The 1968 Democratic National Convention was more notable for what occurred outside the event than within the smoke-filled, sign-pumping venue itself. It marked a turning point in America where previously idle groups such as youth and minorities became more involved in politics. It was a time of questions, realizations, and protests against the status quo.
The most contentious issues on the convention’s agenda were our continuing military involvement in Vietnam and voting reform, particularly expanding the right to vote for draft-age soldiers (age 18) who could not vote until 21. A year of political assassinations, stalled peace talks, and aggregate civil unrest ignited a fire that ravaged the beatific American garden planted after World War II. The Times They Are A-Changin' wrote the poet laureate of our generation.
Protesters gathered from all over the country and amassed in the open air of Grant Park on Lake Michigan. Battle lines were easily drawn with upwards of twenty thousand hippies on one side and twelve thousand Chicago police officers on the other. Fifteen thousand National Guard members surrounded the International Amphitheater some six miles to the southwest.
Demonstrations and marches took place all over the city leading up to the heavy assault on human sensibilities the media focused on. In the week prior, Rennie Davis led most of the protests I took part in though the slightly more famous Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin made an occasional appearance. Eventually, however, the inevitable full-scale riots began; nobody really knew who, where or what kindled them but the winds of protest met the storms of a turbulent police force and the rest was left to those who wrote history.
The city arrested seven of the prominent organizers who were tried together, along with Bobby Seale. The court quickly separated the Black Panther to stand trial separately, and the others became known as the Chicago 7. Amid a cartoon-clown courtroom standoff between defendants and the institution, I watched the judge issue some of the 175 contempt of court charges during a very unruly trial. Of course, the defendant antics of Hoffman and Rubin didn’t help the disposition of a judgmental and ill-tempered Judge Hoffman (no relation to Abbie and the subject of several contempt citations). Their appearances, dressed in Nazi uniforms and nun habits, did not make for smooth proceedings. Perry Mason, where are you when court decorum needs you?
The 1968 Democratic Convention and Chicago 7
February 9, 2023 | The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage