1968 Riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago

1968 Riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago

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The 1968 Democratic National Convention is seen as one of the most significant cultural and political watershed moments of the Vietnam Era. Delegates clashed over the ideological future of the fractured Democratic Party while anti-war protestors and police battled in the Chicago streets.

Democratic National Convention In Chicago 1968 History Essay

When the 1968 Democratic National Convention finally came, the nation was in a state of turmoil. People were angry about the Vietnam War and the assassination of two prominent leaders, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Outside the convention, violence raged between protestors and police. On the convention floor, delegates argued and general commotion ensued. Many Democrats saw the chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention as a main reason for their loss. The Chicago DNC showed the frustration of the year and the historical impact of that convention can still be seen today (REWORD). CHANGE FIRST PARAGRPAH TO MAKE IT FLOW BETTER, WORDING

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson had the largest popular vote win in US history (Lyndon B. Johnson.) During his first term, he experienced much success. He created a domestic program called the “Great Society.” With this he formed Medicare, a health insurance program for the elderly and Medicaid, a health care program for the poor. (Lyndon B. Johnson ). He pledged to fight a “war on poverty” and created many successful programs. He created VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), Head Start – a program allowing low income preschoolers to attend school, the food stamps program, and many others (Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society). As his presidency moved forward, his popularity declined. This was largely due to the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War, which Johnson inherited from John F. Kennedy, continued to create tension and political upheaval during his time in power. By the end of 1967, more than 500,000 American soldiers were in Vietnam. (Simon). President Johnson continued to tell the American people that the war was being won, but with continued media coverage the people of the country were able to see that it was not. When communist Vietcong forces launched attacks on large cities in South Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of February 1968, there was an increase in criticism (Simon). People believed that the war was unwinnable. After the Vietcong forces infiltrated the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, the Johnson Administration claimed that the war could only be won by adding several hundred thousand more troops to South Vietnam. Following the Tet Offensive, Johnson’s approval went down to below 35% (Brief History Of Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention). Johnson’s secret service did not allow him to make appearances at universities because of his incredible unpopularity in this demographic.

Since Johnson had only been elected once, the 22nd amendment allowed him to run again for a second term (1968: A Convention in Crisis). Many Democratic politicians were hesitant to challenge him. Senator Eugene McCarthy, however, who had a strong stance against the war decided to stand up and run against Johnson in the primary election. McCarthy had a well-built base among youth voters who were opposed to the war. Senator Kennedy announced his candidacy four days later, on March 16 (Brief History Of Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention). Many of Kennedy’s supporters who had encouraged him to run earlier felt betrayed that it had taken him so long to decide to run. McCarthy supporters felt that he was a traitor for running with the possibility of taking away some of McCarty’s votes. It did not take long for Kennedy to gain popularity, however, especially with minority voters (Robert Kennedy Biography).

On March 31, Johnson addressed the nation. He said “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President (Farber).” On April 27th, Vice President Hubert Humphrey officially entered the race. Humphrey did not participate in the primaries but he received the support of many Democratic delegates (The Election of 1968). Humphrey did not, however, receive support of youth. He was seen as an extension of Johnson’s politics and more of the war that caused so much anger, violence and death.

Two events, which played a major role in the mood of the year, were the assassinations of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and democratic candidate Robert Kennedy. On April 4th, standing on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot (Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated). Following this assassination, riots spread across the country. There were 168 riots in total, 3,000 arrests, 20,000 injuries and 55,000 soldiers called in to restore order (1968 Chicago Race Riot). In Chicago, rioters broke windows, looted stores and set buildings fire. At the end in Chicago, one firefighter was hurt by gunfire, twelve civilians were killed and 170 buildings were destroyed. This created millions of dollars of damage and left over 1,000 people homeless (Groves).

A few hours after the California primary on June 5th, 1968 Robert Kennedy was assassinated. The perpetrator, Sirhan Sirhan, shot him in the head at a close range. Kennedy was taken to the Good Samaritan Hospital where he died the following morning (Robert F. Kennedy Assassination). News stations were present at the time and although the actual shooting was only caught on audio, the aftermath was all over the news. When the shooting happened, the news stations had already signed off. CBS’s Roger Mudd, who was in the ballroom at the time of the shooting, was alerted by a man who ran out of the kitchen holding his finger to his head like a gun and yelling “bang bang bang.” Mudd was scared as he ran into the kitchen with his crew (What Was Going On.). By the time NBC, CBS and ABC were able to get their film processed and on the air nearly two hours had gone by. People were devastated and angry as they watched the news. Many saw Kennedy as a leader who would bring them the change they needed. He was brutally taken from them.

At this time many groups were created for protest and unity. Many of these groups expressed anguish over the violent events of that year as well as worked to face upcoming challenges such as the DNC. The Youth International Party or Yippies were a major group. Before the DNC, the Yippies created a “yip-in” and “yip-out” in New York City (Brief History Of Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention). These events had live music and were meant to promote peace, love, and harmony. They were also meant to be a trial for the events they were planning for the DNC in Chicago.

At the “Yip-in” event a banner from an anarchist group was hung against a wall. It displayed the words “Up Against the Wall Mother Fucker.” (Home) At first the police were peaceful and made jokes with the Yippies. Later the Yippies climbed a clock and removed the hands. The police were upset and cleared the station, forcing their way through the crowed (Home). Their Yip-out event went over much more peacefully. They saw this as a sign that they were more adequately prepared for the DNC (Farber). They made speeches, held rallies and wrote articles announcing their presence at the DNC. The Yippies wanted to make a strong statement that they were opposed to the war and to Hubert Humphrey as a candidate.

Another big group involved in the DNC protests was the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam or MOBE. MOBE was a coalition of many anti-war groups. It was run by an executive board that would send out invitations to more than 500 small independent groups on its mailing lists (Records of National Mobilization Committee). It would coordinate activities to create large crowds and huge projects. MOBE supported all types of demonstrations, from marching to civil disobedience. David Dellinger, MOBE’s chairman, said that “The tendency to intensify militancy without organizing wide political support is self defeating. But so is the tendency to draw way from militancy into milder and core conventional forms of protest.” (Farber) MOBE marshals were there to assist each group in organizing their certain type of protest. MOBE organized many successful demonstrations. Their first was the Pentagon March which took place at the Lincoln Memorial (Records of National Mobilization Committee). MOBE had planned for large scale marches at the convention.

Protests at the DNC were no great surprise. Many Democrats wanted to move their convention to Miami where Republicans were going to have their nominating event. Democrats were not only concerned about violent protests but also about a telephone strike taking place in Chicago which could cause technical problems (Brief History Of Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention). Television stations wanted to move the event to Miami as well. TV and phone lines were already set up at the Republican convention site. The phone strike in Chicago would cause television cameras to be limited to indoor areas. If footage were to be taken outside, it would need to be processed before it was broadcast which would take more time (Brief History Of Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention). Mayor Richard J. Daley was upset by the calls for a change of location. He insisted the convention remain in Chicago. He said he would enforce the peace and would not allow out of hand protests (Johnson).

Major Daley wanted to be prepared. He called in forces to protect the convention. Outside the Democratic National Convention, anti-war demonstrators were met with 11,900 Chicago police, 7,500 army troops, 7,500 Illinois National Guardsmen and 1000 Secret Service over the 5 days of the convention (Going Back to Chicago). On Sunday August 25th, the violence started. The anti-war demonstrators tried to get permits from Chicago to demonstrate outside of the convention site but the requests were denied. When the park closed, Chicago police moved in with tear gas and billy-clubs to move the protesters from the park. Many protesters were injured and 17 were reported to be “attacked” by police (1968: A Convention in Crisis).

Wednesday has been called the worst day for the fight between the police and the protestors. It has been labeled as the “Battle of Michigan Avenue.” The media recorded major violence. Innocent people standing nearby, reporters and doctors offering assistance were severely beaten by the police. Hotels were affected by the tear gas used by the police. Guests of the Conrad Hilton hotel, where many delegates were staying, could feel affects of the tear gas. After the convention, 589 arrests were reported. The injuries included 119 police and 100 protesters (Brief History Of Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention).

There was tension inside of the Amphitheatre as well. Anti-war delegates, who supported Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, opposed Humphrey in every way possible. They challenged the credentials of 15 delegations, a record number. Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut made a speech nominating anti-war candidate George McGovern. He stated that “with George McGovern as President of the United States, we wouldn’t have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago.”(Johnson) Mayor Daley was furious. His angry response was documented on television. There was a two day debate over an anti-Vietnam war plank. Two very different planks were addressed. One supported the Administration’s position and the other called for an end to the war and a phased withdrawal of troops. The Administration’s plank won with 1,527 to 1,041 votes (Johnson). This failure of an anti-war win caused even more anger on the streets. Humphrey’s supporters were eventually able to gain control over the convention and he won the nomination.

After the convention, eight people were arrested on March 20th, 1969. These people, marked “the Chicago 8”, were the first to be charged under the provisions in the 1968 Civil Rights Act (Home). This act made it a crime to cross state lines to provoke a riot. David Dellinger was chairman of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam(Brief History Of Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention). Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden were members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were leaders of the Youth International Party (YIPPIES). Lee Weiner was a research assistant at Northwestern University. John Froines was a professor at the University at the University of Oregon. Bobby Seale was a founder of the Black Panthers. (Brief History Of Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention.)

The trial was before Judge Julias Hoffman on September 24th 1969 (Chicago 8 Trial Opens in Chicago). The defendants continuously talked back to the judge. Seale was especially disruptive and repeatedly called Hoffman a racists, fascist and a pig. Seale’s trial was moved from the others on November 5th and he was charged separately (Chicago 8 Trial Opens in Chicago). They became the “Chicago 7”. Dellinger, Davis, Hayden, Hoffman and Ruben were convicted of “crossing state to incite a riot and giving inflammatory speeches to further their purpose.” They were all fined $5,000 plus court costs, and given five years in prison (1968 Democratic Convention ).

During the 1968 election, Republican Richard Nixon ran his campaign with a theme of “Law and Order.” Humphrey campaigned to continue Johnson’s great society programs. In the end, the central issue became the war. The country was divided and Humphrey was overrun with anti-war demonstrators whenever he made an appearance. The election ended up close but Nixon won by 43.4% to Humphrey’s 42.7% in the popular vote (U.S. Presidential Election, 1968). The protest activity contrasted with the Republican’s message of Law and Order. Nixon created an appearance of change, a complete switch from the current administration. This can all account for the loss of this election. In 1972 there was a landslide victory for Nixon again, with 23.2 percentage margin of victory (U.S. Presidential Election, 1968).

At the 2008 Democratic convention, the United States was once again in a time of war and frustrated with the current system. In preparation for the DNC, a large group was formed called “Recreate 󈨈”. This organization’s name was meant to get attention and for the purpose or recreating the spirit of 1968 (Who We Are). When the group arrived at the convention, they were met with an official demonstration zone. This zone was nearly 300 yards from the convention hall (Jaffe). The protestors called this “The Freedom Cage”. This zone was surrounded by two layers of fencing behind a white tent which was set up for the media. If the protestors cared to march, there was a route set up for them. This route led them more than a quarter of a mile away from the convention site (Jaffe).

Recreate 68′ and other protest groups tried to sue the city of Denver for rights to get closer to the convention but the federal judge maintained the plans. Katherine Archuleta, the lead planner for the convention stated, “People can go and come as they like. The other thing that we are doing in the demonstration zone is to provide a stage and speakers and microphone, so that they can be heard [at] a greater distance. And that’s the city’s role – finding a balance between safety and security and the rights of those who would come and want to raise their voices.”(Jaffe) Protest leaders felt that being caged and controlled by the police was not giving them their correct right to protest.

The 1968 DNC brought the feelings of the year together into a giant act of rage. This public display of disorder outside the DNC led the Democrats to change the way they control their conventions. Is caging in protestors going too far? Is there a way to maintain safety, the right image, and still allow the freedom to protest? Forty years have passed since the Chicago convention. Hopefully, in the future, the right balance will be found between control and freedom of speech


1. David F. Schmitz, Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War (America: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 2.

2. David Halberstam, The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam during the Kennedy Era (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 8.

3. Pierre Asselin, Vietnam’s American War: A History, (United Kingdom Cambridge, 2018), 125.

4. Mike Royko, Boss Richard J. Daley of Chicago (USA: Penguin Group, 1971), 93.

5. Frank Kusch, Battleground Chicago: the Police and the 1968 Democratic National Convention, (USA: Praeger Publishers, 2004), 7.

Riots Erupt at the Democratic National Convention

The 1968 Democratic National Convention of the U.S. Democratic Party was held at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, Illinois, from August 26 to August 29, 1968.

The purpose of the Democratic National Convention was for the election of a suitable nominee to run as the Democratic Party’s choice for the post of President of the United States of America.

With events in the United States crashing against the American population faster and faster, 1968 quickly developed into a year of rage. All across America emotions ran high. Tensions peaked when two leaders, ones who had brought the promise of hope to a generation, were assassinated. A harsh blow came to the Civil Rights movement when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated on April 4, 1968, followed by the assassination of one of the anti-war movements hopefuls, Robert F. Kennedy on June 5/6 (shot early morning of June 5, died 26 hours later), 1968.

Chicago's mayor, Richard J. Daley, intended to showcase his and the city's achievements to national Democrats and the news media. Instead, the proceedings garnered its media attention and notoriety because of the large number of demonstrators and the use of force by the Chicago police during what was supposed to be, as named by Yippie activist organizers, “A Festival of Life.” The rioting, which then took place between demonstrators and the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois National Guard, was well publicized by the mass media, some of whose members experienced firsthand what the protestors at Chicago also suffered. Respected newsmen of the day, Mike Wallace and Dan Rather, were both roughed up by the Chicago police while inside the halls of the Democratic Convention.

The keynote speaker was Daniel Inouye, a U.S. senator from Hawaii.

Some confrontations are planned. Some are spontaneous. This one was planned, but nothing happened the way it was supposed to. Many months before the Chicago convention, experienced movement activists decided that it would be an ideal place to confront "the system" and demand an end to the Viet Nam war. They invited one hundred thousand people to come and demonstrate. The City of Chicago responded by refusing to grant permits for any marches and for only one rally.

“The Whole World Is Watching!”

By the time Chicago hosted the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the city was the center of the American political world. Since 1904, Republicans had held their nominating convention in the city nine times and Democrats six times. Although the city had been firmly in the hands of Democratic leadership for several decades, the state was a competitive swing state in presidential elections, having gone for the winning candidate in every election since 1920. Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley and the national Democratic party hoped that by hosting their political convention in Chicago, they could win the state and the reelection for president Lyndon Johnson in 1968.

History, however, intervened. As the war in Vietnam became increasingly unpopular and unrest gripped the nation, Johnson surprised everyone by dropping out of the race. A spirited primary campaign saw New York senator Robert F. Kennedy emerge as the popular choice, only to be killed after winning the California primary on June 5. None of the remaining candidates captured the popular imagination quite like Kennedy. Dissatisfaction with the war effort, the perceived ineffectiveness of civil rights legislation, and the despair over the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. in April and Kennedy in June made the city a powder keg by August.

The funeral procession for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta, April 9, 1968. Photograph by Declan Haun, ICHi-173515

Children bid farewell to Robert F. Kennedy as his funeral train travels from New York to Washington, DC, June 8, 1968. Photograph by Declan Haun, ICHi-062718

In many ways, the protests outside the convention had as much to do with the absence of legitimate means to influence the electoral process than with the visceral opposition to the Vietnam War. Less than half the states in 1968 held primaries, meaning that the nomination was decided by party bosses who almost exclusively backed vice president Hubert Humphrey, ensuring him the nomination even though he did not compete in any of the primaries, leaving many voters feeling disempowered. Furthermore, Humphrey publicly supported Johnson’s war strategy despite his own personal reservations in order to appear strong and decisive as a potential commander-in-chief.

The scene inside the International Amphitheatre during the convention. Despite the best efforts of event organizers, the unrest in the city affected the proceedings inside. Chicago, August 26 – 29, 1968. ICHi-093668

As the convention began on Monday, August 26, at the International Amphitheatre, protestors congregated in Lincoln Park on the North Side and Grant Park downtown. Groups such as the Youth International Party, National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, Students for a Democratic Society, as well as local activist organizations all participated in demonstrations. With each passing day and night, the crowds grew until the evening of August 28, when the tensions could no longer be contained. The Chicago Police Department and Illinois National Guard moved in and the situation turned violent. As the police used force to disperse the crowd, a national television audience heard the protestors chanting, “The whole world is watching!”

The world was indeed watching, yet what the world saw differed from what the protestors hoped. Instead of sympathizing with the bloodied youths, the majority of Americans faulted the protestors for the chaos and respected the police and Daley for asserting order in the streets. The Republican presidential candidate, former vice president Richard M. Nixon, positioned himself as the “law and order” candidate and was able to carry Illinois and win the presidency eight years after losing it.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of this event, the Chicago History Museum, in partnership with Geoffrey Alan Rhodes of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, created Chicago ØØ : The 1968 DNC Protests, a virtual reality experience. The fifteen-minute 3D VR tour with narration is made to be viewed on YouTube or on Facebook 360. On iPhone use the YouTube app on desktop the Chrome browser. 360-degree stills can be explored on Google Street View.

See Vivid Color Photos From the 1968 Democratic Convention Protests

H eading out of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the message of TIME’s portfolio of photographs could be reduced to one sentence: “The images of Chicago will haunt the Democrats during the campaign,” the magazine declared.

Nearly a half-century later, as the Democratic Party once against meets to officially select a nominee for President, that message is still true to an extent. The 1968 Chicago convention remains a key reference point for all the ways a political convention can go wrong&mdashin particular when it comes to protests and violence on the streets. That year’s convention, which was also covered photographically in the pages of LIFE Magazine, was the scene of what TIME called “sanctioned mayhem” when left-leaning protesters clashed with the heavy-handed Chicago police force.

With billy clubs, tear gas and Mace, the blue-shirted, blue-helmeted cops violated the civil rights of countless innocent citizens and contravened every accepted code of professional police discipline.

No one could accuse the Chicago cops of discrimination. They savagely attacked hippies, yippies, New Leftists, revolutionaries, dissident Democrats, newsmen, photographers, passersby, clergymen and at least one cripple. Winston Churchill’s journalist grandson got roughed up. Playboy‘s Hugh Hefner took a whack on the backside… The police even victimized a member of the British Parliament, Mrs. Anne Kerr, a vacationing Laborite who was Maced outside the Conrad Hilton and hustled off to the lockup.

…”The force used was the force that was necessary,” insisted Police Superintendent James Conlisk Jr.

Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley was seen as a man behind the method. By TIME’s count, he had grown the 11,900-man Chicago PD with 5,000 state National Guardsmen and 6,500 federal troops. The apex of the confrontation came the night that the convention would nominate Hubert Humphrey for president, as demonstrators, deciding what to do when refused a permit to march to the convention hall, were cornered by thousands of officers.

TIME’s cameras were there throughout the violent week, capturing images like the ones seen here.

1968 Riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago - HISTORY

As 1967 ended, Chicagoans anticipated a good year. The local economy was booming, supported by government defense contracts and Great Society social welfare expenditures. With over three and a half million people, Chicago was the nation’s second-largest city, full of well-paying jobs for hard-working people.

But 1968 quickly turned sour. National antiwar organizations announced they would protest in Chicago during the August Democratic National Convention. Chicago-based comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory threatened convention-week protests if the city did not get an open housing bill and promote African American policemen to high-ranking posts.

On April 4, disaster struck when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. Three days before, the Chicago Tribune had editorialized against his support for striking Memphis sanitation workers, calling him “the most notorious liar in the country.” In a memorial service at City Hall, Rev. Jesse Jackson indicted the political establishment, exclaiming, “The blood is on the chest and hands of those that would not have welcomed King here yesterday.”

Despite pleas from the city’s African American leadership, rioters filled the streets of Lawndale, looting and burning. Parts of the South Side also burned. During the conflagration, Chicago police, following the orders of superintendent of police James B. Conlisk, tried to use minimal force and avoid unnecessary bloodshed. Once order was restored, however, mayor Richard J. Daley attacked Conlisk’s approach: “I said to him very emphatically and very definitely that an order be issued by him immediately and under his signature to shoot to kill any arsonist . . . and to issue a police order to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting any stores in our city.” Later, the mayor backed away from his extreme position.

Nonetheless, four months later when the convention came, authorities wanted no disorder. Far from the cordoned-off International Amphitheater where Hubert Humphrey won the presidential nomination, protesters and police met in angry confrontations. The worst occurred August 28 after police stopped protesters from marching to the convention center. A crowd of some 10,000 ended up near Michigan Avenue and Balbo Drive. As protesters chanted “The whole world is watching” and television crews filmed, policemen beat hundreds of protesters bloody. Some 83 million Americans watching their televisions to see democratic process at work instead saw a street riot.

The violence poisoned Humphrey’s bid locally and nationally. Unlike in 1960, Chicago’s Democratic machine could not turn out enough votes. Illinois, like the nation, went Republican. By the end of 1968, Chicago had become a tragic symbol for a nation that had come undone.


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In the 21st century, 'Stonewall' is the accepted buzzword for the beginning of the gay liberation movement in the United States. It conjures up a vision of bar-raiding Greenwich Village cops terrorized inside the Stonewall Inn by a bunch of angry queens outside, tossing rocks, bottles, a Molotov cocktail and shouts reminiscent of Network ( 'I'm not going to take this anymore!' ) .

But in Chicago, the events of that June day in 1969 barely made a ripple. The riot was not immediate national news. A few local gay papers existed around the country, but there wasn't any real national gay press. When word from New York finally reached here, it was recorded in July's Mattachine Midwest Newsletter with the same emphasis as was given to the item on vigilante residents of the borough of Queens who, in a campaign against homosexuals reportedly frequenting a neighborhood park, had cut down dozens of its trees. According to the writer, William B. Kelley, 'The New York Times ran at least three days of stories, one editorial and one letter on the subject. They were against cutting the trees.'

Chicago gays chose to challenge the status quo in the courts instead of the streets. In a city coming out of 1968 with a nationwide reputation for police brutality, discretion was indeed the better part of valor. The Trip case, challenging bar closings, went to the Illinois Supreme Court the case of Mattachine Midwest Newsletter editor David Stienecker involved defending him against charges brought by an officer who arrested gays in tearooms ( public washrooms ) . While slower and more low-key than Stonewall, these two cases led Chicago gays to become proactive instead of reactive in their fight against oppression and discrimination.

Chicago's equivalent to Stonewall began 40 years ago with a police bust at The Trip, a gay-owned restaurant-bar complex at 27 E. Ohio St. The Trip had a main-floor restaurant, a second-floor cabaret and a third-floor playroom with pool table and pinball games. At midday, because of its location just west of North Michigan Avenue, the restaurant catered to luncheon crowds of shoppers, often featuring women's fashion shows. The area was undergoing an upswing a few gritty hotels with questionable clientele remained, but new upscale businesses were mediating the fringes of adjacent Rush Street nightlife. On the borderline, The Trip became quite gay after the dinner hour, and on Sundays it operated as a private club.

One Sunday in January 1968, police raided The Trip, arresting 13 patrons on charges of public indecency and soliciting for prostitution. A plainclothes officer had gained entry by using a membership card obtained illegally during an unrelated arrest and made the charges after observing members dancing together as same-sex couples.

When the case came to court in March, attorney Ralla Klepak defended, and charges against patrons and management were dismissed. The Mattachine Midwest Newsletter, reporting on the incident, saw it as an illustration of further harassment by police, noting that dancing was not illegal per se and that the ACLU would welcome an opportunity for a test case. ( In 1970 The Trip would become one of the first venues to have same-sex dancing, even before Chicago Gay Liberation picketed bars for that right. )

A second raid in May 1968 by two plainclothesmen resulted in the arrests of one patron and one employee but, more significantly, the local liquor authorities issued an emergency closing order pending appeal on the revocation of The Trip's liquor license. This was common practice in Chicago and a kiss of death for gay bars. If they appealed the order ( the appellate process could drag on for months ) they had to remain closed pending a decision meanwhile their clientele moved on and they were effectively put out of business. The Trip had barely been open a year, the bad publicity from the earlier raid had ruined its luncheon business, and owners Dean Kolberg and Ralf Johnston were not about to see their investment tank.

The Trip hired attorney Elmer Gertz to mount a case against the License Appeal Commission of Chicago after it upheld the license revocation. The Mattachine Midwest Newsletter reported that no gay bar had previously challenged being shut down before The Trip case. It took a significant amount of time for the case to wend its way to the Illinois Supreme Court. The final decision ( a complete reversal ) was in Johnkol, Inc. v. License Appeal Commission of Chicago, 42 Ill. 2d 377, 247 N.E.2d 901 ( 1969 ) .

Meanwhile, even though closed during 1968, The Trip hosted a variety of movement events. The North American Conference of Homophile Organizations ( NACHO ) , a coordinating group made up of delegates from 26 organizations, met there for its third annual nationwide conference, just days before the Democratic National Convention riots. Mattachine Midwest also held its monthly public meetings there while the business was closed.

Mattachine Midwest was an independent corporation created in 1965 after years of failure to sustain local chapters of the West Coast-headquartered organizations Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis. The impetus for the new organization was a particularly brutal raid on the Fun Lounge, a rather sleazy suburban bar that packed in a queer clientele on weekends. The Chicago Tribune led off the report in its April 26, 1964, edition with a headline indicating eight teachers had been seized in a 'vice raid' that also netted 95 other men and six women. The article listed names, addresses and occupations of those arrested ( a common practice of the time ) along with asides that 'many of the men carried powder puffs and lipsticks' and that a quantity of 'freshly shipped' marijuana had been seized. Subsequently there were reports of job losses and a rumored suicide.

Though The Trip had been allowed to reopen, the police still visited in 1971 a patron was arrested on the old-standby charge of public indecency, but the charge was dismissed. The owners became overly protective of their business, allegedly refusing to call police when a Mattachine officer was robbed at gunpoint while at a meeting with an outof-state activist on the third floor. In a 1972 on-site interview with the owners, Chicago Today columnist Barbara Ettorre noted the bar was full, with men from all walks of life, all ages, every manner of dress. The bar's management told her that weekends were 'crowded wall-to-wall' and that they had a uniformed Andy Frain company usher to check IDs. They were going to make certain none of their patrons would be subject to arrest.

In 1968, Chicago was going through critical times, well beyond the constant harassment of the gay community. In addition to reports on bar raids and park arrests, Mattachine Midwest's referral service received many calls from draft resisters the anti-Vietnam War movement was well under way. Gays could not serve if identified when drafted: few wanted to go, but no one wanted to be branded with a stigma that would affect their economic and social lives.

After Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination in April 1968, Chicago's West Side erupted in four days of anguished riots and looting. The police and National Guard were called out the notorious 'shoot to kill' order was given. Then Bobby Kennedy, seen as the Democrats' likely candidate for president, was murdered. The Democratic Party's nominating convention was to be held in Chicago that August. Anti-war activists, a variety of New Left groups, old-line hippies, Yippies, and others were calling for people to come to Chicago and stage demonstrations at the convention site. Abe Peck, now self-described as 'hippie-rad editor turned journalism professor,' tried to dissuade misguided flower children from coming to the city, warning them in his counterculture newspaper The Seed about the potential for violence here.

In addition, many civil rights groups ( Black, women's, gay ) had been infiltrated by the FBI's COINTELPRO, a counterintelligence program whose goal was to disrupt, disorganize and cause internal dissension in an effort to neutralize a group's activities. The program originated in the Cold War anti-communist 1950s and perfected its 'dirty tricks' down through the Nixon administration. Its informants planted derogatory stories ( they had been responsible for labeling former Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson 'gay' during his bid for a presidential nomination ) they used anonymous letters and surveillance, embedded 'moles,' opened mail, blackmailed, and by other devious means invaded the rights of U.S. citizens.

Chicago police also had their covert group, the Red Squad. This group in various incarnations had its origin all the way back in the days following the Haymarket labor riot of 1886 in which seven policemen were killed and dozens injured. The objects of the squad's covert activities switched over the years from anarchists, to communists, to any left-leaning organizations of the civil rights era.

In the early 1970s when attorney Rick Gutman of the Alliance to End Repression ( of which Mattachine Midwest was a member ) was about to challenge the Red Squad in court on constitutional grounds, the squad reportedly destroyed thousands of files. Activist John Chester, who in 1972 was the first open gay on the Alliance's Steering Committee, reports that he 'replaced a woman who was a Red Squad spy.' Historians have speculated many of the threats that Mayor Richard J. Daley said ( after the convention protests ) had prompted him to order the police and National Guard to clamp down on demonstrators were 'planted' by one of the embedded groups ( COINTELPRO or the Red Squad ) and then reported by the other as fact.

Red Squad records are sealed at the Chicago History Museum ( until 2012 ) , but when finally disbanded, the squad was reported to have accumulated files on more than 250,000 individuals and 14,000 organizations. As part of the settlement of the suit against the Red Squad, it was learned that the squad had also obtained information at the first gay political convention, called in Chicago in February 1972 to develop demands for a gay plank to be presented at the major party conventions.

The 1968 NACHO convention at The Trip was held Aug. 11 through 18. Activists from around the country converged and passed a 'Homo sexual Bill of Rights.' One item demanded a national policy that had been law in Illinois since 1961, that sexual acts by consenting adults in private would not be held to be criminal. A motion by pioneering activist Franklin E. Kameny made 'Gay Is Good' the slogan of the movement.

Meanwhile, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam ( the MOBE ) and other protest groups were arriving daily. On Wednesday, Aug. 21, the MOBE failed in its attempt to get an injunction against the city in U.S. District Court to preclude the refusal of permits for a variety of activities, and the ban against sleeping in the parks.

Late Thursday, Aug. 22, on Wells Street in the Old Town area just west of Lincoln Park, two young runaways were being pursued by police. One, Jerome Johnson, a 17-year-old Native American from South Dakota, allegedly produced a handgun and was shot and killed by Youth Officer John Manley of the Damen Avenue District. An April 1970 article by Ron Dorfman in the Chicago Journalism Review reported it as 'the only fatality remotely connected with the Democratic National Convention of 1968 . touching off the first angry rally in the park the week before the convention.' Word spread quickly and a memorial march was held.

After the rally on Sunday, Aug. 25, as poet Allen Ginsberg and a group of gays were 'omming' peacefully in Lincoln Park past the 11 p.m. curfew, police weighed in with batons swinging. The Chicago Tribune Magazine later called this the 'beginning' of the convention riots, the first large-scale police-public confrontation.

The David Stienecker case

David Stienecker had come to Chicago originally from the small town of Climax, Mich. In the mid-1960s he met Bill Kelley and Ira Jones, who were active in Mattachine Midwest they prevailed upon him to join the organization. In 1966 Stienecker heard New York activist Craig Rodwell speak at an MM public meeting. Rod-well was a native Chicagoan who would return to New York and later open Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, the country's first gay bookstore. Stienecker said he was 'blown away by his frankness and activism' and they had a brief affair Stienecker followed Rodwell to New York.

On Wednesday, Aug. 28, 1968, Stienecker, still in New York, watched the fateful televised report of the police beating demonstrators across from the Conrad Hilton Hotel, convention headquarters. He returned to Chicago in December to find Mattachine Midwest embroiled in a variety of actions to ward off increasing police harassment. President Jim Bradford and attorney Renee Hanover were meeting with police commanders in attempts to mitigate the violence. Stienecker became editor of the MM Newsletter and joined in reporting and pursuing the issues.

Throughout 1969, activism also continued around the trial of those charged during convention week: the 'Chicago Seven,' as they became known after Black Panther Bobby Seale was bound, gagged, and subsequently removed from court for protesting the legitimacy of the trial. When U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Foran characterized the convention riots as 'a freaking fag revolution,' Chicago gay activists printed up buttons with the phrase. MM and its officers individually wrote protest letters to the mainstream press.

The number of entrapment arrests escalated in the parks and tearooms. 'You have to remember that at this time in Chicago the only way you heard about things was by word of mouth,' Stienecker told John Poling in 2002 during an interview for Poling's thesis on Mattachine Midwest. The organization's answering service and newsletter were the only game in town. Members and the gay grapevine reported on the increased police activities.

Stienecker thought that one zealous officer with a reputation for physical violence merited particular attention and that the community should be warned against him: 'It wasn't a matter of hearing about one incident, but rather hearing almost weekly about another Officer Manley entrapment that finally made us realize this was serious and something had to be done. People's lives were at stake, not necessarily physically, but every other way. . I think there was something seriously wrong with Manley, but I'm not sure what it was. I wanted to get under his skin and we all wanted these incidents to stop.'

Draft resistance and the anti-war movement had also been increasing in intensity. A popular film comedy, The Gay Deceivers, centered on two straight guys passing as gay to avoid the draft. It didn't sit too well with gays for whom this was a critical issue.

But when Stienecker wrote about Manley in the September 1969 MM Newsletter ( see image, page 79 ) , he titled his article 'A Gay Deceiver, or Is He?' Describing Manley and his arrest techniques, Stienecker suggested that he enjoyed his work too much, and posited that it would be a great way for a closeted cop to get his rocks off and still come out smelling like a rose. The article mistakenly used 'Charles' instead of 'John' as the officer's name. In the October 1969 issue Stienecker ran a correction, with a brief follow-up and a photograph of Sgt. John Manley.

In early 1970 a newly formed gay group at the University of Chicago learned that Sgt. Manley was scheduled to speak Feb. 25 on 'Youthful Offenders' to the Women's Bar Association of Illinois. In the Feb. 6 issue of the Chicago Maroon and a concurrent Gay Liberation Newsletter, Step May, Nancy Garwood, and Bill Dry signed an article calling for a picket and leafleting of the WBAI protesting Manley's appearance. May and Garwood were later 'outed' to their parents in anonymous letters with a veiled warning about messing with a Chicago police officer. ( Dry was not a UC student and would go on to be a founder of Gay Liberation at Northwestern University. ) On the day of the demonstration when they saw Manley in person at the WBAI picket, one UC student, Alice Leiner, recognized him as having attended a planning meeting and passing himself off as an out-of-town gay activist named Mandrenas.

On the morning of Feb. 7, 1970, Manley himself showed up at David Stienecker's third-floor apartment with a warrant for his arrest on the charge of 'criminal defamation' ( Chapter 38, Section 27-1, Illinois Revised Statutes, since repealed ) . Stienecker told Poling: 'I wasn't sure if I was going to go to jail or be taken for a ride and beaten up. ( That was not uncommon in those days. ) So, yes, I was scared.'

Perhaps validating his earlier assessment of Manley, Stienecker also said the cop 'insisted on watching me dress in the bathroom.' ( In a later Chicago Journalism Review article, 'Mattachine editor arrested,' Ron Dorfman noted that the warrant for Stienecker's arrest had been issued in October 1969, shortly after the second Manley article had appeared. ) Stienecker told Poling that although Manley suggested he just plead guilty and the judge would give him 'a slap on the wrist,' he insisted on calling an attorney: 'I mention this because it shows the attitude of the cops at the time. They never believed a gay person would fight a charge.'

The March 1970 MM Newsletter headlined Stienecker's arrest, railed against Manley's contempt for freedom of the press, and noted this was 'the first case … in which an official of a homophile organization has been arrested for writing an article.' MM President Bradford wrote that he regarded Stienecker's arrest as a sign of Mattachine Midwest's effectiveness in the fight against police abuse. Both the MM and UC-CGL newsletters called for any information on Manley, urging anyone willing to testify to come forward. Attorney Renee Hanover represented Stienecker, and the case was eventually dropped because the prosecution hadn't made a case and Manley failed to make three court dates.

As their trial dragged through federal court, one of the Chicago Seven and other activist leaders, including Stienecker, were asked to speak at a rally at the Logan Monument in Grant Park. In its coverage of the event, the Chicago Tribune devoted a couple of paragraphs to Stienecker. His employer, World Book Encyclopedia, had seen the item, and a couple of months later he was fired ( an investigation indicated, because he was gay ) . Stienecker wanted to sue 'but the ACLU didn't think we had a good case because I quickly got a better job. I would also have to involve gay people [ from World Book ] who were very closeted, and it would have ruined their lives.'

It would be naive to conclude that these two cases ( The Trip's and Stienecker's ) on their own changed the treatment of gays in Chicago overnight. But they certainly gave notice for the first time, to the city and the police, that it wasn't going to be the same old, same old anymore.

More importantly, disparate gays alone, and in groups, understood that they too could stand up and fight for their rights. By mid-year there were gay groups on all the major college campuses in the area. New organizations ( CGA, IGLA, IGRTF ) began polling and political action. Lesbian and gay newsletters popped up everywhere. Former members of MM dispersed throughout the new organizations. Instead of just the Mattachine referral hotline there were now directories, newspapers, clinics, a lesbian center with a bookstore and library, social service organizations from Rogers Park to Hyde Park Beckman House and Gay Horizons, and a gay community center on West Elm Street.

In 1971 the president of the Chicago Gay Alliance presented the Judiciary Committee of the City Council with its first demand that amendments be added to existing housing and employment laws to include 'sexual orientation' in the list of prohibited forms of discrimination. In just a few years, with the old guard as midwives, a citywide community had been born.

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What Happened at the 1968 Democratic National Convention?

The 1968 Democratic National Convention marked the nomination of Hubert Humphrey as the Democratic candidate for President, but it is remembered more for the riots and protests which surrounded it, along with the bitter contest for the nomination. The events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago marked the height of the 1960s protest movement, with demonstrators and police clashing in the streets of Chicago for over a week in the hot August weather. 40 years later, protesters attempted to “Recreate '68” at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul respectively, with little success.

As early as 1967, major players in the protest movement were planning an epic series of protests for the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The idea was to get as many protesters there as possible, and to protest largely peacefully, but forcefully. Protest organizers from groups like the Youth International Party wanted to get a lot of coverage, attracting attention to issues like civil rights and the Vietnam War, and they certainly succeeded in this goal.

In the months preceding the Convention, protest groups filed permits for marches and rallies, often finding their requests stymied at every turn, while the city of Chicago prepared for an influx of demonstrators. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley indicated that he would take lawbreaking during the Convention very seriously, increasing the police presence in Chicago and requesting National Guard for backup. This created an explosive situation which appeared to be on a collision course with disaster.

The protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention might have gone off reasonably peacefully with marches, concerts, and rallies, except that on 22 August, four days before the Convention officially began, an American Indian boy named Dean Johnson was shot and killed by the Chicago police. This sparked mass demonstrations and rioting in which hundreds of police officers and demonstrators were severely injured riot control agents like mace were utilized in an attempt to calm the crowd, along with billy clubs and mass arrests.

During the days of the actual Convention, the inside of the Convention Center was relatively peaceful, but the streets of Chicago were on fire, sometimes literally. Angry demonstrators boiled over, deviating from permitted marches and rallies, and the Chicago police fought back. In the wake of the convention, eight police officers were indicted, along with eight civilians, who came to be known as the Chicago 8. During the trial for the Chicago 8, winnowed to the Chicago 7 by the time they reached court in 1969, the defendants created a media circus, mouthing off to the judge and refusing to respect the rules of the courtroom.

The turmoil of the 1968 Democratic National Convention came in an already tumultuous year in American history Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had both been assassinated earlier in the year, and support for the Vietnam War was at a low ebb. The media seized upon the chaos with delight, and it undoubtedly contributed to Humphrey's defeat at the hands of Richard Nixon. Nixon's margin of victory was less than half a million votes, illustrating how closely split the American people were at this point in history.

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a InfoBloom researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a InfoBloom researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

When the resistance confronted Democrats in 1968, the crackdown was vicious

“I n 1968 the name Chicago won a significance far beyond date and place,” wrote political journalist Theodore H. White. “It became the title of an episode, like Waterloo, or Versailles, or Munich.” That was the year that Chicago hosted the Democratic National Convention, and witnessed a violent confrontation between the Vietnam War’s supporters and its critics. By the time the convention was over, hundreds of anti-war protesters had been beaten bloody in the streets by unrestrained police officers, doing the bidding of pro-war Democratic mayor Richard J. Daley. But the establishment didn’t emerge unscathed — the carefully constructed illusion of patriotic consensus around the war was dismantled in Chicago.

In the late sixties, the Democrats were in power, but there was also a crisis in the party. Resistance to the Vietnam War had been mounting for years, and liberals of some stripe were on both sides of the conflict. Lyndon B. Johnson was president, and as such he oversaw all war efforts in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, the anti-war demonstrators “were the children of the Democratic Party,” said anti-war activist Marilyn Katz. Many were far to the left of the Democratic Party, but still they felt betrayed. “We expected nothing from Republicans. We expected everything from Democrats.”

The 1968 Democratic National Convention was shaping up to be a referendum on the war. Vice President Hubert Humphrey emerged as the clear front-runner. He reportedly had private concerns about the war, but Johnson had disciplined him on at least one occasion, and thereafter he toed the party line on the existential necessity of continuing the conflict overseas. Challenging Humphrey were George McGovern and Eugene McCarthy, who were both anti-war — especially McCarthy, whose slogan was “McCarthy for peace” and whose campaign made use of white dove imagery and the peace symbol.

As the convention date drew nearer, two to three hundred Americans were being killed in Vietnam every week. Many Vietnamese civilians were being needlessly murdered, too, as bombshell exposés in the American mass media had recently revealed. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in April, shortly after speaking out against the Vietnam War for the first time. Anti-war protests were drawing up to 100,000 demonstrators in Washington, D.C. Everyone knew that it would all come to a head in Chicago.

“W e felt that we had to go from protest to resistance on a national scale because the war was expanding horrendously,” recalled David Dellinger, a longtime pacifist who coordinated the Chicago protests. Dellinger was joined in the protest preparations by Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden, two founders of the large and influential student activist group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Activist groups such as SDS and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam announced their intention to descend on the city. And so did some less serious players: the Yippies.

Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were the movement’s irreverent tricksters. They had grown to prominence by executing a protest-cum-performance-piece in which they gathered people to encircle the Pentagon and attempted to levitate it with their minds. Hoffman and Rubin were media favorites, and were instrumental in driving the youth turnout in Chicago. They created the Yippies (Youth International Party) for that very purpose, announcing that they were planning to run a pig for president. The pig’s name was Pigasus.

The Yippies filed for an outlandish permit for a citywide festival at the same time as the convention, and told news media that the party would involve events such as nude swimming in Lake Michigan and dumping LSD into the water supply. The permit request and open invitation to the nation’s youth outraged Mayor Daley, a law-and-order politician and influential Democratic Party strongman who ruled the city with an iron fist. He may not have taken the threats literally, but he loathed the thought of the city being overrun with hippies, and prepared the police department for an invasion. He also stalled on distributing any permits, including to Dellinger, Davis, and Hayden.

Davis appealed to Justice Department official Roger Wilkins, who recognized his sincerity and attempted to negotiate with the mayor. “About five minutes into the conversation,” Wilkins remembers, “red started coming up from Daley’s collar, all up on these jowls, which seemed larger and larger and larger to me. And he launched into a monologue which lasted, I believe, 25 minutes. And when I started to interrupt and say, ‘But Mr. Mayor,’ he would just raise his voice.

“When I walked away from Daley’s office,” Wilkins says, “I thought, ‘We’re going to have violence. He’s going to unleash his police department.’”

“J ust before the convention, my mother called me up and said, ‘Be careful,’” remembers McCarthy delegate Richard Samuel. “I said, ‘Careful of what? This is America. I’m going out to Chicago, I’m going to express a minority point of view, I’m going to lose, and I’m going to go home.’ I just didn’t see what the big deal was. When the plane landed, there were ranks of soldiers all over the place, and we felt like we’d flown into the middle of a military camp.”

On Sunday, August 25, the day before the convention, 2,000 protesters convened in Lincoln Park. The atmosphere was largely celebratory — Beat poet Allen Ginsberg led everyone in a meditative chant. But Daley’s police hovered at the park’s perimeter, and tension mounted as night approached. The protesters were determined to sleep in the park, but several thousand police lined up and fired teargas at the crowd. As people fled, the police rushed them with nightsticks and began beating anyone they could reach.

This was the beginning of three days of open conflict on the streets of Chicago. A government account, known as the Walker Report, later found that the convention protests had consisted of:

unrestrained and indiscriminate police violence on many occasions, particularly at night. That violence was made all the more shocking by the fact that it was often inflicted upon persons who had broken no law, disobeyed no order, made no threat. These included peaceful demonstrators, onlookers, and large numbers of residents who were simply passing through, or happened to live in the areas where confrontations were occurring.

Inside the convention on Monday, August 26, Richard Daley himself was the master of ceremonies. He began the proceedings by condemning the protesters outside, saying, “We have no flag burners in this Democratic National Convention, and I don’t think any of them would belong here.” Anti-war delegates were subsequently harassed on the floor: officials went around checking their credentials every 10 or 15 minutes, and when they objected, a fray occurred and a dangerous crowd crush ensued. The police took the occasion to forcibly drag anti-war delegates out of the convention.

In his nominating speech for McGovern, Connecticut senator Abraham Ribicoff said, “With George McGovern as president of the United States, we wouldn’t have to have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago!” The crowd erupted in cheers and boos. Daley said something inaudible many lip readers have concluded that his words were “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch.”

On August 28, more than 10,000 protesters arrived in Grant Park for the biggest demonstration of the convention. Though not conclusive, it was reported later that, “according to Army sources, as many as one in six protesters at the Chicago ’68 protests were really undercover military intelligence agents. There were local police and FBI agents planted throughout the antiwar movement, often urging their cohorts to ever more daring feats of resistance.”

But there were many genuinely angry young anti-war activists, too, and after days of arrests and beatings in the streets, they were on fire. A teenage boy climbed the flagpole in the park and lowered the American flag. The police moved in and arrested him, dragging him through the crowd and shoving him into a squad car. The crowd began throwing objects at the police, and chaos ensued. “I told people, ‘Sit down, sit down, don’t throw anything,’” recalls Dellinger. “That’s exactly what they want. They want to start a riot.” Davis asked the police to withdraw, but they advanced instead. They targeted Davis specifically, and beat him unconscious.

The police violence escalated, and the rhetoric and tactics from some activist speakers grew increasingly agitated This dismayed some of the nonviolent elements of the movement, and the leadership of the demonstrations fractured, with Dellinger urging caution and Hayden coaxing rebellion. Hayden grabbed the mic from Dellinger and advised the crowd to disperse in an disorganized manner throughout Chicago, saying:

If blood is going to flow, let it flow all over the city. If gas is going to be used, let that gas come down all over Chicago and not just over us in the park. That if the police are going to run wild, let them run wild all over this city and not over us. If we are going to be disrupted and violated, let this whole stinking city be disrupted and violated.

Night fell, and activists remember seeing police emerge from the thick haze of teargas, clutching their nightsticks, like a scene from a war movie. anks rolled through the streets. The teargas was so voluminous that it disturbed Hubert Humphrey in his hotel room, causing him to take refuge in the shower. For their part, many protesters simply walked and chanted, but others lit trash fires, blocked roads, taunted policemen, and on a few occasions attacked them.

The climax occurred at the Conrad Hilton Hotel, the site of the convention. The ratio of police to protesters was roughly one to one, though the police had weapons and license to do violence. They used their nightsticks, their fists, and their feet to beat protesters and bystanders alike. They were no longer just following orders — they were acting out of rage. Historian David Farber writes:

Policemen came at the tightly packed crowd from all sides. Some officers attacked people watching from the sidewalks. Others pursued fleeing demonstrators for blocks. One of the first groups of police reinforcements, furious over reports of injured comrades, stormed off their bus chanting, “Kill! Kill! Kill!” A police lieutenant sprayed Mace indiscriminately at a crowd watching the street battle. Policemen pushed a small group of bystanders and peaceful protesters through a large plate glass window and then attacked the bleeding and dazed victims as they lay among the glass shards. Policemen on three-wheeled motorcycles, one of them screaming, “Wahoo!” ran people over.

The most intense period of assault lasted about 20 minutes. Nearly the whole time, protesters chanted in unison, “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!”

T his event came to be known as the “Battle of Michigan Avenue.” The battle’s generals were arrested on charges of conspiracy to incite a riot. Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner were the defendants. An eighth defendant, Black Panther Party member Bobby Seale, was tried separately for contempt of court.

The judge at the conspiracy trial was Julius Hoffman, who thought it necessary to remind the courtroom that he was not related to Abbie Hoffman. At this, Abbie cried out, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” The moment encapsulated the generational divide: the youth movement felt, especially after 1968, that the system controlled by their elders was broken beyond repair.

The defendants, who’d come to be known as the Chicago Seven, were all found guilty, as was Seale, though all eight eventually had their convictions overturned. Humphrey became the Democratic Party nominee and lost to Nixon. The battle ended in an uneasy truce, and the stalemate stretched into the early seventies. But the legacy of ’68 lived on in the increasing willingness of some Democratic Party politicians to speak out against the war. The whole world truly had been watching, and the party could no longer pretend that the war was universally supported.

Todd Gitlin of SDS was there that day. He writes, “One may rue the overindulgences” of the protests of ’68, “while still recognizing that the movements of the time were preludes to a necessary enlargement of democracy, freedom and moral seriousness. The good of this immense effort outweighs the bad, though — as with so many laudable efforts — it reminds us of unfulfilled promises.”

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