NATO Summit protests spark memories of Chicago ’68
BY JERRY TALLMER | Plus ça change.
Couple of hours ago I clicked on the tube, to see if there’d been any great old murals or statuary damaged by earthquake in Italy.
No murals, no statuary. No siree, Bob. Just what looked terrifyingly like a considerable dozens of human skulls being damaged by the nightsticks of a small army of the helmeted Chicago police.
Seems to me I’ve caught this flick before. Nineteen hundred and sixty-eight. Late August. The Chicago Riot, it was called. Police Riot, the blue-ribbon Walker Commission later adjudged it.
Actually it was the second Chicago riot of that cruel year. The first one, in the largely black area Southside, had been ignited by the assassination, in Memphis, in April, of Martin Luther King, Jr. This one, in August, following the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles in June, was triggered by Mayor Richard J. Daley’s paranoid fear (or simulated fear) of a couple of Yippity threats to the national welfare.
That terrifying worldwide anarcho-syndicate conspiracy, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin & Co. (“Conspiracy?” Abbie would later remark, “We couldn’t agree on lunch”) also included one genuine young black revolutionary of sorts, Bobbie Seale, later bound and gagged and separated from his fellow defendants by the other Hoffman — the Honorable Judge Julius J. Huff-and-Puff Hoffman — at the Trial of the Chicago 8…no, 7…a year later.
But now, 1968, nobody who was there will ever forget it, and I was there for the New York Post.
Some things I viscerally remember:
The odor of stink bombs throughout the public places of the Chicago Hilton and other leading Windy City hotels. I can’t describe that odor, other than to say it is close first cousin to vomit. It lingers and is pervasive and will always be a Proustian memory, with a difference, whenever throughout this life I again see or hear the name “Chicago.”
Bandages on some of the broken heads and arms of the walking wounded — survivors of the big police bust in Grant Park the night before.
Governor Abe Ribicoff of Connecticut, on the floor of convention hall, his microphone cut off, deploring the “Gestapo tactics” of the Daley political machine, even as Boss Richard J. Daley, mayor of Chicago, on that same convention floor, stands red-faced and bellowing: “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch!” at McGovern nominator Ribicoff.
Dan Rather and Mike Wallace being roughed up and prevented from reporting from that same convention floor. Walter Cronkite in the control booth saying: “I think we’ve got a bunch of thugs here.”
Jerry Rubin and folksinger Phil Ochs nominating Pegasus, a real live pig, for president of the United States of America.
Daley’s Chicago police clubbing beatniks and peaceniks and everybody else in sight for 17 minutes, on camera, as the demonstrators chant: “The whole world is watching,” which it was.
Myself for three days and nights in Chicago very carefully turning away from any block or corner or intersection at which I spied one or more Chicago cops in the distance.
Myself by daylight across the street from the Hilton, standing nose to nose opposite a motionless, rifle-bearing Illinois national guardsman young enough to be my son — well, nephew. He’s standing there in rigid ranks with hundreds of his fellow guardsmen.
Myself in the Hilton lobby watching the huge mass of bodies outside pressing against the hotel’s large plate-glass windows. And those windows will break.
Columnist Jimmy Breslin saying to me in the bar: “I guess your guy isn’t doing so good.” He meant Gene McCarthy, the gutsy guy I’d been reporting on for many months now. The guy who might really get us out of Vietnam, if elected. If nominated. Which he wasn’t going to be.
Back in New York, Norman Mailer would write that the United States was in the midst of a national nervous breakdown.
In Chicago, some parties purportedly unknown broke into the hotel headquarters of the Gene McCarthy campaign workers, upstairs in (I think) the Hilton and beat up everybody in sight.
On the streets of Chicago there was a closing-night candlelight parade. Murray Kempton of the New York Post, one of America’s all-time finest newspapermen, was among the marchers.
A year later I went back to Chicago for the opening week of the trial of the Chicago 8 minus 1. Crazy-like-a-fox Abbie Hoffman had the whole thing in his hand; also had Judge Julius J. Hoffman, that pompous horse’s ass, climbing a wall.
One day during an intermission I strolled over from the Federal Courthouse to the Chicago Art Institute, on the lake. And found myself facing a Van Gogh self-portrait that had the same mad, staring eyes of the real-life Jerry Rubin I’d just left. Seemed to me a sort of appropriate cap to the whole experience.
Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin’ town…
On State Street, that great street, I saw a man dancing with his own wife!
Ah, Judy… .
To my mind, the protesters of today — the Occupiers, mostly — have a lot more diffuse set of evils to face. The evils change, the protesters change, but the Chicago police — like, now and then, some of their New York counterparts — will go on forever.
As does the perfume of stink bombs.