co-founder Bobby Seale
August 29, 2008 - 11:58AM
By COREY STULCE
An unpopular war overseas ignited a fired-up uprising of protesters
at the Democratic National Convention. But if you think you missed
the newscast, it was 40 years ago.
As the DNC wound down last week and the GOP convention gears up to
start Monday, anti-war protests in 2008 are relatively low-key. Rage
Against the Machine reformed for a politically themed concert in
Denver, about four miles from the Pepsi Center where the DNC was
held. Iraq war veterans also marched near the convention last week,
but their protests stand in contrast to those of Vietnam vets, some
of whom publicly tossed away their medals in defiance of that war.
But in Chicago during 1968, the DNC was much more like a military
state when a handful of "yippies" came to town, inviting anyone
interested to join them, to protest the war in Vietnam.
The results saw thousands marching, public parks being gassed in
order to get "campers" out after they closed for the evening and a
strong police presence. The Windy City became a battleground with
chaos and violence the order of the day.
Out of the rubble came a notorious trial that saw eight men - Abbie
Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John
Froines, Lee Weiner and Bobby Seale (which eventually became seven
when Bobby Seale was severed from the case) - being charged with
conspiracy as relating to the violence at the convention. It was
known as trial of the Chicago Eight.
The courtroom theatrics are revisited in the new film "Chicago 10,"
the added two referring to the attorneys, William Kunstler and
Leonard Weinglass, who defended the men. The film's tagline is, "The
convention was drama. The trial was comedy."
At the time, though, Seale found nothing funny by him being literally
bound and gagged for several days in the courtroom after his repeated
outbursts caused Judge Julius Hoffman to have him restrained.
"Every time my name was mentioned, I would jump up and say, 'I
object. I object on the grounds .....' 'Sit down, Mr. Seale,' the
judge would holler out. 'Sit down, nothin', man,' I said. Then they
had the guards attack me a couple times and slam me in the chair. One
time the chair rolled back and I fell out (of) the damn chair. These
guys hammer-locked (my) arm ..... kicking me, pulling me. It was
something else. There's drama here, heavy hell-ified drama, beyond
what you see in the animation," Seale said during a recent phone
interview with The Telegraph.
"Chicago 10" utilizes rotoscope-style animation, which is like
tracing lines over performances by live actors. The courtroom scenes
were recreated in this style, also using the actual transcripts for
the dialogue. Actors such as Hank Azaria, the late Roy Scheider and
Jeffrey Wright performed the voices of Hoffman, Judge Hoffman and
"My voice should have been used," Seale said. "The director (Brett
Morgen) admits to me - I met him in Hollywood about a month ago -
'Seale, I thought you were gonna have a shaky, old voice because they
said you were 71 years old, and you're sitting up here running off at
the mouth like a 19 year old.'"
Seale argued for his Sixth Amendment Constitutional rights every time
his name was mentioned, because his attorney, Charles Garry, was not
present due to gall bladder surgery. Those outcries directed at the
judge resulted in Seale tied to a chair with his mouth covered by a
gag. That act and the trial prompted the song "Chicago" by Graham
Nash, which featured the opening line, "Though your brother's bound
and gagged, and they've chained him to a chair......." Crosby, Stills
and Nash played a version of the song earlier this summer dubbed "Denver."
Seale is still a stickler for his constitutional rights, and has been
since he formed the Black Panther Party for Self Defense with Huey P.
Newton in 1966. Seale said after Newton went to jail he organized
5,000 members for the party across the country.
"We were sticklers for constitutional, democratic, civil rights,"
Seale said. "('Chicago 10' is) a good, necessary film documentary
about a piece of history that really was about standing up for your
Constitutional, democratic, civil, human rights, and that's what I
did in that courtroom."
Interspersed with the courtroom scenes is footage of Chicago during
the DNC, where protesters are seen being gassed, beaten and bloodied
and hauled away by the Chicago police and 6,000 National Guardsmen
deployed there. After the riots were over and the trial began, Abbie
Hoffman and Jerry Rubin offered their own form of protest in the
courtroom. At one point they arrived with a birthday cake for Seale.
Another time, the duo showed up for court dressed in judge's robes;
when Judge Hoffman demanded the robes removed, they were wearing
police uniforms underneath.
"I loved 'em," Seale said of the antics. "As Jerry and Abbie Hoffman
used to say, "This is great theater.'"
The trial went on for nearly six months, but by the end none of the
seven - as Seale had been severed from the trial - were convicted of
conspiracy, though Hoffman, Rubin, Dellinger, Hayden and Davis were
convicted of crossing state lines with intent to start a riot. The
sentence was five years in prison and a fine of $5,000. The United
States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the ruling
in 1972, due in part to the biases of Judge Hoffman.
Seale still holds strong to his mantra, "All power to the people."
"I extend that phrase. My non-profit entity is the Bobby Seale
R.E.A.C.H.! Foundation in bold capital letters. R.E.A.C.H.! stands
for: Reclaiming, Recycling and Re-evolving, Ecological, Economic,
Enviro-Empowerment Around All people's Active and Artistic Creative
"It's a mouthful, but it's an extension of 'All power to the people.'"
He said he considers not allowing people to protest, in a non-violent
way, unconstitutional, and that the bulk of protests that were
planned this year were not even within earshot of the party
conventions. He said progressive protests are important and would
like to see more young people get involved - and watching "The
Chicago 10" would be a good start.
"When you start talking about real change and the final analysis,
it's about legislation and policies that make human sense -
legislation and policies that negate exploitation," Seale said.
He said the Black Panthers were about coalition politics across all
racial and ethnic lines, and that he's proud of some of the changes
they were responsible for, like the Free Breakfast for School
Children Program in California, that eventually saw similar programs
spring up in other states.
"That's our legacy, fighting, by example and showing examples;
defending ourselves when we're attacked. After they attacked and
killed so many peaceful protestors before us, we just believed in the
right to self defense, you know what I mean?" Seale said.
Aside from hosting a barbecue cooking show and writing books, Seale
still speaks at 20 to 30 colleges a year around the country.
"I'm 71, (but) I'm very agile; I go to the gym every day," he said.
"Chicago 10" has just been released on DVD from Paramount Home
Entertainment and is available for rent and sale.
The Associated Press provided some information for this article.