[DEBATE] : Yippies and Black Panthers
dominic.tweedie at gmail.com
Sat Sep 6 21:09:51 BST 2008
Counterpunch, Weekend Edition, September 6 / 7, 2008
Memories of the 1968 Democratic Convention
By NANCY KURSHAN
I am writing this during the presidential nomination of Barack Obama
at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Because this is 40 years
after 1968, there are references by mass media personalities and
others to what happened in the streets of Chicago during that historic
time. Much of what has been written is often inaccurate, superficial
or misleading. I know this because I was one of the people who
initiated the call for the demonstrations and planned them. But the
story behind these events, the political issues that we dealt with and
the state repression that we faced are as relevant today as they were
40 years ago. What then follows is my attempt to explain what
happened and why. I hope these words will help clarify some
historical reality and provide some helpful observations for those of
us who continue to organize against U.S. injustice today.
On the 35th anniversary of the sentencing in the Chicago Conspiracy
Trial (February of 2005) I was interviewed by a public television
reporter for a retrospective piece on the Chicago 8. As he and his
cameraman entered my house, he quipped, "I just interviewed Richard
Schultz (Assistant Prosecuting Attorney). He insists that you came to
Chicago to overthrow the American government. He knows it sounds silly
but that's what he believes to this day." Without missing a beat, I
retorted, "It doesn't sound silly at all. That was in fact what we
wanted to do. And in hindsight, it appears even more compelling today
then it did at the time. Who wouldn't want to overthrow a government
that was in the process of murdering 2 to 3 million Vietnamese and
60,000 US troops? Who wouldn't want to overthrow a government that had
launched a joint FBI/police force campaign to destroy the Black
Liberation Movement which resulted in scores of dead black
revolutionaries and many others imprisoned for life?"
To understand those events and what motivated us, you have to know
something about the extraordinary times preceding them. Our small
circle of friends, the Yippies, had come together around the October
1967 anti-war demonstration where we first successfully levitated the
Pentagon. That is, we encircled the building and with drums, incense
and incantations we caused it to rise, allowing the evil spirits to
flee. My friend Abbie Hoffman, one of the original Yippies, would
later complain that we only managed to get it ten feet off the ground.
The levitation was followed by about 1000 arrests of people trying to
shut it down altogether. It was the first time I had been arrested
but far from the last.
We came together to shut down the Pentagon in particular but more
generally in response to everything that was going on around us. We
had by now been marching and demonstrating and participating in
teach-ins for several years and felt our efforts fell on deaf ears.
In 1967 the U.S. pounded the Vietnamese people from the air in what
was called Operation Rolling Thunder. In response the Vietnamese
people continued to down American planes with anti-aircraft artillery.
In fact it was during Operation Rolling Thunder that John McCain was
shot down over North Vietnam. Perhaps it was by the group of young
women I later met in 1970 who were operating anti-aircraft artillery
out in a field in order to defend their small village in Thanh Hoa
But on January 30, 1968, at the time of the lunar new year, the
Vietnamese launched an enormous and completely undetected popular
uprising in South Vietnam known as the Tet offensive. The whole world
was amazed by their ability to mobilize their entire nation right
under the noses of the American military. A small country challenging
Goliath, the most powerful military force in the world.
[picture of Anita Hoffman and Nancy Kurshan, Chicago 1968.]
In February hundreds of people protesting a segregated bowling alley
in Orangeburg near South Carolina State University were fired upon by
the police. Three young men were killed and 27 people wounded. There
was little of the publicity that later surrounded the Kent State
shootings because most, if not all, of the people involved were Black.
This was known as the Orangeburg Massacre.
On March 21st we experienced a small taste of that violence directly.
The Yippies went on WBAI New York radio and called for a Yip-In at
Grand Central Station. It was to be a peaceful gathering complete
with costumes, music and incense. 10,000 hippies and yippies showed
up. The police over-reacted and it turned into a police riot. Abbie
Hoffman was shoved through a glass door after I threw myself on top of
him in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the police.
On April 4th the King of Peace, Martin Luther King, was assassinated
in Memphis and urban centers around the U.S. went up in flames. There
had already been major rebellions in Detroit, Newark, LA and
Cleveland. It was at that time that the "Rap Brown bill" became law.
Rap Brown was the fiery leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee, an extremely popular organization that was becoming more
militant in response to the times. The U.S. passed this law stating
that it was now a "crime to cross state lines with the intent to
riot." It would carry a five-year prison sentence with conviction.
Also in April students at Columbia University in New York occupied
several buildings in opposition to war and racism. I joined them and
when the cops cleared the buildings, that was my second arrest.
In May French students triggered a national strike of students and
workers. In Mexico City a huge protest ended with the murder by
police of probably hundreds of unarmed students. The world was in
turmoil and it seemed like people were resisting everywhere.
In June Robert Kennedy was assassinated. But honestly, that month
preoccupied us in more personal ways since the New York Police
Department broke into our tiny apartment and ransacked it. Upon
finding 3 ounces of marijuana, they arrested my partner, Jerry Rubin,
for "felonious possession with intent to sell." Additionally, the
cops had thrown him around and he fractured his coccyx. I was tricked
into coming down to the station and detained in an unsuccessful
attempt to get me to testify against him, and then later released when
I refused to comply.
Those were just some of the influences that were fueling our anger and
Small Circle of Friends
First let me tell you a bit about the Yippie cast of characters:
Stew Albert, from Brooklyn, New York, had quit the Progressive Labor
Party, a Maoist organization. Stew was an important part of the
political movement in Berkeley, a full time activist and campus
non-student "outside agitator" when he and Jerry Rubin became good
Judy Clavir aka Gumbo, Canadian born, left academia to be a fulltime
organizer, and became the girlfriend and later wife of Stew Albert.
She and Stew moved to New York to join the Yippie activities and lived
in an underground cellar below Abbie's Liberty House. Together they
later published The Sixties Papers, a political anthology of the
Abbie Hoffman had been active in the civil rights movement in the
south and went on to establish Liberty House, on outlet for poor
people in the south to sell their crafts. Abbie was incredibly
comical, charming and intelligent with connections to a world of
artists, poets, and musicians in New York.
Anita Hoffman had a Masters in Psychology. She became politically
involved when she met Abbie and they were married in Central Park in a
hippie wedding. She later published several books, including a
fictional account of their early days together.
Paul Krassner was a standup comedian in the spirit of Lenny Bruce. He
was an irreverent and raunchy satirist and the founder and editor of
"The Realist" magazine. A little known fact is that early on he had
also been involved in attempts to set up networks that would assist
women in getting safe, illegal abortions.
Nancy Kurshan had been involved with anti-nuclear, Northern civil
rights organizations, and Students for a Democratic Society. She was
a graduate student in psychology at Berkeley when she met Jerry Rubin
and they moved in together. They moved to New York to help organize
the Pentagon demonstration.
Phil Ochs was one of the best-known folksingers of the era. He was a
media junkie and many of his songs reflected actual events. His songs
had a wide emotional range and included searing anti-war songs like
"I Ain't Marching Any More" and songs about the civil rights struggle
such as "Too Many Martyrs." They were full of anger, love and
exquisite lyrics. At every political protest, there was Phil with his
Jerry Rubin, son of a teamster, became a journalist, traveled to Cuba
after the '59 revolution and returned to the US to become a full-time
political agitator. He was the leader of the Vietnam Day Committee in
Berkeley, California which tried to physically obstruct troop trains,
held enormous teach-ins and organized thousands of people to march
several times on the Oakland Army Terminal.
There were many others in our New York circle as well—Ed Saunders of
the Fugs music group; Kate Coleman who worked for Newsweek; Robin
Morgan before the male chauvinism drove her to quit; the pacifist
Keith Lampe also known as Ponderosa Pine; Sharon Krebs who butt naked
delivered an actual pig's head on a plate to a meeting of U.S.
senators; Wali and Sam Leff who became Yippie archivists and life-long
friends of Abbie and Anita. Most of us had come together around the
levitation and siege of the Pentagon, and on New Years Eve 1967 while
sitting around stoned, some of us decided to form the Youth
International Party (known familiarly as Yippie!!) and plan for
protests at the Democratic Convention that coming August.
So what was our original intent for the 68 Democratic Convention? I
know what my hopes were and also those of Jerry because during those
years we beat with the same heart, politically at least. On New Years
Day of 1968 we planned to organize an extravagant Festival of Life in
the parks of Chicago as an alternative to what we saw as their
Festival of Death. There would be an extravaganza of musicians,
poets, guerrilla theater, a union of hippies and political activism.
This kind of grand production was not completely new. It evolved out
of all we'd experienced in the last two years. The Vietnam Day
Committee teach-ins while very educational were also extremely
theatrical, as was Black Power Day in the Berkeley Greek Theatre where
many leaders of the Black liberation movement spoke, to the dismay of
the Governor of California who tried to stop it. The Be-In in Golden
Gate Park involved every major rock group of the day. And then there
was Jerry's response to a subpoena from the House Un-American
Activities Committee. Ronnie Davis of the San Francisco Mime Troupe
suggested that he go dressed as an American revolutionary war figure,
tri-cornered hat and all, which Jerry enthusiastically did. HUAC
refused to let him testify. Jerry was not known as the PT Barnum of
the left for nothing.
Yes, a Festival of Life would be good. But if that were not possible,
then a confrontation on a scale that would capture the attention of
the whole world would also be great. If it could not be a Festival of
Life, so be it. But let it be. If the confrontation became physical
that too was okay. Any traces of pacifist thinking were disappearing.
After all, they were raining terror and violence down on the whole
Vietnamese nation, and then the whole of Indochina. There was intense
repression on the Black Liberation Movement. Malcolm X and Martin
Luther King had been assassinated. Others had been arrested, beaten,
killed. We were just drawing out the violence that was right under
the surface and for the first time it would be directed at white U.S.
citizens. We knew that in its most overt form such violence was
usually reserved for people of color both here and abroad. Only if it
were directed at white people would there be enough cognitive
dissonance to get Americans thinking.
Jerry later described himself as an "armchair guerrilla:" "I never
shot a gun or planted a bomb, but I supported the Vietcong and
selective violence here at home. Though I am a white middle class
American who enjoys a good meal and the luxury of comfort, I
nevertheless share the feelings of extremist revolutionaries. My
country had brutalized the red race and the black race and now we were
dropping bombs on brown and yellow people. I felt my position was
morally right. Anything any of us could do to stop genocide was O.K.
As a child of America I had been taught that the Good Germans who did
nothing to stop Hitler were also morally responsible for his crimes.
I felt anger at the gap between our ideals and the cold reality of our
power system." Those were my sentiments exactly. Still are.
Before the Nightstick: Shoot to Kill, Maim or Cripple
In response to the Black rebellion in Chicago that followed King's
assassination, Mayor Daley had earlier that year issued his infamous
"shoot to kill, maim or cripple" order and those words were reiterated
over and over again in the months leading up to the Convention. Then
it was announced that 6000 National Guardsmen and 7500 members of the
US Army would be there as well. The Commander of the Guard warned
that his men would "shoot to kill… if there is not another way of
preventing the commission of a forcible felony. The troops will be
carrying . . . 30 caliber ball ammunition. This kind of ammunition is
made to kill." Those of us who were not planning on committing
felonies did not feel comforted by those words.
We had been negotiating for months for a permit to sleep in the park.
We knew that young people would arrive from all over the country
without money or resources and would need a place to stay. The city
stalled and stalled. The Chicago Yippies, on the flower power end of
the continuum, encouraged us to keep negotiating and assured us we'd
get the permits in the end. They were wrong. Mayor Richard Daley
refused to issue any permits to sleep in Lincoln Park and he waited
until the last minute to let us know with certainty.
Many movement people began to say it was crazy to go to Chicago.
Eugene McCarthy, the peace candidate, warned people not to come. Even
our fragile Yippie cabal was fracturing. The folks from the Chicago
Seed, an alternative newspaper, were our Yippie allies in Chicago, but
they became fearful of the consequences. They said, reasonably
enough, that they would have to live with the aftermath of repression
that Daley would rain down on the locals after the rest of us left for
home. Up until the end, we were divided about whether we'd be allowed
to sleep in the park. With or without permits, we thought that if
enough of us arrived in Chicago, the city would relent, preferring us
to sleep in the park, rather than be pushed into the streets and cause
a major confrontation. At least each of us thought that some of the
time. At other times we thought we might die in Chicago.
I am sure that thousands of yippies and other antiwar people were
frightened away. Of the scheduled Festival of Life performers, in the
end only Phil Ochs and the MC5, a band out of the Ann Arbor/Detroit
area associated with the White Panthers, actually made it to Chicago.
It was rumored that Country Joe and the Fish showed up but that Joe
had been threatened by some beefy Chicago police in an elevator, and
headed out of town ASAP. Musicians were especially reluctant to bring
all their expensive equipment to such an iffy scene.
But our small circle of friends knew we all had to go no matter what.
Otherwise we would be acquiescing in the implementation of a police
state. It would have been a done deal and we were not ready to
concede that kind of defeat.
A Fractured Bunch
On the opening days of the Convention, a few thousand stalwarts
arrived at Lincoln Park. The personal experience left a lot to be
desired. I am not talking here of the police presence. Not yet.
Although all us hardcore Yippies were there, we weren't speaking to
each other. Jerry and Abbie had been feuding for a while, and
although I can remember most political arguments for years afterwards,
I can't for the life of me reconstruct what they were fighting over.
Through the years of their collaboration, they were often fiercely
competitive with each other. Jerry always felt inferior to Abbie. He
wasn't as funny. He wasn't as clever. He wasn't as good a writer or
as good a speaker. He wasn't as charming. And he always felt
neglected by Abbie. He obsessed over his approval. Abbie, for his
part, was extremely individualistic, almost in essence. He would
inadvertently slight or exclude Jerry. So there were constant
estrangements and reunions. This period was one of estrangement.
When Jerry and Abbie were estranged, so were Anita and I. We "stood
by our men" in those days. Women's liberation was just beginning to
invade my consciousness. It would be over a year before Robin Morgan
would unleash her "Goodbye to All That," declaring her break with the
male-dominated left, including of course the Yippies. In it she would
shout, "Free Anita Hoffman! Free Nancy Kurshan! Free Gumbo!" And
although it didn't take the sting out of it, she in all fairness
included herself--"Free Robin Morgan!" But that was later and in this
August of 1968 we lined up with our men.
Other Yippies were pulled into the fight as well. No matter how hard
people tried to remain neutral, it was generally Stew, Judy and Phil
that were Jerry's pals with Krassner at Abbie's side. Had it been
different, the whole personal experience would have been a lot better.
But we were a fractured bunch.
In addition, there were police everywhere. Not just in uniform but
also undercover. Everywhere we went we were followed by tails, cops
whose job was to stick with us like glue. They made little attempt to
camouflage their task. They followed us as we walked down the street.
They followed us into restaurants. One time we went into a
restaurant in Lincoln Park and three cops sat down at the counter. We
waited for them to order, and when their meals arrived, we got up and
walked out. They also got up and walked out, leaving all their food
behind, uneaten. We got some satisfaction out of ruining their lunch.
A tall, burly, dark-haired biker presented himself to us shortly after
we arrived. He said he knew that Jerry would be a target and he was
offering his services as a bodyguard. Why not, we thought. We were
actually quite an open bunch since we didn't feel we had anything to
hide. We said pretty much what we believed and what we wanted to do.
Anyway it never occurred to us that he was a cop. What sense would
that make? We already had cops that followed us everywhere we went.
We would later find out differently but we were still naïve in too
By Light of Day
>From August 25th through 27th, Lincoln Park had one character in the
light of day and another at night. During the day, the weather was
hot and humid, typical Chicago summer. I wore a short sundress and
two long pigtails to stay cool. The park was filled with a few
thousand people doing their own things. Some were practicing a group
activity that Japanese youth had been using when faced with
belligerent lines of police. It involved rows of people, several
deep, with arms linked, moving forward together and shouting "Washoi."
Our friend Wolf Lowenthal was teaching people tai chi. Jeff Shero,
later known as Jeff Nightbyrd, the editor of the Rat, NYC's
underground newspaper, was there publishing a daily rag. Ramparts
magazine was producing wall posters, newspapers that gave information
about what was going on and were pasted up onto walls around the city.
Scores of activists from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were
there as well. They had criticized us (the Yippies) for various
reasons—too frivolous, not really organizing on a local level,
etc.—but were now full participants, even leaders, since the situation
had changed. They were disenchanted with the standard civil
disobedience of the peace movement and had formed small groups to
engage in the newly popular "mobile tactics" that were springing up
around the country. We were glad to see them there. They seemed more
prepared than we were for the actual situation.
There were small groups of medics with white armbands, carrying first
aid supplies, on the ready. They were associated with the Medical
Committee for Human Rights. There were legal observers with their
armbands, attorneys and law students from the National Lawyers Guild.
Some people were learning how to monitor police radios. Others were
riding around on bicycles bringing news from one place to the next.
People were reading, sharing food, hanging out. Both the days and the
nights were free form in nature. If you couldn't "go with the flow,"
it would be rough.
I ran around with Jerry most of the time, not quite sure what to do
with myself, moving at different moments from exhilaration to fear to
occasional boredom. I can't remember why I decided to drop THC, but I
did do that one of those days. It was bad enough to imbibe any
"controlled substances" in such a chaotic scene but the stuff turned
out to be really awful and I got quite sick for a half a day or so.
Although no permit for sleeping was granted, we thought we had a
permit for a concert. That turned out to be irrelevant. As the Motor
City 5 started playing, a conflict with the police ensued over the
flatbed stage, and the performance ended in confusion as the cops
cut the power.
Well-known cultural figures who understood the importance of this
historical moment were present. Celebrities like Norman Mailer, Jean
Genet, Terry Southern, and William Burroughs could be spotted walking
around, mingling with the crowd and sharing in the anxious
On Tuesday, the 27th, Bobby Seale, a national leader of the Black
Panther Party, addressed the crowd in Lincoln Park. He had not been an
organizer of the events but was an invited speaker. Despite all the
potential violence and the actual repression the Panthers had been
experiencing, Bobby showed up, prepared to speak. For bravely
exercising his right to free speech for less than an hour, he was
later indicted on federal conspiracy charges along with 7 others. His
appearance in the 1969/70 Chicago 7 trial would electrify the world,
as he did battle with the racist judge and prosecutors in the
courtroom who bound and gagged him in an attempt to silence him. Even
the prosecutor Richard Schultz later admitted that the way Bobby was
treated made him appear like a "slave in an American court room."
Also during the day there were various political forays out of the
park. At the beginning of that week the Russian Army had marched into
Prague. In a theater of solidarity, we marched on the Russian embassy
with signs that proclaimed the commonality between Czechoslovakia and
Czechago. Also in the prelude to the week, 17-year-old Dean Johnson,
a Native American youth, was killed while shoplifting in a food store.
He had come from out of town but he had drifted in to join us, and we
felt an affinity with him. So we marched for Dean Johnson as well.
We also marched to a bus depot over on Clark and Division in support
of the striking Black Chicago Transit Authority workers. We were in
Chicago because of the war, but we were clearly not a single-issue
movement. We were concerned about everything, locally and globally,
and wanted a total transformation.
"Children, and youths, and middle-aged men were being pounded and
gassed and beaten, hunted and driven by teams of policemen who had
exploded out of their restraints like the bursting of a boil . . . It
was as if war had finally begun, as if the gods of history had come
together before the television cameras of the world and the eyes of
the campaign workers and the delegates' wives and half the principals
at the convention . . ."
Norman Mailer in Miami and the Siege of Chicago
Let me be perfectly clear. Yes our intentions were to confront and
disrupt. Yes our intentions were to overthrow. But what took place
in the streets and parks of Chicago was a police riot and the
responsibility for the violence was clearly theirs, not ours.
It was at night that the real contest took place, from Sunday night
August 25th through Tuesday night, the 27th. As evening began to
fall, people started to build barricades with anything we could
find—picnic tables, garbage cans, etc. Other people made bonfires and
sat around them playing on drums and other instruments.
There were only a few thousand of us in Lincoln Park and we felt small
and weak. Some people wanted to take a stand and resist the police if
they tried to force us to leave the park. Most of us Yippies didn't
really want to fight over sleeping in the park, but we wouldn't leave
the park until the situation was resolved one way or another. We felt
responsible for all the people who had come and would remain with them
Once the 11 pm curfew came, the police forayed into the crowd and
started clubbing people from behind. One night I suddenly heard Stew
cry out and turned around to see blood dripping down his face. They
had cracked open his head. He and Judy took off for an emergency
room. Six stitches and a couple hours later they returned. The first
night it was as if the cops thought they could just come in and club a
few of us and end this pathetic gathering. A good head-banging and it
would all be over. If so, they seriously underestimated our
The whole time we were in Chicago it was like those hours in front of
the Pentagon. There were exhilarating moments. I'll never forget the
image of Alan Ginsberg with a circle of people around him, in the
midst of tear gas and police clubbing, sitting cross-legged for hours
at a time "omming" in deep sonorous tones, attempting to drive away
the evil spirits.
And there were moments of just waiting around, being bored. And then
there were so many moments when you just had to "go with the flow"
because you had no control over the situation. There were just too
many factors that could not be known.
And yet we each felt we had to be there. In the back of our minds
were images of the Pentagon clubbings and arrests, the Oakland 7
action and trial, the assassination of JFK, Malcolm X, Martin Luther
King and Bobby Kennedy. The urban rebellions and police retaliations.
Vietnam. Prague. Mexico. France. We were very aware of the
violent nature of the opposition, but we felt part of a worldwide
movement for change and we were willing to risk our lives for that
The well-known Washington Post reporter Nicholas von Hoffman did a
good job of capturing the nighttime scene:
"The attack began with a police car smashing the barricade. The kids
threw whatever they had had the foresight to arm themselves with,
rocks and bottles mostly. Then there was a period of police action
before the full charge.
Shrieks and screams all over the wooded encampment area while the
experienced militants kept calling out 'Walk! Walk! For Chrissakes
don't run.' There is an adage among veteran kids that 'panicky people
incite cops to riot.'
Rivulets of running people came out of the woods across the lawn area,
the parking lots toward Clark Street. Next, the cops burst out of the
woods in selective pursuit of news photographers. Pictures are
unanswerable evidence in court. They'd taken off their badges, their
names plates, even the unit patches on their shoulders to become a mob
of identical, unidentifiable club swingers.
. . . There is the scene at Henrotin Hospital with editors coming in
to claim their wounded. Roy Fischer of the Chicago Daily News, Hal
Bruno of Newsweek. Television guys who took a special clobbering
waiting in the anteroom describing what happened and looking
angry-eyed at the cops hanging around with the air of guys putting in
a routine night."
The nights were characterized by crowds of young people trying to
figure out what to do, with continuous sporadic violence and tear gas.
We streamed out of the park, along with the tear gas, and pursued by
police cars and cops on foot. Who could have imagined that tear gas
could be delivered in so many different ways—from sanitation trucks,
from flame-throwing devices, from the usual canisters. We tried
vaseline and wet handkerchiefs to deal with the gas. Groups of young
people roamed through the streets, as a consequence blocking traffic.
The whole area was in turmoil. There were helicopters flying close
overhead and on the ground there were cops with gas masks using their
rifle butts as clubs. Dragging. Chasing. Slamming.
We were out on the streets until late every night, one night making it
all the way downtown to the Hilton, which was the center of the
Democratic Party. The tear gas followed us and reportedly wafted into
the hotel, spreading its ugly fumes to the delegates lodged inside.
Each night when things died down in the early morning hours, and we
were bone-tired, we wound our way back to a Lincoln Park apartment and
fell into bed to catch a few hours of deep, exhausted sleep.
The Whole World Is Watching
Wednesday, August 28th held the promise of something different. After
all, it was easy to marginalize the Yippies. Just a bunch of scruffy
longhairs who needed showers. But this day was organized by the
National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, better
known as The Mobe, and the Mobe was a respectable peace organization.
In reality, those distinctions were blurred all the way around, on our
side and on the side of the police. The dynamics that had been set in
motion in Lincoln Park with the cops and the yippies set the tone for
the entire week. There had been an interplay the last several days
between the yippies and the Mobe, between Lincoln Park and Grant Park.
The Mobe was the sponsor of the rally that day at the Grant Park band
shell but by now we were all in this boat together. Every yippie who
had come to Chicago was now part of the Mobe. Daley had given us a
permit to rally but not to march. I've read accounts of the rally but
I don't remember a single speech. It was hard to concentrate and I
felt totally on edge, steeling myself to deal with whatever would
happen next. Fully armed police were arriving in flying wedges,
shoving and pushing and clubbing people from behind. It felt like we
were sitting ducks. This time they got Rennie Davis and blood was
dripping down his face. Somehow the rally continued despite the
attacks, and then we tried to move into a line of march, to head
towards the amphitheater where the Convention was taking place.
But Daley had no intention of letting us march and blocked us so that
there was no way to move. The crowd was forced to disperse and
spilled out of the park and over to Michigan Avenue and the Hilton
Hotel where all the delegates were wining and dining. The Hilton was
surrounded by a huge phalanx of cops and military. But people pressed
forward and cops clubbed us back and lobbed tear gas into the crowd.
As night began to fall, the crowd thickened. The police continued to
beat and club people, demonstrators and reporters and "innocent"
Chicagoans alike. The Battle of Michigan Avenue was on. But the
crowd seemed to actually grow, or at least people held strong,
chanting over and over "The Whole World Is Watching." At that point,
we knew we were back on the world stage and it was exhilarating. So
this was the Festival of Life after all. What had been happening for
days in Lincoln Park was now being repeated in front of the Hilton;
only this time it involved a broader swath of citizenry and THE WHOLE
WORLD WAS WATCHING!
After a while, Jerry and I, along with Stew, Judy and others, left the
Hilton Hotel and began running around the Loop, Chicago's downtown
area, blocking traffic and setting fires in garbage cans. That was
the most militant action I'd ever engaged in. As we were turning the
corner under the Elevator train, Jerry was surrounded by cops who
dragged him off and arrested him. It was not a random arrest. It was
a targeted arrest of Jerry. He later told me that they brought him
into the station where he was confronted by Bob Pierson, the biker
bodyguard. Pierson revealed himself to be an undercover cop, or a
"pig," as we were fond of calling cops, always reminding ourselves
that we were maligning the real pigs in the process. That was not the
last we would see of Bob Pierson. He would later appear as a key
witness in the Chicago Conspiracy Trial.
The journalist John Schultz reports that there were 668 arrests
recorded that week. 52.6% of the people were from the Windy City.
The rest came from 36 states and five countries. 550 had never been
arrested before. 75% were 25 years of age or younger.
Later we would learn that inside the Convention Center, Senator
Abraham Ribicoff, Senator from Connecticut, had condemned the
"gestapo-like tactics" out on the street. And Mayor Daley had been
caught on mike responding, "You motherfucker Jew bastard, get your ass
out of Chicago."
The Chicago Corporation Counsel's Walker Report concluded that there
had indeed been a police riot in Chicago that week, suggesting cops
had gone amok. But calling it a "police riot" is a whitewashing of
the situation and underestimated the cold-blooded calculations of the
establishment in this country. It is hard to imagine that Richard
Daley, the shoot-to-maim-and-kill czar of Chicago, would have allowed
such spontaneity from his officers. No, the Battle for Chicago was
orchestrated from on high. The clubbings, beatings, and gas were all
conscious decisions from at least as high as the Daley administration.
In fact, we later learned that there were about one thousand federal
agents sent to work in Chicago that week, including FBI and military
intelligence. One can only wonder what exactly was the role of the
federal government in the events that ensued.
The problem for them was that they underestimated they underestimated
us. We were frightened but despite our fears we persisted. They may
have thought their threats before the Convention would deter us. They
were wrong. They may have thought the first round of tear gas would
deter us. They were wrong. They may have thought the first cracked
head would stop us. They were wrong. We would not be turned back.
It was an amazing few days and a yippie's delight in the sense that we
were always out to capture the media's attention and in this case we
did. The media reported the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but
the truth, because they found themselves at the end of the same billy
clubs and tear gas as we. Even reporters as respectable as Dan Rather
were attacked by the cops. They were not embedded journalists. For
that moment in time there seemed to actually be a free press! One
reporter is quoted as saying, "This whole thing has moved me so far
left, I can see the back of my head."
The long-term impact of Chicago 68 has been much debated. There are
many layers to such an analysis and that is not the subject of this
piece. But there is no doubt that Chicago 68 became an iconic moment
in American history.
As I write this there are people outside both Democratic and
Republican conventions chanting, "Let's recreate 68." Of course
history cannot be recreated. These are very different times. But
let's hope the determination to be part of a worldwide process for
peace and justice persists.
Nancy Kurshan can be reached at: Nkurshan at aol.com
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