CHICAGO CONVENTION: A BAPTISM CALLED A BURIAL
by Jo Freeman
Published in Moderator, October 1968, p. 14-16. You
are also invited to visit Jo's photo
page on the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention.
For a while it seemed that the Yippies and National Mobilization Committee
would not succeed in their aim to disrupt the Convention, as the tough
security kept them miles away from the International Amphitheater
where it was held. But, with the help of the Chicago Police during
the 2-day Battle of Michigan Avenue, they succeeded instead in disrupting
the entire city. In the process, a startling and unexpected sense
of community was formed as hippies, radicals, McCarthyites and middle-aged
delegates protested the police-state atmosphere which held the city in turmoil for a week.
week began with a vow by the news media to pay scant attention to
the demonstrations that had been anticipated for months. The failure
of the police to distinguish between reporters, photographers and
demonstrators when they cleaned out Lincoln Park each night soon changed
their minds. Over three dozen newsmen were injured in their attempts
to cover the action. This was accompanied by a similar failure by
the police to exempt residents of the area surrounding the park from
their furor. The result was indiscriminate clubbing and harassment
of local people as the police pursued demonstrators through the streets
after flushing them from the park.
first skirmish in the Battle of Michigan Avenue began Wednesday afternoon
at a rally -- the only activity for which the City had issued a permit
-- in Grant Park several blocks from the Hilton Hotel, the headquarters
hotel for most of the legitimate Convention activity. Although many
people had been bused in from Eastern cities for the event, almost
half the crowd of several thousand were McCarthyites, Young Citizens
for Humphrey, delegates, and other interested people who had no intention
of fighting the police.
the police took no notice of these intentions when they twice charged
the gathering, clubs swinging -- the first time when one young protestor
lowered the American flag to half-mast and the second when a few rocks
were thrown. This was just a preview of what was to come, and a few
hours later the guests of several prominent Michigan Avenue hotels,
residents and protestors were choking with tear gas.
when the Poor People's March came up Michigan Avenue with three covered
wagons and six mules the antiwar protestors gathered around to march
up to the cleared and barricaded section in front of the Hilton. The
mules stood there calmly while the air was rent with chants of "Power
to the People," "The whole world is watching," and
"Peace Now." For a while there was a standoff in front of
what describes itself as "the world's largest and friendliest
hotel." Finally the police allowed the wagons through their lines
as protest monitors formed human barricades to keep the demonstrators
from following. Then the police charged -- in order, they said later,
to "disperse the crowd."
the night wore on, the crowd of several thousand was "dispersed"
several times with the young McCarthy supporters and middle-aged onlookers
often getting the worse of it. At one point several hundred guests
of the hotel and other bystanders gathered on the sidewalk in front
of the Hilton to gaze with horror at what was taking place in the
intersection. When the police tried to "disperse" them they
had no place to go. The crowd was blocked on one side by the hotel,
on another by wooden barricades and officers protecting the entrance
to the hotel, and on the third by a line of National Guardsmen with
fixed bayonets to keep the streets cleared. With no place to run many
were injured by the billy clubs and others were pushed through the
plate glass windows of the hotel by the panic stricken crowd. The
broken windows were later attributed to vandalism.
next night the protestors, their ranks now swollen by young and not-so-young
people who had not originally come to Chicago to demonstrate, sought
to march first to the Amphitheater and then to Dick Gregory's home
(on his invitation). They were turned back by the police with tear gas.
About 50 delegates, fearing further violence, placed themselves between
the police and the young people before the confrontation. They were
the two-day battle, McCarthy staff headquarters on the 15th floor
of the Hilton provided windows for anxious onlookers to observe the
melee, moral support for the demonstrators, and an infirmary for those
injured. So it was rather fitting when, as the finale, the police
raided the staff rooms at 4:00 a.m. Friday morning to drag volunteers
and staff downstairs. The police accused them of throwing tables,
ashtrays and other things out of the windows at the police. But according
to one occupant of John K. Galbraith's suite, the main target of the
raid, a later inventory accounted for everything "except possibly
a few beer cans."
in the lobby, most of the young staff were left shaking in fear, rage
and confusion until the Senator was roused from his 23rd floor suite
to take control. Asked if the staff had cooperated with or resisted
the police one boy, shivering in his pajamas, replied sarcastically,
"When an obstreperous 250 pound cop turns on the lights, raps
your feet with a billy club and tells you to move, you move."
He added that some people were still half-asleep and hadn't been able
to move fast enough.
Appleman of Barnard College was a bit more stoical. "My mother
called me long distance Thursday night and begged me to stay in the
hotel, not to go to the place where I had been staying because the
streets weren't safe. So I stayed. Now I've got to call her and tell
her she was wrong again."
were light -- only two had to be hospitalized as compared with over
200 after the street clashes -- and the whole episode did little more
than entrench in the McCarthyites the cynical, bitter attitude developed
in the previous 36 hours. The new outlook, so contrary to the buoyant
faith in "their movement" that had held them up in the months
of campaigning, had little to do with McCarthy's losing. They had
skipped that stage.
didn't have time to be disenchanted," one student said later,
"the whole scene was too unreal." Bob Aisenberg of New York
spoke for many: "I thought with McCarthy we had a chance but
after seeing that massacre I no longer think it makes any difference.
If I had been told six months ago that this would happen I wouldn't
have believed it. Now I don't know what to believe."
was one of the many who divided their time Wednesday night between
listening to the roll call of the states for the Presidential nomination
and leaning out the hotel windows to observe the scene below. When
Humphrey won no one paid too much attention. Their expected disillusionment
at defeat was pre-empted by their fury at what was happening on the
more weren't around to find out how their man did. They were already
in the streets, including Sam Brown, student coordinator for the campaign.
Early Wednesday afternoon he had spoken to several hundred McCarthy
students and asked them not to wear their McCarthy buttons in any
demonstrations until after the nominations were over. "We've
tried it the way the civics books said it should be done, we've worked
within the system, and now we must allow the process to play itself
out." He added that "this was an apprenticeship in politics.
We came here to learn the system and perhaps we ought to give a vote
of thanks to those radicals who know the system better than we. We've
learned something here and I hope we don't forget it." Sam spent
the next two nights in the streets.
impact of the demonstrations on the Young Citizens for Humphrey wasn't
as great as that on the McCarthyites -- but then there weren't too
many of them. Most young HHHers at the Hilton were in high school
or in their late twenties and thirties. The former spent most of their
time in periodic shouting matches with McCarthy supporters ("Humphrey,
Humphrey, Humphrey" versus "We want Gene") in the hotel
lobby where, despite their more and better signs, they were out-numbered
five to one. The latter's main activity was a panel advertised as
a place where "Youth speak out on their problems." It was
headed by former North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford and the youngest
participant was 27.
expressed sympathy for the protestors but explained that their perspective
was different. "We didn't participate," one said, "we
just observed." They said that they would go on with the HHH
campaign in the fall pretty much as they had planned, although most
conceded the events of that week would make it more difficult.
supporters weren't too sure what they would do next. They vacillated
between dropping out in despair and learning guerilla warfare. John
Barbieri, 23, was consumed with rage. "We did it within the system
and they squashed us and couldn't even be polite about it. They just
put on their hob nailed boots and stamped over us. I don't know what
I'm going to do next but whatever it is, I'll work to destroy illiterate
SOBs like Mayor Daley. These people have their priorities mixed up.
They're Democrats first, American second, and human beings last of all. The way I feel now, I don't even know if I'll vote in November."
however, felt that they were not ready to give up but that "now
we must find another way." Few were sure what that way would
be, but saw some hope after McCarthy said he would spend his time
working for liberal Senators. Peter Sturges, 20, of Harvard said that
"McCarthy may be more valuable by being in a position to provide
dissent than he would be as President. When he said he was going to
continue I thought I could. If we don't take over the Democratic Party
by '72 we'll join the 4th Party in removing the Democratic Party."
Smith College student Ann Gorden, 18, felt that "McCarthy has
accomplished his purpose. He got all these kids involved and doing
something about the war and politics. He's still leading our movement.
We just have to have a different focus."
former McCarthy staff members who know what their focus will be are
Bill Haring, 22, and Bob Paris, 28. Haring is postponing his entry
into grad school at Arizona State one quarter to work for Ken Monfort,
who is running for Senator in Colorado. He feels that "McCarthy
was not an answer but a start. He showed the world that the U.S. has
people who care about democracy. Now it is up to us." Haring
has plans to run for the Arizona State Legislature in 1970. He said
he admires what the "kids have done since Berkeley," but
that he can be more effective inside the system. "I'll work inside,
others outside, and sooner or later we'll squeeze the system to death."
was an artist in Omaha and a devotee of the Black Panthers before
he joined the campaign in April. "Before this I never realized
so many whites were concerned with black problems. If McCarthy didn't
exist I would go back to the Panthers. Now I've got other ideas."
Paris is national coordinator of Black Americans for McCarthy, which
kept its acronym but changed its name to Black Americans Movement
after the Convention. Its purpose now, he said, is to "create
a kind of black political party" to elect black candidates responsive
to the black community. BAM will work on its own or through the established
parties depending on local conditions, he said. "Whichever is
people are beginning to get ourselves together just as whites are
giving up," he said wryly. "McCarthy brought them (whites)
back into politics -- at least the students. He provided the climate
for change. White people have to learn what they have to do about
racism, about the war, and about this society. Now is not the time
One group of McCarthy supporters feels that the "movement"
can best continue if everyone sticks together. Six weeks before the
Convention they began forming Youth for A New America, an organization
primarily of McCarthy and Kennedy supporters and other young people
who have been made politically aware by the campaigns. By the time
of the Convention disaster YNA had projects set up in 20 states and
a national office at 1064 W. Lawrence, Chicago. The brainchild of
Joel Glass, formerly of the University of Illinois Circle campus and
now an elementary school teacher, YNA has a two-fold purpose.
one level it is organizing youth into social action projects which
range from tutoring to community organizing. The various chapters
are autonomous and choose their own projects but the aim is to provide
a sufficient range of social activities so that all members can find
something to their liking. "Some people want to work with kids,
some people want to picket, and we don't want to exclude anyone,"
Glass said. Currently YNA funnels people into projects set up by other
institutions to meet their needs but chapters are free to set up their
own projects and many ore expected to do so.
On another level YNA hopes to form a national youth political organization.
According to Chicago Executive Coordinator Elaine Cullor, "the
projects are not an end in themselves; they provide a basis for political
action. They not only give concerned young people a chance to work
but a chance for an educational experience." From these experiences
YNA hopes to build an awareness of political institutions, how they
affect people and how they interact. Political action will not be
dependent on campaigns but will take other forms as well.
campaigns, however, will still be a prime concern and work has already
begun for the November elections. Because YNA is not ready to take
on a campaign itself it is providing an Election Staffing Service
for those candidates running on anti-war or other liberal issues who,
because of their stands or their support of McCarthy, cannot get adequate
support through regular party channels. The Staffing Service, run
by three former McCarthy national staff members, draws primarily from
staff and volunteers in the McCarthy and Kennedy campaigns. Participants
work free until Election Day.
Most of the McCarthy workers won't be available for campaign work
because they are going back to school. While some have local candidates
they will support, many others feel they will have to put their energies
elsewhere. The most likely place is the campus, "That's where
we live and work," a Grinnell College student said, "and
there's certainly a lot to do there." "Starting with student
government," another volunteer put in. "It should be either
made a vehicle for students to have real control over their education
not sure what their "movement" would do next, the volunteers
were confident that they would not allow it to die out. "We've
just now begun to see ourselves as having some say in things,"
one said. "Why should we let it stop here just because that unholy
coalition that controls the Democratic Party told us to go to hell."
A staff member with considerable experience in campus protest before
joining the campaign added thoughtfully: "Now that the students
have learned that they have the ability to run a Presidential primary
campaign, imagine what they're going to think of their ability to
run a university."