The Trial of the Chicago 7: The Conspiracy in Jail

The Press of Freedom: Transcending of Differences

The long-distance operator finally reached the Conspiracy office the Saturday before last, several hours after the Appeals Court granted bail to the Chicago Seven. The caller asked for several of the defendants, none of whom was available. “I’m really sorry, operator,”  blurted the euphoric, thoroughly exhausted staff worker, “they’re all out getting laid.”

The nightmare, or at least its first phase, is over. Prosecutor Foran is making the rounds on the Northern Illinois Kiwanis circuit manfully describing the defendants as “fag revolutionaries” and loathsome subverters of American youth. Sprung from their five-by-eight metal cages, most of the defendants spent last week relaxing and making plans to move the Conspiracy office to New York.

Last Wednesday, Dave Dellinger, who has been advocating the abolition of prisons for 30 years, talked with a few of us about his unexpectedly brief residence in the Cook County Jail, which he described as “from a racial point of view, one of the most ideal societies I’ve ever been in.”

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The defendants weren’t prepared for the instant heroism and generosity accorded them by the inmates, who had exultantly followed the trial on television. (Even the prison guards had soft moments: one wordlessly pocketed Dellinger’s stash of Cuban cigars during the daily 3 a.m. strip-and-search routine and returned them later; another knowingly overlooked Dellinger’s copy of the New Left Review, a British Marxist monthly, while other reading matter was confiscated.)

“The inmates really know what it means to run up against a legal system which is stacked against you,” Dellinger said. “A lot of them are there because they couldn’t make bail. The fact that we had stood up to the greased machine was something new to them.”

Dellinger had the good fortune to reside in a cage that was out of the direct glare of the bulb that stays on day and night. He shared it with a veteran safecracker with a very creative passion for new hustles. “The guy was actually very friendly. We took turns sleeping except that when it was my turn he would try to convince me of his plan. ‘Dills,’ he would say, ‘you’re big now, really big. With your name and my experience we could start an organization and get eight million people to pay $4 dues a year — say a buck every three months. That’s 32 million bucks a year — 32 million, Dills, whaddya say?’ I rolled over and asked him what the hell the organization would do. He told me to leave that to him. When I finally convinced him I wasn’t interested, he sort of groaned, ‘Dills, the trouble with you is that you’re an idealist.’ ” Dellinger laughed, “I tried to explain that if I wasn’t an idealist, I probably wouldn’t be in a position to consider the proposition in the first place.”

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“The best time in jail was Conspiracy Day when 7000 people gathered outside the jail to support us. We could hear the helicopters whirling overhead. One guy at the end of the cell row had a partial view of the crowd and passed along what he saw. It was a human information chain as it went from cell to cell. The inmates shouted and joked about how the Conspiracy kids were going to blast a hole in the jail and how everybody better hurry and get packed.”

I asked Dave to discuss the disagreement he had with Tom Hayden over whether it was worth speaking out in court, thereby risking contempt citations and jail terms. Generally, Dellinger thought it was and Hayden thought it wasn’t.

“Before the trial we all agreed to wage a ‘positive defense.’ I wanted a few of us to conduct our own defense but was strongly over-ruled on that. We did agree that we wanted to present testimony that would leave the jury with a sense of what we are about as total human beings. There was no way they could judge us fairly unless they heard and saw what we believe and what leadership meant to us. But the actual courtroom resistance didn’t come out of the pre-trial discussions. It developed organically and without much prior consideration. It became a real issue when Bobby Seale was bound and gagged. During the recess following the shackling, I argued that we shouldn’t go back to court willingly. If they wanted to drag us in, okay, but as long as they held Bobby, we couldn’t acquiesce in the business-as-usual routine of the court. Tom thought we had to learn like the Vietnamese to feel no pain, that our real job was to organize people outside and that symbolic acts of non-compliance with the court could only impede our larger purpose. My response was that unless we resisted each step which moved us further along toward a fascist state, we would end up in a hopelessly defensive position. But I also thought that showing solidarity with Bobby at that point was a form of organizing.

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“We were split on the issue of what to do and finally agreed that we would go back to the court for the afternoon session and then discuss it with Bobby that evening. Bobby insisted that we continue the trial, that one person locked up was enough.”

When I heard of the Dellinger-Hayden argument, having worked fairly closely with both of them, I thought, oh boy, are they ever in character. A certain caricature has developed depicting Hayden as a kind of revolutionary Bobby Kennedy, disdaining warmth and spontaneity and caring about nothing so much as raw power. I think this is an awful distortion of Tom and I don’t want to reinforce it. What is true, I believe, is that Hayden is usually thinking five, 10, even 50 years ahead and wants to be able to share his acute sense of what it will take to make a revolution in this country. He is, or at least used to be, terribly worried that personal indulgences would deflect the movement into fruitless culs-de-sac.

There is, in fact, a lot of Hayden in Dellinger. For more than 30 years, Dellinger has been a utopian, rejecting, where necessary, historical models as a guide for what is possible in human arrangements, and eliciting, throughout the ’40s and ’50s, patronizing contempt from left sectarians and realpolitik liberals for advocating such naive causes as unilateral disarmament, abolition of prisons, sexual freedom, and the like. Like Hayden, though, Dellinger has never succumbed to the precious irrelevance of the moralists, violent and non-violent, who kind of assume that maybe things will change when the rest of us are illuminated by their sanctity.

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There is a tension in both men which stems from, on one hand, an aching awareness of the destructiveness of the American system (not simply destructive to blacks and Vietnamese but to all of us) and, on the other, a fearful recognition of the force needed to undo that malevolence. It requires a prodigious balancing act of consciousness to keep a hold on both perceptions. (Try it. Most of us find it less demanding to fix one or the other or to ignore them both.) Dellinger, I suppose, represents the tradition more sensitive to the problem and Hayden to the solution, which may account for their different views on the matter of comportment in Judge Hoffman’s court. But Chicago was a crucible into which eight movement “leaders” were tossed. What emerged, says Dellinger, was not cleavage but a coming together, an incredible trust and love which transcended the real differences which distinguish Abbie Hoffman from Rennie Davis from Bill Kunstler. Six months ago, Dellinger said, it couldn’t have happened. ❖

1970 Village Voice article about the Chicago Seven Trial

1970 Village Voice article about the Chicago Seven Trial


The Trial of the Chicago 7: Birth of a Conspiracy

Courtroom in Chicago

CHICAGO — Conspiracy. See conspire. To join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or to use such means to accomplish a lawful end. To act in harmony.

A conspiracy is what they throw at you when mere causality is not enough, or when the absurd becomes too painful to bear. The great explanation.

Conspiracy. Bear that word in mind. You’re going to have it shoved down your throat before the year is out.

Jerry Rubin is in Chicago because of the Conspiracy. He is charged, with Rennard (Rennie) Davis, and Bobby G. Seale, and John R. Froines, and Lee Weiner, and David T. Dellinger, and Thomas Hayden, and Abbot H. (Abbie) Hoffman, with crossing state lines to foment disorder or to otherwise violate the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Or to use such means to accomplish a lawful end. To act in harmony.

“With my indictment,” he wrote in the underground press not long ago, “I join the list of outstanding world figures who have crossed state lines to create disturbance: the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the late Marilyn Monroe, rock bands, the President of the United States, and Joe Namath.”

Ever the Yippie. He wears a Jimmy Hoffa for President button over one nipple, a Jerry Rubin for Mayor over the other. On the plane to Chicago, he talks about Cincinnati (where he grew up, and where he plans to return for a visit in late April). He talks about television (both he and Hoffman own color sets and find the viewing experience essential — the watched watches). He expounds on why the assassinations must be viewed as positive events (they helped inch America toward a revolutionary context) and he speculates on the chance that he himself might some day be the object of someone’s insurrectionary ardor. He admits he is afraid of being killed, sometimes. I admit I am afraid to travel with him, sometimes.

In Chicago, we go to meet Bobby Seale’s plane. Three Panther bodyguards greet us in the lounge. The brother who is currently under indictment, charged with stealing 710 ice-cream bars, nods and whispers, “Power to yuh.” I lean forward and offer a bleached handshake.

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The lawyers meet their clients in a banquet hall on the fourth floor of a Y which stands in the shadow of the Conrad Hilton. From the window, you can see the hotel’s worn brick backside, and beyond that, Grant Park. You keep expecting to find a commemorative plaque along the walk, but the city fathers have done all they can to restore that strip of lake front to its former gentility. Freshly planted grass and newly sprouting flower beds face the hotel. The masquerade is reflected in the faces of pedestrians. They want very much to forget that the equestrian statue of General Logan, which guards the park, was ever aswarm with grimy, vulgar conspirators.

The attorneys sit around a long table, fortified with legal pads and iced tea. Even the veteran defenders seem like mavericks on this case. With good reason. To some on the left, the Chicago indictments represent the most brazen attempt since McCarthy to crush active dissent, and anything less than acquittal will signal the start of a massive governmental drive. Even those who are not about to read pogrom into the charges admit that a conviction would stunt the movement. “At the very least,” suggests one attorney, “it would have a chilling effect on those not really committed yet.”

This little scenario hangs over the proceedings as the defense begins to construct its case. It’s an awesome task, and the odds against aquittal seem formidable. Which could explain why the men sitting around that banquet table seemed so sober.

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Chicago’s Federal Building stands like a glass and steel truncheon. A skyscraper with style … polished gray stone lobby … the great seal embossed in black … the jails upstairs and outasight.

Ten marshals and 45 policemen keep the crowd outside the courtroom in order. I wait my turn, then file past the world’s spiffiest crewcut plainclothesman, who searches me for weapons and then lets me pass. The galleries are already filled with people — many black kids and a few unrepentant freaks.

“Take that hat off,” a marshal orders a brother in a purple beret.

The man points to a cop in uniform. “If he take his hat off, I take mine off.”

“Throw him out,” the marshal snarls, and the crowd begins to hoot.

The judge enters, Julius J. Hoffman, a balding, 74-year-old man who settles into his chair, casing out the surroundings. He stares hard at the press section, trying to fathom the presence of long hair. His eyes wash over the defendants, settling momentarily on Abbie Hoffman, who has come to court in a blue shirt with Chicago Police Department insignia affixed to the sleeve. Finally, he turns his attention to the attorneys, and even here, he is displeased to note the presence of facial hair around the earlobes.

“These men taking bread out of the mouths of our Chicago bar?”

William Kunstler, who defended Jerry Rubin at the recent HUAC hearings, stands and answers: “Your honor. It’s not bread. It’s only water.”

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And then the arraignments begin. This is a preliminary hearing, designed to set a date for trial. But there are crucial matters to be decided such as travel restrictions. The U.S. Attorney has requested that the defendants be confined to the district of Southern Illinois, and the defense intends to contest that motion, as an abridgement of free speech. The decision will serve as a fair indication of what the conspirators can expect from Judge Hoffman when their trial begins.

But now it is time to plead, and David Dellinger stands against the lectern. “Obviously not guilty,” he announces. “The guilty party has not yet been indicted.”

“Sir, you were asked to plead guilty or not guilty,” Judge Hoffman says. “There will be no speeches. How do you plead?”

“I said obviously not guilty.”

“Obviously has nothing to do with it,” the judge scowls, and then be instructs Dellinger’s lawyer to help his client out.

“Sir, he has pleaded.”

“No, he has not pleaded. There will be no speeches or embellishments.” Titters from the gallery. “If there is any further laughter or any other disturbance, I will have the courtroom cleared. Now, how do you plead?”

“Not guilty,” Dellinger mutters.

“Now that’s the way to do it.”

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The procession continues with Abbie Hoffman, who pleads not guilty in the softest voice I have ever heard him use in public. He has never been convicted in court. It’s a record he’s fiercely proud of. Now, charged with defacing the American flag by wearing a starred and striped shirt at HUAC, and charged with possessing guns and narcotics after a raid on an apartment registered in his name, he is not about to risk contempt of court.

Jerry Rubin grips the lectern and pleads with his fist raised. “Let the record show,” the judge intones, “that Mr. Rubin pleaded guilty with a fist raised in the air.”

“He pleaded not guilty, your honor,” Kunstler interrupts. “That was a Freudian slip.”

“I’m sorry, but that raised fist confused me. I didn’t know whether it was directed at me or not.”

“Sir, that is a symbol of defiance against certain things these defendants think is wrong.”

“Certainly they don’t think I’m wrong.”

Kunstler lets a quick sharp smile cross his lips. “I won’t even bother to answer that, sir.”

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It had been a small but energetic lunchtime rally. Four hundred people filled the courtyard of the Federal Building, and when the Conspiracy Eight (as they had already begun to call themselves) emerged from the arraignment, the shouts of “power to the people” managed to drown out the canned organ music which came from hidden speakers and was audible from blocks away.

First to speak was Bobby Seale, who denied that the Panthers were a racist organization, and buoyed his audience with the chant “Black power to black people; white power to white people.” Tom Hayden said the movement was expanding despite the indictments, and he offered as evidence a mutiny at Fort Carson, Colorado. He said 80 soldiers had gone over the wall with M-16s and ammunition, and had set up a camp somewhere in the Rockies. He said the Army knew about it, but was afraid of the publicity a confrontation might produce.

And Abbie called the hearing “the beginning of the spring offensive. We are joyful at this attempt to combine our forces,” he intoned, “and we thank these people for getting us together because these are the signs of a dying system and we shall dance on the graves of the empire.”

It was true. If the federal sweep had drained the movement of its jaunty brashness, it had solidified some unsteady alliances and created, in the eight men under indictment, a potential popular front for radical youth. The government itself had suggested, by its choice of conspirators, that the best defense lay in unity. And in the tradition of generational combat, the strongest response to a parental attack was to turn the oppressor’s weapons back on himself. Or as Jerry Rubin told the rally: “The only way to defend ourselves is offensively.”

So it looks as though the United States of America may actually succeed in creating a conspiracy in its midst.

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It had been a depressing morning and a grueling afternoon. They had to admit that Judge Hoffman had intimidated them. And it was true that the government had coerced the defense into negotiating, against its will, for the lifting of travel restrictions. Despite repeated appeals, the judge bhad refused to consider the defense motion on confinement, but he suggested rather broadly that the two sides work it out together. When the defense refused to engage in collective bargaining, the judge shelved the issue, and sustained a prosecution motion that the bonds for out-of-state defendants be transferred to Illinois. That seemed innocent enough, but when the actual transference was attempted, it became apparent that the law would require confinement anyway, as part of the process of re-establishing bond. With the futility of their resistance finally clear, the defense retired to the U. S. Attorney’s office, where it was agreed that the prosecution would drop its demand for travel restrictions if the defendants would keep the government informed of their whereabouts. This smacked of surrender, but the alternatives were exhausted, so the defense retired to a conference room to lick its wounds, when Tom Hayden and Gerald Lefcourt (an attorney) spotted a man with a transmitter outside the door. When they pursued him, a second man appeared and told him not to say anything. The prosecuting attorney identified the men — who were indeed FBI agents — and insisted that, while they had been relaying information on the defendants’ whereabouts, they carried no recording equipment.

But the incident set the mood for the rest of the day. By the time they left court, the charter members of the Conspiracy had achieved some measure of their own legitimacy. At least they knew when their trial would start (Judge Hoffman had set the date for September 24) and they knew what to expect from the court, the newspapers, and the government. And these were important discoveries, because a knowledge of your environment is the first step toward mastering it.

So they went off to have their picture taken in Grant Park, around the statue of General Logan. And as they got closer to the Hilton, each began to feel again something of the rush which was Chicago last August, and Jerry Rubin waved to the cars along Michigan Avenue, and Tom Hayden, in his new beard and his wrap-around shades with the purple lenses, looked at all the frowning faces on the pedestrians around him, and he hugged Abbie Hoffman and shouted: “It’s us. It’s us.” ❖


Insurrection at Columbia: The Groovy Revolution


You could tell something more than springtime was brewing at Columbia by the crowds around the local Chock Full, jumping and gesturing with more than coffee in their veins. You could sense insurrection in the squads of police surrounding the campus like a Navy picket fence. You could see rebellion in the eyes peering from windows where they didn’t belong. And you knew it was revolution for sure, from the trash.

Don’t underestimate the relationship between litter and liberty at Columbia. Until last Thursday, April 23, the university was a clean dorm, where students paid rent, kept the house rules, and took exams. Then the rebels arrived, in an uneasy coalition of hip, black, and leftist militants. They wanted to make Columbia more like home. So they ransacked files, shoved furniture around, plastered walls with paint and placards. They scrawled on blackboards and doodled on desks. They raided the administration’s offices (the psychological equivalent of robbing your mother’s purse) and they claim to have found cigars, sherry, and a dirty book (the psychological equivalent of finding condoms in your father’s wallet).

Of course this is a simplification. There were issues involved in the insurrection which paralyzed Columbia this past week. Like the gymnasium in Morningside Park, or the university’s ties to the Institute for Defense Analysis. But beyond these specifics, the radicals were trying to capture the imagination of their campus by giving vent to some of its unique frustrations. In short, they had raised the crucial question of who was to control Columbia? Four buildings had been “liberated” and occupied by students. The traditional quietism that had been the pride of straight Columbia was giving way to a mood of cautious confrontation. The groovy revolution — one part dogma to four parts joy — had been declared.

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The rebels totaled upward of 900 during peak hours. They were ensconsed behind sofa-barricades. You entered Fayerweather Hall through a ground floor window. Inside, you saw blackboards filled with “strike bulletins,” a kitchen stocked with sandwiches and cauldrons of spaghetti, and a lounge filled with squatters. There was some pot and a little petting in the corridors. But on Friday, the rebellion had the air of a college bar at 2 a.m. In nearby Avery Hall, the top two floors were occupied by architecture students, unaffiliated with SDS, but sympathetic to their demands. They sat at their drawing boards, creating plans for a humanistic city and taping their finished designs across the windows. In Low Library, the strike steering committee and visiting radicals occupied the offices of President Grayson Kirk. On the other side of the campus, the mathematics building was seized late Friday afternoon. The rebels set about festooning walls and making sandwiches. Jimi Hendrix blared from a phonograph. Mao mixed with Montesquieu, “The Wretched of the Earth” mingled with “Valley of the Dolls.”

It was a most eclectic uprising, and a most forensic one as well. The debates on and around the campus were endless. Outside Ferris Booth Hall, two policemen in high boots took on a phalanx of SDS supporters. Near Low Library, a leftist in a lumberjack shirt met a rightist in a London Fog. “You’ve got to keep your people away from here. We don’t want any violence,” said the leftist. “We have been using the utmost restraint,” answered his adversary. “But,” insisted the lumberjack shirt, letting his round glasses slide down his nose, “this gentleman here says he was shoved.”

In its early stages, at least, it was a convivial affair, a spring carnival without a queen. One student, who manned a tree outside Hamilton Hall, had the right idea when he shouted for all to hear: “This is a liberated tree. And I won’t come down until my demands have been met.”

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Ray Brown stood in the lobby of Hamilton Hall, reading a statement to the press. His followers stood around him, all black and angry. It was 7.30 p.m. Sunday, and the press had been escorted across a barricade of tabletops to stand in the lobby while Brown read his group’s demands. By now, there were dozens of committees and coalitions on the campus, and students could choose from five colors of armbands to express their sympathies (red indicated pro-strike militancy, green meant peace with amnesty, pale blue meant an end to demonstrations, white stood for faculty, and black indicated support for force.)

But no faction worried Columbia’s administrator’s more than the blacks. They had become a political entity at 5 a.m. Wednesday morning when 300 white radicals filed dutifully from Hamilton Hall at the request of the blacks. From that moment, the deserted building became Malcolm X University christened by a sign over the main door. In the lobby were two huge posters of Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X. That was all whited were allowed to see of Hamilton Hall. The blacks insisted on holding out alone, but by joining the demands of the people in Harlem and the kids in Low, they added immeasurable power to the student coalition. This is easier explained by considering the University’s alternatives. To discharge the students from Hamilton meant risking charges of racism, and that meant turning Morningside Park into a rather vulnerable DMZ. To eject only the whites would leave the University with the blame for arbitrarily deciding who was to be clubbed and who spared.

In short, the blacks made the Administration think twice. And Ray Brown knew it. He read his statement to the press, and after it was over, looked down at those of us taking notes and muttered, “Clear the hall.” We left.

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There was a second factor in the stalemate and its protraction. The issue of university control raised by the radicals had stirred some of the more vocal faculty members into action. They arrived in force on Friday night, when it became known that police were preparing to move. When the administration issued a one hour ultimatum to the strikers early Saturday morning, concerned faculty members formed an ad hoc committee and placed themselves between the students and the police. This line was defied only once — at 3 a.m. Saturday by two dozen plainclothesmen. A young French instructor was led away with a bleeding head. The administration backed down, again licked its wounds, and waited. It played for time, and allowed the more militant faculty members to expend their energies on futile negotiations. All weekend, the campus radio station, WKCR, broadcast offers for settlement and their eventual rejection. While the Board of Trustees voted to suspend construction of the gymnasium pending further study, they made it clear that their decision was taken at the Mayor’s request, and that they were not acceding to any of the striker’s demands. Over the weekend, factions multiplied and confusion grew on campus. This too played into the administration’s hands. Vice-president David B. Truman blamed the violence, the inconvenience, and the intransigence on the demonstrators. When a line of conservative students formed around Low Library to prevent food from being brought to the protesters, the administration ordered food for the anti-picket line at the school’s expense.

Finally, it called the first formal faculty meeting in anyone’s memory for Sunday morning. But it made certain that only assistant, associate, and full professors were present. With this qualification, the administration assured itself a resolution that would seem to signify faculty support. Alone and unofficial, the ad hoc committee persisted in its demands, never quite grasping its impotence until late Monday night, when word began to reach the campus that the cops would move.

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At 2.30 Tuesday morning 100 policemen poured on campus. The students were warned of the impending assault when the University cut off telephone lines in all occupied buildings. One by one, the liberated houses voted to respond non-violently.

While plainclothesmen were being transported up Amsterdam Avenue in city buses marked “special,” the uniformed force moved first on Hamilton Hall. The students there marched quietly from their sanctuary after police reached them via the school’s tunnels. There were no visible injuries as they boarded a bus to be led away, and this tranquil surrender spurred rumors that a mutual cooperation pact of sorts had been negotiated between police and black demonstrators.

Things were certainly different in the other buildings. Outside Low Memorial Library, police rushed a crowd of students, clubbing some with blackjacks and pulling others by the hair. “There’s gonna be a lot of bald heads tonight,” one student said.

Uniformed police were soon joined by plainclothesmen, identifiable only by the tiny orange buttons in their lapels. Many were dressed to resemble students. Some carried books, others wore Coptic crosses around their necks. You couldn’t tell, until they started to operate, that they were cops.

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At Mathematics Hall, police broke through the ground floor window and smashed the barricade at the front door. Students who agreed to surrender peacefully were allowed to do so with little interference. They walked between rows of police, through Low Plaza, and into vans that lined College Walk. In the glare of the floodlights which normally light that part of the campus at night, it looked like a bizarre pogrom. Platoons of prisoners appeared, waving their hands in victory signs and singing “We Shall Overcome.” A large crowd of sympathizers were separated from the prisoners by a line of police, but their shouts of “Kirk Must Go” rocked the campus. Police estimated that at least 628 students were jailed, 100 of them women. Officials at nearby Saint Luke’s Hospital reported that 74 students were admitted for treatment. This figure did not include those who were more seriously injured, since these were removed to Knickerbocker Hospital by ambulance. Three faculty members were reportedly hurt.

Many of the injuries occurred among those students who refused to leave the buildings. Police entered Fayerweather and Mathematics Halls and dragged limp students down the stairs. The sound of thumping bodies was plainly audible at times (demonstrators had waxed the floors to hamper police). Many emerged in masks of vaseline applied to ward off the effects of Mace. Police made no attempt to gas the demonstrators. But some of those who had barricaded themselves in classrooms reported that teams of police freely pummeled them. A line heard by more than one protester, as the police moved to dislodge groups linking arms, was “Up against the wall, motherfuckers.”

There was no example of incredible police brutality visible at Columbia on Tuesday morning. It was all credible brutality. Plainclothesmen occasionally kicked limp demonstrators, often with quick jabs in the stomach. I saw students pulled away by the hair, scraped against broken glass, and when they proved difficult to carry, beaten repeatedly. Outside Mathematics Hall, a male student in a leather jacket was thrown to the ground when he refused to walk and beaten by a half dozen officers while plainclothesmen kept reporters at a distance. When he was finally led away, his jacket and shirt had been ripped from his back.

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The lounge at Philosophy Hall, which had been used by the ad hoc faculty committee as an informal senate, became a field hospital. Badly injured students lay on beds and sofas while stunned faculty members passed coffee, took statements, and supplied bandages. The most violent incidents had occurred nearby, in Fayerweather Hall, where many students who refused to leave were dragged away bleeding from the face and scalp. Medical aides who had moved the injured to a nearby lawn trailed the police searching for bleeding heads. “Don’t take him, he’s bleeding,” you heard them shout. Or: “Pick her up, stop dragging her.”

The cries of the injured echoed off the surrounding buildings and the small quad looked like a battlefield. Those who were awaiting arrest formed an impromptu line. Facing the police, they sang a new verse to an old song:

“Harlem shall awake,
Harlem shall awake,
Harlem shall awake someday … ”

Though two of Mayor Lindsay’s top aides, Sid Davidoff and Barry Gottehrer, had been present throughout the night, neither was seen to make any restraining move toward the police. Commissioner Leary congratulated his men. And University President Grayson Kirk regretted that even such minimal violence was necessary.

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By dawn, the rebellion had ended. Police cleared the campus of remaining protesters by charging, nightsticks swinging, into a large crowd which had gathered around the sundial. Now, the cops stood in a vast line across Low Library Plaza. Their boots and helmets gleamed in the floodlights. Later in the morning, a reporter from WKCR would encounter some of these arresting officers at the Tombs, where the prisoners were being held. He would hear them singing “We Shall Overcome,” and shouting, “victory.”

At present, it is difficult to measure the immediate effects Tuesday’s police intervention will have on the university. Most students are too stunned to consider the future. On Tuesday morning they stood in small knots along Broadway, stepping around the horse manure and watching the remaining policemen leave. Their campus lay scarred and littered. Walks were inundated with newspapers, beer cans, broken glass, blankets, and even discarded shoes. Flower-beds had been trampled and hedges mowed down in some places. Windows were broken in at least three buildings and whole classrooms had been demolished.

It would take a while to make Columbia beautiful again. That, most students agreed. And some insisted that it would take much longer before the university would seem a plausible place to teach or study in again. The revolution had begun and ended in trash, and that litter would persist to haunt Columbia, and especially its president, Grayson Kirk.

1968 Village Voice article by Richard Goldstein about the student revolt at Columbia University

1968 Village Voice article by Richard Goldstein about the student revolt at Columbia University


Blood in Chicago: Covering the Convention that Changed History

Lyndon Baines Johnson became president when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Early on, LBJ told his aides that he wanted to expand on his predecessor’s policies for alleviating systemic poverty in the richest nation the world had ever known. His plans included Head Start, which supplied early education to poor children to give them a better chance to advance in society, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, which would provide healthcare to the elderly and to those who could not afford it. Johnson also wanted to combat racial discrimination in order to give every citizen equal opportunities in the marketplace. Some advised him against spending too much political capital on civil rights, but, having been a congressman and then senator since 1937, Johnson understood the levers of power. He replied, “What the hell’s the presidency for?”

Fighting against centuries of entrenched racism, LBJ accomplished much with his “Great Society” programs, but he was also spending vast resources on a war in Vietnam, a remnant of French colonialism that had mutated into a propagandistic conflict between capitalism and Communism. The loss of American lives in an increasingly savage war with murky moral underpinnings overshadowed Johnson’s slowly advancing progressive accomplishments. After almost five years as president, Johnson was too weary to fight the growing anti-war movement and so his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, who supported the administration’s war policies, ran for the presidency in 1968.

In the Voice pages from that time you can literally see the tension between the establishment’s status quo and young people who feel that social progress at home and peace abroad is taking too long. One ad in the paper exhorts students to come to the Democratic National Convention to demand change. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy — the charismatic preacher and the earnest politician who had both come out against the war — are fresh in their graves, the hopes of millions interred with them. Now, for those sick of the carnage of a geopolitical chess match, it is time to let the powers that be know that the death and destruction must stop. An ad from the August 1 issue reads:


Two weeks later, the tone has changed from wry cajoling to righteous anger:






The eyes of the world will be on Chicago that week as the Democratic Party acts out its ritual of pretending to consult the people while escalating its aggression in Vietnam and continuing a policy of racism and poverty at home.

After that we get a bit of absurdist theater, as Chicago cops corral a pig let loose in Lincoln Park by the Youth International Party, more commonly known as the Yippies — the activists were running “Pigasus” for President. But another photo on the front page of the August 29, 1968, issue of the Voice conveys the grim business of practicing civil disobedience and self-defense tactics. An article by Paul Cowan and Voice stalwart Jack Newfield reports, “The boomlet for Teddy Kennedy turned out to be a fantasy of Bobby’s orphans.” They add that the liberals had been routed inside the convention center by the pro-war, pro–Hubert Humphrey forces, and the protesting kids had been repulsed on the streets by Mayor Richard Daley’s club-wielding police force. On the jump page the Voice writers explain that the cops arrested one of the protest leaders, Tom Hayden, on trumped-up charges. He’s released on bail, so they travel through back alleys to escape more officers and run into some prostitutes and their pimp, all wearing buttons for the anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy. Nick Von Hoffman, a Washington Post reporter, tells of witnessing the cops sadistically beating protestors: “You know that they don’t make arrests any more. They can’t be bothered with lawyers, courts, any of that stuff.”

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“Yeah, they just maim people and leave them hidden,” one of the convention delegates says.

Another politician, disgusted with what he’s seen, tells the assembled newsmen, “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.”

By the September 5 issue, all the Voice reporters and photographer Fred McDarrah have filed their stories. A McDarrah photo of an armored troop carrier on the streets of Chicago is paired with images of the Soviet invasion of Prague that same week.

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On the inside pages reporter Steve Lerner tells a tale about men of the cloth joining the protest: “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.… 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.’ ” Then the police strike: “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.”

Lerner’s story jumps to a spread with other reports of the assaults by the police, as well as four pages of McDarrah’s photos. If reporters are charged with providing “the first rough draft of history,” the ground-level, street-smart photojournalist McDarrah gave us some of the first contact sheets of the counterculture.

Along with McDarrah’s bare-knuckle images, Richard Goldstein’s eye-witness account — wittily headlined, “Theater of Fear: One on the Aisle” — analyzes the rationales and morals of civil protests: “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.”

Cowan’s “Moderates, Militants Walk A Bloody Route Together” examines the radicalization of those who initially want to work within the system. Arrayed against an implacable power structure, they feel they have no choice: “After all, a Yippie or a member of the [anti-war] 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.”

Newfield had always considered the insult “pig” a “satisfying exaggeration. An example of in-group argot.” But after he saw the Chicago police indiscriminately beating demonstrators he changed his mind: “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.” In “The Streets of Daleyland,” he reports on the wounded being brought back to the convention hotel: “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.”

And so it goes. Had Daley — an old-line political boss who could not stomach this young, vigorous generation with ideals that challenged his power base — restrained his police rather than letting them run amok, millions of voters across the country would not have been sickened and disillusioned by the bloodletting. And then maybe they might have found it in their hearts to vote for the flawed, but ultimately forward-looking Hubert Humphrey. Instead, Richard Nixon won a razor-thin victory, and his retrograde policies — and even more retrograde appointments of Supreme Court justices — haunt us to this day.



David Fenton’s Revolutionary Photos of Tom Hayden and Bill Ayers, With Caesar Dressing on the Side

I spent last weekend palling around with Bill Ayers. OK, it was actually a photograph of Ayers leading a 1969 Days of Rage march in Chicago, and it was hanging on the wall at the Steven Kasher Gallery, but the sight of it made me feel positively insurrectionary.

I love this gallery because: 1) It specializes in photographs of renegades, radicals, and rebels with the occasional foray into vintage protest posters; 2) It’s around the corner from Comme des Garçons and Balenciaga; and 3) It’s next to the Half King, a bistro that always makes me feel like I am a great undiscovered artist even though I am defeated by a Paint-by-Numbers kit.

The present exhibit at Kasher is called David Fenton: Eye of the Revolution and features the works of the photographer, who began recording street protests while he was still a teenager in the ’60s. I visit the show on Election Day because after I vote, I am so hysterically nervous that I don’t feel like going shopping, a rare condition for me.

The photos on display depict uprisings at Yale and Columbia, Black Panther headquarters, Central Park Be-Ins, and even the occasional foray into the frivolous—one work is entitled “A Naked Protester in the Reflecting Pool at the Honor America Day Smoke-In, Washington, D.C., July 4, 1970.” As I’m looking around, Kasher pops out of his office and reminds me that on Saturday, there’ll be a panel discussion at the gallery to discuss the legacy of the ’60s, featuring none other than Mrs. Bill Ayers, former Weather woman Bernardine Dohrn (no, she didn’t read the forecast on TV—she was a member of a radical underground group); SDS founder and Chicago Seven defendant Tom Hayden; former Black Panther Jamal Joseph, who earned two college degrees during his nine years in prison; and Fenton himself. I hate panel discussions, but the prospect of hearing this crew of iconic ’60s personalities weigh in on the election sounds like it might be a little bit of fun, especially if we win.

We win. When Saturday rolls around, I meet my friend D. at the Half King for a pre-panel Caesar salad with dressing on the side (let’s all lose five pounds between now and the inauguration!). Then it’s off to the gallery, where the principals look surprisingly cute—Dohrn has a perky red bow in her hair; Joseph has a lovely face and a passel of delicate braids; and Hayden is so distinguished you can almost see what Jane Fonda saw in him. Kasher introduces the panel and gets a laugh when he says that if the other team won he thought he might have to cancel the event, since the panelists would have left the country.

Want to know what happens to unreconstructed radicals of a certain age? They become college professors. Joseph is now chair of Columbia University’s Graduate Film Division, Dohrn is a law professor at Northwestern, and Hayden teaches at Occidental College, which means they tend to talk in complete sentences and full paragraphs, which makes me want to squirm in my seat, stare at the clock, doodle, and giggle. Still, it’s hard not to share in their palpable excitement that everything they worked so hard for, and went to prison for, and dreamed of decades ago finally seems to be coming true.

Hayden begins by saying that everybody knows this moment is something special: “Let’s just say it’s historic. The question of what the left will be like will be determined by the Barack Obama movement, the Barack Obama generation. I would much rather be with something that is new, new, new than ever be a part of the old left.” Dohrn talks about being in Grant Park on election night—she and Ayers, as the whole world knows, live in Chicago—and describes the irony of seeing the police discreetly tucked into the far corners of the crowd, so different from the situation 40 years ago, when out-of-control officers caused such mayhem during the infamous Chicago ’68 police riots at the Democratic National Convention.

Then, former Black Panther Joseph talks about being on 125th Street on Tuesday night and overhearing a group of kids partying and one shouting, “We voted, and it worked, yo!” and how touched he was by that. He tells of how the doorman of his building in Harlem stopped him and said, “This is a great day! Don’t let anybody take your joy away!”

After these initial statements, which are not exactly short—these people are college professors; they live to talk—I must admit that my joy, although by no means vanished, is waning somewhat. I distract myself by looking again at the Fenton photos and am particularly taken with a 1969 shot of members of the High School Student Union protesting the Vietnam War. The students are wearing lumberjack plaid, army jackets, floppy hats, Indian shirts, and lots of scarves. None of them would look out of place walking down the street today, and, alas, their “Bring Our Men Home” signs are not antiquated either.

The next day, still basking in the exquisite unreality of President-elect Barack Hussein Obama, I decide to continue my exploration of the ’60s and how that decade fucks with your emotions, even if you were born years after Mayor Richard J. Daley unleashed his Chicago cops in 1968. (Another exquisite irony—you can’t make this stuff up—is that current Chicago mayor and fervent Obama supporter, Richard M. Daley, is the son of Richard J.) I am certainly not alone in this enthusiasm—the windows at Henri Bendel presently salute the 50th anniversary of the peace symbol—their slogan is “Peace is the new black”—and Barneys plans to unveil ’60s-themed holiday windows in a few weeks.

I skip these big stores in favor of a place called Free People, whose very name could have been coined in a squat in Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love. I go there because I’m a free person, even though I know this place is meant for shoppers far younger than I (at least its moniker, unlike the dastardly Forever 21, doesn’t throw sand in my face) and because there is a wonderful velvet flapper dress on the racks, a perfect replica of the vintage clothes that people first started wearing in the ’60s. Of course, back then, a ’20s dress was only 40 years old. (Now, an ugly dress with shoulder pads from the ’80s qualifies as a vintage garment, but that’s another story.)

I gear up my courage and try the velvet thing on, in a fitting room that has walls splattered with psychedelic flowers and a thick shag carpet on the floor. My plan is to treat this garment as a top, since, of course, it’s way too small, but who cares? I’m in no mood to let one tiny frock take my joy away.


Surfing Up Democracy

SANTA MONICA—They call themselves “the leaders of the pack.” Their symbol: a pointy-eared, beady-eyed, squat little blue dog. They are the conservative wing of the Democratic Party, otherwise known as “the blue dog coalition,” formed in the wake of the Gingrich Republican takeover of Congress in 1994.

Six years later, their success in moving the Democratic party to the ideological middle is apparent in both the list of corporate sponsors they attracted for Sunday’s kickoff convention fundraiser (Philip Morris, Raytheon, Pepsico, the NRA) and the ire they’ve aroused among many activists, who gathered outside the gates to their soiree.

More than 2000 Democratic delegates paying at least $1000 a head strolled the boardwalk to the Santa Monica Pier for a private party in the pier’s amusement park. Jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, surrounded on two sides by a 50-foot drop to the sand, the pier is part South Street Seaport and part Coney Island, a place where crackerjack water-pistol shooting wins cheap prizes and the Ferris wheel rises high above the crash of ocean waves.

Warming up for a week of parties and posturing, the Democrats were greeted by an alternative party on the sands below the pier—”a people’s party,” organizers called it, a bash the public could attend for free and let the Dems know that neither the kowtowing to the corporate funders nor the shift to the right were acceptable. (There were 20 company logos on the Blue Dog invitation and numerous signs touting the corporate sponsors, most of whom donate more money to the Republicans than the Democrats.) At the beach-party protest, so very L.A., the dissent rose, literally, as a floating money bag, a four-foot helium balloon that hovered above the pier. Backlit by a roller coaster, wafting along the border between the two parties, it admonished the Democrats to “end corporate rule” and to put “people before profit.” Swelling ranks of protesters, a couple thousand strong, collected on the beach to cheer it on.

All day demonstrators had been gathering: in Pershing Square for a Mumia rally, at the Gap on the Santa Monica promenade to protest sweatshop wages, at the Loews Hotel, where members of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union filled the boulevard to hear House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and AFL-CIO president John Sweeney ask how it is that a luxury hotel could pay cleaning ladies $5 per hour and deny them the right to unionize.

These were the traditional Democratic issues: the death penalty, unions. But though younger activists accompanied those marches all the way to the beach, the new generation sees the corporate takeover of our lives, institutions, and government as the most insidious issue today. The evidence was on garish display both in Philly and L.A. Corporate double donors—AT&T, Microsoft, and General Motors, the biggest gift-givers to both conventions—hedged their bets for presidential influence.

“We’ll name the criminals,” said Margaret Prescod of the D2K network, a principal organizing coalition for this week’s protests. “Some of the people who are standing right up there are the grand thieves among the multinationals,” she said, pointing a finger at the tented pier. From a stage set up in the sand she called for the end of a “government that has been privatized by the people of money.”

“The Democrats have so sold out,” said Medea Benjamin, California’s Green Party candidate for Senate and founding director of Global Exchange. “They take money from Raytheon [a military equipment and missile manufacturer]. They take money from the NRA. They mouth pablum and hypocritical statements to throw people off. At least with the Republicans we already know they’re in bed with assholes.”

Hip-hop performers and spoken-word poets revved up the crowd. One of the most powerful responses came, however, when a 90-year-old lady took the stage. The mostly 20-to-35-year-old crowd erupted. Doris Haddock, a/k/a Granny D, walked from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in January and February of 1999 to raise awareness of and garner support for campaign finance reform. “Right now they are up there [on the pier] selling our elections,” she shouted. “Vote with your hearts and let the chips fall where they may. The future must be our concern, not any one election. The only wasted vote is a vote not cast.”

A collective chant, “Shame on you,” rose up the pier embankment from the beach to the amusement park party. In the midst of the speechifying, activists stole quickie dives into the ocean, played devil sticks (that Deadhead juggling game), handed out leaflets, registered people to vote, pounded on plastic drums, and tooted tubas. Some were barefoot and bandanna’d, others dressed to the hilt in mock billionaire style—evening gowns, top hats, pearls.

For all the ruckus, only an occasional Democratic partygoer peered around the tent, and most couldn’t hear a thing. That was partly because the Dem party wasn’t quite what you’d expect from the rhetoric outside. Inside the Blue Dog gala, one might have expected, they’d be eating canapés and sipping martinis. One could imagine a black-tie affair with excessive pinky lifting. A violin concerto, perhaps. But no. First sight: barrels filled with boxes of single-serving Kraft macaroni and cheese. Dems, grinding to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive,” playing Skee-Ball. The game’s prize: What else? A stuffed blue dog. Lots of them hanging in big blue bouquets. Nearby, bumper cars filled with regressive Dems fender-bendering to an old fave: “Baby we can do it, take the time, do it right . . . ” For their big bucks, the Dems were offered 10 doggy choices at the buffet, from your basic Oscar Meyer to chicken apple, Cajun, and smoked turkey wieners. The most popular dessert: chocolate-covered banana.

Even if they were bankrolling the party’s right-wingers, the delegates I spoke with inside were actually more liberal than the Blue Dogs or Gore, at least rhetorically. Back in the day, Chip Forrester, a delegate from Tennessee, said, “I used to be a rabble rouser.” Despite feeling a lot of “hometown pride” for his man Al, he’d still like to see campaign finance reform, and thinks the protesters “can influence us and raise our consciousness” about trade. He thinks working inside government is the way for him to go these days—even if participating in the system’s inner workings is enough to make you think of sausage. “I like sausage,” he says, “but if you see it made, you’d never eat it. It’s messy but in the end it’s flavorful.” As for the corporate sponsors of the evening: “The fundraising is part of convention culture. Most of these contributors give more to the Republicans, they’re here taking care of conservative Democrats.” The party he wished he’d been invited to: Warren Beatty’s.

As the evening wore on, the crowds began to move. The activists migrated to the pier, outside the gated entrance to the Blue Dogs’ private amusment park. Tensions built as protesters arrived from the beach, and more and more Dems spilled onto the pier from other parties, vying for a late-night ride on the Ferris wheel, a rappel up and down a faux rock wall. The group Billionaires for Bush or Gore thrust phony dollar bills through the fence. Fifteen mounted police formed a wall between demonstrators and partygoers. As they waited on the thickening line, some Dems tapped their feet (unconsciously?) to the chant, “Al Gore, Corporate Whore.” Waiting stoically was Craig Bieber, executive director of the Democratic Party of Virginia, who recalled that 20 years ago he was an antinuclear activist, so he didn’t mind the protesters. “Our political process exalts money too much,” he said. “And anyway, Bush and Cheney are the real corporate whores.”

The flash of wistfulness crossing the faces of those who had only positive things to say about protesters suggested a slight, if only slight, discomfort at how the passage of time changes one’s values, or at least one’s approach to changing a system. Some of the delegates almost appeared to have their hearts on the beach, even as they reached for the water pistol to win a blue dog prize.

The speaker who seemed to sum things up was California senator Tom Hayden, the once radical student leader who evaded police for days during the 1968 Democratic convention protests in Chicago. He walked with activists from the Gap demonstration to the beach party to the pier, and refused to go inside the Blue Dog tent. I’d spotted him earlier during the parade to the beach, wearing a pacifier for a ring, newborn son Liam in tow, posing for a photo with a highway patrol officer. After passing the baby to his wife, he spoke en route to the beach party about the activists as “the real thing.” Although firmly supportive of Gore, Hayden criticized the veep for launching a “negative campaign to obliterate Ralph Nader” instead of addressing Nader’s critique of trade and campaign finance reform. “I think they’re held back because of some dependency on corporate money and also by their centrism.”

Later, as he took the stage, Hayden spoke about fear and intimidation: “I encourage you to have heart,” he said to the cheering crowd. “We have to deal with fear, not just oppression. As long as people are afraid of power, then power persists. When you laugh at power, march against power, and scorn power, then the powerful start to fear you.”