Water Man Spouts

Saturday, April 07, 2007

1968: Unconventional Perspectives

"Who feel the giant agony of the world,And more, like slaves to poor humanity,Labor for mortal good …."-"The Fall of Hyperion"; John Keats;

{1} Senator Robert F. Kennedy used the quote from Keats’ 1819 poem to open his book, "Thirteen Days: A memoir of the Cuban missile crisis" (W.W. Norton & Co.; 1st Edition: January 20, 1969; copyright 1968). He wrote the book in the summer and fall of 1967, and had intended to add a discussion of the ethical questions relating to the possibility of a nuclear war. But, as Ted Sorensen noted at the end of the book, Senator Kennedy "never had an opportunity to rewrite or complete it." (page 128)

Recently I have read a few comments on a progressive internet discussion site about the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. I was reminded of a TIME article on the ’68 convention, that noted something that every lawyer knows: that witnesses to any event will see it differently. That was the value of RFK’s book on the Cuban missile crisis – he was a witness who participated in that chapter of our history from a unique position.

Because he felt the giant agony of the world, and was willing to labor for that mortal good, Senator Kennedy became a controversial participant in the democratic primaries in the spring of 1968.

Abbie Hoffman would later write that "Bobby Kennedy was rising faster than the new Rolling Stones album. … we realized he was the candidate to beat in Chicago. Kennedy would have been our real challenge, maybe even our own candidate, if events had not, during the past five years, removed us so far from mainstream politics. … Perhaps … perhaps …. The history of politics is swaddled in layers of ‘perhaps’." (Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture; Abbie Hoffman; 1980; page 144)

The opinions I read on the internet expressed contempt for those who protested the convention in Chicago. I recognize that different people viewed what happened in Chicago very differently, and that in the court of public opinion, they have every right to express their opinion. Likewise, I though that it might be of some interest to readers to be exposed to the opinions of some other witnesses.

But, before we look at the Democratic Convention, we should examine the events of 1968 that led up to it. And, in order to appreciate 1968, we should put it in a context that requires a brief look at 1967.

"…The only genuine, long-range solution for what has happened lies in an attack – mounted at every level – upon the conditions that breed despair and violence. All of us know what those conditions are: ignorance, discrimination, slums, poverty, disease, not enough jobs. We should attack these conditions – not because we are frightened by conflict, but because we are fired by conscience. We should attack them because there is simply no other way to achieve a decent and orderly society in America …." – Lyndon Baines Johnson; address to the nation; July 27, 1967.

{2} Two days after delivering that speech, LBJ appointed a commission to examine the causes of the race riots that were sweeping through America’s cities. Headed by Illinois Governor Otto Kerner, the committee would attempt to find possible means to remedy those causes it identified.

It may be difficult for younger readers to imagine today, but riots in cities such as Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Newark, and Tampa were viewed as a threat to our national security. Some in the national intelligence community believed the civil unrest was part of a coordinated program. This was expressed in a March 4, 1968 memorandum by FBI Director Hoover, which stated in part, "An effective coalition of black nationalist groups might be the first step toward a real ‘Mau’ in America, the beginning of a true black revolution." (Malcolm X: The FBI File; Clayborne Carson; 1991; page 17).

The Kerner Commission would take a very different view than the FBI Director. Its hard-hitting report was published in book form in 1968. The "U.S. Riot Commission Report/ Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders" was published in full by Bantam Books. It remains one of the most impressive documents from the 1960s.

The most respected leader of the Civil Rights movement in 1967 was Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s interesting to note that Hoover, in his memo, had warned that King could become the "messiah" of the "militant black nationalist movement …. Should he abandon his supposed ‘obedience’ to ‘white, liberal doctrines’ and embrace black nationalism …."

King surprised many when on April 4, 1967, he delivered a speech that connected the Civil Rights and the Anti-War movements. This speech, "A Time to Break Silence" (also known as "Beyond Vietnam"), was delivered to the Clergy and Laity Concerned, at the Riverside Church in New York City. The text can be found on pages 231 -244 of "A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr."; edited by James M. Washington; Harper & Row; 1986.

In October of 1967, the National Mobilization Committee to end the War in Vietnam held a massive rally at the Pentagon. The Mobilization was headed by peace activist David Dellinger. In his book "House of War" (Houghton Mifflin; 2006), James Carroll described the anti-war protesters as "a scraggily bunch of nobodies" whom he held "in such contempt…." He notes that Dellinger was joined by Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman at the protest march. "But I think of Daniel Berrigan, the dignified Jesuit priest whose presence at the demonstration that sanctified mine," he wrote. "That Berrigan was an intimate of the Kennedys also endeared him to me. At the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, he had confronted McNamara over the war in 1966. Still, he was no radical, and my identification with him, as his opposition to the government intensified, would be the key to a door opening into a whole new identity." (pages 311-313)

In the closing months of 1967, democratic leaders across the country were beginning to recognize that LBJ was losing the ability to lead the nation. In part, it was because he had lost the respect of the Congress. In part, it was because those closest to him were questioning his emotional stability. In his classic "Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and his times 1961-1973," Robert Dallek writes:

"Even less flattering to LBJ is the reality that he also pursued the war for selfish reasons. To admit failure on so big an issue as Vietnam would have been too jarring to Johnson’s self-image … Plaguing Johnson as well was an irrational conviction that his domestic opponents were subversives or dupes of subversives intent on undermining national institutions." (page 627)

Democratic activists were pressuring two US Senators to enter the democratic primaries in opposition to the President. One was RFK, who struggled with the decision, but did not enter in ’67. The other was Minnesota’s Eugene McCarthy, who formally announced his candidacy on November 30.

As 1967 came to a close, it is evident that those active in the democratic party, and in the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements, viewed events in very different terms. The different factions had very different goals. On New Year’s Eve, at a party in an apartment in NYC, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Paul Krassner were considering options for a huge anti-war/ anti-LBJ rally at the 1968 Democratic Convention.

"You say you want a revolution,well, you know,we all want to change the world …But when you talk about destruction,don’t you know that you can count me out."-Revolution; Lennon/McCartney; 1968

{3} In January of 1968, LBJ was confident that he could negotiate a settlement in Vietnam. His primary concern was that as he applied pressure, the North Vietnamese would attempt an offensive at Khe Sanh. President Johnson believed that Hanoi viewed the US Marine base, which was to the south of the DMZ, as "America’s Dien Bien Phu," according to Dallek. At a January 29 meeting with the Joint Chiefs, LBJ pressed the issue of US preparedness with General Westmoreland. (Dallek; pages 502-3)

However, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese attacked "thirty-six of South Vietnam’s provincial capitals, five of its six largest cities, and almost one-third of the country’s district centers" on January 30-31. This was during the Tet holiday, and caught the US and the South Vietnamese by surprise. LBJ and the US military would attempt to make the battles appear like a victory for Uncle Sam, and in a strict sense, some of the numbers could be interpreted that way.

But to the American public, it did not seem that way. In Saigon, for example, the enemy had struck the US Embassy, the US Air Base, the Presidential Palace, and the South Vietnam’s Joint General Staff compound. Also, in the ancient capital of Hue, the enemy gained control, and fought for control of the Imperial Citadel for weeks.

On February 27, Walter Cronkite of CBS told the American people that the war had reached a deadlock, and that it could not be won militarily. "To say we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion." LBJ, recognizing that Cronkite was "the nation’s most trusted person," told others that if he had lost Walter Cronkite, he had lost Middle America. (Dallek; page 508)

Pressure increased on Robert Kennedy to enter the race. Polls showed that Senator McCarthy was not able to exploit LBJ’s weaknesses. A March 4 poll in New Hampshire showed LBJ with about 67% support, to McCarthy’s 11%. But the senator had a dedicated group of supporters working for him. And on March 12, LBJ got 49% of the vote, and McCarthy got 42%. Much of the nation was stunned.

On March 14, RFK told Clark Clifford to inform LBJ that he would not enter the race if the President would agree to re-evaluate his Vietnam policy. Kennedy was requesting that Johnson allow for advice from people from outside his administration.

There was, of course, zero chance that LBJ would work with Robert Kennedy on Vietnam. The acrimony in their relationship is legendary. All of the books on RFK, as well as those dealing with LBJ’s presidency, provide details of their curious feud. My favorite is Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s "Robert Kennedy and his times." Pages 910 to 920 tell about RFK’s decision to enter the democratic primaries; chapter 39 ("The Journey Begins") then covers early part of his campaign. Few single chapters of any book can better convey the emotional intensity of that period.

President Johnson understood polls. After McCarthy’s surprise showing in New Hampshire, and with RFK in the race, the polls indicated he faced a tough primary season. In the overall sense, he had 36% approval and 52% disapproval. On Vietnam, he scored even lower: 26% approval versus 63% disapproval. Thus, on Sunday, March 31, as he prepared to address the nation on Vietnam, he reviewed two possible endings to his speech. His decision was reflected in the last two sentences in the speech: "With our hopes and the world’s hopes in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devout an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office – the presidency of your country. Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President."

Schlesinger tells of how Martin Luther King, Jr. was pleased that LBJ was out of the race, and that RFK was in. He told his closest associates that he though Johnson was hoping for "a vote of confidence" from his party that would lead to his re-election. Martin had decided that he would work to help get Robert elected; Stanley Levison said that Martin told him that Kennedy had the potential to "become one of the outstanding presidents." ( Schlesinger; page 938)

On April 4, King was assassinated. Kennedy had begun his Indiana campaign, and was scheduled to speak that evening in an Indianapolis ghetto. He rejected attempts to get him to cancel his speech. Instead, he gave one of the great speeches in our country’s history, from the flatbed of a truck parked under a stand of oak trees. Kennedy spoke "out of aching memory, speaking out from the depths of heart and hope: ….’In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of nation we are and what direction we want to move in. … we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love. …. What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country …" (Schlesinger; pages 939-940)

That night, there were riots in 110 cities across the nation. A total of 39 deaths and more than 2500 injuries resulted from the violence. More than 75,000 federal troops were in the streets of these cities. In Chicago, Mayor Daley gave police orders to "shoot to kill" rioters.
RFK flew back to Washington, DC. Although there was a curfew, he began to walk the streets with Walter Fauntroy. "Burning wood and broken glass were all over the place," Walter would later recall. "The troops were on duty. A crowd gathered behind us, following Bobby Kennedy. The troops saw us coming in the distance, and they put on gas masks and got the guns ready, waiting for this horde of blacks coming up the street. When they saw it was Bobby Kennedy, they took off their masks and let us through. They looked awfully relieved." (Robert Kennedy; Jack Newfield; 1969; page 226)

On April 27, there were peaceful anti-war rallies in cities across the USA. In Chicago, an estimated 6,500 people marched in the Loop, which would become a contested area during the convention. It was the only march in the country that turned violent. A citizens’ group that investigated the violence, headed by Dr. Edward Sparling, President Emeritus of Roosevelt University, concluded the violence was caused by the Chicago police force. (An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968; Chester, Hodgson, & Page; 1969; page 518)

On May 17, Daniel and Phillip Berrigan led seven others in a protest at the draft board offices in Catonsville, Maryland. They removed draft files, took them to a parking lot, and burned them with "homemade" napalm. Daniel made a statement for the group: "Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children. … We could not, so help us God, do otherwise. For we are sick at heart, our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children. We ask our fellow Christians to consider in their hearts a question that has tortured us, night and day since the war began. How many must die before our voices are heard, how many must be tortured, dislocated, starved, maddened? … When, at what point will you say no to this war?" (Carroll; page 318)

A little after midnight, after winning the June 4 California primary, RFK told his supporters, "I think we can end the divisions in the United States. What I think is quite clear is that we can work together in the last analysis. …. We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country. … So, my thanks to all of you, and it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there." Moments later, RFK was assassinated.

The withdrawal of Johnson, and the death of Kennedy, influenced the plans to have a massive demonstration at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Another footnote is that some of the top democrats considered moving the convention from Chicago to Miami Beach, where the republicans would hold their convention. LBJ is said to have opposed this plan, saying that "Miami isn’t an American city."

By July, there were three main groups planning to protest in Chicago. They were: {1} The National Mobilization, headed by David Dellinger; {2} the Coalition for an Open Convention, headed by Al Lowenstein; and {3} the Youth International Party (YIPPIE!), headed by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Before we consider what roles each of these three played, let’s take a look at the Republican National Convention.

"Mr. Nixon has published a collection of positions he has taken on 167 issues. It seems a pity he could not have made it a round 170 by adding Vietnam, the cities, and civil rights." – The New York Post; quoted from "An American Melodrama"; page 673.

{4} In their book on the 1968 presidential campaign, British authors Lewis Chester, Godfrey Hodgeson, and Bruce Page include fascinating chapters on the republican primaries and convention. The history of ’68 is incomplete without considering the roles of not only Richard Nixon, but also of the two other republican candidates, Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan
Rockefeller is called "Hamlet on Fifth Avenue," because of his inability to decide if he would become fully invested in the efforts to make him the republican candidate. In February, the Governor of Maryland, one Spiro Agnew, had begun the "Draft Rockefeller" movement. Rockefeller represented the liberal wing of the republican party.

On the other side of the nation, and on the opposite end of the republican party, was Ronald Reagan. His attempts to make it appear that the party was attempting to draft him is shown as being "cagey and devious." A closer examination of Reagan in ’68 is helpful in understanding how he came to power in 1980.

The authors note that the republican primary "was to be the survival of the unfittest. In the theory of political Darwinism, the obstacle course over which candidates for the Presidency have to compete eliminates all but the hardiest political animals. Sometimes this is indeed what happens. But not in 1968. Nixon won his nomination because he was the lowest common denominator acceptable to all the jealous factions of his party. He won, not because of the exceptional nature of his gifts, but precisely because they were unexceptional and unexceptionable." (page 577)

During the republican convention, held from August 4-9, the party pretended that there was serious debate about who would be their candidate. In fact, the decision to run Richard Nixon had already been made. The only real question was who he would select to run with him. It would be Spiro Agnew.

Another important sub-plot in the 1968 presidential campaign was the American Independent Party’s candidate, George Wallace. It is a mistake to underestimate the roll that Wallace, who based his campaign on racism, hatred, and fear, had on the ’68 election. He had begun to gain a significant amount of support, including from sources who would in later years promote Ronald Reagan, until he selected General Curtis LeMay for vice president. LeMay spoke about "the phobia that we have in this country about the use of nuclear weapons," while advocating bombing North Vietnam "back to the Stone Age."

"The confusion accompanying most liberal reform movements is due to the fact that they are generally attempts to make the institution practice what it preaches in a situation where, if the ideal were followed, the function of the institution could not be performed." – The Folklore of Capitalism; Thurman Arnold; Yale University Press; 1938.

{5} Thirty years after Thurmon Arnold’s analysis of the reasons that capitalism tended to deny proper medical coverage to certain groups in society, and only one year after the "Summer of Love," the younger generation in America was confronted with some harsh realities. Many of those things the progressive and idealistic youth may have hoped for were gone: two of the most obvious examples being Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. It was becoming evident that had the ideals these two leaders advocated been instituted, the function of the institution could not have performed.

Daniel and Phillip Berrigan were facing a long period of incarceration for burning papers in an attempt to stop the burning of children. General LeMay, who advocated "bombing until we have destroyed every work of man in North Vietnam," was on a ticket, being considered as a possible vice president of the United States. And Richard Nixon could no longer be taken for granted by the democratic party.

Mayor Richard Daley had made it clear that he had no intention of cooperating with those people who were planning to come to Chicago to demonstrate against the war during the Democratic National Convention. He spoke about his ideas regarding "an ounce of prevention," which many recognized as a promise that his police force would pound a cure out of any demonstrators. Allard Lowenstein’s COC, which had set a goal of having 100,000 "Clean Gene" McCarthy supports march in Chicago, was being called off.

The NYC YIP leaders were having conflicts with those from Chicago. The local YIPPIES had worked to come to a quiet working relationship with the Chicago politicians and police, that allowed them to "do their own thing" without being hassled. The NYC leaders were intent upon participating in the conflicts that they knew would result from demonstrations near the convention.

Much of the progressive leadership in the black community was hesitant to answer the call for their participation in the demonstrations. Chicago had an intense history with race relations. In 1966, King had attempted a northern campaign there, and found Mayor Daley a far more capable opponent than the southern politicians Martin had dealt with. The campaign was something of a stalemate; however, after King left Chicago, more radical leadership began to emerge within the black community.

That progressive black leadership knew what those planning the Chicago demonstrations from other cities didn’t fully appreciate: that there were elements within the police force that viewed black activists and anti-war leaders as being no different than the Viet Cong. Indeed, on December 4, 1969, the Chicago police department executed Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton as he was sleeping in his bed. Much of the progressive black leaders made a point of leaving Chicago before the convention started. The most high-profile leader who stayed was Dick Gregory. Bobby Seale would also come to Chicago.

"Some forty years ago G. K. Chesterton wrote that every time the world was in trouble the demand went up for a practical man. Unfortunately, he said, each time the demand went up there was a practical man available. As he pointed out then, usually what was needed to deal with an impractical muddle was a theorist or philosopher." – Senator Eugene McCarthy; May 9, 1965

{6} The democratic convention was, as Chester, Hodgson, and Page point out, the opposite of the republican convention. While the republicans’ had little to be decided, and had to feign debate in order to attract attention and support, the democratic leadership feigned unity.

Their "practical man" was VP Hubert H. Humphrey. The vice president was attempting to unite the "old democratic party" of southern whites, northern blacks, labor, and the big city bosses. However, he was fully intimidated by LBJ, and was not willing to take a stance against the president’s Vietnam policy. This cost him: Mayor Daley, for example, wanted Ted Kennedy to be the democratic candidate. More, his strong history in the area of civil rights caused some southern whites to resent him; some would move towards Wallace, while more still would support Nixon. Humphrey began calling these the "nixie-crats."

The younger generation, which found Humphrey’s unwillingness to recognize that the US involvement in Vietnam was racist, tended to support Eugene McCarthy. The senator was a curious character, who was strongly opposed to US involvement in the war. However, many liberals and progressives found that his attitude towards them and the race was troubling. McCarthy seemed to believe that he was doing his supporters a favor by running. More, he expressed little interest in civil rights or LBJ’s attempts to create a "Great Society." McCarthy also was an advocate of a weak executive branch, at a time when most democrats believed that the need of the moment was a strong president.

Many of the democrats who had worked with JFK and RFK supported George McGovern. Yet, if timing is everything in politics, McGovern’s campaign never seemed to be on the same schedule as the rest of the nation. Looking back, it was a shame, because he might very well have been the single most capable of any of the candidates being considered in August of 1968.

Two other democrats were factors going into the convention. The first was President Johnson, who was manipulating the convention from behind the scenes. Many people were convinced that he desired to be drafted by the party. He had hundreds of posters printed up, in case he decided to appear at the convention to celebrate his birthday. Because of the conflicts both in and outside the convention, however, that never happened.

The other candidate was Ted Kennedy. A number of powerful democrats had urged him to participate in what they called the "Ted Offensive." Kennedy gave the offer of support serious consideration, but declined to throw his hat in the ring.

By the time of the convention, Humphrey appeared to have the support needed to get the nod to run. The biggest question had to do with the party’s platform. In order to unite the party, the progressive forces were pressing for a "peace plank." But the peace advocates found that the Humphrey forces were resistant to the efforts to give voice to their beliefs during the convention.

The conflict began when Ohio senatorial contender John Gillian contacted Kenny O’Donnell from Boston. O’Donnell, a long-time friend of the Kennedy family, was supporting George McGovern. And McGovern wanted a specific message in the plank: "To correct error, it is first necessary to admit it." The peace advocates wanted three points included: {1} an unconditional halt to the bombing; {2} the conflict in Vietnam to be called a "civil war"; and {3} US support for a coalition government.

Humphrey knew that such a plank would insult LBJ. He believed that if he did not fight it, an enraged LBJ would withdraw support for him. Humphrey also recognized that the president still exercised a great deal of influence of the bureaucracy within the party structure.

The party bureaucrats may have been opposed to the war, but they viewed the McCarthy people as "insurgents." Where the people who had supported RFK were willing to subscribe to the theory that politics is the art of compromise, the McCarthy folks more militant. The bureaucrats, who keep the party structured during the boring periods of time, resented the insurgents who appeared to want instant gratification – and to take the bureaucrats’ positions. Thus came a lesson in the art of "machine politics."

One state considered a nest of insurgency was Pennsylvania. In an April preferential primary, McCarthy had received 428,239 votes, or 78.5%. Kennedy had 65,430 votes, and Humphrey 72,263. But at the convention, Humphrey got 103.75 delegate votes, compared to a combined 26.25 for the peace candidates.

Also, the "machine" controlled seating. Thus, the insurgents from states like California, New York, and Wisconsin found themselves at the most distant positions possible. One insurgent, Mary Epstein, said to a reporter, "You mean this is how the system works? I can’t stand it." Jules Feiffer of New York said, "I said all along the system doesn’t work. So I got in the system. And now I know I was right."

The machine won. The bureaucrats were in control of the convention. The majority plank won, and the anti-war people felt betrayed.

"It is absolutely necessary that rebellion find its reasons within itself, since it cannot find them elsewhere. It must consent to examine itself in order to learn how to act." – The Rebel; Albert Camus

{7} Inside the Democratic National Convention, "security" was tight. This added to the hostilities between the machine and the insurgents. Even on the first night, when "roll call" was being taken, friction began. A New York delegate named Alex Rosenberg was roughed up by security forces. When NYS Chair John Burns, the mayor of Binghamton who had enjoyed a close friendship with RFK, attempted to help Alex, he was disrespected. CBS newsman Mike Wallace attempted to approach security to see why they what was happening, and he was punched in the jaw.

Some of the insurgent delegates, who were wearing black arm bands, began singing, "We Shall Overcome." For those like Julian Bond, who were carrying on in the spirit of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation, it was clear that the machine was carrying on in the Jim Crow tradition. Only at this time, the anti-war forces were being treated with the same brutality as the civil rights folks. The security forces were in a mind-set they shared with Lester Maddox, who ranted that the convention was being threatened by "socialists."

The Chicago police had "accidentally" tear-gassed the McCarthy headquarters, leaving most of the posters they planned to use inside the convention unusable. But Mayor Daley had ordered a huge supply of "We Love Mayor Daley" signs, which were visible for much of the convention.

When Senator Abraham Ribicoff was nominating George McGovern, he paused briefly, looked over at Mayor Daley, and said, "With George McGovern we wouldn’t have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago." In his book "Soon to be a Major Motion Picture" (Perigee Books; 1980), Abbie Hoffman wrote, "…a shocked nation of lip readers focused on Daley’s namecalling: ‘You motherfucker Jew bastard, get your ass out of Chicago’." (page 157) Ribicoff looked at the mayor with contempt, and replied, "How hard it is to accept the truth. How hard it is."

Before long, when the police inside the hall punched Dan Rather, Walter Cronkite called them "thugs." Although the television coverage of the convention actually showed very little of the violence in Chicago, for Americans watching from the comfort of their living rooms, the scenes were as shocking as those from the civil rights marches only a few years before.

Perhaps the most surreal moment came when Humphrey "won" the nomination. The country watched as he jumped to his feet, and kissed his wife in celebration. But, as Abbie Hoffman pointed out, it wasn’t really his wife that he kissed: it was her image on a television set.

"When decorum becomes repression, the only dignity free men have is to speak out." – "Soon to be a Major Motion Picture; Abbie Hoffman; page 189. (Quote from Chicago 7 trial.)

{8} There was a wide range of people in the parks and streets of Chicago, outside of the Convention Hall, protesting the war and the machine. They included young people; socialists; anarchists; the "old" democratic left; the "new" democratic left; YIPPIES; progressives; liberals; agent provocateurs; Christian activists; and many McCarthy supporters who felt rejected by the convention.

Movement leaders recognized that a "good" demonstration must attract far more than dedicated activists. It must bring out those people who generally approve of the system, but are willing to participate in the type of public march that the Bill of Rights notes is essential for our Constitutional democracy. The investigation that followed the Chicago convention showed that the majority of citizens on the streets during the violent episodes were, in fact, this type of individual.

What, then, caused the chaos and violence that took place in Chicago, which today defines that 1968 Democratic National Convention? The Walker Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence assigned most of the blame on Chicago officials, and described what took place as a "police riot." The Walker Report found that the police department had mistakenly anticipated that the city was going to face violent threats from insurgents. In part, this may have been from estimates of anywhere from 100,000 to 5,000,000 demonstrators coming to Chicago.

It was also, sadly, because people like Mayor Daley were guilty of rather concrete thinking when it came to dealing with people like Abbie Hoffman. The YIPPIES loved street theater. Looking back, some of their "threats" seem comical today. Indeed, when they "threatened" to have 40,000 naked hippies floating on Lake Michigan, it seems obvious that this would have been an improvement on what actually took place. Likewise, when Abbie Hoffman "threatened" to pour LSD into the water reservoir, it is clear that he was joking. But the major stationed security to keep the water supply safe.

The city had 11,900 Chicago Police, 7500 Army troops, 7500 Illinois National Guardsmen, and 1000 Secret Service agents prepared to meet any threats posed by the insurgents. As it turned out, the biggest "threat" posed was that of YIPPIES and hippies looking to sleep in Lincoln Park after curfew. When the police "swept" them – violently – out of the park, and into the streets of the Near North Side and Old Town, serious confrontations did begin.

At the end of the convention, it was reported that 589 arrests had been made; most were residents of the state, which refutes the notion that "outside agitators" caused the problems. More than 100 protesters were treated for injuries caused by police beatings. Interestingly, those most "at risk" of being attacked by the Chicago police were the 300 journalists assigned to cover the streets during the convention. At least 63 reporters (around 20%) were injured by police. Many more had their cameras or recording equipment purposely destroyed by police.

A total of 198 police officers reported being injured. This included 24 who complained of being "gassed" along with the demonstrators. Another 70 were treated for injuries to their hands; Mike Royko wrote about the horrors of demonstrators attacking the cops’ hands with their faces.

In reporting on the violence, the Washington Post noted that many of the demonstrators wore beards, and that "of course" the police would find this annoying. A female reader responded in a LTTE, "What about Lincoln? What about Moses?" (An American Melodrama; page 593)
But perhaps no one said it better than Mayor Daley himself, during a press conference: "Get this straight once and for all. The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder."

"Great men, great nations, have not been boasters and buffoons, but perceivers of the terror of life, and have manned themselves to face it." –Ralph Waldo Emerson

{9} Nixon narrowly defeated Humphrey in the general election. The war in Vietnam raged on. And the Nixon administration would engage in a series of moves in an attempt to install an Imperial Presidency into the national government, at the expense of our Constitutional democracy.

Other people will recall the events of 1968, and perhaps especially the Democratic National Convention, in manners very different than I have here. There is a paragraph from the December 6, 1968 edition of TIME that comes to mind:

"The (Walker) report amply supports a fact long known to lawyers: witnesses of the same event seldom describe it the same way. A Grant Park clash between police and demonstrators began when half a dozen burly young men lowered the American flag and hoisted another object to the top of the pole. ‘Object’ is used advisedly: though it was seen by hundreds of people and police and examined on film by the Walker staff, no one can say yet what it was. It has been described as a ‘black flag of anarchy,’ a ‘red flag’ and a ‘Viet Cong flag.’ Some witnesses state it was a suit of red underwear or a red armband or a rag. On films of the incident, it appears to be ‘a knotted red cloth or girl’s bright red slip.’ Police, after a hard fight, pulled down the object, but not even the cops know what it was or what happened to it."

Maybe that is the same as the convention. But I’ll say this: from where I stand, I think the "insurgents" who were demonstrating against the war, both inside and outside the Convention Hall, were patriots.


At April 12, 2007 at 10:59 AM, Blogger hizzoner said...

Excellent post Waterman.

Again, prepared with the skill of a lawyer with every word documented and corroborated.

At the time of the 1968 Democratic convention I was the rarest of all animals.....I was a President of a Young Republicans Club whose heart was with the protestors in the street...

You're a pleasue to read sir.

At April 17, 2007 at 5:13 PM, Blogger Roger said...

Wow, I was 10 at the time. Great backstory to well known events.

At May 13, 2007 at 7:36 PM, Blogger J said...

Ah yeah. Sort of like an HBO show about the 60s: ah can see the yippie clown flags, some woodstock burn-outs and hear the noize.

While all those Amerikan capitalists were oppressing the peoples, and engaging in war in Vietnam (admittedly a rather nasty affair), Chairman Mao and the red army managed to liquidate a few dozen million, either by starvation, forced imprisonment, or outright murder and rape, as were the Khymer Rouge (led by hip parisian marxist Pol Pot). And Lardass's own cronies said so. AS with the crimes of Stalinism (at least equal to those of the nazis), the atrocities of Maoism rarely make an appearance on DU: par-tay poopers (ie. objective historians) are generally banned and deleted and then some pot-smoking snitch calls someone in the Pelosicrat headquarters and coughs up an IP addy.

Even HS Thompson hated the new school of narcissists and closet-case marxists aka Snitch-o-crats............

At April 7, 2008 at 11:49 AM, Blogger third-cat said...

All the hoopla in the news over the 40th anniversary of Dr Kennedy's assasination had me thinking back. It was only 2 short months until Bobby Kennedy's assasination and not that much longer until the Democratic Convention at the end of August. 1968 for me was the end of hope.

Obama gives some of this hope back to me, but I can't watch him without thinking that I'll hear the crack of a rifle shot. So I just don't.

1968. And the trial of the Chicago 7. Julius Irving. My God. What a right bastard. It still completely cracks me up that Abie Hoffman wanted to nominate Pigasus!


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