By David Kelly
July 14, 2008
When did the culture war begin? Some scholars have traced it to the
presidential campaign of 1972, when Republicans honored George
McGovern with the slogan "acid, amnesty and abortion." But surely it
began in the '60s.
Poetically speaking, that decade started with an ancient Robert Frost
reciting "The Gift Outright" at J.F.K.'s inauguration. At mid-decade,
Robert Lowell, protesting the Vietnam War, made front-page news when
he turned down an invitation to L.B.J.'s White House. By the end of
the decade, Allen Ginsberg was testifying at the Chicago Seven (or
Eight) trial, and there was no turning back. The right would win the
political battles (emphatically) over the next 25 years, but the left
would win the cultural ones (emphatically).
City Lights has published "Voices of the Chicago Eight: A Generation
on Trial," by Tom Hayden, Ron Sossi and Frank Condon. It includes
Sossi and Condon's "Chicago Conspiracy Trial," a 1979 play whose
every word "is taken directly from the transcripts of the trial."
Below is some of Ginsberg's testimony as a defense witness,
describing events that took place in Lincoln Park during the 1968
Democratic National Convention. One of the prosecutors was named
Thomas Aquinas Foran, and the defense team featured William Kunstler
and Leonard Weinglass. The defendants, of course, included Abbie
Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale and Hayden.
WEINGLASS. At approximately 10:30 that evening what was happening in the park?
GINSBERG. There were several thousand young people gathered, waiting.
It was dark; there were some bonfires burning in trash cans.
Everybody was standing around not knowing what to do. Then, there was
a sudden burst of light in the center of the park and a group of
policemen moved in fast and kicked over the bonfires.
WEINGLASS. What did you do when you observed the police doing this?
GINSBERG. I started the chant "Ommmmm."
FORAN. All right, we have had a demonstration.
COURT. All right.
FORAN. From here on I object.
COURT. You haven't said you objected.
FORAN. I do after the second one.
COURT. After two of them? I sustain the objection.
FORAN. I have no objection to the two Oms we have had. However, I
just didn't want it to go on all morning.
Under cross-examination, Ginsberg is asked about his position as
FORAN. Mr. Ginsberg, you've been named a sort of religious leader of
the Yippies, and you testified concerning a number of books of poetry
that you have written?
FORAN. In … "Empty Mirror," there is a poem called "The Night-Apple"?
FORAN. Would you recite that for the jury?
GINSBERG. "The Night-Apple."
Last night I dreamed
of one I loved
for seven long years,
but I saw no face,
only the familiar
presence of the body;
sweat skin eyes
feces urine sperm
saliva all one
odor and mortal taste.
FORAN. Could you explain to the jury, having said that, what the
religious significance of that poem is?
GINSBERG. I could, if you would take a wet dream as a religious
experience. It is a description of a wet dream, sir.
Finally, with Ginsberg still on the stand, Kunstler and the judge get
into a fight:
COURT. You are shouting at the Court.
KUNSTLER. Oh, Your Honor.
COURT. Shouting at the Court the way you do.
KUNSTLER. Everyone has shouted from time to time, including Your
Honor. This is not a situation. …
COURT. Make a note of that. I have never. …
KUNSTLER. Voices have been raised.
COURT. I have never shouted at you during this trial.
KUNSTLER. Your Honor, your voice has been raised.
COURT. You have been disrespectful.
KUNSTLER. It is not disrespectful, Your Honor.
COURT. And sometimes worse than that.
(The judge uses his gavel.)
KUNSTLER. He was trying to calm us down, Your Honor.
COURT. Oh, no! I need no calming down.