The year 1968 was one of those years in which any who lived through is a 68er it is in the blood soul of those who lived to tell the tale. Such years in the past so marked the survivors that they were not only changed forever, but they experience again and again the days that marked their final becoming. Such events as the Revolutions of 1848 that swept the length and breadth of Europe, Paris 1871, Russian Empire 1905 and 1917, or Spain 1936 are such years.
Back to 1968, in Chicago events unfold and the world will never be the same.
The party in power is having a convention. That party has become identified with an unpopular war and thousands of potential supporters will be in Chicago to register dissatisfaction with the direction their party has taken in Vietnam. The “Clean for Gene” Democrats (liberals supporting Eugene McCarthy) are there to be there for a peace candidate in opposition to the then Vice-President identified not only with the fiasco in South East Asia but the whole Liberal Anti-Communism Cold War mind set that led to “Viet Nam”. There was a second peace movement present in Chicago unrelated to the first peace movement. This second movement was deeply hostile to Pax-Americana, based on anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism and wanting to bring the Revolution home to the streets of America. The Mayor of Chicago said not in his town and the police were bought into this reality and was determined to fight Communism at home in Chicago. Both groups of Peace/ Anti-War groups would be lumped together. As the Convention Week drew near a third group began to filter in. This last group had no underlying philosophy and they hitched from riot to riot or demonstration to demonstration, in hopes of getting into a street fight with what they referred to as the Blue Fascists or the police. While being a very tiny minority in all fairness they made their presence known later in the week at Lincoln Park. In Chicago the Cops were out in force. The atmosphere was viscous with fervor, and every motion by people in the streets was seen as a threat to all that America stood for. The hippie look was subversive in itself. The other side, the supporters of the Mayor and his vision of America, was also looking for a fight. Insults from the police would give birth to heckling from the freaks. The squad cars would stop and two or more cops would run out and make menacing gestures with their weapons. The people would run and the police would follow, but not too close. Then the game would begin again. The convention was a couple days away and tensions were mounting, the game was going to get very real and both sides knew it. The air was tense everyone there could see it, feel it and even smell it. Police stop people randomly and ruffed you up. Other people yelled at the police making obscene gestures, only the “Clean for Gene” people thought it was possible for things to end without violence
Beginning Thursday August 22, there is an incident involving the police the result was a young Lakota named Dean Johnson is killed in a confrontation. The police said he had a gun, the other side said every word coming out the mouths of the police or the mayor’s office is a lie. A very large memorial march was held that night condemning police violence.
The Friday and Saturday there would be large demonstrations and the city, police travel in platoons and patrol with armored cars. These demonstrations would last well into the night defying the curfew set by the Mayor. Singing and dancing are apart of this open defiance.
Then Sunday August 25 the liberal peace movement organized the "Meet the Delegates" gathering in Grant Park across from the Hilton Hotel
The Radicals met in Lincoln Park, opening with music. The Festival of Life they called it.
This started off poorly, as a flatbed truck tries to bring equipment on stage the police enter and stop it. A fight breaks out and the police are rapidly overwhelmed as the police club several members of the crowd, police reinforcements are called in and the fight intensifies. Finally the Park is cleared.
The Police in formation push the crowd a head of them, everywhere anyone on the streets are clubbed and forced to flee. Residence in the surrounding neighborhoods are taken for demonstrators and are herded a head of the police clubbing any who attempts to explain they are on their way home. Smaller battles continue through out town till morning. Then early in the morning people still on the street are arrested. A large crowd of protesters marches towards police headquarters at 11th and State. The police surround the building trying to block access. The march then turns north to Grant Park, swarming the General Logan statue. Police react by clearing the area around the statue. The crowd disperses but do not leave.
Meanwhile at the International Amphitheatre it is Mayor Daley who opens the 1968 Democratic National Convention. In his opening remarks he is quoted as saying” As long as I am mayor of this city, there's going to be law and order in Chicago."
Curfew is set at 11:00 PM. At 11:00 PM people began to gather in Lincoln Park in an act of protest and began building a barricade against the police line to the east to people build fires to warm themselves. A police car pushes slowly into the barricade and the people bombard the car with rocks. Police move in with tear gas. The ensuing violence is extreme police attack the crowds and this time people do not disperse but fight back attacking police with rocks, sticks, fists what ever. Some area residents are pulled off their porches and clubbed. Even reporters are attacked. Then a middle aged woman driving a car with a McCarthy bumper sticker was stopped by the police, dragged out of her car and beaten across the head by one officer’s while his partner slash all four of her tires. She sat in the middle of the street stunned and bloodily, unable to stand. Her glasses broken confused and weeping and she had nowhere to go. The several people tried to help her but cops shot at those trying to help yelling “kill a fag, kill a commie”. The freaks began throwing rocks at the cops while; two men from sidelines helped her into a building and into safety.
Then on Tuesday the 27th group of religious pacifists leave their church where they are meeting a march toward the Amphitheatre. Joined by others along their route and are joined by more bystanders on the sidewalks until they are a very large group. The police stop the marchers at 39th and Halstead north of the Amphitheatre. The marchers decide to establish an informational picket to explain to casual observers the importance of stopping the War now. They remain there until 10 AM the next morning. When at that time they are ordered to break up and go home they refuse and the resisters are arrested.
Back in Lincoln Park Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale urge the people to fight back by any means necessary. At the at the Chicago Coliseum there is held an "Unbirthday Party for LBJ". Many speeches are given condemning the US involvement in South East Asia.
After curfew in Lincoln Park, clergy and lay church people set up a 12-foot cross and a large crowd gathers to hear more speeches condemning the War. The police attack in force driving the crowd out of the park. The crowd then moves south to the Loop and Grant Park. There they meet up with another large crowd listening to a speech by Julian Bond and then Tom Hayden the follows. Peter, Paul and Mary sing. The rally is peaceful. At 3 AM the National Guard relieve the police. The crowd is allowed to stay in Grant Park all night. This time there is no violence.
August 28, Wednesday the largest crowd yet gathers Grant Park band shell to hear speeches by Tom Hayden, Dick Gregory, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Jerry Rubin, Carl Oglesby and David Dellinger. The police surround the rally on all sides. National Guardsmen are posted on the roof of the nearby Field Museum.
At the Convention the Peace Plank is voted down. When the news is reported to the crowd outside grows upset. The flag at the Band Shell is lowered to half-staff. The police rush the crowd to arrest the young man responsible. The police drag of the man. Then another group completes the flag lowering at which time they raise blood-splattered shirt as the famous Red Flag. Police charge the line of protestors and Rennie Davis a Protestor is hammered into a near comatose state.
Dellinger led a new march to the Amphitheatre in defiance of the police the crowd begins to grow even larger. The Police in full force block the crowd. National Guardsmen armed with .30 caliber machine guns and grenade launchers sealed off the Balbo and Congress bridges. The Crowd passes unnoticed through Jackson Street Bridge surging onto Michigan Avenue and is joined by Ralph Abernathy's Poor People's Campaign, the crowd is stopped again and only Ralph Abernathy's Poor People's Campaign is allowed to pass. The police go wild trying to clear the streets people are gassed, maced beaten and arrested and the TV crews positioned at the Hilton film this.
At time Lincoln Park it is open Rebellion now.
At the Convention Senator Abraham Ribicoff, nominates George McGovern and Mayor Daley shout a string of obscenities, then the Senator denounces "Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago." Daley’s rage is uncontrolled. Hubert H. Humphrey wins the party's nomination on the first ballot.
This news starts a new round of protests. This spills over to the next day Thursday with renewed conflicts with police. 1968 Democratic National Convention is adjourned.
During the week 668 people were arrested, over 100 protestors and forty police were hospitalized and medics treated over 1,000 demonstrators on the streets. During this same period of time 308 Americans were killed and 1,144 were injured in the war in Vietnam. I have no idea how many Viennese were killed or injured it was no doubt even larger number.