Jean Genet, who has considerable police experience, says he never saw such expressions before on allegedly human faces. And what is the phantom fuzz screaming from Chicago to Berlin, from Mexico City to Paris? “We are REAL REAL REAL!!! as this NIGHTSTICK!” As they feel, in their dim animal way, that reality is slipping away from them.
—WILLIAM BURROUGHS, “The Coming of the Purple Better One,” Esquire, November 1968
There’s nothing unreal about Chicago. It’s quite real. The mayor who runs the city is a real person. He’s an old time hack. I might chastise the Eastern establishment for romanticizing him. The whole “Last Hurrah” aspect. He’s a hack. A neighborhood bully. You have to see him to believe him.
—STUDS TERKEL, interviewed by The New York Times, August 18, 1968
People coming to Chicago should begin preparations for five days of energy-exchange.
—ABBIE HOFFMAN, Revolution for the Hell of It, 1968
EVERYTHING SEEMED inauspicious for the Democratic National Convention in Chicago at the end of August. The convention center had burned down, the most exciting candidate had been murdered, leaving mostly a void filled with anger, and the mayor had become notorious for his use of police violence.
Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center was what Studs Terkel might have a called “a real Chicago story.” It had been built a few years earlier at a cost of $35 million and named after the notorious right-wing publisher of the Chicago Tribune, one of the few backers of the project besides Mayor Daley. Environmentalists fought it as a degradation of the lakefront, and most Chicagoans regarded it as abysmally ugly. Then, mysteriously or, according to some, miraculously, it burned down in 1967, leaving the Democrats without a location and Chicagoans wondering exactly how the $35 million had been spent.
Mayor Richard Daley, who in his 1967 reelection faced what was close to a serious challenge because of the McCormick Place scandal, was not going to let fire or scandal rob his city of a major convention. By the old Union Stockyards, the beef center of America until it was closed down in 1957, stood the Amphitheatre. Miles from downtown, since the closing of the stockyards this had become an out-of-the-way part of Chicago where such events as wrestling and the occasional car or boat show took place. The convention could take place in the Chicago Amphitheatre once Daley had it wrapped in barbed wire and surrounded by armed guards. The delegates could stay, as planned, in the Conrad Hilton Hotel, about six miles away, by the handsomely landscaped downtown Grant Park.
For almost a year, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, and other New Left leaders had been planning to bring people to Chicago to protest. In March they had met in secret in a wooded campground outside Chicago near the Wisconsin border. About two hundred invited activists attended the meeting sponsored by Hayden—among them Davis, David Dellinger, and the Reverend Daniel Berrigan, Catholic chaplain at Cornell. Unfortunately, the “secret meeting” was written about in major newspapers. Davis and others had talked about “closing down the city,” but Mayor Richard J. Daley dismissed such comments as boastfulness. Now they were coming to Chicago: Hayden and Davis and the SDS, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and the Yippies. David Dellinger and the Mobe vowed to bring in hundreds of thousands of antiwar protesters. The Black Panthers were to have a contingent, too. Dellinger had been born in 1915, and the World War I armistice was one of his earliest memories. Jailed for refusing the draft in World War II, he had almost thirty years of experience demonstrating against wars and was the oldest leader in Chicago. Everyone was going to Chicago, which may have been why Mayor Daley had made such a show of brutality in the riots after King’s shooting in April.
Silk-screen poster protesting the attempt by federal prosecutors to prosecute the leaders of the Chicago convention protesters
(Center for the Study of Political Graphics)
1968 was a hard year to keep up with. Originally the movements were going to Chicago to protest the coronation of incumbent president Lyndon Johnson. McCarthy and whatever delegates he had would protest inside the convention, and the demonstrators would be outside, before the television cameras, reminding America that there were a lot of people who were not supporting Johnson and his war. But with Johnson not running, they were coming to Chicago to support McCarthy and the antiwar plank. Then Bobby Kennedy was running, and when for a moment it looked as though he might be winning, some, including Hayden, began to wonder if they would be protesting at all in Chicago. But while Kennedy and McCarthy had been fighting it out in the primaries, Hubert Humphrey—without McCarthy and Kennedy’s armies of devoted volunteers, but with a skilled professional organization—was picking up delegates at the caucuses and meetings of nonprimary states. Once Kennedy was killed, plans turned to bitterness and fatalism. Go to Chicago to stop Humphrey from stealing the convention, to make sure the Democratic platform was antiwar, or . . . go to Chicago because there was nothing else that could be done.
Even by national political convention standards, the media had high expectations for Chicago. Not only were hordes of television and print media planning to be there, but writers were coming, too. Playwright Arthur Miller was a Connecticut delegate for McCarthy. Esquire magazine commissioned articles from William Burroughs, Norman Mailer, and Jean Genet. Terry Southern, who had written the screenplay of the antinuclear classic Dr. Strangelove, was there, as was poet and pacifist Robert Lowell. And of course Allen Ginsberg was there, half as poet, half as activist, mostly trying to spread inner peace and spirituality through the repetition of long, deep tones: “Om . . .”
A mayor other than Daley might have recognized that bottled pressure explodes and made provisions for a demonstration that some said might involve as many as a million people. It was not necessarily going to be violent, but given the way the year was going, the absence of violence was unlikely. There might have been some tear gas and a few clunked heads, which he could hope to keep off television while the networks were preoccupied by what was certain to be a bitter and emotional fight within the convention.
But Daley was a short, jowly, truculent man, a “boss” from the old school of politics. Chicago was his town, and like a great many Americans with working-class roots, he hated hippies. The first and insurmountable problem: He refused a demonstration permit. The demonstrators wanted to march from Grant Park to the Amphitheatre, a logical choice as the route from the hotel where the delegates were staying to the convention. Daley could not allow this; he could not allow a demonstration from anywhere in downtown to the Amphitheatre. The reason for this was that getting from downtown to the Amphitheatre required passing through a middle-class neighborhood of trim brick houses and small yards called Bridgeport. Bridgeport was Daley’s neighborhood. He had lived there all his life. Many of his neighbors were city workers who got the patronage jobs on which a local Chicago politician built his political base. Nobody was ever able to tabulate how many patronage jobs Daley had handed out. Chicago politics was all about turf. There was absolutely no circumstance, no deal, no arrangement, by which Daley was going to allow a bunch of hippies to march through his neighborhood.
The argument that everything that happened in Chicago during that disastrous August convention was planned and under orders from the mayor gains some credibility considering an April antiwar march with an almost identical fate. That time also, no amount of cajoling or imploring could get the marchers a permit from city hall. And that time also, the police suddenly, without warning, attacked with clubs and beat the demonstrators mercilessly.
The demonstrators were not what Daley and the police feared most. They were worried about another race riot, having already had a number of them. Relations between the black community and the city government were hostile; it was summer, the riot season, and the weather was hot and humid. Even Miami, which never had ghetto riots, had one during its convention that year. The Chicago police were ready and they were nervous.
At first, refusing the demonstration permit seemed to work. Far fewer hippies, Yippies, and activists came to Chicago than were expected—only a few thousand. Participants estimated that about half their ranks were local Chicago youth. For the Mobe, it was the worst turnout they had ever had. Gene McCarthy had advised supporters not to come. Black leaders, including Dick Gregory, who went himself, and Jesse Jackson, had advised black people to stay away. According to his testimony in the Chicago Eight conspiracy trial the following year, Jackson, who was already familiar with the Chicago police, had told Rennie Davis, “Probably Blacks shouldn’t participate. . . . If Blacks got whipped nobody would pay attention. It would just be history. But if whites got whipped, it would make the newspapers.”
Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies arrived with a plan, which they called A Festival of Life—in contrast with the convention in the Amphitheatre, which they called A Festival of Death. On the weeklong schedule of events listed on their Festival of Life handout flyers were included the following:
August 20–24 (AM) Training in snake dancing, karate, non-violent self-defense
August 25 (PM) MUSIC FESTIVAL—Lincoln Park
August 26 (AM) Workshop in drug problems, underground communications, how to live free, guerrilla theatre, self-defense, draft resistance, communes, etc.
August 26 (PM) Beach party on the Lake across from Lincoln Park.
Folksinging, barbecues, swimming, lovemaking
August 27 (Dawn) Poetry, mantras, religious ceremony
August 28 (AM) Yippie Olympics, Miss Yippie Contest, Catch the Candidate, Pin the Tail on the Candidate, Pin the Rubber on the Pope and other normal, healthy games
Many of the items were classic Abbie Hoffman put-ons. Others were not. An actual festival had been planned, bringing in music stars such as Arlo Guthrie and Judy Collins. The Yippies had been working on it for months, but the music stars could not be brought in without permits, which the city had been declining to give for months. A meeting between Abbie Hoffman and Deputy Mayor David Stahl was predictably disastrous. Hoffman lit a joint and Stahl asked him not to smoke pot in his office. “I don’t smoke pot,” Hoffman answered, straight-faced. “That’s a myth.” Stahl wrote a memo that the Yippies were revolutionaries who had come to Chicago to start “a revolution along the lines of the recent Berkeley and Paris incidents.”
On the Yippie agenda was an August 28 afternoon Mobe march from Grant Park to the convention. It was the only event for which they had listed a specific time—4:00 P.M. But the entire program was in conflict with the Chicago police because it was based on the premise that everyone would sleep in Lincoln Park, an idea ruled out by the city. Lincoln Park is a sprawling urban space of rolling hills and shady, sloping lawns, where Boy Scouts and other youth organizations are frequently allowed to hold sleep-outs. The park is a few miles long, but it’s a very quick drive from Grant Park to the Conrad Hilton or, as Abbie Hoffman kept calling it, the Conrad Hitler. Even before the convention began, the police posted signs in Lincoln Park: “Park Closes at 11 P.M.” When all city avenues were exhausted, the demonstrators turned to federal court to seek permission to use the park. Judge William Lynch, Daley’s former law partner who had been put on the bench by the mayor himself, turned them down.
The events the Yippies did go ahead with were those that would attract television. The snake dance was a martial arts technique supposedly perfected by the Zengakuren, the Japanese student movement, for breaking through police lines. The Yippies in headbands and beads continually practiced against their own lines and failed consistently. But it looked exotic on television, and few crews catching their martial arts practice in the park could resist filming what was reported as hippies practicing martial arts to prepare for combat with the Chicago police. One crew even caught Abbie Hoffman himself participating; he identified himself as “an actor for TV.”
Another event that they did intend to carry out was the nomination of the Yippie candidate for president, Mr. Pigasus, who happened to be a pig on a leash. “The concept of pig as our leader was truer than reality,” Hoffman wrote in an essay titled “Creating a Perfect Mess.” Pig was the common pejorative for police at the time, but Hoffman insisted that in the case of Chicago, the “pigs” actually looked like pigs, “with their big beer bellies, triple chins, red faces, and little squinty eyes.” It was a kind of silliness that was infectious. He pointed out the resemblance of both Hubert Humphrey and Daley to pigs, and the more he explained, the more it seemed that everyone was starting to look like a pig.
But there was a problem: There were two pigs. Abbie Hoffman had gotten one and Jerry Rubin had gotten one, and a conflict arose over which one to nominate. Typical of their differences in style, Rubin had picked a very ugly pig and Hoffman a cute one. The argument between them over the pig selection almost became physically violent. Rubin accused Hoffman of trying to make the Yippies his own personality cult. Hoffman said that Rubin always wanted to show a fist, whereas “I want to show the clenched fist and the smile.”
The arguing continued for some time before it was decided that the official candidate of the Youth International Party would be Rubin’s very ugly pig. Hoffman, still angry from the dispute, stood in the Chicago Civic Center as Jerry Rubin said, “We are proud to announce the declaration of candidacy for president of the United States by a pig.” The police then arrested Rubin, Hoffman, the pig, and singer Phil Ochs for disorderly conduct but held them only briefly. The next day another pig was loose in Lincoln Park, apparently a female, supposedly Mrs. Pigasus, the candidate’s wife. As the police pursued the animal, Yippies shouted, “Pig! Pig!” for the fun of it, because it was unclear whether they were shouting at the pursuers or the pursued. When the police finally grabbed the pig, someone shouted, “Be careful how you treat the next First Lady.” Some of the police laughed; others glared. They threw the little pig into the back of a paddy wagon and threateningly asked if anyone wanted to go with the pig. A few Yippies said yes and jumped into the wagon. They closed the door and drove off. Some journalists took the bait and started interviewing Yippies. The Yippies said that they were unstoppable because they had a whole farm full of pigs just outside Chicago. A journalist wanted to know how they felt about losing their pig, and one of the Yippies demanded Secret Service protection for both their candidate and his First Lady. A radio reporter asked with great earnestness just what the pig symbolized. Answers were hurled back: Food! Ham! Parks belong to pigs.
The Yippies quickly found that there was so much media and they were so hungry that any put-on at all could get coverage. Their threat to put LSD in the Chicago water system and send the entire city on a “trip” was widely reported. Other threats included painting cars to look like independent taxis that would kidnap delegates and take them to Wisconsin, dressing up as Viet Cong and walking through town handing out rice, bombarding the Amphitheatre with mortar rounds from several miles away, having ten thousand naked bodies float on Lake Michigan. The city government seemed to understand that these threats were not real but followed through on them as though they were. Unfortunately, there is no record of the police response to Abbie Hoffman’s threat to pull down Hubert Humphrey’s pants. Each Yippie threat, no matter how bizarre, was reported to the press by the police. The Sun-Times and Daily News talked to the New Left leaders and knew the threats were put-ons, but the Tribune papers, after having spent years uncovering communist plots, reported each plan with menacing headlines that only scared the police. The Yippies were gleeful about the media attention that police precautions drew. In truth, of the few thousand demonstrators who were in town, with probably fewer than two thousand from outside the Chicago area, most were not affiliated with the Yippies or anyone else, so that the Yippie presence itself was somewhat mythical. The law enforcement presence, however, was not. Twelve thousand Chicago policemen were being backed up by five thousand soldiers from the army and six thousand National Guard. The military were closer in age to the demonstrators and many were black, and the demonstrators expected them to be more sympathetic. In fact, forty-three soldiers were court-martialed for refusing to be sent to Chicago for riot duty. Generally the military had a calming effect, as opposed to the Chicago police, who from the beginning were prepared for war. Had it not been for the police response, the Chicago demonstrations would have been noted as a failure, if noticed at all.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mike Royko wrote, “Never before had so many feared so much from so few.”
The convention had not yet begun, and already the talk and the reporting was of the clash, the violence, the showdown. This language was used to refer to the convention itself, where the Humphrey forces were meeting McCarthy and the peace delegates, but also to the thousands of demonstrators and police in downtown Chicago, kept miles away from the convention.
At 11:00 P.M. Tuesday night, August 20, Soviet tanks made their move across the Czech border. By Wednesday morning Czechoslovakia had been invaded. Television images of Soviet tanks in Czech towns were being broadcast.
In Chicago, the Soviet invasion was immediately seized as a metaphor. Abbie Hoffman gave a press conference in which he called Chicago “Czechago” and said that it was a police state. It looked like one, with police everywhere and the barbed-wire-ringed Amphitheatre awaiting the delegates. Hoffman invited the press to film the day’s “Czechoslovakian demonstrations.” John Connally of Texas argued that the Soviet invasion showed that the party should support the Vietnam War effort, but Senator Ralph Yarborough, also of Texas, argued to the credentials committee that political power should not be misused by them to crush “the idealism of the young” the way the Soviets were using military power. The demonstrators had started referring to Chicago as Prague West, and when they heard that Czechoslovakian protesters were walking up to Soviet tanks and asking, “Why are you here?” they began walking up to Chicago police with the same question. Incredibly, the police gave the same answer: “It’s my job.”
The New Left was so parochially fixated on the fight in Chicago that some even argued that the Russians had deliberately timed the invasion of Czechoslovakia to ruin the McCarthy campaign, because what the Soviets really feared was a United States that was truly progressive. Few Moscow decisions have ever been dissected more carefully and no evidence of a wish to sabotage McCarthy has ever been unearthed, but the invasion was bad for the antiwar movement in the same way it ruined de Gaulle’s idea of a Europe “to the Urals.” It reinforced the cold war view of hegemonic communists bent on world domination, which was in fact the justification for the Vietnam War. This did not stop David Dellinger and a handful of other antiwar activists from picketing the Polish tourism office, it being the only office in Chicago they could find that represented the Warsaw Pact. But McCarthy made it worse for himself by attempting to defuse the crisis with his classically tin ear for political orchestration. He insisted that the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia was no big thing, which only served to reinforce the suspicion that the senator was a strange one.
On Saturday night the demonstrators seemed particularly reluctant to leave Lincoln Park and chanted, “Revolution now!” and, “The park belongs to the people!” The police amassed their troops, and just as they seemed ready to attack, Allen Ginsberg mystically appeared and led the demonstrators out of the park, loudly humming a single note: “Om.”
On Sunday the convention began and Hubert Humphrey arrived in town. Humphrey had a progressive record on social issues, but he was associated with Johnson’s Vietnam policy and refused to break away from it. Even without the Vietnam issue, Humphrey, at fifty-seven, would have been a victim of the generation gap. He seemed almost cartoonish with his vibratoed, tinny voice, his corny midwestern wholesomeness, and his halfhearted good cheer; with the way he could in all seriousness use expressions like “Good grief”; and with his perpetual smile that looked as if he had just bitten something. This is how his biographer, Carl Solberg, described the politician nicknamed the Happy Warrior as he left for the Chicago convention:
On the elevator to the street he kissed his wife, danced a little two step, and punched his friend Dr. Berman on the arm. “Off we go into battle—and I can hardly wait,” he said.
This was not a candidate whom McCarthy and Robert Kennedy supporters could turn to, not a personality to calm the young demonstrators who had come to Chicago.
The Happy Warrior frowned, and not for the last time, when his plane landed in Chicago. Daley had sent a bagpipe band to meet him. There is no lonelier sound than bagpipes without a crowd. Few supporters were there to greet him, and even more upsetting, the mayor himself wasn’t there. McCarthy had been met by an energized crowd. “Five thousand supporters,” according to Humphrey, who was muttering about the contrast. An even bigger disappointment was that Daley was holding off on endorsing Humphrey. Daley found it hard to believe that Humphrey was a man who would attract all the voters who had gone for Robert Kennedy in California. Daley and a few other party bosses were last-minute shopping for another candidate, especially the last brother, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. Humphrey was as terrified of taking on a Kennedy as was Nixon.
Sunday night the police started forcibly to clear Lincoln Park at 9:00. Abbie Hoffman went up to them and in a mock scolding tone of voice said, “Can’t you wait two hours? Where the hell’s the law and order in this town?” The police actually backed off until their posted 11:00 curfew.
Remembering the Paris students of May, the Yippies built a barricade of trash baskets and picnic tables. The police squared off with the demonstrators and ordered them and the media to leave the park. In a long line three men deep, the police looked ready to attack, so the television crews turned on their camera lights, making the flimsy barricade look more substantial by giving it deep black shadows. The newsmen had started wearing helmets. There were flags, the Viet Cong flag, the red flag of revolution, and the black flag of anarchy. The police were beginning to appear. The Yippies, though visibly afraid, held their ground. Suddenly a strange humming sound was heard, and Allen Ginsberg once again appeared leading a group in “Om.”
But the om, designed to render both sides peaceful, didn’t work this time. The police started pushing back the crowd, the crowd shouted, “Pigs!” and, “Oink-oink!” and the police began swinging clubs. As the police attacked they were heard shouting, “Kill, kill, kill the motherfuckers!” “Motherfucker” was everybody’s word that year. The police swung at everyone in sight. After driving the crowd out of the park, they beat them in the streets. They yanked bystanders off their steps and beat them. They beat journalists and smashed cameras. They roamed a several-block area around the park, clubbing anyone they could find. After that night’s battle, the police went to the Lincoln Park parking lot and slashed the tires of every car that had a McCarthy campaign sticker on it.
Playboy entrepreneur Hugh Hefner emerged from his Chicago mansion and received a smack from a club. He was so angered that he financed the publication of a book on police violence during the convention, Law and Disorder.
The police later claimed that they had been provoked by the obscenities being shouted at them, though Chicago police are not likely to be taken aback by obscenities. They also said that as soon as they were blinded by television lights, the demonstrators started throwing objects at them. But most nonpolice eyewitnesses do not back this up. Twenty reporters needed hospital treatment that night. When Daley was questioned about this, he said that the police were unable to distinguish reporters from demonstrators. But Daley often attacked the press verbally, and now his police force was clearly and deliberately doing it physically. Local Chicago reporters were becoming increasingly frustrated. They were being beaten and their cameras were being smashed, but these important details were being deleted from their copy just as the fact that the police had singled out McCarthy cars was deleted. In response, a group of Chicago reporters started its own monthly, the Chicago Journalism Review, which has gone on to become a noted critical review of the news media. Its first issue was a critique of the coverage of the Chicago convention.
The convention had to share the front page of newspapers with the invasion of Czechoslovakia, and added to this, the fights within the convention had to compete with the fights on the street. Every night for the next four nights, the duration of the convention, the police cleared Lincoln Park and went on a clubbing rampage in the neighborhood. The demonstrators began to feel that they were doing something truly dangerous, that these Chicago police were methodically brutal and no one knew how far they would go. The odd thing was that they would pass beautiful summer days together in the park. The sky had turned clear and the temperature dropped to the seventies. The police would sometimes bring lawn chairs and park their blue riot helmets on the grass. They would read the pamphlets about free love and drugs and the antiwar movement and revolution with amusement, or bemusement. Sometimes they even threw around a softball and Yippies would join in the game of catch. But when they left, the cops would ominously say, “See you at eleven o’clock, kid.”
Demonstrators in Grant Park, Chicago, during the August 1968 Democratic convention
(Photo by Roger Malloch/Magnum Photos)
By Tuesday McCarthy was saying that he would lose, which was an odd stance to take while Kennedy votes were still in play and while his young, dedicated campaigners were still working hard in their headquarters in the Hilton. He couldn’t possibly lose until Wednesday. Was McCarthy trying to make it clear that he wasn’t about to win because it had been demonstrated in California what happened to peace candidates who were about to win? Guessing was always an important part of trying to follow Senator McCarthy’s campaigning. On Wednesday downtown Chicago was full of demonstrators—hippies, Yippies, the Mobe, and a mule train of Poor People marchers, the foundering orphaned spring plan of the late Martin Luther King. David Dellinger was pleading with the demonstrators to stay nonviolent while pleading with the city for a permit to march to the Amphitheatre. The city did not understand why he was pursuing this already resolved issue. But the demonstrators were filling Grant Park opposite the Hilton and ready to march, and there was really no one in charge of them unless it was to lead them to the Amphitheatre. They were listening to the events on the convention floor on small transistor radios when the platform committee announced a prowar stance—meaning that the Democratic Party was not going to go into the campaign opposed to continuing the war. After everything that had happened this year, after Tet, Johnson’s resignation, McCarthy’s campaign, Martin Luther King’s death, Bobby Kennedy’s campaign and death, and four months of futile Paris peace talks—after all that, both parties were to have prowar stances.
Johnson announced that he intended to go to Chicago and address the convention now that they had adopted his stand on the war. Daley had even arranged a celebration at the Stockyards Inn next to the Amphitheatre for the president’s sixtieth birthday. Back when he had assumed the convention would be his coronation, Johnson had insisted it take place the week of his birthday. Now some insiders still suspected he wanted to burst into town and use the birthday bash to announce his candidacy. Humphrey could be counted on to step aside, and Johnson would easily have the votes for a first ballot victory. But party leaders advised Johnson not to show up because the war plank was so unpopular among delegates that he might be booed on the convention floor, not to mention the streets, where Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies had already announced plans for their own Johnson birthday celebration.
Ted Kennedy refused to run, and Humphrey at last got the endorsement of Daley, which came with the votes of the Illinois delegation. Humphrey was looking happy again at a convention where no one else was. “I feel like jumping!” he said when the Pennsylvania delegation’s votes clinched his first ballot victory. Humphrey, who had told Meet the Press the day he flew to Chicago, “I think the policies the president has pursued are basically sound,” was to be the nominee. The Democratic Party was going to offer a continuation of the Johnson presidency.
Perhaps it was a bad omen that by Wednesday night, Allen Ginsberg—after omming, reciting mystical passages from Blake, and getting gassed in riots every night and then getting up to lead a Hindu sunrise service at the Lake Michigan beach—had little voice left for omming or even speaking.
In Grant Park, facing the Hilton, leaders were struggling that evening to control the demonstrators, but no one was restraining the police. The police later claimed that demonstrators were filling balloons with urine and bags with excrement to throw at the police. Some demonstrators denied this, but it was clear that after four nights of being beaten up by the police, they were tired and losing patience. Rennie Davis tried to calm one group of demonstrators, but the police, recognizing Davis, began clubbing him, hitting him so soundly on the head that he had to be hospitalized.
The police began clubbing everyone, and the demonstrators started fighting back in what turned into a pitched battle of hand-to-hand combat. City hospitals were warning demonstrators not to bring in injured demonstrators because the police were waiting outside and stuffing them into paddy wagons. Grant Park filled with tear gas and the wounded. A sit-in began in front of the Hilton and overflowed into the park. The white lights of television cameras were nearly blinding. The police said that objects were being thrown at them, but none of the numerous films of that evening’s events show this. They do show the police and National Guardsmen wading into the crowd with clubs and rifle butts, beating children and elderly people and those who watched behind police lines, beating even those who had fallen, where they lay on the ground. They dragged women through the streets. A crowd was pressed so hard against the windows of a hotel restaurant—middle-aged women and children, according to The New York Times—that the windows caved in and the crowd escaped inside. The police pursued them through the windows into the restaurant, clubbing anyone they could find, even in the hotel lobby. “Demonstrators, reporters, McCarthy workers, doctors, all began to stagger into the Hilton lobby, blood streaming from head and face wounds,” Mailer reported. The police had run amok in front of the hotel, and the television cameras that had been mounted on the entrance awning had caught all of it. Seventeen minutes of police mayhem could be bounced off a satellite called Telstar to show the world. The police smashed cameras, seemingly not realizing—or not caring—that other cameras were documenting the assault. They also went beyond the cameras’ range, pursuing the crowd into the streets of downtown Chicago, clubbing whomever they could find.
It was one of those moments of 1968 television magic, something ordinary enough today but so new and startling at the time that no one who had their television sets on has ever forgotten. Rather than taking the time to edit, process, analyze, and package the film for tomorrow night’s news—what people were used to television doing—the networks just ran it. Dellinger had urged the demonstrators not to fight back, saying that “the whole world could see” who was committing the violence. While the cameras recorded the police violence, they also picked up the crowd chanting—absolutely right—“The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!”
In the Amphitheatre, the convention stopped to see what was happening. When Wisconsin was called for voting, the head of the delegation, Donald Peterson, said that young people by the thousands were being beaten in the streets and the convention should be adjourned and reconvened in another city. A priest then rose to lead the convention in prayer, and it seemed to Allen Ginsberg, who was in the convention hall, that the priest was blessing the proceedings and the system it represented. He jumped to his feet and, though no one had heard more than a raspy whisper from his tired voice that day, he blasted out an “omm” so loud that it drowned out the priest, and he continued without stopping for five minutes. According to Ginsberg, he did this to drive out hypocrisy.
Daley was now glaring out at the convention floor, looking as if he were ready to call in his police and take care of these delegates. Then Abraham Ribicoff, senator and former governor of Connecticut, went to the podium to nominate George McGovern, a last-minute alternative peace candidate. “With George McGovern as president of the United States, we wouldn’t have those Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago.”
The convention seemed to freeze for only a second, but it was the most memorable second of the convention. Television cameras sought out and found the neckless, fleshy face of boss Richard Daley, and Daley, perhaps oblivious to the cameras but it seemed almost playing to them, shouted something across the hall to Ribicoff, something not picked up by the microphones. Millions of viewers tried their lip-reading skills. It seemed to involve a pejorative for Jewish people and a sexual relationship. According to most observers who studied the film, he said, “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch.” Many thought he also added, “You lousy motherfucker! Go home!” In 1968 even Abe Ribicoff was a motherfucker.
Daley, however, insisted that he had said none of these things. George Dunne, president of the Cook County Board, explained that they were all yelling—the Chicago people surrounding Daley. They had all been shouting, “Faker!” Ribicoff was a faker. It was not their fault if it sounded like the other F-word.
The violence continued Thursday into early Friday morning, when the police went to McCarthy headquarters on the fifteenth floor of the Hilton and dragged campaign workers out of bed to beat them. Senator McCarthy used his private plane to fly his workers safely out of Chicago.
Chicago was, along with Tet, one of the seminal events in the coming of age of television, and the star was not Hubert Humphrey. It was the seventeen-minute film in front of the Hilton. The Chicago Sun-Times, The New York Times, and most of the other print media wrote about the historic significance of the television coverage. This was the Yippie dream, or Abbie Hoffman’s dream. Later he explained to the Walker Commission, the government-appointed task force to study the violence in Chicago, “We want to fuck up their image on TV. It’s all in terms of disrupting the image, the image of a democratic society being run very peacefully and orderly and everything according to business.”
Hoffman and many of the journalists who covered the event believed that tens of millions of viewers seeing the Chicago police out of control and beating up kids would change the country and radicalize youth. Perhaps it did. A minority of the country cheered and said, “That’s how to treat those hippies,” and according to Mike Royko, Daley’s popularity in Chicago increased. In 1976, the day after Daley died, Royko wrote of the mayor’s anti-Semitic cursing at Ribicoff, “Tens of millions of TV viewers were shocked. But it didn’t offend most Chicagoans. That’s part of the Chicago style. . . .” Daley angrily insisted that the police had done a fine job and the fault lay in the “distorted and twisted” reporting. But it was a different age now; people saw unedited film, and most were appalled by what they saw. Bizarrely, Humphrey claimed he had never seen the film. “I was busy receiving guests,” he said.
There was an irony waiting in the wings. If the events in Chicago were to produce disenchantment with the political establishment and a low voter turnout among Democrats, no one stood to gain more from this than Richard M. Nixon, the Republican candidate for president.
When Humphrey started realizing this, he became angry at the television networks for airing the violence outside instead of the convention inside. “I’m going to be president someday,” the candidate said, already sounding uncertain when that day might be. “I’m going to appoint the FCC. We are going to look into all this.”
Where did you stand on Chicago? It became another one of those 1968 divides. You were either on the side of Daley and the police, who were severely criticized even by the Walker Report, or you were on the side of the demonstrators, the hippies, the Yippies, the antiwar movement, the McCarthy workers. Humphrey, coming out of the convention as the new Democratic candidate, said, “Rioting, burning, sniping, mugging, traffic in narcotic, and disregard for the law are the advance guard of anarchy.” Whatever else that might mean, it meant that he was on the side of Daley and the police, on the side of “law and order,” which was the new code phrase for what others called “white backlash.” Humphrey was going after George Wallace and Richard Nixon voters. The Left, he assumed, would have no choice other than himself. Wallace had already said that the Chicago police had “probably used too much restraint.”
Before leaving Chicago, Humphrey gave an interview to CBS’s Roger Mudd in which he backed off of “too busy receiving guests” and said:
Goodness me, anybody who sees this sort of thing is sick at heart and I was. But I think the blame ought to be put where it belongs. I think we ought to quit pretending that Mayor Daley did anything wrong. He didn’t. . . .
I know what caused these demonstrations. They were planned, premeditated by certain people in this country that feel that all they have to do is riot and they’ll get their way. They don’t want to work through the peaceful process. I have no time for them. The obscenity, the profanity, the filth that was uttered night after night in front of the hotels was an insult to every woman, every mother, every daughter, indeed, every human being, the kind of language that no one would tolerate at all. . . . Is it any wonder police had to take action?
It seems a surprising degree of shock about obscene language for a man who had just spent several years working with Lyndon Johnson. But Johnson did not talk that way in front of women, which was the old code. It might have shocked Humphrey to know that a psychiatrist who taught at Columbia during the spring upheavals wrote that a Barnard woman was more likely than a Columbia man to “curse a cop” during a riot. “They were aware that cursing was a weapon, one of the few they had.” William Zinsser, writing about this in Life magazine, said, “Feminism finds its ultimate tool—the four letter word”—but then Zinsser referred in his article to “Barnard girls” and “Columbia men.”
The majority of people on the other side of the generation gap from Humphrey were not likely to empathize with his horror of naughty words in front of the fairer sex. Why didn’t Daley’s anti-Semitism shock Humphrey, not to mention that trendy word about carnal relations with a female parent? In any event, he had probably lost most of those voters on “Goodness me.” By 1968 not many people were still saying “Goodness me.”
In later hearings, Abbie Hoffman agreed with Mayor Daley that it was the television cameras that had brought the protesters to Chicago. In September Hoffman boasted, “Because of our actions in Chicago, Richard Nixon will be elected President.” Many were inclined to agree with that assessment. But it could still come down to the campaigns the two candidates would run. Strangely, for the first time in 1968, the war in Vietnam was not the deciding issue.
Miraculously, the clubbings in Chicago killed no one, though one man was shot while fleeing. The police claimed he was armed. At the same time, Vietnam had its worst week of the summer, with 308 Americans killed, 1,134 wounded, and an estimated 4,755 enemy soldiers killed.