Spirit of '68
Where are Chicago's infamous war-protesters 40 years later?
By Martina Sheehan
Time Out Chicago / Issue 183 : Aug 28Sep 3, 2008
An unpopular war slogs on, a tight primary splits Democratic voters,
and Chicago's mayor goes by the name Daley. Although it might sound
like 2008, the year was 1968 and the Democratic National Convention
in Chicago was on the verge of erupting in violent protest. As the
2008 DNC plays out in Denver this week, we take a look back at some
of the key Chicago activists of the '60s who hit the streets to fight
for a better society, or to incite senseless violencedepending where
on the spectrum your politics fall.
Then Cofounder of the Illinois Black Panther Party in 1968. Led the
Panthers' free kids' breakfast and free sickle-cell-screening
programs, and fought for civil rights of blacks, women and other minorities
Now Congressman from Illinois's 1st District since 1993
Activist legacy While fellow Panther Bobby Seale spent the '80s and
'90s doing Ben & Jerry's ads and penning a barbecue cookbook, Rush
worked his way up through the system to tackle issues such as making
kids' toys safer via the Consumer Product Safety Commission;
authoring the Melanie Blocker Stokes Postpartum Depression Research
and Care Act to help new mothers; and pushing through a farm bill
that includes plans to eliminate "food deserts," or poor urban areas
devoid of grocery stores or other fresh fruit and vegetable sources.
Then Leader of the Weather Underground, an anti-capitalist,
anti-imperialist radical group that claimed responsibility for a
number of politically motivated bombings between 1969 and 1975. The
University of Chicago graduate also landed herself a spot on the
FBI's Ten Most Wanted list in 1970 for her role in the violent
Chicago demonstrations and an alleged bombing plot in Flint, Michigan.
Now Associate professor at Northwestern University School of Law
Activist legacy As a professor at Northwestern's Bluhm Clinic, Dohrn
works to reform child, youth and family law and policy, and train
other lawyers who advocate for family justice.
Then National secretary for Students for a Democratic Society, the
era's largest and most radical student-activist group that organized
for peace and participatory democracy
Now Author, and cofounder and director of the Small Schools Workshop
at University of Illinois at Chicago
Activist legacy Neo-con bloggers still seethe at the mention of the
"Maoist hardliner" whom they allege enjoyed more than one state
dinner in Beijing. Lately, though, Klonsky's been busy trying to
improve schools and education: His Small Schools Workshop helps
educators create new charter schools or restructure large schools
into smaller learning communities. He also recently coauthored Small
Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society and writes
a blog on education and politics.
Then The Glen Ellyn native cofounded the Weather Underground with
Dohrn. The couple had two children together during their 11 years on
the lam, then married in the early '80s.
Now The distinguished professor of education at the University of
Illinois at Chicago is involved in education research, major policy
changes at the school-board level, and restructuring support for
teachers and schools via the Small Schools Workshop, which he
cofounded with Klonsky.
Activist legacy Loving, or even liking, thy neighbor can be a
downright scandalif your neighbor happens to be Ayers. Fellow Hyde
Park resident-turned-presidential-candidate Barack Obama endured some
heat for attending a soiree Ayers and Dohrn held in his honor back in
1995. Daley came to Ayers's defense: The Washington Post quoted him
calling Ayers "a valued member of the Chicago community."
Then Deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party
Now Hampton was riddled with bullets as he slept next to his pregnant
girlfriend at Panther headquarters on the West Side on December 4,
1969. The raid was a joint effort between the State's Attorney's
Office, Chicago police and the FBI. Hampton's son Fred Hampton Jr.,
who was in utero during the raid, carried on the activist torch after
his father was killed.
Activist legacy In 2005, the younger Hampton, with Bobby Rush's
support, applied for an honorary street sign in his father's name, to
be placed outside the now demolished home at 2337 West Monroe Street
where his father was killed. The application caused an uproar with
Chicago police and never made it before the City Council for a vote.
In Hampton's hometown of nearby Maywood, however, the city council
almost unanimously supported a commemorative street sign, a statue
and an aquatic center, all dedicated to the slain activist.
For more on the '68 convention, and a roundtable discussion
with those who were there, read "Chicago protests: Then and now."
Six protesters from the '68 Democratic National Convention rally
together again to debate their movement's legacy and how times have changed.
By Julia Borcherts
Photographs by Nicole Radja
Time Out Chicago / Issue 168 : May 15–21, 2008
Whether you view them as righteous or as radical demons, the 1968
Democratic National Convention protesters had an undeniable impact.
The protests and the resulting police riots changed the way the media
covered the news, heightened awareness of political, military and
social issues and led to changes in the way our primaries impact the
general elections. In an effort to understand what went down in our
backyard 40 years ago, we found six Chicagoans who participated in
the demonstrations, gathered them peaceably in a police- and National
Guard–free zone (okay, the TOC offices) and watched some '68 protest
footage to get everyone riled up to discuss that world-changing week.
Then Yippie (Youth International Party) cofounder
Now Activist and retired Chicago Public Schools social worker
Then Underground journalist
Now Chair of Journalism & Cross-Media Storytelling at the Medill
School of Journalism, Northwestern University; author of Uncovering
the Sixties: The Life and Times of the Underground Press (Carol
Publishing Company, 1991)
Then Political and civil-rights writer
Now Fiction Writing Department founder and professor emeritus at
Columbia College Chicago; author of No One Was Killed about the '68
DNC (to be reissued at the end of the year, University of Chicago Press)
Then Head of security for MOBE (National Mobilization Committee to
End the War in Vietnam)
Now Founder and president of MK Communications (public strategy,
media, advertising and community outreach)
Then Grassroots organizer with JOIN Community Union and national
officer with SDS (Students for a Democratic Society)
Now Owner, Heartland Café (7000 N Glenwood Ave), president of the
49th Ward Democratic Party organization
Then Press secretary for MOBE
Now Political consultant (Don Rose Communications and the Urban
Political Group); columnist, Chicago Daily Observer and TheWeekBehind.com
What led you to protest?
James We [SDS] were opposed early on to [attending] the Democratic
Convention, because we had this view of…being buried in the
community, working with people face-to-face, bringing them around. By
the time…the convention came to town, the mayor had refused to make
any concessions to the legitimate concerns of the protestors…and we
ended up going downtown to participatewhat a polite word that is:
Katz That spring, I'd…worked with Don to organize a demonstration in
the wake of the King assassination and the burning of the West
Sidethe first time the Chicago police ever attacked demonstrators.
Those [demonstrators] were very young peoplegrammar-school kidsand
Peck …It was like, suburban dentists for peace.
Katz And they beat people into the subway. So I got very involved
with the MOBE and my hundred pounds became the head of security.
Rose I had been, since the middle and late '50s, involved in the
campaign for nuclear disarmament and also for various civil-rights
operations. I was Dr. King's press secretary when he came to
Chicago.…Then Rennie Davis [MOBE and SDS organizer, one of the
Chicago Seven] and David Dellinger [MOBE chairman, one of the Chicago
Seven] asked me if I would become the press secretary for the
Mobilization Committee for the Chicago convention demonstrations.
Kurshan Dave Dellinger called Jerry Rubin [Yippie cofounder, one of
the Chicago Seven], who was my partner, and asked if he would…help
organize the 1967 demonstration at the Pentagon. When we came to New
York, we encountered [Yippie cofounder] Abbie Hoffman and a whole
other, larger scene. That Pentagon demonstration was a really
important moment in the antiwar movement, but we hadn't succeeded in
ending the war. So we formed the Yippies and went to Chicago. And I
think by then we were all revolutionaries…and opposed to the war and
freaked out that the civil-rights movement hadn't been more successful.
Peck I had a job as a textbook salesman in Chicagothe job went south
because I drove the company car to the Pentagon demonstration.
[Everyone laughs.] I became the editor of the Chicago Seed, which was
the underground newspaper then. I wrote this letter to Paul
[Krassner, publisher of The Realist], and instead of hearing back
from Paul, I got Jerry Rubin in my living roomwhich had a black
light and soap flakes on the floor because they glowed under the
black lighttelling me about this groovy festival they were going to
have in August '68.
Schultz I'm a Korean War veteranI actually got [to Chicago] right
after the war. There were almost no Korean War veterans [at the
convention] except in the media and in the Democratic Party, and they
were the ones who were running up the hill and bridges, trying to
stop what the National Guard was doing. Actually, I think that I came
to it really more from the literary, story point of view...by July, I
was damn sure there'd be good stories.
What were you hoping to accomplish?
Rose It began as an anti–Democratic Party move. It was not that we
were trying to "influence" the Democratic Party. The fear that we
were not necessarily physically violent but destructive of what [the
party was] about was quite correct. We were not demonstrators trying
to say, "Look, give us health-care planks." We didn't want planks; we
wanted to end the war.
James I remember really wanting to have a good time…to get the kids
talking about the revolution and peace, the war…smoke some dope in
the park. And [proto-punk band] the MC5 was playing. We did have a
good time until the police came into Lincoln Park. That sent us into
Old Town, breaking windows, hiding in gangways, police chasing us.
And it was like, [we took] every chance we got to go back downtown to
fuck them up.
Peck I wanted to manifest who I was. We were a group of people trying
to live our lives in a peaceful, communal way. We were trying to
demonstrate…that there was a better way of living in a culture of greed.
What did you accomplish?
Katz We have a congressional delegation that was forged out of
'68Danny Davis, antiwar, civil rights; Luis Gutierrez, Young Lords;
Jan Schakowsky, consumer and antiwar advocate. It was the ending, for
better or for worse, of an illusion which all of us children of the
'50s grew up withthat the U.S. was a total democracy and that our
foreign policy was benign. It changed the way power was shared and
policy was forged in this country.
Kurshan I think that '68…did make it more difficult for the U.S. to
militarily move wherever it wanted in the world. Our goal was really
to make sure that there wouldn't be another Vietnam, and that we have
not succeeded in doing, clearly. So on the one hand, I feel like we
were able to put a brake on; on the other hand, we're still dealing
with the same nefariousness.
James What it accomplished was bringing people together. You have to
take the whole city; you have to look at [antisegregationist] Al Raby
and the demonstrations around the schools, and the Willis Wagons
[portable classrooms reportedly used to perpetuate segregation], the
emergence of the Black Panther Party and on to the election of Harold
Washington. And now Obama.
Schultz It had an immense impact on the Democratic Party. The primary
fight we're having now is finally made possible by the changes that
started in '68that whole idea of a popular election of a
presidential nominee. The superdelegates were brought in to correct
what they thought was an imbalance.
What was the most memorable incident?
Peck A gas-station attendant, freaked by all the people running out
of the park and across his fueling areaor maybe expressing his
politicsbreaking a running demonstrator's arm with a baseball bat.
Rose The Tuesday night in front of the Hilton where the police lined
up along the park to "protect" the hotel from demonstratorsand the
police were replaced by armed National Guardsmen who emerged from
these Jeeps covered with barbed wire.
Katz The first [night] in Lincoln Park, when the phalanx of tear
gas–loaded fire trucks and police came west across the park, aiming
their full force at the unprepared revelers.
Schultz The Amphitheatre was just in chaos. [Journalists and
delegates] were all pushing out of the aisles to go to the television
sets in order to watch what was happening outside. They were seeing
scenes like this guy in a jacket and tie fighting, flailing with his
fists, without any care for his life, and the cops going at him with
a club. And that sort of thing threw the whole nomination proceedings
into, well, more than chaos.
Did your participation lead to any difficulties or consequences?
James There's a photograph of me trying to tip over a paddy wagon.
When they had the Democratic Convention here [in 1996], I did 37
interviews after they ran it in USA Today.
Kurshan [Here's an anonymous] letter to my parents, sent in 1970:
"There's no limit to this deceit, degeneracy and immorality of the
kike… Your daughter is…a true dropping of the tribea Commie whore…
Here's hoping that all of you liberal swine join the late, unlamented
bomb maker"and that was Teddy Gold, the Weatherman who was killed in
Schultz At Columbia [College], it played in my favor. [But] my studio
was broken into…papers thrown around, torn, upside down, etc.
Rose It's been nothing but positive for me. I had a very successful
career as a political consultant. I was made into somewhat of a media
Katz I probably have the longest arrest record of anyone here. But…I
became a writer and filmmaker. I did Harold Washington's campaign.
The start of my business was all built on the skills that I found in
1968. For me, the '60s were [about going] from a little fluff-headed
[Sak's Fifth Avenue] model to a woman who could think, write, act,
organize and start a revolution.
Peck I'm with the other folks. I didn't know that I was learning a
trade while I was trying to topple the world, but it worked out pretty well.
Knowing what you know now, what might you have done differently?
James Well, we never got the police car over.
Kurshan As a woman, I would have fought harder and stronger to have
my voice be heard earlier.
Rose I cannot look back at '68 and say we made a tactical mistake or
something I should have known to do differently. It didn't turn out
exactly the way I wanted, but I can't say it was due to a mistake on our part.
Do you think people were more passionate then?
Rose If the times seemed more intense during Vietnam, I would
attribute it to a more deadly, 50,000 dead, war, plus the existence
of the draft.
Katz I don't think the issue was passion, but a sense of possibility.
We felt very empowered in the '60s, that what we did would or could
make a difference. I think today there is a greater sense of
desperation, a sensea realitythat nothing we do will affect Bush, et al.
Peck Many today are passionate; we were in the crucible.
Who's leading the way today?
Rose If you want to focus on antiwar, you have local groups ranging
from CAWI [Chicagoans Against War on Iraq] and various coalitions for
peace and justice around the country. Politically, you have groups
like MoveOn, which parallel the Kennedy or McCarthy movements.… I
think the rock and hip-hop cultures may be the parallel to the
Yippies and cultural revolutionaries. The various green groups have
some echoes also. The important thing to remember is not to search
for the same kinds of organizations, because the problems
metamorphosize. Go back 20 years before 1968, and the energies for
change were focused on union organizing. Each generation seeking
social change finds its challenges and goals.
James The Brown Berets have emerged in Watsonville, California. There
are new Black Panther chapters, some of which are terrible. There is
a resurgence of SDS. There's a hip-hop group called Readnex, lots of
fair-trade organizations, Progressive Democrats of America.
Schultz The problem for contemporary demonstrations and marches is
that a number of court decisions, reacting to the fear of '68-style
events, have supported march and assembly restrictions, including the
protest-park concept and requirement. [This concept] gives the
protesters a place of confinement where [as one government authority
said] "they can pump their fists in the air and chant as much as they
want." These and other such restrictions effectively keep protesters
away from the events and gatherings of decision-makers. There is a
real fear among the political elites of another Democratic National
Convention of 1968…so much so that their restrictions are almost
guaranteeing that [people's] frustration may make it happen. The Free
Tibet harassments of the Olympic torch have reinforced such concerns.
Check out the complete transcript of this conversation here.