So I'm In Chicago, and it's the calm before the storm, and I thought I'd visit Grant Park. Grant Park, where Chicago held its funeral for Lincoln, Grant Park, where Barack Obama made history on election night, November 4, 2008. Grant Park, the scene of some of the bloodiest street fighting ever seen in an American city. In August of 1968, this was ground zero for a protest against the Vietnam War that had been building all that long hot Summer, the Summer when King was killed, when a second Kennedy was killed. This was where Mayor-For-Life Richard J. Daley's Chicago Police Department staged what commentators at the time called "a police riot", beating and arresting young protesters during the Democratic National Convention, one of the first such spectacles to be broadcast live on TV in this country. Chicago has always been my kind of town, a noisy, protesting town, but the violence of '68 was something new and dangerous.
I'm thinking about Grant Park, and Chicago '68 because tomorrow I'll be in Cleveland.
The violence here in Chicago, again violence by the forces of law and order, and its gripping, moment-by-moment prime-time televised version, sent an ugly frisson of fear through the American pysche that Summer. Fear is always useful to somebody. In '68 that fear helped to doom Hubert Humphrey's chances of winning the presidency, and thus paved the way for Nixon and his years of darkness. In truth, no Democrat short of the late Robert Kennedy could have distanced himself enough from Lyndon Johnson's stupid, useless war to have a chance of winning, least of all Humphrey, Johnson's sad, smiling, clueless veep. Though the police committed the violence in Chicago, the anti-war movement took the blame, and Nixon won the fear vote decisively. He won on a platform of, wait for it, "law and order".
Looked at this way, the demonstrations did not shorten or end the war; far from it, they had the opposite, unintended consequence. From this point of view, all those long-haired heads got cracked in vain. Daley, who had ordered up all those cops and Guardsmen to ensure "his" convention would go off as planned, suffered his own unintended consequence when he and his legacy were instead ruined by the result. Wikipedia tells it like this:
"When asked about anti-war demonstrators, Daley repeated to reporters that "no thousands will come to our city and take over our streets, our city, our convention." 10,000 demonstrators gathered in Chicago for the convention, where they were met by 23,000 police and National Guardsmen.
On August 28, 1968, around 10,000 protesters gathered in Grant Park for the demonstration. At approximately 3:30 p.m., a young man lowered the American flag that was there.The police broke through the crowd and began beating the young man...The police assault in front of the Hilton Hotel the evening of August 28 became the most famous image of the Chicago demonstrations of 1968. The entire event took place live under television lights for seventeen minutes with the crowd chanting, "The whole world is watching"."
I'm thinking about Cleveland, where thousands of protesters are expected tomorrow, and throughout the week of the Republican Convention.
According NBC, "there will be close to 3,000 police officers in the city, including officers from Columbus and 70 other police agencies around the country. Police anticipate large organized protests as well as smaller pop-up protests.Electronic highway signs leading in to Cleveland tells visitors to call the FBI if they see something suspicious. Parts of the city look like it’s preparing for a cage match with miles of eight-foot-high fences meant to help police control crowds of protesters."
With everything that's happened in the world recently, Dallas, Nice, it will be all too easy for someone, somewhere, to try to exploit the climate of fear, as Trump is doing and has done successfully for the past year, fear of the other, fear of the future. Then there's the fear of violence arising in Cleveland. These fears almost give our planned protest a bad name. Should we not do it? Since announcing my plan to go to Cleveland to cover the protests there and to Stop Trump, I've gotten more than 20 private messages from friends urging me to "be careful" or to not go there at all. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't taken on just a little of that climate of fear myself. And for what? If the Chicago protests actually failed in their mission, why protest at all? After spending time in Grant Park, though, I started thinking in a different way about Chicago '68 and Cleveland '16.
The Chicago protests did not, in themselves or by themselves shorten the war, it's true, but seeing them on TV, seeing kids being beaten by cops in prime time helped millions of people to question trusted authorities like Daley, Johnson, the Chicago PD and the Democratic Party. This was of the essence of the '60s, when the legitimacy of institutions and leaders came crashing down, often through their own lies, short-sightedness and stupidity. Johnson et al were revealed to have no clothes, and the echoes of that revelation still reverberate in a healthy way for a supposed democracy.
When we take to the streets in Cleveland tomorrow, and for the next four days, we may not stop Trump, our demonstrations may have unintended consequences no one can foresee, but one thing we will surely be doing is refusing to give in to fear. We will give a resounding answer to anyone, in future generations who asks, as we ask of pre-Hitler Germany, "didn't anyone try to stop him?" Thousands of us are coming to Cleveland to call out Trump and Trump-ism as the dangerous, fascist phenomenon they are. Cleveland, often derided as "The Mistake by The Lake" is also home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We will not give in to violence or fear, but we will make a mighty big noise. We will see to it Cleveland rocks, and this week, it's my kind of town.