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A chronology of events surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention

Read about the trial of the Chicago 7

A firsthand account of the convention, by writer Terry Southern



Are You Ready for a Revolution? Chicago '68

Chicago saw rage, love and revolution at the DNC in 1968
The summer of 1968 was the beginning of a new age. It was a time when the world seemed hopeless, but, at the same time, everything seemed possible. It was a summer of rage, love, and revolution.

First, the hopeless part. By January 1968, 15,000 Americans and almost one million Vietnamese have been killed in the war in Vietnam. In April, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is murdered while giving a speech in support of striking garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee. And in June, after winning the California primary, Robert Kennedy is assassinated after speaking to supporters.


Life in Bezerkeley

Bobby Kennedy's death was earth shattering; it literally changed the path of history, as had the death of his older brother, President John F. Kennedy, back in November 1963. The 1960's were a turning point for America; our innocence was lost as our most promising leaders were gunned down. But Robert Kennedy's death really struck a mortal blow to the youth of America.

Robert Kennedy was campaigning to win the Democratic ticket to become their candidate for the presidential election. At stake was the continued involvement of American forces in the bloody war in Vietnam. To some Americans, the Vietnam War indicated how far the United States had strayed from being an advocate of liberty and freedom. Robert Kennedy stood ready to steer America out of its misguided involvement in that unjust war, and towards the New Society his brother had envisioned. With Robert Kennedy dead, the mood switched from hope to rage, and the focal point of this anger became the city of Chicago.

Chicago was the home of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Thousands of delegates met in late August to decide between the peace candidate, Eugene McCarthy, or Minnesotan Hubert Humphrey. Outside, thousands of Yippies (whose name is self-explanatory- they reveled in joyous exchange), hippies, poets, and performers gathered in a celebration of life. Here is the actual invitation that was sent out:

"Join us in Chicago in August for an international festival of youth, music, and theater. Rise up and abandon the creeping meatball! Come, all you rebels, youth spirits, rock minstrels, truth-seekers, peacock-freaks, poets, barricade-jumpers, dancers, lovers and artists!"
It is summer. It is the last week in August, and the NATIONAL DEATH PARTY meets to bless Lyndon Johnson. We are there! There are 50,000 of us dancing in the streets, throbbing with amplifiers and harmony. We are making love in the parks. We are reading, singing, laughing, printing newspapers, groping, and making a mock convention, and celebrating the birth of FREE AMERICA in our own time."

Thousands of protestors camped out in Lincoln Park
The Chicago authorities countered this positive event with great violence. Mayor Richard M. Daley called in five thousand National Guardsmen and ten thousand police. The Chicago police actively encouraged public citizens to become armed vigilantes and keep the protesters in line. Huge stocks of Mace and tear gas were prepared for use, and all water sources were protected by armed guards -- after the Yippies joked that they would pour liquid acid into Chicago's water supply.

The National Guard was even stationed on top of the Field Museum, their guns trained on convention protestors
To the American television viewers watching the convention on TV, Chicago appeared to be a bloodbath of lunacy on the streets. Ferocious police attacked the longhaired, topless, pot smoking protesters. The savage beatings of protestors, captured on film with garbage pails burning in the background, horrified American television viewers. The police attacked without reason and targeted reporters and photographers, as in this scene described by an eyewitness:

Reporter: Hey, I work for the Associated Press.
Police Officer: Oh, you do, (expletive), Take that!

The policeman proceeded to crack the reporter's skull with his nightstick.

On the streets of Chicago, the TV cameras missed many beautiful, serendipitous events. When a squadron of riot police marched on several thousand peaceful demonstrators in a park, poet Allen Ginsberg was at the microphone and proceeded to say the ancient Sanskrit word "Ohm". "Oohhhhhhhmmmmmmmmmmmmmm," first Ginsberg, and soon thousands of protesters voiced the sound of the universe. The riot police let their batons fall to their sides as the crowd serenely dispersed.

Rebecca plays on the Picasso statue in Daley Plaza. It was here that the protestors nominated
Another peculiar event was the presidential candidacy of Pigasus the Pig, who was running on the slogan "Vote Pig in '68". The Chicago police confiscated the pig, to the distress of the Yippies, who saw more redeeming qualities in Pigasus than in the Democratic candidates inside the convention center.

While many serendipitous and beautiful moments of creativity occurred, the lawlessness of the convention week was the standing legacy. The authorities were being blamed for inciting violence against peaceful demonstrators, whom they countercharged with planning a riot.

Police pulled protestors from this statue across from the Conrad Hilton
A grand jury was formed and charged eight men with the federal offense of "crossing state lines to incite a riot." Those men included Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale. The trial of these men was one of the most colorful and contentious of the century. Some memorable scenes from the trial were:

  • Jerry Rubin, leader of the Yippies, goose-stepped in front of the Judge, saying "Heil, Hitler!"
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Norman Mailer was brought to the stand, and decried the "low level" questioning of the prosecution
  • Allen Ginsberg recited the Hare Krishna mantra for the court
  • Abbie Hoffman wore his own judicial robe to court, took it off, and stamped on it
  • Hoffman often revealed his chest to the court, and blew kisses to the jury
  • At one point, Hoffman told judge Julius Hoffman (unrelated); "You are a disgrace to the Jews; you would have served Hitler better."
  • Judge Hoffman cited over two hundred charges of contempt of court to the defense and their attorneys.

Jen causes a ruckus at the Hilton on Michigan Avenue
The press loved it, pasting the headlines with descriptions of the anarchy occurring inside and outside the courthouse. Judge Hoffman did not hide his scorn for the defendants, who were openly mocking his conservative values. He even had the only black defendant, Bobby Seale, bound to a chair and gagged for speaking his mind too openly. Judge Hoffman did everything in his power to discredit the case of the defense and empower the prosecutors. When the jury came back with a guilty verdict, he triumphantly handed out sentences to all the remaining defendants (Seale had been given a separate trial), only to have his ruling overturned by a higher court.

By the time the trial was over, Richard Nixon, the Republican candidate for president, had already won the election. All the chaos in the streets of Chicago, and the media circus in the courts, was a moot point with Nixon in the White House. The movement to pull Americans out of Vietnam was reversed when Nixon revealed his "secret plan," which was an escalation of bombings and ground troops. The dawning of a new age had not come; it was still the same nation ruled by warmongers.

Incidentally, according to astrological charts, we exited the Age of Pisces and entered the Age of Aquarius in 1997.



Links to Other Dispatches

Rebecca – Bayonets and pencils just don’t mix
Irene – The Vietnam War Part 1
Irene – The Vietnam War Part 2
Stephanie – A personal account: Cambodia’s civil war
Jennifer – When the going gets rough, the tough go underground
Nick – Bucking the draft
Jennifer – Students united can never be divided
Making A Difference – Bombs, oil, sanctions, and a decision we all have to make: The US and Iraq