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Chicago 1968

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A group of young activists and artists is planning to stage a reenactment [2] of  Chicago’s 1968 Democratic National Convention demonstrations — minus the violence — tonight, Thursday, August 28, at 5 p.m.

Organizers have located transcripts of speeches and performances by the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Tom Hayden, William Burroughs, Jean Genet, Abbie Hoffman, and Bobby Seale, and participants will deliver them, with musicians recreating Chicago ’68 performances by the MC5, Phil Ochs, and Peter, Paul and Mary.  Veterans of ’68 including Don Rose and Tom Palazollo will give remarks.

In their own reenactment of 40 years ago, the city has declined to give the event a permit; they’ll gather anyway at Balbo and Columbus.

Elsewhere, Monroe Anderson [3] recalls being the one of the first journalists attacked by police in 1968, and Laura Washington interviews Don Rose and Marilyn Katz for In These Times [4]; she asks if there’s anything they would have done differently:

Rose:  “The only thing in retrospect is, it would have been better to have teased out some of the police spies in our own organization.  As it turned out…much of the violence [by demonstrators] was perpetrated by police moles.  I suppose if we’d been more vigilant about who might be the moles and traitors among us, it might have been different.”

Katz:  “I regret nothing…. If there was a mistake in 1968, it was by the Democratic Party.  If they had embraced the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, they would have won.  It was not the demonstrators that caused the failure of the Democratic Party to win, it was the failure of the Democratic Party to look at the emerging movements and know that was where their future was.  That failure…has hamstrung the Democratic Party from that moment until today.”

Meanwhile, Rick Perlstein [5]‘s new book “Nixonland” has a couple chapters on the ’68 convention — particularly good on the abuse of antiwar delegates inside the convention (their signs and literature weren’t allowed in; at one point Chicago police actually entered the convention to eject an antiwar delegate) and how the whole thing looked to television viewers in their homes.

And 1968 demonstration organizer (and 1969 conspiracy defendant) Tom Hayden [6] looks beyond the 40th anniversary of Chicago ’68:

“I think it is crucial to realize that starting in 2010, at the fiftieth anniversary of everything that happened in the Sixties, the turning point will lay in the battle over memory. The current attention to the fortieth-anniversaries of events – the books, films, and media attention to 1968 for example – will then pale before the relentless re-examination of all the events – local, national, global – that occurred in that incredible decade….The cultural discourse over the meaning of the fiftieth anniversary will between three broad views:

–those who want to restore and revitalize the Sixties heritage to propel future social movements;

–those who want to bury the Sixties to make the world safe for their various supremacist ideologies;

–those who want to manage the stories of the Sixties to prove that the institutions always reform themselves and prevail….

“I strongly embrace the first narrative, not to dwell in the past glories of social movements but as a sustaining thread between past, present and future….

“All across the world, the drama, contradictions and dangers of the Cold War are being recycled in a Manichean notion of the War on Terrorism with unlimited budgets, unlimited boundaries, and unlimited secrecy brothers…. Sooner of later, the new generations will question and resist the programmed future of counter-terrorism, economic privatization, environmental chaos, and sordid alliances justified in the name of this War….

“We are living in a time of epochal transition from the unipolar model of empire (whether the empire of Capital or that of the United States) to a more realistic, pluralistic model of a multipolar world, influenced in turn by a third model that derives from the Sixties, a model of democratic social movements capable of both influencing their nation states for the better while creating new cultural norms – on human rights and global warming, for example – that can hold both nation state and multinational corporation accountable.

“This third model, or participatory democracy from below, needs to gain force and go much deeper, towards an enforceable living wage standard and corporate accountability, for example. But we are seeing a growing global struggle between expanding the rights gained in the Sixties (and the Thirties before) and the contraction of those rights in the name of market, militaristic, and theological fundamentalisms.

“The future of the Sixties therefore lies ahead, somewhere between survival and oblivion.”