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The whole world is watching

August 20,2018 19:12

Where the National Guard once stood in formation with bayonets fixed, a line of stands for rental bikes now stretches away along South Michigan Avenue. Where protestors against the Vietnam War once massed, chanting “the whole world is watching”, sun ...



Where the National Guard once stood in formation with bayonets fixed, a line of stands for rental bikes now stretches away along South Michigan Avenue.
Where protestors against the Vietnam War once massed, chanting “the whole world is watching”, sun shines on formal flower beds filled with purple hostas and golden lilies.
Across the street, the facade of the Hilton Chicago looms, four towers of brick rising above war-like stone carvings of figures carrying shields and axes. There are few clues, but 50 years ago, this spot was a crucible of violence, which exposed fault lines in a divided and traumatised nation.
A tumultuous season of assassinations, riots and war, 1968 was the year that changed America, in ways that still unfold today. And part of that momentous drama played out on summer nights in Chicago when blood ran in the streets and police orchestrated a riot as anti-war protesters tried to march upon the Democratic National Convention calling for an end to the Vietnam war.
After four days and nights of violence, 668 people had been arrested, 425 demonstrators were treated at temporary medical facilities, 200 were treated on the spot, 400 given first aid for tear gas exposure and 110 went to hospital. A total of 192 police officers were injured.
Images of police firing teargas and beating demonstrators with their nightsticks played on network television news. It looked like an oppressive fascist state and offered a view of a nation apparently tearing itself apart.

A crystalline theatre of moral witness, evil being visited upon innocents Rick Perlstein

Rick Perlstein, the author of Nixonland, speaking at an event at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism to mark the Chicago '68 anniversary, cited an NBC news producer who thought the footage he had produced was “a crystalline theatre of moral witness, evil being visited upon innocents”.
But not all saw it like that – a Gallup poll showed 56% of Americans backed the police actions against the demonstrators.
Charles Kaiser, the author of 1968 in America, said: “The biggest impact was on the older generation because they were so completely freaked out by it, this spectacle of anarchy was really terrifying.
"The combination of the two assassinations [Rev Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F Kennedy], the extremely violent and numerous riots after Martin Luther King was killed, the spectacle of upper middle class white college students fighting with policemen in Chicago, I think there is an argument to be made that the images of police riots in Chicago were as useful to Richard Nixon’s campaign as anything else that happened in the whole year.
“They contribute in a big way to this whole sense that everything is out of control and therefore the man who is preaching law and order becomes very attractive.”
In 1969, President Nixon would hail a "silent majority" and urge them to support him, claiming patriotism for conservatives and condemning the "bitter hatred" of young Americans as he derided a minority who tried to impose their view on the nation "by mounting demonstrations in the street". Some of those fault lines, and that language, still echo 50 years later.

Trouble had been anticipated for months as the Democrats prepared to vote at their Chicago convention for a candidate to take on Nixon in the race for the White House, following President Lyndon B Johnson’s announcement that he would not run for a second term.
Bobby Kennedy, who carried the anti-war hopes of young Democratic voters had been shot dead in June, hours after winning the California Democratic primary. Anti-war protests were geared toward trying to get behind an anti-war candidate like Eugene McCarthy or George McGovern, who would defeat vice-president Hubert Humphrey.
In Vietnam, American casualties were rising in what would prove to be the worst year of the conflict. At home, college campuses were gripped by protest as students opposed the war and the draft.
The Mobe – the national mobilization committee to end the war in Vietnam – was planning the main demonstration, while the Yippies, a radical revolutionary group, had planned a festival in Lincoln Park.
Mayor Richard J Daley, had refused permits to allow anti-war protestors to march on the convention or sleep in the city parks and had put Chicago police on notice with an infamous “shoot to kill arsonists” order after the April riots which ravaged the city after Dr King’s assassination.
Frank Kusch, author of Battleground Chicago, who interviewed 87 veteran police officers for his book, said: “They knew that they were not to let these things happen again and that they were to come down much harder on protests in the future.
“They felt they had to, and they felt encouraged too, that they had permission to go after demonstrators and be brutal.”

Trouble had been anticipated for months as the Democrats prepared to vote at their Chicago convention for a candidate to take on Nixon in the race for the White House, following President Lyndon B Johnson’s announcement that he would not run for a second term.

In the days before the August gathering, a military occupying force was sent to the city - 6,000 members of the National Guard and 6,000 army troops joined the 12,000-strong Chicago police department to face demonstrators and keep protests away from the convention being held at the International Amphitheater

By the weekend before the convention, about 2,000 demonstrators had set up camp in Lincoln Park, their show of strength apparently weakened by fears of confrontation. By Wednesday and the worst of the violence, there were 10,000.

From inside the International Ampitheatre, behind barbed wire and a ring of security, the CBS evening news Anchor Walter Cronkite reported: “The Democratic convention is about to begin in a police state. There just doesn’t seem to be any other way to say it.”

On Monday, demonstrators climbed on a statue of General Logan on a horse, leading to violent skirmishes with police in Grant Park.

At night, heavily armed officers in gas masks swept through Lincoln Park driving people into the streets.

The Walker Report, an official study of the violence in Chicago, said after an 11pm curfew passed on the first night, police “in a state of excited anger” moved in to clear Lincoln Park in a “scene of police ferocity” which spilled onto the streets.
The report - headed by an independent observer from Los Angeles police – concluded that: “Individual policemen, and lots of them, committed violent acts far in excess of the requisite force for crowd dispersal or arrest. To read dispassionately the hundreds of statements describing at firsthand the events of Sunday and Monday nights is to become convinced of the presence of what can only be called a police riot.”
The 362-page Walker Report, published in December 1968 and based on a review of over 20,000 pages of statements from 3,437 eyewitnesses and participants, said police were targeting media too. “A newsman was pulled aside Monday by a detective acquaintance of his who said: ‘The word is being passed to get newsmen.’"

Tell them they can’t get away with it again because the whole world’s watching Don Rose

Kusch said that years later the police veterans he interviewed for his 2004 book still felt they got a raw deal, portrayed as stormtroopers in blue who lost control.
“I have to agree with them on that point, they had almost 12,000 men armed with a sidearm. If they actually lose control and riot then you have people dead, you’d have gunfire. But there isn’t a case where an officer drew their service weapon and fired, let alone killed anybody.
“At the same time I thought ‘if they didn’t lose control how did they account for the violence?’ That means they knew what they were doing, they weren’t operating in the heat of the moment. They planned to give what they thought of as a spoiled generation, a good ripping, a good beating and they did.
“It was an organised, violent assault on protestors and while individuals certainly provoked the police and assaulted them, threw bags of faeces and urine, the overall response by the police force was past the point of protection and went into punishment.”
The Mobe group staged press conferences every day. The press secretary Don Rose, was briefing activist Rennie Davis after a night of police violence and said: “Tell them they can’t get away with it again because the whole world’s watching.”
Davis used the phrase, which was taken up as a chant by the crowds as the police violence escalated on Wednesday, the fourth day.

Wednesday’s violence began in Grant Park, opposite the Hilton, the Democratic party headquarters. An American flag was taken down at around 3.30pm. Activists believed the individual responsible was an undercover cop - the action became a trigger for police, who had removed their name tags, to start beating people in a crowd of 8,000 to 10,000.

Activists denied the right to march in the road to the convention centre adopted the civil rights tactic of marching on the sidewalk and obeying all traffic signals. National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets and gas masks were stationed near the park entrance.

The marchers made it two blocks and were halted at the Conrad Hilton Hotel. In a sit down protest, the crowd chanted “the whole world is watching”.

At the Hilton, a phalanx of National Guard armed with M1 rifles blocked the route. They were backed by machine guns and jeeps with cages on top and barbed wire frames in front.

Inside the convention hall, several miles south, one speaker denounced the “gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago”. Mayor Daley was caught on camera apparently shouting in response: “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch!”

As Democrats anointed vice-president Hubert Humphrey as their presidential candidate, 17 minutes of footage of police wading into crowds outside was broadcast nationwide, capturing what the Walker Report called “a collage of violence”.

Incidents in the Walker Report’s vivid eyewitness accounts included: a 14-year-old boy on top of a car being pulled to the ground and beaten; a well-dressed woman who witnessed the incident being sprayed in the face by a police officer who clubbed her to the ground and dragged her into a police van; a secretary who needed 12 stitches in a head wound from a police billy club; another witness who said: "The police were angry. Their anger was neither disinterested nor instrumental. It was deep, expressive and personal. ‘Get out of here, you cock suckers’ seemed to be their most common cry'."
The Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man was released a week later – seized as an anthem of protest by some and banned from the radio as too provocative by others who feared anarchy.
Just seven days after the police riot, ​Richard ​Nixon, the Republican presidential candidate, came to the same area of Chicago and flashed victory signs from the top of a motorcade car during a ticker-tape parade. Two months later, he won the election.
There is an overwhelming sense that the violent imagery of protesters meeting an unforgiving show of police force and the political strongman act are being played out again 50 years on as Donald Trump has exploited social division.

Kaiser, who contends that 1968 shaped a generation, said all those explosions in the country changed it fundamentally – in positive ways as people felt confident to challenge conventional wisdom on a range of civil rights issues, but also in stiffening the resolve of conservatives.
“You could argue that we have been in a 50-year period of reaction against everything that happened in the 60s, which has more or less culminated in the moment we are in right now, when the right wing has complete control of two branches of government and is verging on complete control of the third branch.
“The sad thing about America in the last 50 years is that after this great progressive explosion, the vast majority of organisational energy has been on the right wing which has been continuously spending and organising really ever since.”
Don Rose, whose phrase “the whole world is watching” still rises from crowds of demonstrators today, said: “A lot of people were radicalised by the actions around the convention, a lot of people opposed to it.
“Activism of this kind has gone up and down – there were various other episodes before the war finally ended, and civil rights actions, actions against the Iraq war which were actually larger. It ebbs and flows, we are at a high point of activism now, as I see it.”

I would do it all over again, I have not lost my fervour or energy for social activism John Froines

John Froines, who was one of the so-called Chicago Seven, put on trial and later cleared of inciting a riot, said in some ways, the relatively small protest in Chicago was a failure – later demos would draw hundreds of thousands to march in Washington DC demanding an end to the war in Vietnam.
But as he put it: “It was an extraordinary event. I would say there were people radicalised by the Chicago demonstrations by mass media covering the events. At one point I saw a newspaper reporter being beaten by a Chicago policeman and I said to myself at that time, 'we’ve won this political event’, because when you start to beat the mass media, they are obviously not going to be supportive.”
Froines, now 79, is still publishing academic research after a distinguished career as a chemist in public health. He once said: "No one can be an activist at 50, you’d have to have your head examined."
“I shouldn’t have said that,” he laughs, adding: “I would do it all over again, I have not lost my fervour or energy for social activism and I look at the students from Florida who have been so wonderful in terms of their developing a massive activism on guns."
He sees a through line from the civil rights and anti-war demonstrations of the 1960s to today’s activism. “Events in Chicago in were so profound that they were going to have an impact. Now the demonstrations are much larger but the question will be can one develop the resources to make political change? I think certainly the spirit is there.”

Photography and video sources: Getty Images, Rex/Shutterstock, AP and the Bettmann Archive

Chicago,US policing,Ronald Reagan,Activism,Protest,US news,US politics,World news

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