40 YEARS LATER | '60s radicals offer new take on Dem riots
August 27, 2008
BY MIRIAM DI NUNZIO firstname.lastname@example.org
National Guardsmen pointed their bayonets while armored tanks roamed
the downtown streets. Tear gas fogged the lakefront parks. Throngs of
police in full riot gear went on nightly billy-club rampages to stave
off protesters who threw rocks, bags of feces and other colorful
projectiles at anyone in a uniform. And 50 million viewers watched
the bloody mess nightly on television.
The events of four hot August nights in Chicago in 1968 -- the site
of the raucous Democratic National Convention that began 40 years ago
this week -- painted a portrait of the city as either a "police
state" or a city under siege by "terrorists," depending on whose
description was more convincing.
All the ingredients for a disaster were in place. The delegates were
rallying in the International Amphitheatre at 43rd and Halsted. The
Democratic leadership was ensconced at the Conrad Hilton Hotel on
South Michigan. In Lincoln Park and Grant Park, thousands of
anti-Vietnam War protesters gathered for a rally called a "Festival
of Life" and a march to the Amphitheatre to bend the Democrats' ears.
One year later, eight of the protest organizers -- Abbie Hoffman,
Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis,
John Froines and Lee Weiner, known thereafter as the Chicago 8 --
were indicted on numerous charges, including conspiring to cross
state lines with the intent to incite a riot. (The convictions
eventually were overturned in a series of appeals).
The latest attempt to portray the riots and the infamous, circuslike
trial, "Chicago 10," comes from director-writer Brett Morgen. (In the
title, Morgen includes defense attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard
Weinglass, who received contempt sentences.) The documentary blends
computer-animated courtroom re-creations with archival newscast
footage and radio broadcasts. After a theatrical run earlier this
year, "Chicago 10" was released Tuesday on DVD (Paramount Home Entertainment).
Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale and Yippie co-founder and
reporter Paul Krassner talked to the Sun-Times about the events of 40
years ago, when the whole world was watching.
Q. What comes to your mind when you watch the events unfold once again?
Krassner: It's just a reminder how indiscriminate the beatings were.
It was to scare other people away from demonstrating.
Q. Paul, why didn't you and the rest of the organizers just tell the
crowds to leave after the first clash with police in Lincoln Park?
Would that have been seen as a defeat?
Krassner: It's wasn't like John McCain, who espouses, "If we leave it
has to be with victory!" The victory was just being there. It's not a
matter of winning or losing.
Q. Bobby, what was the goal of the Black Panther Party when you spoke
to the crowd in Chicago in 1968?
Seale: We wanted to accomplish everything we put in our "10 Point
Platform." ... It was and is about having politicians duly elected to
office representing our people and people of all color -- white,
black, blue, green.
Q. Is Barack Obama that politician, that hope?
Seale: Yes, he's hope. He's got to represent all the people. What is
the crux of the perpetuation of institutionalized racism in this
country? The legislated laws. When Rosa Parks was forced to move to
the back of the bus, that was law. Now it becomes a matter of: How
does Barack Obama, if elected president, move in a most profound way
to make sure that he is helping to enforce laws and rules that make
sense for all the people?
Krassner: Sometimes he acts like he doesn't have hope that he can
really be himself, and that he has to compromise.
Q. Can that hope be found in John McCain?
Seale: There is no hope in McCain's platform. I watch what he's
supporting. It's the same old crap.
Krassner: My hope is he doesn't win. [Laughs.] But there are people
who will vote for him, who do see hope in him. The propaganda machine
is dismayingly shrewd. And the American public is dismayingly
brainwashed [by it].
Q. If you could meet Sen. Obama and say one thing to him, what would it be?
Seale: I'd shake his hand and say "Brother" -- in the universal sense
-- "you have the ability to help us make a difference and evolve some
progressive, positive legislation and policy that make human sense
and feed our human liberation."
Q. At the end of the day, was it all worth it?
Seale: Yes. Every bit of it.
Krassner: The alternative was to do nothing. It was not a difficult
choice. And in so many ways nothing has changed. Look at the plight
of protesters at this year's conventions. They have to be blocks away
on side streets in what are essentially cages where no one will see
or hear them.