[News] The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
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Fri Aug 17 12:05:17 EDT 2018
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
by Nancy Kurshan - August 17, 2018
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. 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
Our small circle of New York 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 massive
civil disobedience of the era. It was also the first time I was
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 then been marching and demonstrating and participating in teach-ins
for several years and felt our efforts fell on deaf ears.
New Years Eve 1967, while sitting around stoned with this small circle
of friends, we decided to form the Youth International Party (known
familiarly as Yippie!!) to plan for a Festival of Life in contrast to
the Festival of Death of the Democratic Party that would take place in
Chicago in August. We imagined a massive peace extravaganza of
musicians, poets, actors, and artists of all stripes that would unfold
in the shadow of the party waging the Vietnam War .
Who were the actors in that cast of characters on that fateful New Years
— My boyfriend Jerry Rubin, son of a teamster, from Cincinnati Ohio
where he had been a journalist who traveled to Cuba after the ’59
revolution and returned to the U.S. transformed into a full-time
political agitator. He was a key leader of the Berkeley, California
Vietnam Day Committee. The VDC tried to physically obstruct troop
trains, held enormous teach-ins and organized thousands of people to
march several times on the Oakland Army Terminal.
— Abbie Hoffman had studied with Abraham Maslow and held a Masters
Degree in Psychology. Active in the civil rights movement, he went on to
establish Liberty House, an 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.
— 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 albeit illegal abortions.
— Nancy Kurshan, that’s me, had been involved with anti-nuclear,
Northern civil rights organizations, and Students for a Democratic
Society. I was a graduate student in psychology at Berkeley when I met
Jerry Rubin. We moved in together and then to New York to help organized
the Pentagon demonstration.
It’s possible others were there as well:
Perhaps Phil Ochs who 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 wide emotional range and included searing anti-war themes like
/“I Ain’t Marching Any More
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gv1KEF8Uw2k>” /and stories about the
civil rights struggle such as /“Too Many Martyrs
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkfgJG5kyQg>.” /They were full of
anger, love and exquisite lyrics. At every political protest, there was
Phil was his guitar.
There would be no card-carrying yippies. We would be a proud grouping
whose boundaries were very blurry. Anyone could declare herself or
himself a yippie. For better or for worse. But that was part of the beauty.
1968 turned out to be a roller coaster of a year. And our nerve rose and
fell along with events.
On January 30, 1968 the Vietnamese rang in their lunar New Year by
launching 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. We were ready to do our bit as well.
With turmoil at home and abroad, the Dems had little to offer. In April
LBJ stunned the nation by suddenly announcing to a nationwide TV
audience that “I shall not seek and will not accept the nomination of my
party as President.” He insisted that his decision was “completely
irrevocable” in the face of a “division in the American house.”
Johnson had won by a landslide in ’64 but his approval rating was now
polling at 36% and his handling of the war was further in the gutter. It
was clear that he had been hoisted, not exactly on his own petard, but
on that of Vietnam. Had he heeded the anti-war movement, he might have
had the resources to build his Great Society and may well have gone down
in history as one of the greatest American Presidents — a peacemaker and
We were disappointed at LBJ’s announcement to withdraw because he had
become an excellent foil. Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill
today? So rang our most popular chant. Without him, what would our
protest look like? What’s more we had the charismatic Bobby Kennedy in
the race. We felt the winds taken out of our sail and were sure we’d
lose the momentum. We were just about ready to join LBJ and give up the
Then the turmoil intensified. On April 4th the King of Peace, Dr. 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, a Civil Rights organization that was
becoming more militant in response to the times. It was now a “crime to
cross state lines with the intent to riot.”
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 response to the Black rebellion in Chicago that followed King’s
assassination, Mayor Daley had earlier that year issued his famous
“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. Yet another good reason to stay home.
Then came another shock. Bobby Kennedy’s assassination had contradictory
implications for our work. Once again it seemed the Democratic Party
held out little hope. Therefore, many people might again consider coming
to Chicago to protest. But his assassination also contributed to the
climate of fear and understandably scared many anti-war people.
In addition, 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.
The reasons to stay home were piling up. 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.
Those were just some of the influences that were fueling our anger and
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 we planned to organize an extravagant Festival of Life. Yes, a
Festival of Life would be good.
Yes, a Festival of Life would be great. 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.
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 (Motor City 5), 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.
Jerry wrote in “/Do It!/
“Though I am a white middle class American who enjoys a good meal
and the luxury of comfort, I nevertheless share the feelings of
extreme 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.
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
5 months 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. We entered into a Lincoln Park cafe
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 in Lincoln Park. 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 even though we were
admirers of Che Guevara, we were still naïve in so many ways.
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 Wolfe
Lowenthal was teaching people tai chi. Jeff Shero, later known as Jeff
Nightbyrd, the editor of /The Rat, /one of New York’s underground
newspapers, 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.
Imagine that, no cell phones! 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. My
75-year old self things, “what was I thinking?” But hey, I was 24 years old.
Although no permit for sleeping was granted, we thought we had a permit
for a concert. That turned out to be irrelevant. As the MC 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 anticipation.
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 force silenceupon him.
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
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.
As Norman Mailer penned in Miami and the Siege of Chicago
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 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
A portent of what was to come at night, the first blood to flow was that
of Yippie Stew Albert. In broad daylight on Sunday August 25th in the
midst of the crowd in Lincoln Park, Stew cried out. We turned around to
see blood dripping through his curly blond hair and down his face. They
had cracked open his head! He and Judy Gumbo took off for an emergency
room. Six stitches and a couple hours later they returned.
Once the 11 pm curfew came, the police stomped into the crowd and
started clubbing people from behind. That 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 determination.
The whole time we were in Chicago it was like those hours in front of
the Pentagon a year earlier. There were exhilarating moments. I’ll never
forget the image of Allen 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 create
calm and 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 assassinations of JFK, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and
Bobby Kennedy. The urban rebellions and police retaliations. The Black
Panthers. 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 change.
/Washington Post /reporter Nicholas von Hoffman did a good job of
capturing the Chicago 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
. . 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 chaos17. 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 Mobe organizer Rennie Davis, the All-American
boy with blood 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 at the House Unamerican Activities
Committee and then as a key witness in the Chicago Conspiracy Trial.
(So much for the notion that because we had nothing to hide, we had
nothing to fear from an undercover agent.)
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 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
/This article is adapted from Nancy Kurshan’s memoir, a work-in-progress./
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