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THE 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Unfortunately, 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.
Later, 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."
As 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.
The 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 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 arrested.
Throughout 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."
Down 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.
Ann Appleman of Bernard 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."
Casualties 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.
"I 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."
Bob 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 streets.
Many 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.
The 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.
YCHers 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.
McCarthy 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 lost of all. The way I feel now, I don't even know if I'll vote in November."
Most, 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."
Two 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."
Paris 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 more effective."
"Black 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 to quit."
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.
On 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.
Political 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 or abolished."
While 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."


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