped some guys build a makeshift stage and a few cats decided they would conduct a teach-in for the delegates inside that fancy building as TV crews watched. That night it was not the city police who came for us but rather the National Guard. We all felt as if that alone said we had accomplished what we set out to do. Nothing says annoyed like the National Guard.
     When we got in that night Abbie pulled me aside to tell me that he had been warned he would be arrested the next morning. “So get the hell out!” I declared. “I’ll help you pack. You’ll be out of the state before they realize you’re gone!”
     He laughed at me. “Fuck that! If they want me, let them come get me. I can’t fucking wait!”
   And they did. The next morning while Abbie and Anita were eating breakfast, the cops came in shouting at everyone to get down and not move. They took only Abbie, which shocked me. I offered to stay behind that day and help Anita get him out but she told me to go on. There was a rally, perfectly legal and all set up, at Grant Park. After we showered and had a bite to eat, Brian, Julie and I set off. The police attacked the rally that afternoon, once again without reason or provocation. It was the most frightening attack of the convention with cops actually chanting, “Kill! Kill!” before charging us. Rennie Davis had his back to the bastards when they attacked him, beating him so bad that he ended up in the hospital. We all made it to the end of the rally where we were given three options. We could follow a friend of Abbie’s that I knew only as Dillinger on a non-violent march to the amphitheater convention site, we could go home, or we could form our own groups. We should have gone home but we couldn’t. We followed Dillinger.
The cops tried like hell to keep us all from leaving the park. The insanity that we were witnessing was overwhelming. These men had lost their goddamned minds, if not their badges. Dillinger tried to negotiate as the National Guard joined the cops in their quest to keep us there like herded sheep. We were getting restless and for the first time I think we were all afraid. None of us could figure out their motive behind wanting us to stay there and there was a fear that the prediction of a massacre was not far fetched. At one point someone realized there was a gap in the guards and cops on the side of the park on Jackson Street Bridge and we all made a run for it. We ran like hell over that damned bridge and onto Michigan Avenue. It was only a mild reward to know that we were directly in front of The Hilton, closer than we had been the night before, and there were cameras everywhere. I wasted no time finding one and saying all I could about what I had seen from Chicago’s finest since the convention began. It should have been considered a tragedy for any American city to get away with what happened during those hot August days.
     “Dump the Hump!” I cried out along with others because it was he who had brought us all together in our anger and our hatred. A good man had died so that bastard could have the democratic nomination and he had become the most hated man in politics since June. The cops started clearing the avenue. At first everything was fine. The cops were arresting people and the people were going peacefully. Then the cops broke rank and began attacking people right in front of the cameras. As they came closer and closer to where the three of us stood I could hear people shouting, “The whole world is watching!” and I joined in. They were! This was going on live in America’s living room and at last everyone was going to see what the face of power really looked like. The cop that grabbed Brian came out of no where. All I remember is one moment Brian was beside me and the next moment he was being dragged and beaten to hell. I did the only thing I could do. I went after the bastard with the club. I was pounding my fist into any part of his body I could get a hold of and I felt none of the damage he was inflicting on me. I don’t know for sure what happened but he let Brian go and we ran like hell!
     I was hurting by the time we got to the car and we piled in, battered soldiers off to face the night. We did not bother getting our things out of the apartment. Julie, who was not hurt, jumped into the driver’s seat while Brian and I climbed into the back. I lay back there with Brian’s torn up body lying on mine. I was shaking so bad I didn’t think I would ever stop. My arm had taken the brunt of the cop’s club and it hurt like hell but I said nothing. I hadn’t been afraid while I was rushing to Brian and only anger had flowed through me when I was clubbed but now that it was over I think I realized how close we had all come to a terrible fate. And the whole world was watching. “You have to go to a hospital. You’re bad off, damn it!” I shouted at Brian. I was near to hysterics.
     “I’m not going to a hospital. I’m going home. That’s the end of it!” Brian declared.
    “Yes, Elizabeth?” He questioned.
   For a little while we all fell silent. What could we say? As I sat there, my face pressed against the glass, I wondered why. What had any of us done to deserve what we had put up with since Saturday? It wasn’t like we came for selfish reasons. Since Eric’s homecoming and Lonnie’s death neither Julie nor I had anyone dear to us left in the jungles of Vietnam. None of us in that car had brothers, lovers, friends, children, or fathers that might come home in wood boxes with a flag draped on top. Fueled by images of a war gone wrong, a war we did not belong in, every night on the news and every day in the papers we raged against the injustices of it all. And for what? To be beaten to hell by those who would have joined us had they not been trained to close their eyes?
    “Julie, let me see your matches.” Brian said softly. A moment later a book of matches were thrown with great force into the back seat. Julie was still in the mood to attack. I realized suddenly that Brian had a grip on my arm that was all but crushed and I winced as he turned it over inspecting it in the light of the match. “Liz, you need to go…”
     “To the hospital? I don’t think so. I’m going home. I am not going to a hospital and that’s the end of it.” I declared in mock tribute to his protest. I could be difficult too.
      “Are you hurt anywhere else?” He asked softly.
    “Does it matter? Look at you, Brian! Look at what they did! This whole thing was insane! The line between us and them is drawn in blood. I see that now. You try to cross it and that’s it, man. They will destroy us in the streets while our families watch on the evening news like it’s a fucked up television drama. We’re not winning this war against them anymore than they are winning their goddamned war in Nam!”
     “Hey, hey, hey, calm down, baby. We are winning this. You saw the television crews. This story is going to be huge and all of those who looked down on us, parents, teachers, they are going to see exactly what is going on here. Do you think mothers knitting socks for their boys at war or fathers waiting for their little girls to call from Frisco are going to stand for this? There is power in numbers, Lizzy, and if nothing else we have that. Don’t ever forget that.”'

So, there you have it...the gang's experience in Chicago. Was it a fucking bloody mess? Yep. Was the whole world actually watching? They might have been. But in the days, the weeks, the years to follow it seemed to mean very little. Abbie has often been portrayed as an instigator during the riots, encouraging people to go against the cops but I have read many first hand accounts that said otherwise and all of those that said he was inciting things seemed to come from cops. Guess who I was more inclined to believe. I portrayed him as I imagined he probably was during those days based on what I've read about the convention, about Abbie, and about the way he typically handled things. He didn't back down, he stood up for what he believed in, but he cared about those he was "leading" too. 
Because Chicago was full of madness, there is much one can find online about the events of those days. Youtube, our ever faithful pal, even has this taken at the protests in the park:
Real footage from the convention (no sound):
Abbie Talking about How He Thought the Protest would Go:

For those of you who have never heard this song, it was a tune by CSN (Crosby, Stills, and Nash...I don't believe Young was involved in this song, though I could be wrong) about the events in Chicago and the trail of the Chicago 8 (Later changed to the Chicago 7 when Bobby Seale was tried separately) :
Information on the riots taken from

Brief History Of Chicago's 1968 Democratic Convention

(Sources: "Miami and the Siege of Chicago" by Norman Mailer, Facts on File, CQ's Guide to U.S. Elections)
The 1968 Democratic Convention, held on August 26-29th, stands as an important event in the nation's political and cultural history. The divisive politics of the convention, brought about by the Vietnam war policies of President Johnson, prompted the Democratic party to completely overhaul its rules for selecting presidential delegates -- opening up the political process to millions. The violence between police and anti-Vietnam war protesters in the streets and parks of Chicago gave the city a black-eye from which it has yet to completely recover. The following is a brief history of the events leading up to the convention, the convention itself and the riots surrounding it.

Events Leading up the 1968 Convention Riots

The primary cause of the demonstrations and the subsequent riots during the 1968 Chicago convention was opposition to the Vietnam War. Young peace activists had met at a camp in Lake Villa, Illinois on March 23 to plan a protest march at the convention. Anti-war leaders including David Dellinger (editor of Liberation magazine and chairman of the National Mobilization Committee to End War in Vietnam) Rennie Davis, head of the Center for Radical Research and a leader of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Vernon Grizzard, a draft resistance leader, and Tom Hayden (also a leader of the Students for a Democratic Society) coordinated efforts with over 100 anti-war groups.
Groups related to this effort also planned events. Jerry Rubin (a former associate of Dellinger) and Abbie Hoffman (both leaders of the Youth International Party (YIPPIES) planned a Youth Festival with the goal of bringing 100,000 young adults to Chicago. They tried to get a permit from Chicago to hold a YIPPIE convention. The permit was denied, but the YIPPIES still came.
On March 31, President Johnson announced he would not seek re-election. Johnson's favorability ratings were in the mid-30% range and polls showed even less support for his Vietnam War policies (about 23%.) The announcement created uncertainty in the anti-war groups' convention plans. Many anti-war activists also became involved in the presidential campaigns of war opponents such as Sen. Robert Kennedy (D-NY), Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-WI) and Sen. George McGovern (D-SD).
However, by early April there was much talk of Hubert Humphrey, Johnson's Vice President, running for the presidency. Humphrey officially entered the race on April 27th. Because of his close identity with the Johnson administration, the plans for demonstrations were not cancelled.
Other events preceding the 1968 Democratic convention contributed to the tense national mood. On April 4, civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated and riots broke out throughout the country. (This included Chicago, where Mayor Daley reportedly gave a "shoot to kill" instruction to police.) On June 3, artist and cultural icon Andy Warhol was shot. Finally, on June 5th, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy (President John Kennedy's brother) was shot in the head after winning the California primary. He died the next day. There also were countless protests against the Vietnam war at this time. Student protesters effectively shut down Columbia University in April.

Attempts to Move the Convention from Chicago

Many Democrats were eager to move their national convention from Chicago to Miami, where the Republicans were to hold their nominating event. Democrats were concerned not only about the possibility of unruly protests, an ongoing telephone strike in Chicago threatened to cause logistical nightmares. The television networks also lobbied to move the event to Miami -- TV and phone lines already were installed at the Republican convention site. In addition, because of the phone strike in Chicago, television cameras would be limited to the hotels and the convention center -- new phone lines were needed to cover outside events. Any footage taken outside this area would have to be shot on film, which would require processing before it was broadcast.
Mayor Richard J. Daley would not let the convention leave Chicago. He promised to enforce the peace and allow no outrageous demonstrations. He also threatened to withdraw support for Humphrey, the apparent nominee, if the convention was moved. President Johnson also wanted to keep the convention in Chicago and is rumored to have said "Miami is not an American city."

The Convention

Humphrey came to Chicago with the nomination virtually sewn up -- he had between 100 and 200 more delegates than he needed, as well as the support of blacks, labor groups and Southern Democrats. However, he still felt his nomination was in jeopardy.
Humphrey was clearly seen as Johnson's man. President Johnson still had a grip over the convention, even going as far as to ensure states supportive of him received the best seats at the convention hall. But Johnson did not show up for the event.
Mayor Daley, who wanted Ted Kennedy to run for President, caucused his delegation of 118 the weekend before the convention and decided to remain "uncommitted." Humphrey also was at risk from the growing anti-war wing of the Democratic party. After vascillating between the pro-war policies of the Johnson administration and the anti-war policies of his opponents, Humphrey made it clear on CBS's Face The Nation the weekend before the convention he supported President Johnson's Vietnam policies.
Humphrey faced a major credentials fights. Delegations from 15 states tried to unseat Humphrey's delegates and seat anti-Vietnman delegates. Humphrey's forces won every fight. There also was manuevering behind the scenes at the Conrad Hilton (where the press and the Democratic party were staying) to try and get Sen. Ted Kennedy to run.
Sen. Dan Inouye (D-HI) gave the keynote address, but it was decidedly downbeat, with 10 of 13 pages devoted to what's wrong with the country. (Keynote speeches are usually upbeat affirmations of the party.)
The most contentious issue was Vietnam, and the debate on the minority "peace plank." The convention managers scheduled the debate for late (past prime-time) Tuesday night, but the peace delegates staged a protest and it was rescheduled for the next afternoon.
Debate was limited to one hour for each side and structured to prevent hostile exchanges. Rep. Phil Burton (D-CA) was the featured speaker in support of the peace plank, Sen. Edmund Muskie (D-ME) was the featured speaker in support of the Johnson-Humphrey language. After the Humphrey language was approved, the New York and California delegations began to sing "We Shall Overcome" and more delegations marched around the convention floor in protest. Television made it impossible for the convention planners to hide the protests of delegates favoring the peace plank. Even if planners tried to hide rebel delegations (such as New York and California) by placing them in the back of the convention hall and turning down their microphones, a camera and sound-man covering the floor could easily broadcast their protests across the nation.
During the debate on the peace plank, the worst day of rioting occurred outside the Amphitheater, in the so-called "Battle of Michigan Avenue."
Humphrey was nominated by Mayor Joseph Alioto of San Francisco. (His daughter is now running for Congress in California.) Sen. George McGovern was nominated by Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-MA), who shocked the convention by saying, "With George McGovern as President of the United States we wouldn't have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago." Mayor Daley erupted in anger and shook his fist at Ribicoff. Most reports of the event also say Daley yelled an off-color epithet beginning with an "F," but accoriding to CNN executive producer Jack Smith, others close to Daley inist he shouted "Faker," meaning Ribicoff was not a man of his word, the lowest name one can be called in Chicago's Irish politics.
Humphrey easily won the nomination by more than a 1,000 votes, with the delegation from Pennsylvania putting him over the top.
On the last day, Thursday, the convention opened with a film tribute to Bobby Kennedy. Also, Mayor Daley printed up hundreds of "We Love You Daley" signs and orchestrated a pro-Daley demonstration in the convention to contrast with the negative image the city had gained during the course of the convention.
Humphrey chose Sen. Edmund Muskie (D-ME) to be his running mate. Julian Bond, the African-American civil rights activist, was nominated for Vice President, but withdrew because he was 28 years old, under the constitutional age (35) to hold the office.

The Riots

Outside the official convention proceedings, anti-war demonstrators clashed with 11,900 Chicago police, 7500 Army troops, 7500 Illinois National Guardsmen and 1000 Secret Service agents over 5 days.
The violence centered on two things: the Chicago police forcing protesters out of areas where they were not permitted to be; and protesters clashing with police, and their reinforcements, as they tried to march to the convention site.
The violence began Sunday August 25th. Anti-war leaders had tried to get permits from the city to sleep in Lincoln park and to demonstrate outside of the convention site. Those permit requests were denied, although the city did offer them a permit to protest miles away from the Amphitheater But the protesters were undeterred. When the park was officially closed, Chicago police bombed protesters with tear gas and moved in with billy-clubs to forcibly remove them from the park. Along with the many injuries to anti-war protesters, 17 reporters were attacked by police (including Hal Bruno, who was then a reporter for Newsweek and is now political director for ABC.) Throughout the convention, police would see the press as the enemy. Subsequent battles between police and protesters occurred nightly in Lincoln Park and Grant Park.
Also present that first night and throughout the convention were the famous Beat artists Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and French poet Jean Genet. Most events and protests featured speeches from Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.
The worst day of protesting was Wednesday, and was dubbed the "Battle of Michigan Avenue." Protesters were stopped in their march to the convention site and the media recorded graphic violence on the part of the Chicago police. Many innocent bystanders, reporters and doctors offering medical help were severely beaten by the police. Many hotels where the delegates were staying were affected by the riots. Fumes from the tear gas used by the police and "stink bombs" thrown by the protesters drifted into the buildings. (One of those affected was the Conrad Hilton, the headquarters for the Democratic party and the press.)
Another major clash occurred on the final day of the convention, when protesters tried once again to reach the convention center. They were twice turned away. A barricade was put up around the convention center to prevent anyone without credentials from entering the facility.
When the convention was finally over, the Chicago police reported 589 arrests had been made and 119 police and 100 protesters were injured. The riots, which were widely covered by the media, led to a government funded study to determine the cause of the violence. The study was led by Daniel Walker, a Democratic businessman from Illinois who would ran successfully for governor in Illinois in 1972. The study placed most of the blame on the Chicago police. Mayor Daley disagreed with the report and issued the Chicago police a pay raise.

The Aftermath

On March 20, 1969, a Chicago grand jury indicted eight police officers and eight civilians in connection with the disorders during the Democratic convention. The eight civilians, dubbed the "Chicago 8," were the first persons to be charged under provisions of the 1968 Civil Rights act, which made it a federal crime to cross state lines to incite a riot. David Dellinger was chairman of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden were members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were leaders of the Youth International Party (YIPPIES). Lee Weiner was a research assistant at Northwestern University. John Froines was a professor at the University at the University of Oregon. Bobby Seale was a founder of the Black Panthers.
The trial of the "Chicago 8" opened before Judge Julius Hoffman in Chicago on September 24, 1969. It was a circus. The defendents disrupted the trial and talked back to the judge. The defense attorneys repeatedly accused the judge of bias against them. Because of Seale's repeated courtroom outbursts, Hoffman had ordered him gagged and chained to his chair on October 29. When the restraints were removed on November 3, Seale resumed his outburts, calling Hoffman a "racist," a "facist" and a "pig." Seale's trial was severed from the other seven on November 5, 1969 when Hoffman declared a mistrial on the conspiracy charges and sentenced him to four years in prison for contempt.
The long "Chicago 7" case finally went to the jury on February 14, 1970. The next day Judge Hoffman convicted all 7 defendents, plus defense attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass, of contempt of court. (Kunstler had told the judge the trial was a "legal lynching" for which Judge Hoffman was "wholly responsible.") The jury returned its verdicts on February 18, 1970. Froines and Weiner were aquitted. Dellinger, Davis, Hayden, Hoffman and Ruben were convicted of crossing state lines with intent to incite a riot and giving inflammatory speeches to further their purpose. They were fined $5,000 each, plus court costs, and given five years in prison.

There you have it, folks. The long and short of things. Eventually there will be a post about the trial that took place...all in due time. Did you feel like you were there as you went through this post? I must admit that with all the research I did to write it and knowing Liz quite well by the time I jotted all of it down, I did feel as if I were among those on the streets during those steamy days and nights. I must also admit that at one point as the Occupy Protests in New York were going on, I thought in my mind of the Chicago Riots and I feared that we would see a repeat of it. History so often has a way of repeating itself when no one learns from past mistakes.....

And the whole world was watching....


  1. Yeah, I think a lot of people were already realizing that "the sixties" as we knew them were not going to end the way we all hoped. And I say that even though events like Woodstock were still to come.

  2. lol That's the thing though....Woodstock was about the only bright spot after Chicago and it was followed up with Altamont. 1969 might have been the last year of the decade but the vision of the '60's didn't really make it past the start of '68.

  3. Right! And in terms of the big picture, then, even something as impressive as Woodstock didn't matter in the end.