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The Trial of the Chicago 7: The Expectation of Rising Revolutions

Report From Chicago

CHICAGO — In the gym of a seminary on the North Side, an ex-marine is showing a Baltimore Weatherman how to ram a heavy pole into a cop’s gut. There’s a Vietcong flag on the pole. The floor is littered with helmets, fatigue jackets, gas masks, goggles, canteens, gauze, and gloves. Most of the Weathermen are sitting tensely on the floor. A few practice karate kicks. No one enters the building without emptying pockets and being frisked.

At another church, only a few blocks away, the RYM II (Revolutionary Youth Movement) coalition of SDS is busy assembling its members as they trickle in from out of state, regis­tering bail contacts on neat index cards, and frisking everyone at the door. Groups are organizing to leaflet the area’s black and brown communities. Someone announces an hour when tetanus shots will be given. Someone else wants to know how many Weathermen have arrived in Chicago. The mood is more relaxed, the church friendlier.

Chicago itself is uneasy. The heated clashes between blacks and whites in the construction industry have just cooled. The statue of a policeman in Haymarket Square was blown apart Monday. Tilden High, on the South Side, is on the brink of racial war. Policemen have shot one Puerto Rican, and two days later, will kill his brother, starting a major gun battle in which eight cops will be shot. The minister of the church housing the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican gang turned political, has just been killed. The Panther office has been invaded, several Panthers arrested, one ending up in critical condition in the hospital. The SDS National Office has been raided, Weathermen jailed and beaten, several severely. And the SDS National Action is about to begin three days in Chicago.

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Wednesday night. The gathering is in Lincoln Park, scene of last year’s convention violence. Several hundred pick their way through the dark toward the giant bonfire in the park’s center. The light off a Weatherman’s helmet, the occasional flash from a camera, the static buzz from newsmen’s walkie talkies. More bodies begin to fill the gloom. There are no uniformed cops in the park. A large banner pictures a coiled snake with the inscription “Don’t Tread On Me,” symbol of Rising Up Angry, the new paper of a white revolutionary gang in Chicago. A tall figure in burlap robes with a staff and a yoke is going through an Old Testament-cum-revolution rap to cries of “Off the Prophet!” (The next day, 50 of the same will line the streets of the Loop, Chicago’s downtown, providing cute six o’clock news copy, and then disappear as mysteriously as they arrived.)

The rally starts at eight o’clock. There are intermittent speeches and chants. By ten o’clock the crowd has grown to four or five hundred. Tom Hayden appears out of the dark and takes the bullhorn. “It’s a lie that we oppose this Weatherman demonstration. It’s good to see people coming back to Chicago, back to Lincoln Park. We welcome any intensification of the struggle.” While about half of the Conspiracy Eight endorse the Weathermen, there is only tepid official sanction, due to Panther opposition. Jeff Jones, inter-organizational secretary of SDS, announces himself as Mario Delgado — pseudonym of the Weather Bureau — to knowing tit­ters. As he speaks, there is a shift in the crowd, and the helmets begin lining up. There has been no announcement of a march, but within minutes the Weather­men are pouring out of the park, heading south toward Chicago’s plush Gold Coast and, hopefully, the Drake Hotel, residence of Judge Julius J. Hoffman. Most of the crowd trails along behind as the phalanx of 300 helmeted Weathermen begins running toward the string of luxury high-risers. Stones and bricks are picked up at construction sites along the way. Already some bottles are being dropped from windows. The crowd quickens. Now plate glass windows are, being smashed by rocks. Heavy poles shatter car windows and windshields. As the squad cars scream up and police race to head off the Weathermen, the mob suddenly swings east toward Lake Shore Drive. There are clouds of tear gas and scattered gunshots. The Weathermen have split in two. Those by Lake Shore Drive are met by car after car packed with cops, many unmarked. Shattered glass fills the street. In front of 1212 Lake Shore Drive, a pile of injured Weathermen is lying face down in the dirt with groups of cops glaring over them. One cop is holding up a piece of concrete, one foot on the back of his victim. “The motherfucker tried to hit me with this!” A team or five medics from the Medical Commission for Human Rights tries to get through to the wounded, but is charged by two policemen with clubs and quickly retreats. (Weathermen announced that unless MCHR carried rocks in their bags, they didn’t want help. Another medic, his face painted in gaudy dayglo, is soon hustled off into a van for carrying boric acid.

Fifty-eight are eventually busted. Several Weathermen are gunshot victims, one is in critical condition with a bullet in the neck. Some 30 store windows are smashed — banks, restaurants, drug stores, shops. No one reaches through the splintered glass to loot. The area is inundated with police. A Rolls Royce sits in front of one of the plusher high-risers, ringed by a crowd of incredulous onlookers. Three of its windows are smashed. A block away, a scarlet Lamborghini goes untouched. Several injured cops are hustled into cars. The com­ments of bystanders are not friendly: “I’m getting out my goddamn rifle.” “They shouldn’t put them in jail; they should be killed.” “They ought to shoot every one of the bastards!” “It’s commie backed.”

The next day Mayor Daley will call up 2500 National Guardsmen.

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Thursday. The Weathermen’s Women Militia is scheduled to “tear apart” a major induction center in downtown Chicago. The women assemble in Grant Park below the Logan statue, across from last year’s site of the Battle of Michigan Avenue. There are a cluster of 50 or 60 women, army-dressed, helmeted, many with clubs. Ringed by newsmen and photographers, they sing and chant “We love our Uncle Ho Chi Minh, deep down in our hearts. We love our chairman Mao Tse Tung, deep down in our hearts …” And cry out “Oink, Oink. Bang, bang! Dead pig!”

The leadership of the group is late in arriving. When it does, the number of newsmen has swelled and cars of cops line Michigan Ave­nue. Her face shielded by raised hands, Bernardine Dohrn speaks from the center of the cluster: “For the first time in history women are getting themselves together. We’re not picketing in front of bra factor­ies. A few buckshot wounds mean we’re doing the right thing. This is not a self-indulgent bullshit women’s movement. We refuse to be good Germans. We live behind enemy lines.”

After a quick huddle, the group opens up, lines up, and heads briskly down along the length of the park chanting “the only direction is insurrection; the only solution is revolution.” Police race to cut them off at the road. When the women reach the sidewalk, there is a double row of 20 cops. The front women try to break through, are stopped, wrestled to the ground, and thrown into nearby police vans, yelling “Power to the People!” One girl, her face squashed into the concrete by a cop’s foot, is screaming “Off the Pig!” The women regroup, but more police have arrived now, and set up a surrounding horseshoe of cops, keeping newsmen out. The women are outnumbered, out­maneuvered, and outmuscled. As they lose their momentum, several begin weeping. The cop in charge is ordering the women to drop their gloves and clubs and take off their helmets. If they don’t they’ll all be arrested. Eventually the women agree, and the police escort the women three blocks to the subway where they are ushered underground, shaken and torn by the outcome of their action.

1969 Village Voice article about Chicago 7 trial

An hour later, the RYM II forces, making their first open appearance, are rallying at the Federal Building where the Conspiracy Trial is going on. RYM II is supported by the Black Panthers and the Young Lords and is attracting a comfortable coalition of movement groups. There is none of the tension that the Weathermen elicit. It is lunch hour, Abbie Hoffman is down from the 23rd floor, spotting cameras, greeting friends, running his monologue. “Hey, Dick Tracy, did you get the money we sent you? … Let’s go see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid … We wanted to support the Weatherman action but there’s the Panther thing … I can’t go tomorrow — I’m Jewish and I gotta go to church … ”

An army of newsmen and camera crews is on a rooftop across the street. Squads of cops surround the skyscraper tower. The building itself is impossible to get into — all four entrances are heavily guarded by federal marshals. Even the press is having a hard time getting into the courtroom, and defense attorney William Kunstler has just filed a motion charging that legitimate newsmen are being excluded in favor of certain friends of the judge. (The New York Times had just run a spread on society women turning up at the trial.)

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A Young Lord from New York addresses the milling crowd of 500. “Fascism is here. Look at the life and property the pigs protect. It ain’t my property and it ain’t my life. In Puerto Rico, students just blew up the ROTC building.” Wild cheers. “But we’re talking about revolutionary love. Revolutionary love says you gotta pick up the gun. We’re not racists or hate mongers or war mongers. But revolution is not a dinner party. We’re fighting for all of you in those glass offices.” Speeches by Mike Klonsky, RYM II coordinator, and Carl David­son, Guardian columnist. And then Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party: “We support RYM II only. We oppose the anarchistic, adventur­istic, chauvinistic, individualistic, masochistic, and Custeristic Weathermen. We don’t dig con­frontations that lead people into struggles they’re not ready for. We want government by the people, for the people, and of the people. Fuck this shit of government by the pigs for the pigs, and of the pigs. This town’s hungry, and we need a barbecue.”

The Weathermen meanwhile have reshuffled their schedule — it had been clearly laid out on two sides of a detailed information poster.

They have abandoned the “Wargasm” (a revolutionary youth culture celebration), have postponed their high school actions, and are now filtering into the Federal Plaza for what is rumored to be a rally to co-opt RYM II support. But security quickly alerts Hampton who is speaking. The rally is abruptly ended, and everyone is urged to show up at the International Harvester plant in an hour for a massive action in support of the workers. About 150 Weathermen are now left alone in the plaza under heavy police scrutiny. They huddle together for a while and then, slipping helmets under coats, move out as unobstrusively as possible. But as has been happening since Wednesday, several are picked off and busted, identified as part of the action the night before, by Chicago’s Red Squad (The “subversive” division of police intelligence).

The RYM II action at Harvester is an orderly, sedate rally of about 40, sandwiched between the massive Cook Country courthouse and jail and the sprawling Harvester plant. About 60 brown-shirted deputies line the steps of the courthouse and more than 100 blue-helmeted cops guard the fences and entrance of Harvest. There is the familiar spectrum of movement groups, hawking politics and papers, passing around hats for bail money. The movement’s banner­-maker YAWF (Youth Against War and Fascism), provides some satin splashes of color, a gaudy orange. The sound equipment has arrived and is working perfectly. There is the repeated invective against Weatherman, this time from an organizer within the plant: “They’re a bunch of fool-ass punks running around downtown breaking windows. We shut this plant down today without firing a single shot and cost the company a quarter of a million dollars.” (It was announced that enough workers had walked out of key production departments to shut down the plant for the day.) More workers rose and told of inhuman working condi­tions, an uptight company and working men sold out by the UAW.

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The Harvester Plant is going to be torn down and moved to the suburbs where it will be inaccessible to the many black and Puerto Ricans now working in the factory. Thirty-five hundred jobs will be lost. It is rumored that a jail will replace the plant. “So the worker’s got no job, he’s standing around, he’s busted, and he ends up living — in jail — where he used to work!” The rally ends with a singling of “We Shall Overcome” and “Solidarity Forever” “When we say the ‘union,’ we mean the union of working men, not the UAW.”

Thursday night. The Weathermen mysteriously call a 10:30 news conference at the Chicago Sheraton Hotel. Sensing a hot late news item, more than 60 newsmen push through the convention crowds and pile in the narrow Club Room amidst the usual tangle and clutter of mikes, cables, plugs, lights, tripods, meters, tape decks, and cameras. There is the familiar news batter, traded with light readings, juvenile obscenities (“Stop goosing my ass!”), clowning with a helmet and gas mask, and what passes for fourth estate humor: “Call me a racist pig, Charlie.” “SD — what?,” “I wonder where our little friends are.” “Honky news collective over here.” and “Let’s get this show the road so I can eat dinner.”

Four Weathermen arrive, announce they will make a brief statement, and answer a couple of short questions. Half the newsmen start to walk out. Order is restored, and with two men standing behind them, the women give their names. One was shotgunned in the leg the night before and announces that a brother has just been shot. “Who?” click the questions, but she won’t elaborate for security reasons. Several cameras turn off and mikes are pulled out. There is a “no comment” on the Black Panther attack, and a short rap about Third World struggles from the other girl: “White people have lived off the labor of black and brown people for centuries. This is theft, and we are giving up the fruits and privileges of that labor.” She displays an NLF ring, recites “Determined to fight, determined to win” in Vietnamese, raises her fist along with the others, then the four quickly walk out past the angry and astonished newsmen

Friday. The Weatherman high school action is now cancelled. Too many people have been identified and arrested, high schools are reportedly under heavy police guard, and a long Weatherman meeting Thursday night began to challenge some of the tactics employed so far. Primarily, it is clear that not as many Weathermen have come to Chicago as expected (ditto for RYM II, who had predicted “more than 5000″), and that what was planned as demonstration actions are turning into highly vulnerable cadre actions. The Wednesday night attack has exposed the Weathermen to continued identification and arrest.

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The RYM II action for Friday is at Cook County Hospital where organizers have charged medical genocide, forced sterilization of blacks, and the use of the hospital by doctors as a cheap educational steppingstone into suburban practice. “We are sick and tired of medical moonshots, like heart transplants,” says one doctor at the rally. “We want health care that serves the people.” A Black Panther announces the opening of a free health clinic, and there is an elaborate skit depicting the “systematization” under Pig Daley of a sick welfare woman with 25 children, followed by some “radical surgery” at the Panther clinic. Awaking from the operation, the woman slowly sits up on the table. “How do you feel?” asks the Panther doctor. A huge grin spreads over her face as she slowly intones, “Ho … Ho … Ho Chi Minh!”

Again, RYM II draws about 500 people, a noisy buzzing police helicopter, hundreds of police around the street and hospital entrances, and no trouble. Some doctors join the rally, a few heckle, and many line the streets or hang out of hospital and residence windows. Organizing at Cook County has been strongest in the non-skilled job areas.

After the rally, RYM II calls a press conference at their move­ment center, a church on the North Side (in fact, all SDS groups spent the three days operating out of churches). The purpose, explains Klonsky, is to get a little press coverage of RYM’s work which is being ob­scured by a “handful of people running crazy in the streets.” Klonsky tries to keep together the idea of SDS as mass organization with some internal struggles, and repeatedly denounces the growing characterization of RYM II as non-violent and pacifist. A Young Lord adds another Weath­erman criticism: “Whoever heard of people breaking windows in a store and not taking anything?”

While RYM II meets openly and continues planning for the finale march and rally Saturday, the Weathermen are on the run. They have been temporarily thrown out of Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston when 150 Weathermen turn up instead of the expected 30. They are tossed out of another church when the pastor finds them in the basement beating a cop who has infiltrated the center. And as the Chicago rains pour down Friday night, flooding streets and cellars, there is frantic racing from center to center, from church to church, to head off an expected bust. It eventually comes at two o’clock in the morning at an Evanston church when 100 police break in on the Weathermen (mostly from New York) and arrest 43. Four warrants have been issued; two of those named are found in the church, the rest are arrested on charges of mob action and inciting to riot stemming out of Wednesday’s clash.

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Saturday. The final day of the national action. Everyone is both exhausted and primed for the final offensive. Both RYM II and Weatherman have marches and demonstrations scheduled. Both reportedly have parade permits. RYM II goes through black and brown communities, attracting several thousand marchers and a heavy police escort. The windows are filled with clenched fists. It ends with a somewhat listless, overlong rally in Humboldt Park demanding independence for Puerto Rico and withdrawal from Vietnam. Those in RYM II feel that the support has been impressive along the way.

The Weatherman action is uncertain. Nobody knows how many are left, how many are out of jail, or how many are in hospitals. Weathermen have been having trouble communicating, finding safe refuges and untapped phones. Those walking the streets have resorted to jackets and ties and straight dresses. In Chicago there is an uneasy sense that every third person is a cop. The march is slated to start from Haymarket Square where the statue’s pedestal reads “In the name of the State of Illinois, I command peace.”

As Weathermen begin to gather at the statue, plainclothesman — most disguised as longshoremen heavies — wade through the newsmen and pull out clubs. They haul off four Weathermen, among them Mark Rudd, who is making a rare public appearance. Despite the quick bust, the Weathermen group grows. Bands of 10 and 20 march into the square chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!” and join the larger group. There are speeches, Marxist-Leninist cries, raised fists, chanting, and then the Weathermen suddenly swing into the street. The cop escort is especially heavy, in front, in back, and along the line of march that sweeps through the Loop and the financial district. National Guardsmen are poised at all nearby armories. Two baby-blue sanitation sweepers swing menacingly behind the marchers, their brushes twirling, but are unable to keep up with the pace of the Weathermen. Unlike Wednesday night, there are few stragglers or observers. Newsmen are keeping to the sidewalk.

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Halfway down the route, the march suddenly breaks east through policelines. Bricks, clubs, and pipes are pulled out. Windows are smashed and chaos erupts as the column disintegrates into wild skirmishes with the police. Cops pour into the streets, grabbing everyone they can, pinning them to the ground or against cars until vans race up to cart off the arrested and injured. Several policemen appear badly beaten, the city’s corporation counsel lies motionless on the street, paralyzed from the neck down. Clumps of Weathermen dot the street and sidewalk with cops standing over them. The violence this time is brief. No guns are drawn. One hundred and three Weathermen are arrested.

It is difficult to assess the impact of the action. RYM II has not made much of a splash. Their numbers are not impressive for a much-publicized national action, despite grass-roots organizing with the Panthers and the Young Lords. Among those caught between RYM II and Weatherman, there is criticism of RYM’s political rhetoric, of a non-revolutionary appeal to workers, and of rather staid, uninspired actions and rallies. RYM has devoted a lot of energy to disassociating itself from Weatherman violence and confrontation and finds itself labeled as non-violent and pacifist. Suddenly, the Panthers and SDS (RYM) are the good guys, the friendly revolutionaries. They have been temporarily robbed of their bizazz, upstaged. On the other hand, they have incurred no liabilities, have not been busted, and have undoubtedly built up a stronger base of support than they had before the action.

With Weatherman, of course, the reverse is true. Close to 300 have been busted, some several times. Sympathies are low and bail money scarce. All are identified, labeled, photographed, catalogued. They have captured the headlines of Chicago papers for three days. They have demonstrated a street gang force that can march into the heart of Chicago and attack the police. They have provoked the calling out of 2500 National Guardsmen. They emanate an energy far in excess of their numbers. They aim to polarize and clearly succeed. At the moment, of course, returns are only in from the establishment poll, where there is extravagant hostility to the “roughneck fanatics.” At least in Chicago, there is a new sense of middle-class communion with the police. Police are praised and clucked over. Daniel J. Walker, architect of the report condemning the “police brutality” at the Democratic Convention, issues a statement applauding their behavior. Mayor Daley is smiling comfortably; his troops were restrained — at least in the publicity of the streets — and behaved as instructed. And even within the movement, there is an abundance of open hostility and despair at Weatherman politics and strategies.

Weatherman actions, however, are designed to turn on high school youths, white street gangs, working class kids. But it is unclear to what extent they have succeeded. Many Weathermen believe they are accomplishing just that. Many believe the Chicago action was a success. They have demonstrated the seriousness of their intention to physically smash the state.

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There is much internal criticism of tactics, however. The women’s action was clearly a bust. The high school actions were aborted. And there is a growing feeling that Weathermen cannot expose themselves as publicly as they did in Chicago, that the only alter­native now is to go underground.

The key to much of Weatherman politics appears in their conception of Third World struggles and the ideal of a world in revolution. They are out less to create a revolutionary movement in this country than to identify all “behind the line” white revolutionaries with anti-imperialist struggles throughout the world. It is this perspective that encourages a certain insularity from more “people-serving” organizing. There is a religious intensity to the Weatherman turn-on, a de­sperate exorcism of all mid­dle-class hangups and privilege, and a lunging attempt to magically raise the level of revolutionary consciousness through exemplary actions.

The impact of the Weathermen in Chicago is still uncertain. All returns are not yet in. ❖

1969 Village Voice article about Chicago 7 trial

1969 Village Voice article about Chicago 7 trial

1969 Village Voice article about Chicago 7 trial

1969 Village Voice article about Chicago 7 trial

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From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Chicago 1968: Moderates, Militants Walk a Bloody Route Together

Moderates, Militants Walk a Bloody Route Together
September 5, 1968

CHICAGO — Eighteenth Street and Michigan Avenue to the 15th floor of the Hilton Hotel — a lot of lives were changed along that bloody route on Thursday night.

The National Guard’s tear gas and Mace, the cops’ nightsticks, brought at least 2,000 convention delegates and Yippies, McCarthy supporters, and political radicals into a new community where, for a few hours, the word “brother” was a standard form of greet­ing, even between strangers. But the community dissolved quickly; it was based on love and hope, and those sentiments seemed like luxuries in Richard Daley’s Chi­cago. It was replaced by a shared sense that to survive in America a political dissenter, even a lib­eral, would have to be cool and courageous, willing to fight.

By Friday morning even some of the moderates who had joined the street demonstrations, men who have always been determined to work inside the American po­litical system, had begun to won­der whether the government that had been symbolized all week by tanks and barbed wire wasn’t really their temporary enemy.

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***

At intervals throughout the week the streets of Chicago had resembled a new sort of chapel, the religion they contained a last, desperate hope for America. It was a sentiment that spanned po­litical groupings, as true of many of the Yippies whom politicians called “anarchists and terrorists” as it was of the McCarthy volun­teers who were praised as idealistic young people, credits to their country.

After all, a Yippie or a mem­ber of the Mobilization is a civil rights worker or a McCarthy vol­unteer who has recently reached the far side of despair. He has grown his hair long, fastened a Viet Cong pin to his lapel, quit reading the Saturday Evening Post, and begun to underline edi­torials in the Guardian or the Berkeley Barb, he shouts “pig” at a few policemen. Immediately Americans see him as the contemporary anti-Christ. But friends of Jerry Rubin’s say that the Yip­pie leader is still proud of the fact that he worked for Adlai Stevenson in 1956; Tom Hayden always sounds a little nostalgic when he recalls that he was pre­sent the night that John Kennedy announced his plans for the Peace Corps at the University of Michigan. Most members of the American left have become revolution­aries because they see no other alternative —  they still want to save the country, not to destroy it.

Even in the early part of con­vention week when the McCarthy volunteers were still running er­rands in the Hilton Hotel, con­vinced that their man might win, and the dissenting delegates were plotting to force an open conven­tion on the bosses of the Demo­cratic Party, the radicals’ demon­strations were sometimes illuminated by a passionate spirit that has to be called patriotic.

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For example, on Tuesday night the Yippies held a rally — an un-birthday party for Lyndon Johnson they called it, perhaps recall­ing the scene in Walt Disney’s “Alice In Wonderland” they had enjoyed so much as children­ — which Phil Ochs temporarily transformed into a revival meet­ing. He urged the demonstrators not to call the policemen “pigs” (“behave with dignity on the streets,” he said), and received more applause than the adults who assume that everyone who went to Chicago was an inveter­ate troublemaker would have imagined possible.

Then Ochs began to sing “The War Is Over.” When he reached the line “Even treason might be worth a try” his audience began to applaud and cheer more loudly than it had all night. Then he went on to the next line, “This country is too young to die,” and the applause transformed into stomping, rhythmic cheering. Most of the people Ochs sang to had never worried much about politics until the war in Vietnam began to interfere with their lives; they were the children of Nixon supporters or of lifetime Democrats who had found John Kennedy glamorous but a little too radical, people who acquired their values from Playboy maga­zine; products of the anti-com­munist ’50s who were washed into junior colleges and state universities on the tidal wave of wealth that the Eisenhower years released. Some of them were beaten over the head by police, disowned by their families, when they began to protest the war peacefully. That was not the sort of thing that was supposed to happen in the America they had read about in their high school civics courses.

But still they believed they could redeem their country, so they were transported by the single line from Ochs’ song.

At once, thousands of people were brought to their feet, hold­ing their fingers high in the air in the “V” sign that was the week’s dominant symbol. Ochs quit singing, backed away from the microphone, and stood on the stage strumming his guitar a little abstractedly. One man burned his draft card, then an­other, then a third; it was an epidemic of passion, the sort of glorious disease that burns out men’s minds and cleanses their souls; it must have swept over New England during the years of the Great Awakening, or Russia after the Revolution. Soon more than 10 draft cards waved in the air, flags of freedom, and the people who had ignited them were hoisted onto the shoulders of their friends. They had been washed in the blood of the lamb, born again into a better world.

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Ochs walked off the stage. There was nothing more that he could do. Many of the kids who had stampeded the Coliseum when Ochs sang, and fought the cops up and down Michigan Avenue throughout Wednesday night, were part of Thursday’s march that was stopped at 18th Street and Michi­gan Avenue. Only now they had been joined by delegates and Mc­Carthy’s supporters, people whom the public considered more respectable. And the presence of the moderates and the speech that McCarthy had given to his sup­porters in Grant Park that af­ternoon altered the behavior of the militants. People who had thrown rocks at police cars the night before now insisted that the line of march remain orderly and calm. Members of the Establish­ment had gone onto the streets to be with them; they would act with remembered courtesy to make their new allies feel at home.

It was impossible to believe that the march to Dick Gregory’s house, led by delegates and digni­taries who wanted to prove that dissenters could walk freely on Chicago’s streets, would be dis­persed by force. It bore a much greater resemblance to the res­pectable civil rights demonstra­tions of the early ’60s than it did to the angry rebellions that had taken place earlier in the week. Indeed, the groups which Mayor Daley had characterized as “an­archist” and “terrorist” played no role at all in organizing the protest. Paul Krassner had al­ready declared the Yippies dead, and Rennie Davis had disbanded the Mobilization. The walk to Gregory’s house was led by the sorts of people whom militants regard as sell-outs when they are not seeking their protection; con­vention delegates like Murray Kempton and Peter Weiss of New York, Tommy Frasner of Okla­homa; dignitaries like Harris Woffard, former aide to Presi­dent Kennedy, and the Reverend Richard Neuhaus. One felt cer­tain that Mayor Daley would sup­port the march for the same rea­son Lyndon Johnson had sup­ported the last big demonstration in Selma. The protestors would gain nothing tangible — except, perhaps, a free soda pop at Gre­gory’s house — and the Democratic Party would be able to use the march as proof that Chicago was, after all, an open city.

But conventional wisdom was wrong. Daley decided to mar­shal all the force necessary to stop the march at 18th Street and Michigan Avenue, the rim of the ghetto, even if his actions of­fended a few liberals. Perhaps he felt that with Bobby Kennedy dead and Eugene McCarthy de­feated the opinions of the liberals mattered about as little as the opinions of the Yippies.

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But if the National Guard massed its forces to stop the marchers, it also refused to arrest them quickly. The first demonstrators, starting with Gregory, were taken one by one, at min­ute-long intervals. At that rate it would take at least two days for everyone to get to jail.

It was like being at the end of a long grocery line late on a Fri­day afternoon: even more frust­rating than dull. Of course that was the Guard’s plan — either to bore people so thoroughly that they dispersed or to annoy them so intensely that they provoked an incident. And the military understood the movement’s psy­chology perfectly. Soon a black militant leader began to urge people to cross the streets now, hurrying their arrests. He was expressing the exact emotions of most marshals. He was also giv­ing the Guard a chance to attack the demonstrators as fiercely as the police had the night before.

As the first group of people crossed the street there were about 15 seconds of shoving; then some loud explosions as canister after canister of tear gas hit the ground. Suddenly one’s eyes be­gan to burn. It was impossible to move forward any longer. What had resembled the joyously suc­cessful Selma March just half an hour earlier now, suddenly, re­minded one of those herds of refugees one has seen so often in World War II movies: crying, moaning as they ran to escape an insane military force. And everyone who inhaled a lungful of tear gas, or whose skin got drenched with burning Mace, must have felt for a few minutes that he would die even before the jeeps with the barbed wire sweepers that were rumbling down the dark streets could reach him and crush him. After you swallow some of the new, more sophisti­cated gas the army uses you feel certain you will never again be able to breathe. You gag, you pray to God you can vomit: you are breathing in and out so rapidly that a cross country runner’s pant seems a long, luxurious sigh. Instead of escaping the army you want to crumple up in some alley and wait for the seizure to end. But that is terrifying, too, for now you are desperately worried about being run over.

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But most people recovered from the Mace and the gas very quickly. By the time the Guards released their second barrage the demonstrators had become quite cool. Few of the recognized lead­ers of the Mobilization or the Yippies were on the street — Tom Hayden was in disguise over by Grant Park, Jerry Rubin was in jail, Rennie Davis was recover­ing from a beating by the police­ — so the demonstrators developed their own decision-making ap­paratus on the spot. All sorts of people took command — veterans of violent demonstrations in Oak­land and San Francisco; kids who had been working for McCarthy all year, rank-and-file Yippies, returned Peace Corps volunteers, members of the press. They might debate their ideological differ­ences in left-wing magazines, or even on the speaker’s stand in front of Grant Park, but now, on the street, with the barbed wire constantly approaching, they formed a coalition of necessity.

The new leaders developed a strategy which everyone seemed glad to accept. “Make them chase us all the way down to the Hilton”; the proposal was relay­ed to all the demonstrators. “Make them throw their tear gas where the delegates can see them.” Then, as the third barrage of tear gas swept over them, the street army relied on the primitive form of communication that had kept it together all week, the chant. “The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching.” They sustained the steady chorus as the jeeps mov­ed closer and closer to them.

Despite their wounds and their tears the demonstrators were no longer desperate refugees, but calm soldiers of a non-violent army. Shepherding the jeeps down Michigan Avenue toward the Hilton, one remembered the news clips of the Russian troops entering Prague. If the walk to Dick Gregory’s house had not been as successful as the Selma March it had not been a rout either. It had been a new sort of demonstration, a revelation of America’s present condition: a form of muckraking by deed that was relayed by the communica­tions media into the homes of 50 million people.

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***

“Part-time fascism,” one demonstrator called it. An hour earlier he had walked into some tear gas with his eyes partly open, and had actually lost his vision for several minutes. Now, back in Grant Park, he was describing the vacation he planned to take on Martha’s Vineyard. The annual bass fishing tournament is about to begin there. The air is a bit crisp, but the swimming is still splendid: this is a wonderful time to visit the island. As he was talking, the troops, with no visible provocation, released a fourth barrage of tear gas. “Those fucking monsters,” he cried out. “How can they keep doing that to us?”

But he didn’t flee — almost no one did. People remained in the­ back of the park for several min­utes. They began to edge for­ward when a speaker’s stand was erected and Peter Yarrow and Mary Travers of Peter, Paul, and Mary began to sing. Soon thou­sands of people were sitting on the park grass which sprayed tear gas whenever anyone stepped on it too heavily, enjoying the free concert. It might have been a be-in at Central Park or the Newport Folk Festival, except for the rifles, jeeps, and barbed wire fences that separated the park from the street. Even after the master of ceremonies announced rumor that the troops had been ordered to load their guns — per­haps with blanks, perhaps with bullets — almost no one seemed to be afraid. Despite the repeated tear-gassings it seemed almost impossible for that group of Americans to believe there was a genuinely vicious spirit behind the military symbols. There might have been a little violence at 18th and Michigan, a little trouble the night before, but it couldn’t hap­pen again in Grant Park, so close to the protection of the Hilton Hotel, the delegates’ rooms, the candidates’ headquarters. “We are all together now,” Peter Yarrow said. “The soldiers will not dare pass our line of song.”

Peter and Mary were the per­fect symbols of the group that had retreated from 18th Street to Grant Park. There were more McCarthy volunteers, young pro­fessionals, delegates, and digni­taries than there were Yippies or political militants. And many of the radicals were still displaying their company manners in defer­ence to the members of the Es­tablishment who had joined them. There were not nearly as many taunts at the police and the sold­iers as one had heard the day before, and relatively few radical speeches.

The dominant mood of the group was almost prayerfully gentle, intensely conciliatory. Every time a light flashed from the Hilton Hotel, expressing a delegate’s solidarity with the demonstrators, the response was a prolonged burst of applause. Whenever a car passed by honk­ing its horn to show sympathy the crowd seemed almost as excited as it would have been if Eugene McCarthy had won the nomina­tion. The people gathered in Grant Park wanted desperately to remain a part of America, not to oppose it actively. Their slo­gan all night was “join us,” and the plea was issued to everyone; relinquish your place in the world that Lyndon Johnson, Richard Daley, and Hubert Humphrey re­present and join our community of love. Please. Together we can build a better, more generous America.

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The feeling was even more reli­gious than it had been in the Coliseum. The demonstrators kept singing “God Bless America,” “This Land Is My Land,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” waving the “V” symbols above their heads, asking the soldiers to join in. They never did, but if you walked down the line of troops you noticed that not a single man could look you in the eye. They seemed moved and confused.

When Phil Ochs got onto the speaker’s stand he almost trans­formed the rally in Grant Park into the same sort of prayer ses­sion he had inspired in the Coliseum. Facing the soldiers, not the protestors, he begged “one man among you to lay down your arms and come over to our side. The army is making you into Germans, into men who only obey orders. It is not treason I’m urg­ing, but real patriotism. I know you’ll have to go to the stockade for what you do but at least you’ll be a free man, free from the war machine. In the name of Robert Kennedy I ask: Isn’t there one soldier who is a real American, one man who is willing to come over to our side?”

When Ochs began to sing “I Ain’t Marchin’ Any More” the demonstrators chanted “join us” softly, as if it was a litany. “Call it peace or call it reason, call it love or call it treason, but I ain’t marchin’ any more,” Ochs sang. It was a prayer that a single soldier might be as inspired to make a decision of peace, to lay down his rifle as kids had burned their draft cards earlier in the week and join in song, and that way cause the entire military machine to begin its decay.

The hope was a chimera. Not a single soldier crossed over.

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***

Five hours after Ochs sang, a squadron of policemen took an elevator up to the 15th floor of the Hilton Hotel, raided a party that some McCarthy workers had organized, and beat the kids who had kept clean for Gene just as viciously as they had beaten the Yippies and radicals the night be­fore.

Their claim that beer cans and defecation had been dropped to the street below was clearly a pretext for violence: they dragged sleeping kids from rooms that were not even facing Michigan Avenue, and used their night sticks on them, too. The invasion seems to have been premeditated. Half an hour earlier all telephones to the 15th floor were disconnected, ac­cording to McCarthy workers, and now there was no way for the volunteers to call for aid.

Perhaps the raid was a symbol, perhaps it was a signal. With the last moderate candidate gone the police could close in even on the liberals who had maintained their belief in America’s’ poltical system.

The invasion of McCarthy’s headquarters seemed, in effect, a declaration of war directed at the people who had been begging the soldiers, the police, the dele­gates, and every other American who could hear them or see them to “join us” in an effort to change this country peacefully.

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Categories
From The Archives From The Archives Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Chicago 1968: Blood, Sweat, & Tears

A Visit to Chicago: Blood, Sweat, & Tears
September 5, 1968

CHICAGO — At half past midnight last Tuesday, the occupants of Lincoln Park were stormed by the Chicago police. It was not the first day, nor was it to be the last, that the Old City­ — the Lincoln Park area — had come under attack. During the previous two nights the Mayor’s ordinance to clear the park by 11 p.m. had been vigorously enforced with nightsticks and tear gas.

Around midnight on Tuesday, some 400 clergy, con­cerned local citizens, and other respectable gentry joined the Yippies, members of Students for a Democratic Society, and the National Mobilization Committee to fight for the privilege of remaining in the park. Sporting armbands decorated with a black cross and chanting pacifist hymns, the men of God exhorted their radical congregation to lay down their bricks and join in a non-violent vigil.

Having foreseen that they could only wage a symbolic war with “little caesar Daley,” several enterprising clergymen brought with them an enormous wooden cross, which they erected in the midst of the demonstrators under a street lamp. Three of them assumed heroic poses around the cross, more reminiscent of the Marines raising the flag over Iwo Jima than any Christ-like tableau they may have had in mind.

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During the half-hour interlude between the arrival of the clergy and the police attack, a fascinating debate over the relative merits of strict non-violence versus armed self-defense raged between the clergy and the militants. While the clergy was reminded that their members were “over 30, the opiate of the people, and totally irrelevant,” the younger generation was warned that “by calling the police ‘pigs’ and fighting with them you become as bad as they are.” Although the conflict was never resolved, everyone more or less decided to do his own thing. By then the demonstrators, some 800 strong, began to feel the phalanx of police which encircled the park moving in, even the most militant forgot his quibbles with “the liberal-religious sell-out” and began to huddle together around the cross.

When the police announced that the demonstrators had five minutes to move out before the park was cleared, everyone went into his individual kind of panic. One boy sitting near me unwrapped a cheese sandwich and began to stuff it into his face with­out bothering to chew. A girl standing at the periphery of the circle who had been alone all evening walked up to a helmeted boy with a mustache and ground herself into him. People all over the park were shyly introducing themselves to each other as if they didn’t want to die alone: “My name is Mike Stevenson from Detroit; what got you into this?” I heard someone asking behind me. Others became in­creasingly involved in the details of survival: rubbing Vaseline on their face to keep the Mace from burning their skin, buttoning their jackets, wetting their handkerchief and tying it over their nose and mouth. “If it’s gas, remember, breathe through your mouth, don’t run, don’t pant, and for Christsake don’t rub your eyes,” someone thoughtfully an­nounced over the speaker. A boy in the center of the circle got up, stepped over his seated friends, and made his way to­ward the woods. “Don’t leave now,” several voices called in a panic. The boy explained in embarrassed tone that he was just going to take a leak.

Sitting in a cluster near the main circle, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Genet, William Burroughs, and Terry Southern were taking in the scene. Ginsberg was in his element. As during all moments of tension during the week, he was chanting OM in a hoarse whisper, occasionally punctuat­ing the ritual with a tinkle from his finger cymbals. Burroughs, wearing a felt hat, stared va­cantly at the cross, his thin lips twitching in a half smile. Genet, small, stocky, bald-headed, with the mug of a saintly convict, rubbed his nose on the sleeve of his leather jacket. I asked him if he was afraid. “No. I know what this is,” he replied. But doesn’t knowing make you more afraid, I asked. He shook his head and started to speak when the sky fell on us.

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It happened all in an instant. The night which had been filled with darkness and whispers ex­ploded in a fiery scream. Huge tear gas canisters came crashing through the branches, snap­ping them and bursting in the center of the gathering. From where I lay, groveling in the grass, I could see ministers re­treating with the cross, carrying it like a fallen comrade. Another volley shook me to my feet. Gas was everywhere. People were running, screaming, tearing, through the trees. Something hit the tree next to me, I was on the ground again, someone was pulling me to my feet, two boys were lifting a big branch off a girl who lay squirming hyster­ically. I couldn’t see. Someone grabbed onto me and asked me to lead them out of the park. We walked along, hands out­stretched, bumping into people and trees, tears streaming from our eyes and mucus smeared a­cross our face. I flashed First World War doughboys caught in no man’s land during a mustard gas attack. I couldn’t breathe. I felt sure I was going to die. I heard others choking around me. And then everything cleared.

Standing on the sidewalk at the edge of the park I looked back at a dozen little fires which lit up the woods, still fogged with gas. The police were advancing in a picket line, swatting at the stragglers and crumpled figures; huge trucks, usually used for cleaning the streets, swept to­ward us spraying more gas. Kids began ripping up the pavement and hurling snowball-size chunks at the truck windows. Then they flooded out into the streets, blocking traffic, fighting with plainclothesmen who awaited our exodus from the park, and bom­barding hapless patrol cars which sped through the crowds.

The ragged army split up into a series of mobs which roamed through the streets breaking win­dows, setting trash cans on fire, and demolishing at least a dozen patrol cars which happened to cruise down the wrong street at the wrong time. Smoke billowed from a house several blocks from me and the fire engines began arriving. A policeman ran from an angry brick-throwing mob, lost his cap, hesitated, and ran away without it. At the inter­section of Clark and Division, four cop cars arrived simultan­eously and policemen leapt out shooting in the air. From all four sides the demonstrators let them have it; most of the missiles were overthrown and hit their com­rades or store windows on the other side of the street. Diving down into the subway, I found a large group of refugees who had escaped the same way. The tunnel looked like a busy bomb shelter; upstairs the shooting continued.

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***

Everyone knew that Wednesday was going to be the big one. Rumors circulated among the police that a cop had been killed in Tuesday’s “white-riot.” The demonstrators had their own beef: not only had they been gassed and beaten, not only had one of their leaders, Tom Hayden, been arrested twice on tramped-up charges of inciting to riot, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and letting the air out of the tires of a police vehicle, but the police had also broken into their community centers up near Lincoln Park.

Finally, the demonstrators were also set on marching to the Amphitheatre where what they called the Convention of Death was going through the motions of nominating Hubert. Crossing the bridge from the park in front of the Hilton to the bandshell in the middle of Grant Park, dem­onstrators filed into their seats listening to the prophetic words of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing.” The police had already surrounded the park, the National Guard held all the bridges leading across the railroad tracks to Chicago’s downtown Loop area, and helicopters filled the skies like hungry mosquitoes.

The Mayor had been good enough to circulate the announcement telling the demonstrators that they were wel­come to stay at the bandshell all day and enjoy themselves, but that no march on the convention would be tolerated. His instructions, however, were apparently too subtle for his henchmen who saw the demonstrators as the enemy and couldn’t wrestle the idea of a truce into their image. Accordingly, when a demonstrator replaced the American flag with revolutionary red, the police became incensed at the unpatriotic slur and moved in to restore decency and the American way of life. (Jerry Rubin, accused of “soliciting to mob action” and out of jail on $25,000, says that one of the demonstrators who claims to have taken part in the lowering of the American flag was his personal bodyguard, assigned to him by the Mobilization. The same young man later turned out to be an under cover agent who had been keeping Rubin under surveillance.)

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In the police charge which was ostensibly aimed at lowering the red banner, the police went con­siderably out of their way to crack the skull of Rennie Davis, spokesman and leader of the Mobe, along with four or five others who had been sitting on their benches in the open air au­ditorium listening to anti-war speeches by Vietnam veterans and the ever present Phil Ochs. Medics scrambled over broken benches (later used as ammuni­tion against the police) in a display of greater enthusiasm than efficiency. Within minutes the program continued as if nothing extraordinary had occurred.

“The merchants of death are try­ing to make themselves present in the delivery room of our movement,” Carl Oglesby, once chairman of SDS, screamed over the microphones as the police withdrew to the periphery of the crowd. Hayden, furious at the indifference with which people learned that Davis was “stretch­ed out,” exhorted the People’s Army to break up into small groups and invade the streets of the Loop, “to do what they have to do.” Some of the hard heads followed him, but the vast ma­jority of the demonstrators stay­ed with Ginsberg who was or­ganizing a non-violent march to the Amphitheatre.

Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden, trailed by Hayden’s “bodyguard”

While Genet, Burroughs, and Southern chose to stay with the marchers, Norman Mailer pro­vided brief comic relief when he made his excuses, saying that he would not march because he was writing a long piece about the convention and demonstration, and that he couldn’t write it from jail. “But you’ll all know what I’m full of if I don’t show up on the next one,” Mailer said with his characteristic hurumph for emphasis after the last word in the key sentence. Mailer ended by comparing the Chicago demonstrators favorably with those he had written about at the Pen­tagon march last October.

Once outside the bandshell and onto the sidewalk of a highway which runs through the park, the marchers were immediately halted by a line of Guardsmen who blocked the route. Seeing a confrontation emerging, hundreds of newsmen rushed to the front of the line to be in on the action. Instead they formed a protective barrier between the troops and the demonstrators, a pattern which was to be repeated frequently during the next two days. After hours of frustrating negotia­tions which led nowhere, the demonstrators moved in a block toward one of the bridges which lead back to the Hilton. It too was barricaded with troops as were the next four bridges, where tear gas was used to keep the demonstrators from try­ing to break through.

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Most of us got across the fifth bridge and joined the mule-drawn covered wagons of the Poor People’s Campaign which were headed for the Hilton. Michigan Avenue, for the first time in anyone’s memory, clearly belonged to the people. There was a sense of victory and momentum as the mob of some 8,000 to 10,000 people converged on the Hilton. Everyone was still sneezing and spitting from the gas, but they felt high at having out-foxed the police who had clearly meant to isolate them in the park or split them up before they got to the Hilton.

A police line across Michigan Avenue on the doorstep of the hotel finally halted the march and people began to mill around, undecided on the best strategy.

Finally the police solved the problem by taking the initiative. To put it neatly, they decided to clear the street. In the pro­cess of allowing for the circula­tion of vehicular traffic they sent some 300 demonstrators to the hospital with split skulls and broken banes. When the charge came there was a stampede toward the sidelines. People piled into each other, humped over each other’s bodies like coupling dogs. To fall down in the crush was just as terrifying as facing the police. Suddenly I realized my feet weren’t touching the ground as the crowd pushed up onto the sidewalk. I was grabbing at the army jacket of the boy in front of me; the girl behind had a strangle-hold on my neck and was screaming incoherently in my ear.

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Across the street, the other half of the crowd was being squashed against the walls of the Hilton. The pressure was so great that a plate glass window shattered. Terrified demon­strators were pulled through the window by a Life correspon­dent and a sympathetic waitress who gave them instructions as to where they could hide. Within minutes police piled into the hotel to protect the clientele by beating the protesters senseless in the plush conidors of the Hilton.

Outside, demonstrators were being peeled off the wall one at a time, sprayed with mace, beaten, and occasionally arrested. More forays by the police into the park across from the hotel sent people headlong into trees. During one of these maneuvers I watched a medic throw himself over the bloody head of a demonstrator — like a GI clutching a live grenade to his gut. When I saw him emerge from the fracas, the medic’s head was in a worse state than the patient’s.

By 10 p.m. the National Guard had pinned one group in the park in front of the Hilton and pushed the other two groups north and south down Michigan Avenue. A paddy wagon was caught in one of the mobs and demonstrators started rocking it back and forth in an attempt to overturn it. A busload of police got to them before they succeeded.

Down the side streets groups of 50 to 100 demonstrators broke off from the main action to disrupt the town. They moved quickly, leaving a trail of overturned garbage and shattered glass in their wake. Chased by police, they would split up and reform with other groups. One contingent, calling itself the Flower Cong, was particularly well organized and effective. I was following them up State Street when I caught sight of a blonde girl, a member of the Resistance, whom I’d talked to earlier in the day. I caught up with her just as the street filled up with cops. We turned to run in opposite directions and I lost sight of her until it was all over. Having seen that the police had blocked both ends of the street, I took refuge in a drugstore with several others. When I came out she was trying to sit up in the street, blood soaking through her hair, running down her chin and neck, and collecting in her collar. A car stopped and offered to take her to the hospital, so I carried her over and laid her out in the back seat. The car owner wanted to put news­paper under her head so she wouldn’t stain the seats.

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My hotel was nearby so I decided to go up and get rid of my shirt which was covered with her blood. At the main entrance I was stopped by a security guard who wouldn’t let me in. I showed him my key but he still refused. After two similar rebuttals I was finally allowed to sneak in the back entrance and up the service elevator. “We don’t want you walking around the lobby like that,” one of the hotel police­men advised me. Up in my room I turned on the tube just as Daley was being asked by an interviewer if there was any evidence of brutality. Outside my window I could hear screams. I opened the shades and leaned out as the police pinned a bunch of demonstrators against the wall of the hotel. From the window above me someone heaved a roll of toilet paper and screamed “Pigs.” When the street cleared, four bodies were lying in the gutter. Daley’s voice droned on about how he had received no indication of police brutality.

Later that evening the McCar­thy delegates, having lost the football game, as one Flower Cong put it, joined the demonstrators in a dramatic candle-light procession. It was irrational but I hated them. I hated them for having come to the blood fest late. I hated them as I hated every necktie in the Hilton. I hated them not because they had tried to win the football game, but because their very presence among the real demonstrators co­opted and made respectable the blood and snot that speckled the streets of Chicago. The earlier crowd, the scruffy-hippie-commie-beatnick-agitators, were the ones who had exposed the military backbone of the liberal system. It took blood to prove to the prime time viewers that Civil Rights, the right to dissent, the right to assemble, the right to pass freely in the streets, the right to be tried before being clubbed, were all okay as long as you didn’t actually try to use them.

The delegates were received with mixed feelings. Outwardly almost everyone welcomed them, even those who earlier had shout­ed “McCarthy is not enough.” They represented a kind of vin­dication of the demonstration. In addition they lent respectability and a certain amount of protec­tion to protestors who had been kicked around for five long days. But in spite of this there was a feeling among most of those who had been initiated by violence that the support of the delegates would only be tolerated as long as the movement in the streets remained the property of those who had grown and suffered with it.

***

Wednesday was the bloody catharsis, Thursday was farce. There is a certain credible na­ture about a policeman’s nightstick which inspires a kind of de­fiant respect. But a tank is hard to take seriously. I know a lot of people who cracked up when they saw the tank sitting in the middle of the street pawing at the pavement like a lost rhinoc­eros who has wandered out of the jungle into the city by mistake. Mortars, flame throwers, machine guns, and bazookas, who are they kidding?

Standing in line, waiting to be arrested in Thursday’s march to Dick Gregory’s house, I happen­ed to end up next to a very stoned young couple groping at each other and taunting the troops with their sexual freedom. “Fuck don’t fight,” the young man pleaded with the troops as he fondled his woman. A black army medic finally responded with a smile, “Is it true that all you people run around with­out any clothes on up in Lin­coln Park?” Then the jokes were over and they turned on the gas. Four times in all until they had pushed us back to the Hil­ton. Then another three times in front of the Hilton just in case the TV crews had missed any­ thing.

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The absurdity of the police and military over-reaction to the demonstrators had been driven home to me earlier in the day when I was stopped by five po­licemen under the tramway on Wabash Avenue. One of them grabbed me and looked at my press credentials, making some wise-assed remark about the hip­pie underground press from New York. His buddies laughed and I thought I was going to be let go. ”Let’s see your underarms, kid,” my interrogator said. Earlier in the week I had heard some Yips complaining about a similar request, but I never had figured out why anyone wanted to check their pits. Taking my jacket off I held my hands over my head thinking that maybe this was the new slang for “reach for the sky.” But that wasn’t it. They wanted me to take off my shirt, and when I refused they ripped it under both arms and by God they checked my armpits. Satisfied, I guess, that I wasn’t carrying either concealed weapons or drugs, they chased me away with a warning. After that nothing sounded too absurd.

Walking past a group of Guardsmen who were resting up for their next stint of duty, Ab­bie Hoffman, a Yip leader, was being razzed about his appear­ance. Finally, without a blink, Hoffman walked up to one of them and said, “Hey listen, I’ll lay a nickel bag that you guys could whip the cops any day of the week.” A pensive look came across the trooper’s face.

Categories
From The Archives Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Chicago 1968: Blood Outside the Arena

Chicago in August: Prelims are Bloody

CHICAGO — The lid blew off Monday night.

In the Amphitheatre:

Hubert Humphrey made his pact with the South and John Connally became his Strom Thurmond.

Eugene McCarthy’s badly organized campaign continued to unravel.

The boomlet for Teddy Kennedy turned out to be a fantasy of Bobby’s orphans.

In the street:

The cops chased, Maced, tear-gassed, and shot blanks at the kids who were in Lincoln Park an hour after curfew.

All over the city people were randomly stopped and questioned.

Tom Hayden was arrested on charges which three witnesses including two lawyers insisted were false.

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By 3 a.m. Tuesday the liberals had been routed at the convention, the kids had been repulsed on the street. Everywhere you walked, from midnight on, there were plainclothesmen. They frisked you with their eyes like whores strip potential clients, and if you looked the least bit suspicious they tailed you as you continued down the street. Almost every noise was martial: fire sirens, the squawking of two-way radios, cop cars racing from place to place, the idle chatter of police on duty.

We were with Tom Hayden when he got arrested, at 11:55 p.m. in front of the Hilton Hotel. He had come by for a few minutes intending to go straight on to Lincoln Park, when he ran into some friends who were staying in the hotel. They invited him up to their room, but as Hayden sought to enter the hotel through its revolving doors a middle-aged man in street clothes stopped him.

“We don’t want this man here,” he told Hayden’s friends.

“But he’s our guest,” one of them answered.

“No, he’s not welcome at this hotel,” the security officer insisted.

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One of Hayden’s friends followed the security officer into the hotel to complain about the decision to his superiors. For a few minutes Tom stood around talking with a small group of people. Then suddenly, Ralph Bell, a plainclothesman dressed in khakis and a red and yellow checked shirt, came running down Michigan Avenue yelling, “He’s our man, arrest that man.” A uniformed policeman who had been directing traffic grabbed Hayden and threw him on the ground. He was arrested, according to the arrest form at the 114th Precinct Station in Chicago, because he “called the police names and spit at them.” We were present during the entire scene and we are certain that Hayden never called the police a name. Since he was grabbed from behind it would have been difficult for him to spit at the arresting officer.

It is clear that the moment that Hotel Hilton’s security officer saw Hayden he decided to call the police. Since this was Hayden’s second arrest of the day on extremely tenuous charges it is apparent that the Chicago police have decided to harass the Mobilization leader throughout the convention week.

For three weeks both Hayden and Rennie Davis have been followed 24 hours a day by detectives. Hayden says that his tail has repeatedly threatened to kill him. But the police’s harassment of the Mobilization is far more extensive than that. Photographs of Hayden, Davis, and other key figures in the radical movement have been distributed to all hotel doormen in the city, and at bus terminals, train stations, airports. (The “Red Squad” of the Chicago police force is one of the most efficient in the country, according to people who live here. During a demonstration against the House Un-American Activities Committee three years ago, for example, policemen took pictures of every participant and put them in a film of people who were likely to assassinate the President or Vice-President of the United States, the Chicago American reported at the time.)

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Now the harassment seems to extend to people who are just casually involved with the radical movement. A taxi driver who took a young couple to the office of the National Mobilization Against the War in Vietnam was questioned by police about the conversations he had overheard. It is widely assumed here that the telephones of everyone connected with the Mobilization are tapped.

We got to the precinct station where Hayden was booked and were let inside because we had come to bail him out. We over­heard the police mocking the kids they had arrested. “We had to fumigate this place after we led all those animals through,” said one. An officer apparently nicknamed “Killer” who carried a revolver on each hip and smoked a long cigar, was complaining that he had been scheduled to screw two airline stewardesses that night. “I’m going to kill those Yippies who lost me that good lay,” he said. Ten minutes later be came back into the room. “Well, one of them said she would meet me later on. I guess I can wait till tomorrow night to get me some action.”

We stood around the precinct station for two hours waiting for Hayden’s bail to be set. Finally, one of the police told us that the procedure would take at least two hours more while Hayden was fingerprinted. “But he was already arrested once today,” Newfield said. “Oh, we didn’t know that,” the officer answered. “Since that’s the case we’ll bring him down here right away.”

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We spent the next hour walk­ing with Hayden through down­town Chicago, trying to dodge his tail. Every few minutes we would hear fire trucks setting out to chase down some false alarm that bad been set off by the hip­pies. After one particularly com­plicated trek through back alleys and down side streets we were stopped by two detectives who got out of their car to ask u where we were going. It wasn’t clear whether they recognized Hayden or suspected any strang­er who walked along an unusual route. James Ridgeway of the New Republic showed the detec­tive his White House press pass and Newfield took out his official press pass to the convention. “We’re just trying to show this friend of ours the back streets of Chicago,” he explained.

Walking down Clark Street we met a black pimp and two black whores, all of them wearing McCarthy buttons. The chicks were wearing gaudy pink sun­glasses. “Say, man, you want to meet some girls?” the pimp asked, “No, not tonight man,” said Hayden, “I just got out of jail.”

“Oh yeah, what jail?” the pimp asked. “The 11th Precinct Station,” Tom replied. “Man, I know those parts real well. I’ve been in every jail in this city,” the pimp said.

At about 3:30 Tom got into a taxi, hoping to evade the tail who threatened to murder him. We went hack to the lobby of the Hilton Hotel where we ran into a weary and depressed Fred Dutton, former aide to RFK and JFK. Dutton told us that he saw no hope for stopping Humphrey. He had just spoken to Edward Kennedy, he said, he was convinced that the movement to draft the Massachusetts senator was a pipe dream.

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Dutton, who surely must have felt that it Robert Kennedy had lived this convention would be nominating him, showed his despair with the events of the evening. He had been listening to Nick Von Hoffmann, a reporter for the Washington Post who bad been watching the police beat the Yippies on the Near North Side. Von Hoffmann was visibly angry. “I was over at the pig palace watching the pig master at work,” he said. “But I got too disgusted so I decided to watch his hired sadists on the beat. You know that they don’t make arrests any more. They can’t be bothered with lawyers, courts, any of that stuff.”

“Yeah, they just maim people and leave them hidden,” added a delegate from New York.

Dutton turned to Von Hoff­mann and told him passionately that “it’s up to you guys to keep reporting that stuff. There’s not much we can do any more — not the politicians, not even the kids. You have to keep telling the public what’s going on.”

Meanwhile, a cherubic-faced teenager walked between the drunks and the celebrants, try­ing to distribute Ted Kennedy for President leaflets. There were few takers.

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Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Chicago 1968: A Riot by the Cops

The Streets of Daleyland

CHICAGO — Pigs. Until Wednes­day night this was just a Move­ment nickname for the police. A satisfying exaggeration. An example of in-group argot. A verbal gesture of solidarity with the Black Panthers. But Wednesday night on the streets of Daleyland, pigs became a precise descrip­tion. The Chicago police, with their thick heads, small eyes, and beery jowls, actually resemble pigs. And they surely behaved like animals in this city famous for its stockyards.

Wednesday at twilight the pigs rioted against the people. The police charged into about 5000 anti-war demonstrators; they did not try to arrest people, but tried to maim people. They gleefully used fists, nightsticks, and tear gas against unarmed students, girls, and photographers who did not offer any resistance.

The light gray smoke from the exploding tear gas canisters was the first omen of violence. The suffocating, burning tear gas curled lazily up toward the upper floors of the Hilton and Black­stone hotels. The young demon­strators began choking, covering their faces with handkerchiefs and jackets, and grudgingly re­treated. Then the blue-helmeted police charged into the coughing, tearing people, swinging indis­criminately at Yippies, pedestri­ans, priests, photographers, girls, doctors, and middle-aged women.

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At the southwest entrance to the Hilton, a skinny, long-haired kid of about 17 skidded down on the sidewalk, and four over­weight cops leaped on him, bring­ing their long black nightsticks down in short, chopping strokes on his head. His hair flew from the force of the blows. A dozen small rivulets of blood began to cascade down the kid’s temple and onto the sidewalk. He was not crying or screaming, but crawling in a stupor toward the gutter. When he saw a photo­grapher taking a picture, he made a V sign with his fingers.

A doctor in a white uniform and red cross arm band began to run toward the kid, but two other cops caught him from behind and knocked him down. One of them jammed his knee into the doctor’s throat and began clubbing his rib cage. The doctor squirmed away, but the cops fol­lowed him, swinging hard, some­times missing.

A few feet away a phalanx of police charged into a group of women, reporters, and young McCarthy activists standing idly against the window of the Hilton Hotel’s Haymarket bar. The ter­rified people began to go down under the unexpected police charge when the plate glass window of the bar shattered, and the people tumbled backward through the glass. The police then climbed through the broken window and began to beat people, some of whom had been drinking quietly in the hotel bar.

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At the side entrance of the Hilton Hotel four cops were chas­ing one frightened kid of about 17. Suddenly, Fred Dutton, a former aide to Robert Kennedy, moved out from under the mar­quee and interposed his body between the kid and the police.

“He’s my guest my in this hotel,” Dutton told the cops.

The police started to club the kid.

Dutton screamed for the first cop’s name and badge number. The cop grabbed Dutton and be­gan to arrest him, until a Washington Post reporter identified Dutton as a former RFK aide.

Demonstrators, reporters, McCarthy workers, doctors, all be­gan to stagger into the Hilton lobby, blood streaming from face and head wounds. The lobby smelled from tear gas, and stink bombs dropped by the Yippies. A few people began to direct the wounded to a make shift hospital on the 15th floor, the McCarthy staff headquarters.

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Fred Dutton was screaming at the police, and at the journalists to report all the “sadism and brutality.” Richard Goodwin, the ashen nub of a cigar sticking out of his fatigued face, mumbled, “This is just the beginning. There’ll be four years of this.”

The defiant kids began a slow, orderly retreat back up Michigan Avenue. They did not run. They did not panic. They did not fight back. As they fell back they help­ed pick up fallen comrades who were beaten or gassed. Suddenly, a plainclothesman dressed as a soldier moved out of the shadows and knocked one kid down with an overhand punch. The kid squatted on the pavement of Michigan Avenue, trying to cover his face, while the Chicago plain­clothesman punched him with savage accuracy. Thud, thud, thud. Blotches of blood spread over the kid’s face. Two photo­graphers moved in. Several police formed a closed circle around the beating to prevent pictures. One of the policemen then squirted Chemical Mace at the photographers, who dispersed. The plainclothesman melted into the line of police. And the kid sat in a dazed crouch on the sidewalk bleeding, cursing the “pigs.”

Back at the Hilton, a pretty girl, a campaign worker for Sena­tor McGovern, began to cross the narrow street between the Black­stone and Hilton hotels. She was on errand for the Senator. With­out warning, two plainclothesmen ran into her, knocking her down, and then kneed her in the neck.

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Upstairs on the 15th floor, the girls who worked for Senator McCarthy were treating the bloody and the sick. They were ripping up Conrad Hilton’s bed­sheets and using them as gauze and bandages. Jerome Grossman, a bureaucrat in the McCarthy campaign, asked them not to destroy hotel property, but no­body paid attention to him. A lot of the girls had bloodstains on their dresses, legs, and arms.

On the 16th floor an incensed reporter was throwing hotel ash­trays at the police below. When he tried to wave a sheet out of the window at the kids, the up­tight Newsweek editors threw him out of their work roam.

An hour after the police riot, the kids began to straggle back to the Hilton Hotel in twos and threes. They had balls, but no bravado. They hadn’t slept for days, and most of them were still in their teens. Slowly, they began to form a circle on the grass across the street in Grant Park, a few feet away from a grim line of 400 National Guards­men. As the darkness deepened, the group of battered demonstra­tors began to grow from 50, to 200, to more than 1000. They chanted “oink, oink” at the pigs. They chanted “join us, join us” to the McCarthy staffers inside the Hilton. And they sang songs like “This Land Is Your Land” and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” as Hubert Humphrey was being no­minated six miles away on the votes supplied by Mayor Daley, Governor Connally, and George Meany.

***

The Left should regard Hum­phrey’s nomination as undemo­cratic and illegitimate. He was unwilling to face the voters in a single primary election. In Indiana, South Dakota, California, and New York, where his stand-­ins were on the ballot, they re­ceived, on the average, less than 20 per cent of the vote. In South Dakota, Humphrey’s native state, Robert Kennedy won more than 50 per cent of the vote. At the convention itself, Governor Con­nally, Mayor Daley, and George Meany controlled the votes of more delegates than did the seven million Democrats who voted for Senators McCarthy and Kennedy in the Presidential primaries.

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In other examples of the total­itarian atmosphere and mood of the convention, the public — except for Daley supporters — were barred from sitting in the galleries. Humphrey refused to debate his opponents. Mayor Daley denied citizens the right of peaceful as­sembly and free speech. Televis­ion cameras were barred from the streets. Newsmen and photographers were beaten by police. Pro-McCarthy delegates were harassed on the floor of the con­vention. Allard Lowenstein was prevented from seconding Julian Bond’s nomination for Vice-Pre­sident. Microphones of dissenting delegates were turned off by the convention managers on the podi­um. And in the final burst of police state arrogance, McCarthy’s staff members were beaten in their rooms.

The commentators of the plastic center — men like Bill Moyers and Eric Sevareld — now talk as if blame for the violence is to be distributed equally, like food on a platter, and that Hum­phrey’s nomination is to be ac­cepted. They admit “some police over-reacted,” and try to balance that with mathematical fairness by accepting Mayor Daley’s des­cription of the demonstration leaders as “terrorists and ass­assins.”

But we believe that the police were responsible for the violence, and Humphrey’s nomination should not be accepted as legiti­mate. The people in the streets were unarmed and did not come to assassinate anyone. They came to march, and Mayor Daley would not give them a permit or even a place to hold a public rally. It was Mayor Daley and the con­vention’s managers who vio­lated law and order. The spirit of democracy was more alive in Grant Park than inside the convention.

All that’s left now is to act on the illegitimacy of Humphrey’s nomination, and treat him like a pretender rather than a nominee.

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Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Chicago 1968: Theatre of Fear

Theatre of Fear: On on the Aisle
September 5, 1968

CHICAGO — I brought the Fear out with me from New York, a white plastic helmet and a bottle of Vaseline. The same fear that built the fences, and erected the barricades, and brought all those soldiers in from Texas. Touch-fear: the kind that burns when you tap its roots. And this fear was worse than paranoia, because it involved no element of persecution, but only a gnawing awareness of inner dread.

I invoke these anxiety-obsessions now, under the pretext of relevance. If you want to experience the ecstasy of street-turmoil, you must first understand the reality of fear. Because no one could have come to Chicago without first fighting in his head the battle he would later fight in the streets.

I made lists. Weeks before my first whiff of tear gas, I spent a night dissecting my motives and expectations, in two neat columns. On one side, I wrote: adventure, good copy, and histori­cal imperative. On the other: danger, loneliness, and cost. The word commitment didn’t appear on either side. Not since college, the New Frontier, and the White Castle riot in the Bronx, had I been able to associate that word with politics. I simply re-directed my radicalism toward aesthetics. At Columbia, last spring, I realized that I had become a white liberal. I never saw the stirring of revolution on College Walk, and while I agreed with their goals, I felt distinct from the student  radicals, and enraged by their style. My cynic’s streak flowed river-deep when I witnessed the martyrdom of Mimi (one of two girls who served short terms in the Women’s House of Detention and inspired the chant, “Free Huey … Free Mimi.”) If these people couldn’t take punishment, did they really deserve to be free?

Not long after that, I had lunch with a Broadway producer who wanted me to help write the script for a protest-musical. Eyes aglow, he related his open­ing scene. Thirty kids march on­stage, carrying signs. A voice screams: Up Against the Wall, and the ensemble breaks into a chorus of “We Protest,” to the tune of the 1812 Overture. There has been an undeclared alliance in my mind between that scenario and the tweedy revolution­aries at Columbia. Before Chicago, I couldn’t perceive the difference between the guerilla theatre on Morningside Heights and the realpolitik of Broadway.

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***

“You afraid?” I asked a kid from California. He zipped his army jacket up to his neck, and filled his palm with a wad of Vaseline. “I dunno,” he answered. “My toes feel cold, but my ears are burning.”

We were standing together in Lincoln Park, not long after curfew on Tuesday night, watching an unbroken line of police. Around us were 1000 insurgents: hippies, Marxists, tourists, reporters, Panthers, Angels, and a phalanx of concerned ministers, gathered around a 12-foot cross. Occasionally a cluster of kids would break away from the rally to watch the formation in the distance. They spoke quietly, rubbing cream on their faces, and knotting dampened undershirts around their mouths. Not all their accoutrements were defensive. I saw saps and smoke bombs, steel-tipped boots and fistfuls of tacks. My friend pulled out a small canister from his pocket. “Liquid pepper,” he explained.

Watching these kids gather sticks and stones, I realized how far we have come from that mythical summer when everyone dropped acid, sat under a tree, and communed. If there were any flower children left in America, they had heeded the underground press, and stayed home. Those who came fully anticipated confrontation. There were few virgins to violence in the crowd tonight. Most had seen — if not shed — blood, and that baptism had given them a determination of sorts. The spirit of Lincoln Park was to make revolution the way you make love — ambivilently, perhaps but for real.

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The cops advanced at 12:40 a.m., behind two massive floodlight-trucks. They also had the fear; you could see it in their eyes (wide and wet) and their mouths. All week, you watched them cruise the city — never alone and never unarmed. At night, you heard their sirens in the streets, and all day, their helicopters in the sky. On duty, the average Chicago cop was a walking arsenal — with a shot gun in one hand, a riot baton (long and heavy with steel tips) in the other, and an assortment of pistols, nightsticks, and ominous canisters in his belt. At first, all that equipment seemed flattering. But then you saw under the helmets, and the phallic weaponry, and you felt the fear again. Immigrant to stranger, cop to civilian, old man to kid. The fear that brought the people of Chicago out into the streets during Martin Luther King’s open housing march, now reflected in the fists of these cops. The fear that made the people of Gage Park spit at priests, and throw stones at nuns, now authorized to kill. And you realized that the cops weren’t putting on that display for you; no — a cop’s gun is his security blanket, just as Vaseline was yours.

Then the lights shone brilliant orange and the tear gas guns exploded putt-putt-puttutt, and the ministers dipped their cross into a halo of smothering fog. The gas hit like a great wall of pepper and you ran coughing into the streets, where you knew there would be rocks to throw and windows to smash and something to feel besides fear.

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***

The soldiers stood on all the bridges, sealing off Grant Park from the city streets. The kids couldn’t be gassed anymore, be­cause the wind was blowing fumes across the guarded bridges and into every open pore of the Conrad Hilton, and the hotel was filled with good people who had tears in their eyes. So the soldiers just stood with their empty guns poised against the tide. And they were frowning at the kids who shouted “put down your guns; join us.” A few hid flowers in their uniforms, and some smiled, but mostly, they stood posing for their own death masks.

“Wouldn’t you rather hold a girl than a gun?” asked one kid with his arm around two willing chicks.

“You don’t understand,” the soldier stammered, moving his tongue across his lips. “It’s or­ders. We have to be here.”

That was Wednesday — nomination day — and the city was braced for escalation. At the afternoon rally, an American flag was hauled down, and the police responded by wading into the center of the crowd, with clubs flying. The kids built barricades of vacated benches, pelted the police with branches, and tossed plastic bags of cow’s blood over their  heads.

I stood in the shade applying Vaseline. I had my route mapped out in advance; across the northmost bridge and into the free Loop. With every semblance of press identification I owned pinned to my shirt, I set out across the mall. But most of the crowd had the same idea. Across on Michigan Avenue, I could hear the shouts of demonstrators who were re-grouping at the Hilton. I stopped to wet my under­shirt in a fountain and ran down the street. My hands were shaking with anticipation and I could no longer close my eyes without seeing helmets and hearing chants. So my body was commit­ted, but my head remained aloof.

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It brought me back to the Columbia uprising, because I learned something then about why I am a journalist, and it has stayed with me since. Near Fayerwether Hall, I came face to face with a bloodied liberator. He looked up at the press card on my jacket, and muttered: “That keeps you safe, huh?”

He was right. I demand that distance; it’s part of my psyche. And I wasn’t yet prepared to smash the tape recorder in my brain, which retains impressions without actually experiencing them. For me, the Chicago fear amounted to going up against the wall without that little card which reads, “Police Please Pass.”

But now, I found myself swept up in the crowd around the Hilton. Rolls of toilet paper fell from the windows above. Flood­lights flashed, cameras snapped, and somewhere, a glass pane shattered. That was enough. The cops turned on the crowd, and shoved us against the hotel’s wall. People shrieked with one breath, and apologized for step­ping on toes with the other. Then the cops rushed in two directions, and I fell on someone’s back. A window broke behind me, and I saw people falling into the hotel pharmacy. Ahead, the police were clubbing in wide circles. Up close, and frozen into place, I saw their fists move in slow mo­tion. I thought, no invective can capture this moment, because I could hear the stockyard around me then — the sound of slaugh­ter, and I looked up at a kid whose arms were twisted behind in the crush, and I felt the Guer­nica in his eyes; the same ex­pression on the big horse was on his lips. And I knew where it had come from and why.

I slipped out and walked across the street, shaking. I sat for 10 minutes with a girl who had been unconscious. We watched the medical crews covering their faces. And when the tear gas came, we ran away.

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On Michigan Avenue, I sat in the street, and ripped away the remnants of my press cards. I whooped the way they did in “The Battle of Algiers,” and chanted the way they did in “La Chinoise,” and I raised my hands in a television “V” at the flag they had lowered to half mast. When the sirens came closer, I ran by rote up the steps of the Art Institute. Behind a pil­lar, I started to cry. You blew your cool, I thought, but it was like watching someone else’s headache. I had found the other side of fear, which is not hero­ism, but rage. My eyes burned with it, and my hands shook with it. Behind me, a cop fired over my head, and I ran forward shouting “Pigs eat shit,” not so he could hear, but so I could. In the street, I saw a straight kid in a crew-neck sweater heave a rock through the window of a police car. “The first one’s hard,” he said, as we ran toward State Street, “but after that, it’s easy.”

Which is where it’s at, with America, and me.

Categories
Equality From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

Martin Luther King, Attacked in Chicago

King in Chicago: Has White Power Killed Love Power?
August 11, 1966

CHICAGO — Hit squarely between the shoulder blades, Reverend Martin Luther King closed his eyes and fell to one knee. He waited for the impact of the bullet. But King had been struck by a rock. He brushed off the back of his neck, told reporters he was fine, and signaled his followers on.

They followed. More than 800 strong, they walked two abreast through Chicago’s Gage Park area last Friday, led by officials of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Twelve hundred policemen tried to prevent the march from becoming a bloodbath. The demonstrators inched their way through a hail of bricks, bottles, firecrackers, and spit. Seven thousand white residents of the area screamed abuse from the sidewalks but police formed two tight blue lines around the demonstra­tors and kept the murder verbal.

Chicago is a poor city in which to prove the pragmatic validity of non-violence. This year’s quota of race-warfare was far more vicious here than anywhere in the nation. The city’s Roman Catholics are scattered in tight ethnic ghettos; they are neither rich enough to tolerate newcomers, nor organized enough to meet the civil rights revolution with anything more destructive than bricks and cherry bombs.

The black power schism has created a profound enmity among the lower echelons of Chicago’s Negro leadership. One militant leader, who wore a Black Panther insignia as he spoke, called the SCLC march “King’s last stand.” He was a bit unkind. But many accept his pre­mise — that King’s 35-point pro­gram to “make Chicago an open city” is, in part, an effort to wrest control from the militants, of the place they now hold in the hearts and headlines of America.

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Chicago’s newspapers are filled with hair-raising stories about vast Negro gangs on the South Side. Tale of the Mighty Blackstone Rangers which the Chicago Daily News called “the biggest, toughest, and best disciplined gang Chicago has produced in a decade,” are filling the copy gap between the last mass murder and the next tax hike.

All these factors make this town one hell of a place to stage a comeback. But that is what SCLC’s ambitious program amounts to. It calls for more public housing construction in racially mixed areas, the estab­lishment of a bargaining union for welfare recipients, and a civilian review board. It is too early to tell whether the program or the marches will succeed. But Martin Luther King and his fol­lowers proved one thing last Friday: they showed Chicago and the nation that the Southerner is everyman.

King appeared first for the TV cameras. He stood on the steps of the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, on West 71st St., while across the street parish­ioners distributed water ices from wooden drums. Demonstra­tors piled into cars and headed west of 71st, past the wooden fire escapes and backyard alleys which spell slum in Chicago. Suddenly, across a thoroughfare call­ed Normal Boulevard, everything became hostile and white. Clusters of onlookers booed from the sidewalks at the passing motorcade. Neighborhood kids on bicy­cles rode alongside, pointing and spitting.

The cars deposited demonstra­tors and reporters in Marquette Park. After the previous Sun­day’s march, gangs of whites roamed through this area setting fire to demonstrators, cars. This time, cars and drivers returned to the Negro quarter, leaving hundreds of tense marchers camped along the grassy slopes, waiting for things to start.

They didn’t wait long. Gangs of white youths tossed stones and sticks from across a narrow river. A brawl broke out in the parking area. And passing cars honked in protest. The police arrived in chartered city buses, and quickly cleared the area. Blue shock helmets bobbed a­mong the weeping willows and along the dirt roads over which King would walk. There had been rumors of land mines.

“I hope King gets it,” said a neighborhood boy named John, waving a Confederate flag in the direction of the marchers. “We was chased twice and we ain’t gonna move again,” he explained. A friend held a sign which said “Wallace for President.” “I’ll go to school with ’em and I’ll work with ’em,” he said, “but I won’t live with ’em. I seen what they did to their neighborhoods and I don’t want ’em doing it here.”

Gage Park is a Polish-Lithuanian ghetto. Many of its residents moved there from other neighborhoods where Catholic churches have since become Baptist or Pentecostal. They stand on their porches awaiting the Nigger invasion. The anger of genuine frustration is on their faces. They hold their children and scream “White power,” and “Get that priest out of there; he’s no priest.” But over the insults and the clenched fists, they tell you: “We won’t move again.”

The line moved slowly through the park. Two brown banners at the head proclaimed the movement’s insignia: a V encased in a circle. Veteran demonstrators began to sing but the marshals ordered quiet. Over the silence were the sounds of shuffling feet, the crack of nightsticks against policemen’s thighs, and the distant roar of autohorns.

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On California Avenue, the crowd marched past rows of neat porches and shrubbery. “Keep your slums; we don’t want ’em,” one mother screamed. “Kill coon King,” chanted a group of old men. And two teenagers who said they were “some of the boys from Saint Rita’s” warned: “It’s gettin’ dark soon; then there’ll sure be some action.”

On California and West 63rd, a phalanx of teenagers tried to charge King’s bodyguards. Po­lice pinioned two youths to the ground and handcuffed them, while enraged neighbors shrieked: “Brutality,” and “let ’em go… let ’em alone.” King in a grey suit, blue shirt, and no tie, was almost hidden from sight by his followers. Whenever the group stopped, they covered his head with picket signs.

All along West 63rd the side­walks were filled with shouting, spitting whites. Firecrackers ex­ploded freely among the march­ers. Those hit, limped. A priest picked up a brick which had hit him in the shoulder and put it in his pocket. A knife, aimed at King, hit a young student in­stead; police carried him away as the crowd roared its approv­al. When the entire march halted before the Mark Realty Com­pany, which has allegedly re­fused to serve Negro applicants, the street exploded with boos and cries of “We want Rockwell.” A silent prayer was pockmarked by breaking bottles and exploding cherry bombs which the crowd lobbed into the kneeling demon­strators.

Police Chief Orlando Wilson’s finest stood careful guard over the parade. The cops were sen­sitive to charges of negligence which Negro leaders lodged aft­er last Sunday’s brickbath. Aft­er the march was over Negroes shouted approval as one marshal asked for “three cheers for the blue.” It was an unexpected trib­ute; the cops were startled.

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White onlookers were not so complimentary. Along Kedzie Avenue, police swung freely at cursing teenagers. When the marchers returned to Marquette Park to disperse, they were fol­lowed by a mob estimated at 5,000 whites. Hecklers lined a slope, cheering whenever a fire­cracker exploded like fans at a football game. Clouds of dust covered the area as police chased charging youths through the grass. One man kicked a policeman in the leg and re­ceived a sharp blow across the face. Blood oozed from his nostrils and forehead; he began to cry. Three policemen pinned his hands and carried him away.

A youth was tossed into a pad­dy wagon, his shirt splashed with blood. An injured policeman writhed on the ground while four more cops felled his assailant, and applied handcuffs. Teen­agers began to scale a high fence to reach the marchers, but po­lice knocked them down with flailing billy clubs.

Amid the screaming mob, 800 marchers huddled in the road­way waiting to be piled into po­lice busses. Lewis Cole, a young New Yorker who is in Chicago for the summer to work with SCLC, blamed the Roman Cath­olic educational system for the riot. “These folks actually be­lieve Negroes have tails,” he said. “I’ve never seen people so sick with hatred. This puts Mis­sissippi and Alabama down.”

Cole, who has traveled through the South, is a firm believer in non-violence. He said: “You don’t beat a crazy man; you take him to the psychiatrist.” Suddenly a cherry bomb exploded at Cole’s feet. He grabbed his knee and rolled over in pain, as a small crowd of women squealed with delight.

“I still love ’em,” he said.

Busload after busload of marchers pulled out of the area. Police swinging nightsticks charged a mob of teenagers blocking the roadway, but they left the thousands on the slope alone. “If that crowd breaks through,” one cop said, “it’s gonna be the end.”

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On one bus, the marshal or­dered all windows closed. The vehicle pulled away amid a hail of spit. No longer protected by the police, it sped through the hostile white streets. Stones and bottles flew from the sidewalks. The marshal shouted, “Every­one duck.” A window shattered and one marcher picked up a huge yellow brick that had hit him in the head. His scalp bled from three places. A second win­dow cracked and glass spilled freely over the rear section.

Once across Normal Boulevard the marshal shouted: “We made it.” The bus rang with cheers. Freedom songs began spontaneously. From the porches, lad­ies smiled. From small shops, merchants and customers waved. From the sidewalks, young toughs clapped and sang along. Suddenly there was no more black panther stalking, and no one was screaming “burn baby burn” and there were no Molo­tov cocktails hidden in the al­leys. It was like the good old days, before non-violence be­came passe.

Martin Luther King, Nobel Prize winner, pacifist, agitator, leader, and ex-leader, had faced 5000 white Chicagoans who want­ed to see his throat slit. He told those few reporters who had not left for cover: “I’ve never seen so much hostility in a demonstration before. And I’ve been all over the South.”

A flying brick screamed; “Amen.”

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CULTURE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Yes He Did: Relive Obama’s Early Career With This Novelistic Podcast

I had just finished the final episode of Making Obama, a six-part podcast documentary miniseries on Barack Obama’s public life in Chicago from WBEZ (91.5 FM), which concluded on March 15, when I knew I’d be replaying the entire thing for pleasure as soon as I could manage. (I’ve done it a few times now.) Though there’s nothing at all in it on his presidency or Trump’s, the series depicts a period full of bilious racial division and cockeyed political hope in a way that is obviously resonant today. And the people who made it sound like they’re having the time of their lives.

Hosted by WBEZ anchor Jenn White and produced by Colin McNulty, an American who spent several years making documentaries for BBC Radio, Making Obama is a deeply reported and researched and dramatically paced look at Obama’s early career. But simply as a listening experience, it’s a feast: deeply layered but never cluttered, weaving together crowd noise, interviews, White’s voiceover, and music. The musical choices are spare but well-selected, including snatches of hits that end after just a few seconds to stay within fair use, sometimes to great dramatic effect, as with the foreshortened snippet of “Orinoco Flow” that accompanies an old Obama colleague recounting the future president listening to Enya all the damn time. Making Obama is produced, in the manner of a major-label rock album, as opposed to the no-budget indie approach of most other podcasts.

There is merit to thinking that this sort of thing used to have another name: radio. But according to McNulty, “We were never thinking about broadcast — at all.” Speaking from his office, he and White have the kind of easy, sharp back-and-forth suggested by their work. “You just have to keep people engaged and listening to it, because they will stop,” he says. White elaborates: “With podcasts, people really want to move through a journey with you as an experience that I think is different from how people listen to radio. It changes the way you think about how people are listening along. They’re not going to miss an episode unless they decide not to finish listening to the podcast.”

Making Obama is twice as long as its predecessor, 2016’s three-part Making Oprah, partly because that series was so much more successful than White or McNulty anticipated. Making Oprah, says McNulty, broke down neatly into the Eighties, Nineties, and 2000s. “In doing the Obama preparation, we discovered six pretty well-defined chapters; we knew the appeal was big enough that it would justify six full hours.” Adds White: “We had to tell that story with that degree of detail — especially talking about politics in Chicago, it required a little more in terms of the narrative arc.”

Even without his childhood, his college years, or the presidency — Making Obama concerns itself strictly with the Chicago years — it’s quite an arc. Obama arrived in Chicago in 1985 and worked as a community organizer for three years; twenty years (and Harvard Law) later, he was elected president.

The series makes clear that Obama’s rise was both improbable and inevitable — and could only have happened in Chicago, a point made by the president and, in a cascading stack of quotes at the end of the final episode, about twenty interviewees. The first episode deals with Obama’s life as a community organizer — a job often made fun of by his political opponents (we hear Sarah Palin, of all people, mocking him for it during the 2008 presidential campaign), because, as White notes, its ground-level grunt work doesn’t afford the kinds of photo ops so important to many career politicians. It’s also straight advocacy work; Obama had his sights set on making bigger changes — which meant compromising more than the average community organizer was prepared to.

After moving back east to get his law degree from Harvard, Obama had been inspired to return to Chicago by Harold Washington, who in 1983 became the first African American mayor of a U.S. city the size of Chicago (at that time the second largest in the country); much of the second episode (splendidly titled “Chicago Politics Ain’t Beanbag”) concerns Washington’s epoch, as well as providing an overview of the city’s political history. About five minutes into episode two, we hear Washington announcing his run on a mini-cassette acquired from a reporter on the scene. (Washington’s righteous anger and firm commitment to progressive change — “I approach this job just like any masterful surgeon,” he said of the Chicago backroom dealing he opposed: “When you have to cut out a cancer, I cut it out with no emotion. Get it out!” — are especially tonic in a political atmosphere overloaded with double-talk.) But politics in Chicago, entrenched in the favor-trading Democratic “machine” of Richard J. Daley, have always had serrated racial edges — intra-racial edges, too, which applied doubly to a rookie politician with light skin, a Hawaiian upbringing, and an eager mien.

Nevertheless, Obama was ready to campaign. About sixteen minutes into episode three, Carol Anne Harwell, campaign manager for his 1996 run for state senate and the MVP of this series, describes her initial reaction to Obama: “He was born in Hawaii — whaaaa? —you know, that kind of thing.” He was hazed by his black Illinois senate colleagues, but when State Senator Rickey R. Hendon called Obama out on the floor for not voting with him, a seriously heated Obama invited Hendon into the break room, away from cameras, and got to “a little pushing and shoving — men acting like kids,” says Hendon recalls. Donne Trotter, yet another senator, reports that he finally “got between them and said, ‘We can’t do this.’ ”

Equally intense is the account of Obama’s sole political loss, to ex–Black Panther Bobby Rush in a 2000 run for Congress. Rush’s deeply rooted popularity with black voters in Chicago’s South Side proved the upstart’s undoing. Rush’s voice is labored — he beat salivary cancer ten years ago — but there’s no misunderstanding the tone behind his unstinting belief that Obama was a front by white bosses to unseat him. When White asks Rush how he felt after his win, his answer is simple and damning: “Victorious.”

After dusting himself off following his defeat, Obama readies himself for another go — episode five details how he won over the allies who’d help back him in his 2004 race for U.S. Senate, including Valerie Jarrett, a powerful attorney who became Obama’s senior advisor in the White House. When she and Michelle Obama tried to talk Barack out of running again after his loss to Rush, he persuaded them otherwise. As Jarrett recalls: “In the space of about two and a half hours, we all went from, ‘Don’t do this,’ to, ‘What a great idea!’ ”

One of the great archival finds of Making Obama comes in episode four (around 39:30), with “Blackout,” a radio ad targeted to Chicago’s black stations during that 2000 campaign. “He’s making the case for all of these things he’s done while in the state senate,” says White. The ad featured an African American couple whose lights go out, as was happening inordinately on the South Side at the time. At the end, following a bit of Obama speechifying, White recalls, “There’s a group of maybe five people trying to give this rambunctious cheer: ‘YAAAY!’ I said, ‘I think one of these people is Barack Obama.’ ”

“We can’t verify that that’s Obama,” McNulty makes sure to note.

“When you listen to that ad, and then you listen to the ads that David Axelrod produces for his U.S. Senate race — the difference in the sophistication, the professionalism, is telling,” says White.

According to McNulty, an even funnier vault find occurs in the podcast only as a snippet: a disastrous Obama radio appearance to promote his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father. “The guy keeps mispronouncing his name the whole time: Barrick Obama,” says McNulty. “Somebody calls in and says, ‘I don’t know what this is about, but there’s a lot of noise in my neighborhood with the boom boxes and all that.’ It’s completely separate from the topic of Obama’s book. You hear him really struggling to engage with this person.

“Then a phone call happens later. I realized that voice was [Harwell]. She didn’t identify herself as his campaign manager. She says she was not his campaign manager at the time. I couldn’t tell if she was a plant or not, because the timing was kind of weird. It was funny to hear how ragtag the whole thing is. Him struggling during the interview is kind of sad, but it’s pretty revealing, just how different his life was ten years [before] he’s a United States senator.”

The Axelrod ads were where Obama first tried the slogan that would eventually help put him in the White House. In episode six, around minute nineteen, we hear the U.S. Senate campaign radio spot that introduces the slogan “Yes we can.” Obama worried it was too corny. “He turned to Michelle and said, ‘Mich, what do you think?’ ” recalls campaign manager Jim Cauley. “She had her chin in her hand and she just sort of slowly shook her head and said, ‘Not corny.’ ” His TV spots, Cauley says, made him go “from ‘Who?’ to The Man.” We later learn that Obama’s first draft of his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech was thirty minutes long, eventually cut to eighteen: “I struggled with that,” Obama says. “There were a lot of good lines in there that got put on the chopping block.” The excerpts of his DNC speech are still stunning, and its unbridled belief in a United States that had more in common than not, in the wake of everything that’s happened since Obama left the White House, now sounds almost unbearably poignant.

A Detroit native, White joined WBEZ two years ago. “I didn’t come to ’BEZ saying, ‘I’ve always wanted to do a podcast,’ ” she says. But then McNulty, who’d been hired as part of WBEZ’s expansion of its on-demand content unit, approached her to work on Making Oprah with him, promising, “It’ll be really easy.”

“He lied!” White says, laughing uproariously. “It was not easy, but it was a lot of fun. And professionally it made me rethink what the future looks like for me.” Podcasting gives her the chance to “be more responsive to what the story really needs, what it’s asking for, because we don’t have to be attached to hitting a certain time post. As a person who on the other side of my job has to watch the clock, I really enjoy that freedom.”

That playfulness exemplifies McNulty’s approach. At the BBC, he says, “I made a lot of shows called The Archive Hour, which was very sound-rich, tons of layering going on.” A good example of this approach at is purest can be heard on the McNulty BBC production Sounds Up There (2015), a narrator-less 28-minute exploration (that’s the word for it) of the first-ever space walks.

“I think the tradition of doing multilayered features for broadcast in the U.K. is pretty advanced compared to the two-way model here,” he says. With Making Obama, he says, the goal was “to be as comprehensive as possible, in the way of a novel, where it’s constantly switching between clips, and building and building and building something. There’s so many friggin’ podcasts out there, thousands of them, and in order to get out of the chaos of it, you have to have a really high bar for what this thing is. I kind of go big with everything.”

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CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES

“Rogers Park” Offers a Compelling Drama About Relationships in Crisis

In Kyle Henry’s Chicago-based Rogers Park, an anniversary bash devolves into a sibling screaming match that kicks off a taut exploration of midlife crises. As they celebrate ten years, Zeke (Antoine McKay) gives Grace (Sara Sevigny) a sparkling ring in front of their friends, but she later needles him about the price tag until he admits that it’s actually cubic zirconia. The seemingly stable union that they perform in public actually teeters on the edge of ruin, plagued by financial and sexual woes threatening their long-standing union. Grace’s brother Chris (Jonny Mars) isn’t any better off, in part thanks to lasting trauma from their abusive father. He and his girlfriend, Deena (Christine Horn), are on rocky ground, too: Chris’s career as a navel-gazing writer hits a wall while Deena’s wandering eyes lead her into someone else’s bed. One night, over laced cupcakes and glasses flush with wine, everyone’s problems come to a tempestuous head.

Writer Carlos Treviño deftly crafts a compelling relationship drama out of what might have seemed like banal catastrophes. It helps, too, that cinematographer Drew Xanthopoulos trains plenty of close-ups on the understated quartet at this quiet indie’s center. Their interpersonal disasters could happen anywhere, but Henry showcases the very real neighborhood to great effect. There’s no sparkle in Rogers Park, but there’s enough charm in it to make it worthwhile to weather the brewing storm.

Rogers Park
Directed by Kyle Henry
Opens April 27, Cinema Village

 

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Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

Jaimie Branch’s Fearless Jazz Debut

Jaimie Branch, the 33-year-old trumpet player out of Chicago, isn’t new on the jazz scene here — she’s called Red Hook home since 2015 — but with her debut album just out, she has made her arrival official, and belatedly triumphant. Even before the music hits you, there’s that title: Fly or Die. Words, in short, that many Americans, jazz musicians in particular, have had to live by in an indifferent country where the safety net is increasingly in tatters.

Branch’s ten eerily beautiful compositions on Fly or Die bleed into one another like a suite, though three are drawn from a live gig last year at Le Poisson Rouge. This is free jazz, in that it’s free of constraints. But there are elements of post-bop (Branch calls Booker Little “by far my favorite trumpet player”), third stream, chamber jazz, the avant-garde lyricism of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, even noise (Branch claims the German experimental trumpet player Axel Dörner, whom she came across while studying at the New England Conservatory, as an influence).

The music is brazenly executed by a quartet made up of a few of Chicago’s finest: Jason Ajemian on bass; cellist Tomeka Reid; and drummer Chad Taylor, known for his work alongside cornetist Rob Mazurek in the highly regarded Chicago Underground Duo, a group Branch says she was “in awe of” in her late teens. The interplay between the strings creates a riveting drama, with Reid and Ajemian using both arco and pizzicato; Reid (who can be heard on another exhilarating new release, Not Living in Fear, with the trio Hear In Now) also shifts between rhythm section and soloist, often becoming, in effect, a second horn. The group is enhanced in spots by guitarist Matt Schneider, cornet players Ben Lamar Gay and Josh Berman, and some inventive postproduction that makes tracks like “The Storm” sound like the work of a large ensemble. It’s a beguiling and challenging set that washes over you in a tidy thirty-five minutes.

Branch’s melodic lines are concise and to the point, without bluster. Even “Jump Off,” a kind of prologue where she shows off a breathing technique and makes use of the plunger to create a sound like a distorted guitar, is just fifteen seconds.

“There was something about her playing,” Taylor says, “that was very familiar to me and at the same time totally original.” As a leader, he says, she’s “not shy about letting us know when she has a new idea or new direction she wants to take the music.” Mazurek calls her “a complete player that takes chances and is not afraid,” adding that “the noise she projects is as powerful as her lyrical sensibility.”

There is a fearlessness to her approach — fly or die, right? So why did it take her until her thirties to release her first album? “I attempted to put out a couple of records myself and they didn’t really come out, so I had that earlier failure,” Branch says. She felt she needed to “live life,” soak up more experience. “So I waited, and I played music, and I got caught up in drugs, and dealt with that but just kept playing.”

Prior to her move to Brooklyn, Branch was immersed in the rich free-jazz scene that has been rooted in Chicago since the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians was founded there in 1965. She misses it, especially the camaraderie and lower rents, and she often takes the bandstand wearing one of her many White Sox caps. But she’s happy here. “Now that the record has come out, I have this new life that I’ve started, and I’m pretty excited,” she says. “I’m gonna hang in New York for a while.”

Those drug issues — and she was dealing with heroin addiction — are behind her. “I’ll just say the storm is over,” she says. “I’m not a religious person, but thank god.” The cover of Fly or Die — illustrated by Branch with her tattoo artist, John Herndon, also known as the drummer for Tortoise — could be a depiction of a new dawn: Four birds perch atop a cityscape. The colors are bright, but there’s a sense that the buildings underneath them might be crumbling.

Doesn’t matter if they do. That’s what the gift of flight is for. And at the moment, Jaimie Branch is soaring.

Branch will play The Stone on Avenue C tonight, Wednesday May 30. Tickets are $20.