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Showtime! The Theater of Politics

SAN FRANCISCO — Thursday, July 12, 7 a.m. Arrived from Newark three hours ago. I should be thinking about politics as theater. Again? Is it three hours earlier or 15 years ago? Did I ever believe the medium was the message? Consider spectacle (authoritarian, hierar­chical, scripted) versus spontaneous show (free spirited, multifocus, improvisatory). Consider Nuremburg rallies and fascist total theater. May Day rallies and Stalin­ist total theater? Jet lag is turning me into a Sontagite: aesthetically correct but no good. Yippies casting dollar bills into the Stock Exchange? Still no good, that was for the media. Everything is for the media? Back to sleep and troubled dreams of Wagner and Abbie Hoffman, Reagan and Jane Fonda.

My press credentials neatly clarified matters: for the “perimeter” only. The fringe, the outside, the spectator’s seat. The front-of-the-book men ferret out and analyze issues; Munk watches demos and parades. Base and superstructure, slight­ly muddled by the fact that the serious stuff is a performance, and the sideshows are serious.

At noon the National March for Lesbi­an and Gay Rights held a press confer­ence in City Hall directed at Jerry Fal­well’s descent on the city with his two-day training conference for the Moral Majority leadership. It was pious, proper, and moving. Harry Britt, the gay socialist member of the Board of Super­visors, denounced Falwell as a man whose words are spiritual but whose content is hate and divisiveness; the other speak­ers — Catholic, Episcopal, and Presbyteri­an religious, city officials, a gay father, the president of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — talk about hospital­ity, tolerance, St. Francis, God’s family, the Family, and the-values-that-made-­this-country-great. The scripts were tac­tically sound, maybe a bit obvious, yet right and true. One speaker, Miriam Ben-­Shalom, hit another note, demanding to talk to Falwell, outraged, using impolite words.

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I wondered what tone the Sunday pa­rade would stress, made an appointment to talk with Britt, walked back down Market Street past a raucous picket line in front of Macy’s, another in front of the Emporium. Union Square was filled with gaggles of people yelling at each other, sectarians selling newspapers, a couple of punk types telling the sectarians that Hitler was your typical socialist, delegates and tourists walking purposefully looking, so to speak, neither left nor right.

A Falwell man said, “We will lose cer­tain freedoms by allowing homosexuality. If I have total freedom I can do anything to anybody. Roman society fell apart …” That’s their public style. A gay man proclaimed to the air, “Why, he’s Jerry Falwell’s husband!” An amoe­ba-faced suited man shouted, “Make it a felony,” but the Falwell fellow came back right away with “I don’t believe in that.” No one believed him.

I got press credentials at the Falwell conference and moseyed around the “New Traditional Woman” panel. Chil­dren sleeping on laps, on the floor. Speaker believes men should be true heads of household, women should have jobs if they must, but not careers they love. Everything was low-key, slow, bor­ing. Down in the lobby everyone peered out at a little demo and debated whether to go watch it. “I was on the other side in the ’60s, man, I don’t have to go see them.” “I hate confrontation, I’m a paci­fist at heart.” “I know a fellow who makes little bumper stickers saying ‘kill the gays’ and sells them. I mean, if you start talking like that …”

When I got back to Union Square, it was filled. No arguing. The crowd looked orderly, but then I could hardly see it through the masses of cops lined up like Rockettes, gripping their nightsticks, maneuvering skittishly on horseback.

The slogans moved from “women unite to fight the right” to “the only good pig is a dead pig.” Time warp. The cops moved from their rigid, fixed-face lineups, push­ing the horses right into the crowd on the sidewalk. Piles of garbage covered an in­tersection: looked like debris from a car­rot-juice maker, squeezed-out half or­anges, vegetable matter from a health food store. “It’s Chicago!” “It’s Buffalo, ’63, stupid.” I wanted to know what on earth happened in Buffalo, ’63, but some­one started setting off earsplitting fire­crackers. “What’s happening?” said a lady tourist to a lady cop. “It’s the moral majority versus the unmoral majority.” Of the latter, seven were arrested, at least one beaten, and the nurse who tried to help her was clubbed.

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I walked through Chinatown to North Beach, where I lived more than 20 years ago, and stood for a while in front of the old house on Powell. It looked the same. The rest of the neighborhood has gone neon tacky or genteel. Back near Union Square a circle of candles had been set up on a sidewalk by religious gays, men and women, singing Christian and Jewish hymns. One woman quarreled politely with me because my colleague Nat Hen­toff was going to address the Falwell con­vention tomorrow. When I walked back to my hotel, the cops were quietly trot­ting their horses toward their stables.

Friday, July 13. Called Britt’s office at nine to confirm interview. When I told him I wanted to discuss the class, gender, and race issues that are left in the gay community after gross discrimination had been eliminated by power in local politics, he said he’d give me half an hour. Ten minutes later, just as I was leaving, the phone rang. “I’m not willing to be part of a story on the splits and divisions in the gay community when you guys aren’t doing the job about us. Sorry about that.” Slam.

I walked off, muttering gloomily about the end of dialogue, to the Falwell confer­ence, to see what Nat was telling them about medical ethics. He was being intro­duced: “Nat Hentoff, who fancies himself an atheist …” Nat recapitulated his ar­guments (you’ve read them in the Voice) about infanticide and euthanasia. He had some good digs at Reagan and at profes­sional omertá, some friendly self-deprecation (“I’m the handy, ubiquitous athe­ist in this matter”), and an argument, which would have been fine had the seamlessness started a few months far­ther along the way.

Midspeech, two young women, neatly dressed like Moral Majoritarians, stood up in the audience and embraced each other. First like friends meeting after a long absence, then sexily. The spectators were appalled, in a repressed kind of way, murmuring and shifting. After a minute or so, the pair was quietly escorted out, chanting, “We are everywhere. We are your daughters and your sisters. Our daughters will be here and our daughter’s daughters.” Nat waxed sarcastic, “Today?”

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Maybe the women should have been more to the point and brought a poor, single mother with a severely handicapped child. Still, Nat wooed the audi­ence back to himself at the women’s expense. I was too angry to concentrate on the rest of the talk; my mind was on the company he keeps. So I left this confer­ence on “Being My Brother’s Keeper,” and went back to Union Square.

Where the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — six men in giddily S/M nun drag — were exorcising Jerry Falwell. Sis­ter Boom-Boom (who, as Jack Fertig, ran for supervisor in 1982 and got 23,000 votes), sang “Your son will come out tomorrow,” and made terrible jokes. “The Moral Majority is here with Hell n’ Damnation! Hi Helen!” Falwell was stripped down to a black merry widow and stockings, and got it on with Jesus, in a Counter-Reformation loin cloth. There was something odd about an anti-Fein­stein song which seemed to say that her problem was female machismo, and something odder about a purification rite for Phyllis Schlafly by holding her down and tearing a rubber snake from under her dress. But what the hell.

A couple of hours later I went to Glide Churches’ “Celebrating the Poor” festi­val. Here the only question was whether the Reverend Cecil Williams was just putting on a show or doing good works and putting on a show. The church is a short walk and a different world from Union Square. An enormous line — 3000 people in the course of the evening­ — waited for food. I talked to a young woman out of work who said the food’s not just for the convention-time cameras; there’s a special meal once a week, and all the food’s better than the other soup kitchens. Williams gave the press lots of rhetoric while people with trays of food jostled around. At one point he stopped for a minute and yelled, “I wanna ask you, everybody, is anything better than Reagan?” And everyone shouted, “Yes.”

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Upstairs in the church proper, a multi­colored disco wheel turned among the stained glass windows, while the Glide Memorial Gospel Singers sat on the altar steps. The press milled around, waiting for a senator, a supervisor, a delegate, a Lefty, Godot (sorry). Vietnam vet Ron Kovick and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown came, Harold Washington and Dianne Feinstein didn’t show. I had to go see some theater. On a stage.

Duck’s Breath Mystery Theater was doing a “convention special” — apparent­ly the only topical work among the estab­lished theater groups. They promised it would be biting satire, sharp, strong, political. Maybe a Dying Pet Sale — “the misfortunes of my pets mean a bargain for you” — or the Piece and Pizza Coali­tion, or “Shop Without Guilt, Vote Without Fear,” are funny. They are as funny as it got. I left plunged in gloom, striding again through the wreck of my old haunts.

Saturday, July 14. Every community organization, union local, sect, countersect, and groupuscle was huddled in doors planning for the big parades tomor­row, so I walked around Golden Gate Park. A sign pointed me to Peacequake ’84: a rock band was playing in a dell for a smallish, friendly, stoned crowd that seemed frozen in time. Who’s Afraid of Thomas Woolf?

The San Francisco Mime Thoupe was doing their new show, based on A Christ­mas Carole, and propagandizing for voter registration. I don’t recall the SFMT ever taking a stand for the Democratic party before. I’ve seen a lot of Revolutionary Commmunist posters around town urging the People not to vote, and perhaps they represent a chunk of the radical commu­nity, but it was hard to believe that this nice young audience, mostly white and not particularly militant looking, was dis­affected from the electoral process.

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The plot concerns Ebeneezer Jones, an extremely upwardly mobile black lawyer in his thirties who’s too cynical to vote. Nixon appears, untwining tapes from his bulging pockets and shows Ebeneezer’s past (college radicalism), the present (Marcos, Pinochet), and the future — not a nuclear one, but the Supreme Court, convicting Jessie Jackson of terrorism and proclaiming that “Freedom Is Security.”

Some of this was funny, but it seemed a little flat and heavy-handed and with­out much physical pizzazz, though the music was good. I hope the Mime Thoupe hasn’t lost it’s dramaturgical verve by adopting sensible politics.

Spent the evening at a spectacularly catered party on a spectacular hill, a fundraiser for the Lesbian and Gay Pa­rade given by Lia Belli, who’s running for state senate. It was full of rich homosex­uals, which meant, of course, that there were three times as many men as women. I ate my fresh lichees wrapped in raw snow peas, and paté and brie and nectar­ines. I talked to a black lesbian activist mother, who’s running for the board of supervisors, and was tending bar. I was bemused. I went to a lot of other parties. They were not theater.

And nobody talked about anything. The spectacle was still to come; so was the substance. ■

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Geraldine Ferraro: Her Brilliant Career

Last Thursday night I realized the Re­publicans were nervous for the first time in this election. I saw Pat Buchanan on Nightline sneer that Gerry Ferraro had “no experience” to be vice-president of the United States. Buchanan is the fellow who thought Spiro Agnew was a splendid choice for veep in 1968, when his only experience was in stealing. I also saw Phyllis Schlafly on television Thursday night; she was at the national convention of the Moral Majority, and she was say­ing that Gerry Ferraro is part of the “rad­ical-feminist wing.”

Caricature is the first refuge of nervous politicians. Gerry Ferraro scares the right wing because she is so mainstream Amer­ica. She is the mother of three, a former, prosecutor, a regular organization club­house Democrat from Archie Bunker’s district in Queens which went for Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Her reelection slogan in 1982 was “One Tough Democrat.” Yes, Gerry Ferraro is for the ERA and against the MX missile, and she has a decent liberal voting record. But she also got where she is because Tip O’Neill, Donald Manes, and a lot of very tradi­tional political animals understand that she is exactly the right woman to be the Jackie Robinson of politics.

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Her close friend Jimmy Breslin told me on the day she was picked: “This broad is just eight years out of the kitchen. She’s just starting to grow. She’s gonna be president.”

The first time I heard of Gerry Ferraro was in October 1978. She was running for Congress and Carmine Parisi called me up to ask if the Voice would consider endorsing her. At 2 a.m. that morning Parisi rang my doorbell and delivered a stack of information about his candidate. A few weeks later, the Voice published a brief editorial that said: “Geraldine Fer­raro is probably the best this district can possibly elect. She is a reliable vote for pro-labor, pro-consumer legislation. Her opponent, Republican Alfred Delli Bovi, is a little Nixon — ruthless, right-wing, and well-financed.”

As soon as Ferraro arrived in Congress, I began to hear how extraordinary she really was, how her learning curve kept going up, how she was the bridge between feminists and the white male club that rules the House. Last year Barney Frank, Democratic congressman of Massachu­setts, told me: “Gerry is the most effec­tive member of the New York delegation.”

Today there is euphoria and electricity. Today there is nervous caricature. To­morrow the country will see what the vot­ers in her Queens district saw six years ago.

Ferraro will now come under intense scrutiny. So will her husband John, who is in the real-estate business. Already, three reporters from other papers have called me and asked if John Zaccaro is clean. He is.

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Gerry Ferraro is a competent, complete person. And she is an instinctive feminist who was one of two women in her law school class.

When she worked as a prosecutor, peo­ple claimed she got the job because her cousin, Nick Ferraro, was the Queens D.A. But she did an excellent job, espe­cially prosecuting rape cases. I never heard of an instance where one of her cases was reversed.

Gerry Ferraro can’t elect Mondale. She can only help the ticket. The ticket is clearly in trouble in the South, in the West, with younger yuppie voters, with Jewish voters. But overnight I think Fer­raro brought Mondale from 20 points down to eight or 10 points down.

And should the ticket lose, then Al D’ Amato will become the most nervous Republican in the Senate, because his seat is up in 1986, and Gerry Ferraro will come after him next, in her 10th year out of the kitchen, and her learning curve moving off the chart. ■

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Showtime 1984: Inside the Political Theater

Inside the Political Theater
July 24, 1984

SAN FRANCISCO — With the excep­tion of Mario Cuomo and Jesse Jackson, the big-name Democrats parading on TV here sound like third-rate sellers of soap. The Democratic Party remains the large­ly unimaginative political organization that began to lose its New Deal base years ago. But for the first time in recent memory there are signs of life within it, and stripped to its essentials, the fight pits the women and minorities, symbol­ized by Ferraro and Jackson, against the still-dominant conservative wing.

The question is whether Jackson and Ferraro will be consumed by the conser­vatives or stake out fresh ground. Just as the Republican Party was refreshed in 1980 with the raw energy of the New Right, the Democratic Party, buoyed by the feminist surge and black voter regis­tration, could begin to find itself this year.

Ferraro is best known as a team player, disciple of Tip O’Neill; unlikely to stray far from his beck and call. Mondale al­ready is flooding her with his own staff, but while Ferraro may appear to be a political pawn, the forces behind her as­cendancy are not so easily controlled.

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Since Jackson’s arrival in San Francis­co, he has sounded a note of reconcilia­tion. He pledged himself to resolve ten­sions between Jews and blacks and offered a public apology: “… if, in my low moments, in words, deeds, or atti­tudes, through error or temper, taste or tone, I have caused anyone discomfort, created pain, or revived anyone’s fears, I sincerely apologize.”

For weeks now, Jackson has been hold­ing secret meetings with Bert Lance. Lance and Jackson are negotiating the terms of the minority planks, and concocting the southern strategy for Mon­dale’s campaign. Jackson is thankful to be cut into the ruling party councils, and with his help Mondale gets a shot at an expanded black vote.

At first, Jackson negotiated with Lance over delegate questions. More recently, Lance sent his advisers to brief Jackson on the economy. Much pleased, Jackson responded by making Lance’s major pro­posals the centerpiece of his convention speech, at least in early drafts.

Thus, stuck incongruously into the midst of Jackson’s powerful, poetic rhet­oric, were Lance’s corny ideas about U.S. banks being in hock to foreigners. It is Lance’s theory that Reagan, in running up the deficit, has made the United States dependent on foreign bankers from whom the country must borrow to keep going.

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Roll Call of Shame

Consider the record of this party over the last four years — what Tom Hayden called neo-Reaganism. The list is telling:

Support for the MX; refusal to oppose the deployment of Euromissiles in any serious way; Democrats in Congress, in­cluding those with liberal credentials, re­peatedly declining to oppose Reagan on Central America, with the result that American-backed contras have laid siege to Nicaragua; standing with Reagan in El Salvador in the face of mounting civilian murder. Even as this convention opened, the party leadership is preparing to back President Duarte, under whose rule the terror in El Salvador has mushroomed.

The Democratic leadership stood with Reagan on the 1981 tax bill — legislation which transferred wealth from the middle class to the rich, and in the process virtually ended the corporate income tax. The neo-liberal wing of the party has, under Gary Hart, mounted a vigorous at­tack on the labor movement as a “special interest” — at a time when the unions rep­resent the only buffer between workers and the aggressive policies of corporate business.

Most recently, the House Democratic leadership created the umbrella beneath which the Republicans successfully pushed through Simpson-Mazzoli, which, among other things, would establish a “guest worker” program for foreign agri­cultural workers. This re-creation of the bracero program — which another era of Democrats fought to eliminate — threat­ens to wipe out the Farm Workers Union, and amounts to one of the most vindic­tive, punitive, racist measures in Ameri­can history.

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The New Democrats

Despite the choice of Ferraro, the Democratic Party has persistently fought the rise of women within its own ranks. Nevertheless, Ferraro’s emergence and the Jackson campaign represent a broad challenge to the rampant neo-Reaganism in the party.

For the women who have had to fight, kicking and screaming, to the top of the Democratic Party, Ferraro’s selection represents an immense victory, and the opening of what surely will be a wider struggle for economic equality.

Ferraro is much more than a feminist candidate. The daughter of an immigrant working mother, she speaks directly to the disenfranchised base of the Demo­cratic Party, the working women who have been most hurt by the recession and placed under savage attack by Reagan’s policies — the last hired and first fired who now populate the irregular work­force and are now a critical factor in American labor.

These women play a major role in the expanding lower middle class, which now consists of 72 million Americans — 30 per cent of the population. They come come from households with earnings between $6000 and $18,000 a year. Since 1978, the lower middle class has grown by a third. An increasing percentage of this class is made up of households headed by wom­en, most of them minorities. It includes millions of young people who have never held a full-time job; people who once held factory jobs and now work for less than $6 an hour in service jobs; and old people living on fixed incomes.

There are within this group enough people to elect a Democratic president, but until Jesse Jackson began his cam­paign in predominantly white New Hampshire you’d hardly have known they existed. It is absolutely true that without Jackson, Ferraro’s nomination would never have been possible. The feminist movement owes a great debt to Jackson, a debt that many women seemed incapable of recognizing in the early moments of this convention.

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Tough Talking Ferraro

Ferraro is a person of progressive polit­ical instincts. Here are a few points she made in an interview with the Voice ear­lier this year:

On the MX: “I have supported re­search and development. I have not sup­ported deployment because it is destabilizing.”

On Nicaragua (asked if she thought it was a Cuban or Soviet satellite): “They are a Marxist government. There is no doubt about that. I think our problem is, frankly, that we expect it to be a democ­racy the way we define democracy, and I don’t think that’s possible.”

On El Salvador: “I would insist that the U.S. government let the people know we expect them to get their own act together, within their own units, to put someone in charge of the government. And probably the most important thing is that they do something about the amount of killing that is going on there. I would exert pressure on them to clean up their act, or they would be without economic aid.”

In one speech this year, talking about the concept of comparable worth, which fundamentally seeks to redefine the so­cial utility of work (the most potentially profound economic subject the feminist movement has taken up), Ferraro de­clared: “A woman with a college educa­tion can expect lifetime earnings equal to those paid to a man who never finished the eighth grade. Groundskeepers are paid more than nurses. Parking lot attendants are often paid more than experi­enced secretaries. We entrust our chil­dren — our most precious resource — to teachers who frequently earn less than truck drivers.”

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A New Feminist Era 

Geraldine Ferraro is not just a sym­bol. Her nomination, as Frances Fox Pi­ven puts it, is a “signal,” a tremor from within. Ferraro’s nomination opens a new era of feminist politics, for the first time placing the genuinely radical perspec­tives of the feminist movement in a far broader national arena.

Comparable worth, for example, en­tails a restructuring of the American economy and could precipitate a struggle of serious proportions with the business community. It is because Ferraro is asso­ciated with these ideas that her candida­cy will in all probability undergo formi­dable challenge.

The vice presidency would be more than a symbolic job for a woman, It offers a forum of real power and, if gained, could spark a political groundswell.

The feminist movement has so far succeeded in spanning class divisions. Things are now apt to change. Its future political course will, in all likelihood, de­pend on how successfully it deals with potentially divisive splits — the extent to which, for example, white middle-class women reach out to include black wom­en, and the measure of cooperation shown to poor working women.

The Republicans already have begun to play on these potential divisions to split the gender gap vote and open a seri­ous attack on the feminists.

As with the environmental movement a decade ago, it is certain that the modern feminist movement will focus increasing­ly on basic economic issues — equal pay for equal work, redressing inequality in the workplace, the social purpose of work in general, the feminization of poverty. In short, Ferraro’s nomination should result in a bold, new opening for feminist poli­tics, and a new radical lens through which to view the economy. ■

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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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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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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.

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DNC’s Game of Footsie With the Powerful is Disgusting

Donald Trump may be the celebrity presidential candidate, but the Democrats are the party of the celebrity.

Demi Lovato, Alicia Keys, Paul Simon, Sarah Silverman, and Lenny Kravitz are just some of the stars who spoke or performed at the convention this week in Philadelphia. Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon wandered into the media tent. Bryan Cranston narrated President Obama’s intro video last night and headlined a luncheon for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this afternoon, one more testament to the chest-pounding smugness swallowing up Philadelphia at the moment.

At the soirees underwritten by billionaire corporations like Uber and the various lobbyists who make up Washington’s permanent overclass, Democrats are allowed, once again, to try to have their cake and eat it too, to profess to be a party of the working poor and the marginalized while playing footsie with the nation’s most powerful people.

The Hillary Clinton–loving Breaking Bad star, wearing a gray suit and dark blue tie with a white cross pattern, stood at the head of an upstairs ballroom in the luxury Loews Hotel, temporary home of the New York delegation, and lit into Trump while offering occasional asides about how he quasi-heroically “led” the cast and crew of Malcolm in the Middle (Frankie Muniz was too young! Jane Kaczmarek didn’t want to do it!) and condescendingly admired, still, his Bernie Sanders–supporting brother.

In his rambling speech, Cranston said he would “love to play Donald Trump in a movie but I pray to God he’s not President Donald Trump.” This segued into several Trump impersonations of varying merit, with Cranston-as-Trump, in the booming Queens brogue we know far too well, telling the crowd that he has a very large brain.

“Do you know any adult that talks that way?” Cranston asked.

The audience of Democratic representatives and their hangers-on, nibbling on their grilled chicken, couscous, and croissants, lapped it up. “Self-righteous, blustery right-wingers” are the problem, Cranston said, and he reflected on how the man he played on Broadway, Lyndon Johnson, would probably revile Trump.

“Now, Mr. Trump is not wise but he’s also not stupid. He knows the truth isn’t as important as the perception of truth. You tell a lie enough over and over enough again and it starts to wear the clothes of the truth,” Cranston said. “He’s a master of the art of the manipulation of humankind.”

Cranston then went in for the awkward punchline: “I suggest perhaps that his next book be entitled The Art of the Nihil-ist.”

Next up, his Lyndon Johnson Southern drawl: “LBJ said, ‘It’s the price of leadership to do the thing you believe has to be done in the time it must be done.’ “

At length he bemoaned the “us” versus “them” mentality swallowing up politics and eroding bipartisanship. The actor hardly mentioned Clinton, preferring the low-hanging Trump fruit, which has been par for the course of this convention, as has the idea of beautiful and rich people occupying the Democratic tent.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, one of the politicians who introduced Cranston, said the “value” of celebrities are in their commitment to a cause. The anodyne point, and Cranston’s rightful Trump denunciations, are fine — but in their temporary unity against the noxious, tyrannical Trump, Democrats paper over an uncomfortable truth.

Cranston could tell Trump one-liners until the next Democratic convention if he wanted to. Can the party reach beyond the vague “middle class” to try to help the truly poor, the long-term unemployed, and the victims of globalization that Trump sings to? What can it do for the impoverished people of North Philadelphia, for example, who wouldn’t dream of attending a political convention because zero-sum presidential contests make no difference in their lives?

“I used to find him very entertaining, as you would a class clown,” Cranston said of Trump.

At some point, Democrats will have to talk about something other than the circus.

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Bloomberg: Hillary’s Fine, but You Fools Nominated the Wrong Billionaire

Michael Bloomberg returned to the national stage last night at the Democratic National Convention to endorse Hillary Clinton for president and deliver a stinging rebuke of his former golf buddy Donald J. Trump. “Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business,” Bloomberg told the overheated crowd at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. “God help us.”

“Most of us who have our names on the door know that we’re only as good as our word. But not Donald Trump,” Bloomberg said, attacking Trump as only another billionaire could.

Despite predictions of a cascade of boos for the embodiment of the 0.0001 percent by the Bernie faithful, Bloomberg was generally well-received by the arena. The crowd itself was in a pliant mood to being with. Moments before they had erupted in a frenzy over a speech by Vice President Biden. And when anti-war delegates began chiding former CIA and DoD chief Leon Pannetta for advocating for endless war minutes before, they were drowned out by chants of “USA!,” a call heard far more often at last week’s RNC.

And he reminded New Yorkers why his brand of sneering condescension was beloved by more than a few during his twelve years in City Hall: “I’m a New Yorker, and New Yorkers know a con when we see one!”

Bloomberg related his own political history to the Democrats, one of unapologetic partisan opportunism, where he has repeatedly swapped parties to conform to whatever was needed to win an election. While he never explicitly said so, he contrasted his own history as a unique perspective on which to judge the similar hypocrisy of Trump, who he called “a disaster in the making.”

Bloomberg was also, to a lesser extent than anything else he discussed, endorsing a Democrat for president, but as the former mayor was keen on reminding viewers throughout the speech he was really there to make sure Trump never becomes president.

“Whatever our disagreements may be, I’ve come here to say, we must put them aside for the good of our country,” Bloomberg told the crowd. “And we must unite around the candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue.”

But behind his one-liners and what amounted to a tepid endorsement, it was easy to discern (even from the press section way on up high) what he was really there to tell voters: They had chosen the wrong New York City billionaire to vie for the presidency. He could have been throwing his own “Independent” convention next week in New York, if only his pollsters had been a bit more bullish on his odds back in March. If America was so into a businessman stepping into the Oval Office, why couldn’t it have been him? And why is Trump ruining it for the rest of the noble businessman of America?

“Given my background, I’ve often encouraged business leaders to run for office because many of them share that same pragmatic approach to building consensus, but not all,” Bloomberg told the audience. “Most of us who have created a business know that we’re only as good as the way our employees, clients, and partners view us. Most of us don’t pretend that we’re smart enough to make every big decision by ourselves.”

Bloomberg compared his own career with Trump’s, who has somehow managed to pass himself off as successful (and not broke) even while he’s left behind a string of bankruptcies and unpaid bills. This is quite a change of opinion from Bloomberg, whose administration gave Trump a sweetheart deal to operate a golf course in the Bronx in 2010, and vastly overpaid for his services.

Because while Trump might lack any sort of control when it comes to the words coming out his mouth, and double back on almost any position he’s ever had, the measured and calculating Bloomberg shares many of the more substantive policy proposals that his orange counterpart has touted. The main difference being, of course, that Bloomberg has wielded enough power to see some of these positions come to pass.

Trump’s insistence on the racial profiling of people of color? Bloomberg institutionalized it with the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy, which (unconstitutionally) encouraged police officers to stop young men on the street based on their appearance. Trump’s desire to keep tabs on Muslims and mosques? Bloomberg established an extensive (and unconstitutional) intelligence operation focused on Muslims in New York City and beyond. Trump’s newfound belief in school choice and local control of schools? Bloomberg wrote the playbook. And while Trump is incredibly light on actual policy proposals, he might be even more enlightened than Bloomberg on one of the most important social issues of our time. Trump has called for a $10/hour federal minimum wage, while Bloomberg repeatedly vetoed a bill that would have given all city contractors at least a $10/hour wage.

To be fair, Bloomberg and Trump do diverge completely on immigration, gun control, abortion rights, and freedom of religion. These are big differences. Bloomberg’s nanny-state tendencies diverge from Trump’s Rand-ian free-for-all. And Bloomberg kept his remarks short and to the point, avoiding any deviation from the anti-Trump message of the evening.

Even for an independent, his speech, sandwiched between the sitting VP and the VP hopeful, was still out of place. There were no “Bloomberg” signs distributed among the crowd like there have been for every other prime time speaker. There were no chants of his name. The speech wasn’t a return to the flock for this one-time Democrat, and he certainly didn’t want portray it as anything more than an alliance of convenience. Bloomberg’s centrism, always somehow to the right of the DNC, turns out to have never been far right enough for American voters.

“So tonight, as an independent, I am asking you to join with me — not out of party loyalty but out of love of country,” Bloomberg finished his speech, telling Americans to cast their votes for Clinton. To everyone in the arena, his real message was clear: In November, he was asking them to vote against Trump.