Political parties hurt America
In his funeral speech for the late black Senator John Lewis on July 30th, Barack Obama conjured up one of the darkest characters in American history, the racist Governor of Alabama: "George Wallace is no longer alive, but we are witnessing our government dispatching men to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators. "
It was a reminder of the violent sixties, the years when perhaps a few dozen affluent children in San Francisco put the famous flowers in their hair, but in all of the rest of the United States the fear of racial war avoided. The civil rights movement scared many: it was a white racist who shot and killed the black preacher Martin Luther King in Memphis in April 1968; FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover had him under surveillance and blackmailed for years.
The riots of the 1960s returned after George Floyd died in police arrest last May, and fear returned. The "Black Lives Matter" movement called for the disarming of an obviously racist police force. Incendiary devices flew, looting and arrests occurred, police officers and demonstrators were injured. Batons and tear gas, as mentioned by Obama, were used when his successor had the way bludgeoned in the White House to present himself with a Bible in his hands as the defender of good America. Donald Trump appealed to a white majority when he complained that the situation in the country was out of control following the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. An "urban guerrilla is at war," his Attorney General William Barr claimed on Fox News. "Bolsheviks" are those who fought with "fascist methods".
Floyd's fate and subsequent riots were reminiscent of the battle that raged in Newark, New Jersey state, in July 1967. The occasion was an attack by the police, or as the Newark-born writer Philip Roth called it, a "typical American rampage". John Smith had passed a parked police car in his taxi, which immediately started the chase. The police stopped his car, beat up the driver, and then dragged him to the station. They were white, Smith was black, and he felt it. "I didn't fight back. They crushed my ribs, broke a groin and punched a hole in my head. At the police station, six or seven other officers kicked me in the ribs and buttocks. They dragged me into a cell , held my head over the toilet bowl and hit me on the back of the head with a revolver. " In the unrest that his police treatment had triggered, 26 people died within a few days, more than 1,500 were injured, 1,397 were arrested, damage of 15 to 20 million dollars (according to today's purchasing power 100 to 140 million).
There were prominent activists who defended violence as a prerequisite for revolution
In contrast to the usual attacks, there were witnesses who had seen how the police treated their victim. Above all, the riots found their prominent chronicler in Tom Hayden, the former president of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), who had moved to this black neighborhood as a social worker. His account of the events in New Jersey appeared in the intellectuals magazine New York Review of Books. The article was announced on the cover, and at the bottom of the page were stylized instructions for making a Molotov cocktail.
During the six-day riots in Newark, incendiary devices had actually flown. The Vietnam war opponent Hayden, a kind of American Daniel Cohn-Bendit, defended the use of force as an inevitable prerequisite for a revolution. In December 1967, Hayden volunteered in New York for a political debate on "Can violence be legitimized?" with the statement: "There are also good reasons for violence in the peace movement." Hannah Arendt, the keynote speaker, dismissed Hayden's passionate advocacy of violence in favor of a good cause: "Violent resistance to the United States government is fundamentally wrong."
However, in August 1968, opposition to official United States policies was at its height. In August of an election year, the candidates of the major parties are traditionally nominated at pompous meetings. The situation this time was different from the rallies before. The war in Vietnam came into living rooms every day now. In August alone, 1,214 American soldiers died; in the whole of 1968 the number was to be 16,899. 1968 was not only the year of the great demonstrations against the Vietnam War, but also the year of political assassinations. Martin Luther King was shot dead in Memphis; in Los Angeles an assassin killed Robert F. Kennedy, brother of the also murdered president and the liberal hope of the Democratic Party.
But the party, like the country, was deeply divided. By the incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Democrats were considered a war party. In Chicago, Johnson's Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Senators George McGovern and Eugene McCarthy ran. George Wallace, also the Democratic governor of Alabama, had already started his own business and wanted to run as an independent in November. Wallace promised his constituents to maintain segregation in schools and restaurants. As a vice-presidential candidate, he chose the former General Curtis LeMay, who had advocated the use of nuclear weapons and wanted to bomb the Vietnamese back to the Stone Age. A commission set up by Johnson earlier this year expressed fears that the US could split into two companies, one black and one white. George Wallace and Richard Nixon pushed this split.
Richard Nixon, the Republican candidate, wanted the "silent majority" of whites
Nixon, who had been nominated as a Republican candidate two weeks earlier in Miami, wanted it silent majority represented, those Americans who did not take to the streets, did not demonstrate and certainly did not throw stones at police officers. Nixon talked about the rising crime rate and promised law and order. With him you can dare to step outside again at night. Nixon promised to clean up Washington and even mentioned civil rights, the big issue of Martin Luther King. However, he did not mean the fight for equality for blacks, but spoke of the "first civil right of all Americans", the "right to be spared violence at home". It was the perfect formula for the white majority because it increased the very feeling of fear that the images of the demonstrations already conveyed.
Nobody was less about violence than the Youth International Party, the Yippies, who caused a stir and excitement with their unruly faxes. In a manifesto at the beginning of 1968 they had already encouraged people to move to Chicago en masse. According to a specially passed law, anyone who crossed the state border to instigate rioting made themselves liable to prosecution. For the Yippies, that was all the more reason to hold a happening in Chicago. "Come on, you rebels, youth movements, rock artists, seekers of truth, weirdos, poets, barricade-takers, dancers, lovers and artists! The threats from LBJ (Lyndon B. Johnson), Mayor Daley and J. Edgar Freako (FBI chief Hoover) become us We are coming! We are calling for ecstatic politics! We are the tender impulses of a new savagery that will change America. We create our own reality, we are the free America and we will not accept the false theater of the Death Party! " The appeal ended with a wild assertion: "Chicago is ours!"
Chicago was firmly in the hands of the Democrats, and that is why the nomination convention was held there. Mayor Richard Daley wanted to make sure that the city didn't fall into the wrong hands. There was great fear that an uprising like the one in Newark could ensue, and the fear was justified: Not only the yippies, but also various political groups were planning to use the hotspot Chicago to protest against the war in Vietnam on this stage, but also against racism, against the social differences in the USA.
As a precaution, the mayor of Chicago had issued an order to shoot the police officers and soldiers
While the future distribution of power was being negotiated on the political upper floor, the demonstrators wanted to fight the matter out on the street. Daley had to do everything possible to prevent it. In Chicago the 5,000, perhaps 8,000 demonstrators faced 25,000 police officers, soldiers and National Guardsmen; as a precaution, Daley had issued an order to shoot.
An audience was taken care of: not only television was present in this controversy, which had been announced for months, also actors like Paul Newman and writers like Arthur Miller. esquire sent William Burroughs and Jean Genet, for Harper's came Norman Mailer. The reporter Hunter S. Thompson was there too and experienced a "nightmare" that he "doesn't want to miss for anything in the world".
The yippies definitely had their fun: why not add LSD to the drinking water to lift the mood? Let the delegates be seduced by hippie girls and get them thinking differently? Or a public fuck-in? They brought their own candidate, called "Pigasus," whose nomination was announced on the eve of the convention. Or as the CIA report put it dryly: "On August 23, members of the Youth International Party (Yippies) and their candidate, a pig, were arrested at the Chicago Civic Center."
But it didn't turn out that funny after all: The Yippies did their pranks and allowed themselves to be arrested in front of the camera, Allen Ginsberg ommitted for hours for non-violence, but the police officers, insulted by the demonstrators and pelted with bottles and stones, flogged with all their might everything that was young and had longer hair. The CBS reporter Dan Rather was also beaten by the police, and the television was broadcasting it live. For the writer Norman Mailer, the five days in August were "like Vietnam". From his safe room in the Hilton he observed how the state was proceeding with the "ferocity of a tropical thunderstorm": "The police officers attacked with tear gas, with pepper spray, with batons and they marched ahead like a chainsaw eats its way into the wood: the tips of theirs Bludgeons were the teeth of the saw, they mowed their way into the grass like a sickle, twenty or thirty policemen advancing in arch formation, the sticks struck, the demonstrators fled. From above, from the 18th floor, it was as if he were standing Wind blows dust, or like the head of a wave on a beach. " At least Mailer was able to gain an aesthetic appeal from the play: "The light was a wonderful gray-blue, the uniforms of the police were sky-blue."
Chicago not only provided the ideal stage for the fun guerrilla, it was also the ideal stage for protesting the Vietnam War. Tom Hayden wanted the escalating war on the streets as well, Vietnam should not just be on the screen, but come all the way home. He deliberately relied on provocation. "If blood should flow, make it flow all over the city. If they break up and want to hurt, then we'll break up the whole stinking city," he announced. Part of the plan was to "wake up the sleeping dogs in the right-wing camp" through the Battle of Chicago.
An investigation report later found that the police had exceeded all limits. This was about police riot, about rioting and violations, most of which were committed by the police. Someone counted and came to 668 arrests (excluding Pigasus), 1,100 demonstrators had been injured, most of them by the tear gas. The outrage at the nationwide police violence was limited. Daley reportedly received 135,000 letters commending his harsh actions; only 5000 were negative.
A week after Hubert Humphrey's nomination, the Rolling Stones released the single "Street Fighting Man". The song was not allowed to be played by the radio stations in Chicago.
When the party conference was over, when the streets were cleared, and the Yippies and anti-Vietnamese, when the writers and actors had left, the campaigner Richard Nixon came to town and preached his simple gospel of law and order. On November 5th, ten weeks after the Chicago riot, he was elected 37th President of the United States. The war in Vietnam went on for seven years.
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