Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Chicago Summer of ’68 Memoir—Winding Up and After

Mounted with jerry rigged barbed wire cages the National Guard Jeeps pushed demonstrators north on Michigan Ave. on Thursday.  I missed it.

Note:  This is the eighth installment in my series of memory posts about the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 and my small role in the streets action surrounding it.  I bail out before the final confrontations, head home, discover the fate of someone I sent into harm’s way, and get on with my life.
I doubt I got any sleep after getting back from the Battle of Michigan Avenue.   I ran across the street Thursday morning to get copies of all of the papers from the boxes on the corner and started in making breakfast. 
More than half of our charges were missing.  Some had enough of adventure and wisely gone home.  Others left sleeping bags and personal stuff leading us to suspect they were either in jail or in the hospital.  In those long ago days before cell phones and Twitter there was not good way to check their whereabouts.   Hell, we didn’t even know the real names of most of the kids.
By mid morning a couple of them had staggered in.  Plans were being made for the last big event—one last stab at a big march down Michigan Avenue to the Amphitheater.  Everyone knew it was doomed to failure and would end badly.  And frankly, I didn’t have the stomach for it.  I told the SDSers that it looked like there were enough of them to wind things down at the Movement Center.  I was going home.
That afternoon Gene McCarthy, came over from the Conrad Hilton to address the crowd in Grant Park.  Some of his Delegates and former Robert Kennedy Delegates tried to lead march, but were no more successful that Yippies or Mobe organizers.  Dick Gregory instead invited everyone over to his South Side home not far from the International Amphitheater for a barbeque.  He told everyone to stay on the sidewalks and headed south on Michigan.  As the crowd stirred someone bumped into the French writer Gene Genet who declared, “A Black has told me to march.  I must follow him!” 
They got as far south as 18th Street where they were met by the National Guard which had barbed wire cages mounted on the fronts of Jeeps and plenty of tear gas.  It was the last major confrontation of the week.  And I missed the whole damn thing.  Not at all sorry I missed it, but felt like a deserter.
By mid-afternoon I climbed on the El at Diversy, made connection to the Skokie Swift at Howard and was home before dinner. I never saw Amy Kesseleman, my companion for much of the events in Grant Park and in front of the Hilton again.
My mom in Skokie wouldn’t speak to me.  I had violated the admonition she gave me every time I left the house since I was 12—“Don’t disgrace the family.”  When Dad got home from work I handed him his World War II utility belt, canteen, and ammo pouch/first aid kit.  There were still a couple of his purloined, now blood soaked, handkerchiefs inside.  “It saw some action again,” I told him.  The old combat medical officer just nodded.  We never spoke of it again.

After a tumultuous day at the International Amphitheater on Thursday, Hubert Humphrey, the Happy Warrior, tried to make the best of it as his supporters seek to hide or overwhelm McCarthy delegates and peace protests breaking out on the floor when he finally got to make his acceptance speech. The white haired gent in the lower left corner was Speaker of the House John McCormack.  Right above him facing away from the podium was Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Edmund Muskie.

That night we silently watched coverage from the Convention in the living room.  There was chaos inside the arena, too.  Vice President Humphrey, McCarthy, and George McGovern, the fall back choice of many of the Kennedy delegates, were placed in nominations to mixed cheers, jeers, and boos.  Delegates and journalists were accosted and arrested on the floor.  America became familiar with Mayor Richard Daley’s rage filled face.  Humphrey, the grand old liberal icon won the hollow nomination and tried to make the best of it in his acceptance speech.  But the Democratic Party was shattered.  He could never shake the long shadow of LBJ’s war or Daley’s police goon rampages.
I had already made reservation to fly to Ohio on Friday to spend some time with Jon Gordon, my best high school buddy at Antioch College in Yellow Springs.  I boarded the plane at O’Hare in pretty much the same uniform as I had worn all week—plaid shirt, red neckerchief, denim jacket, and soiled white Stetson, this time with the wadded up newspaper padding removed. 
Down the aisle and a few seats ahead I recognized a familiar face—SDS honcho Carl Oglesby.  One arm was encumbered in a very heavy cast.  Before takeoff, I ambled up the aisle and asked him what had happened.  It took him a moment to connect me with the kid he met in the bar late Sunday night.  Then the light went on.  “Oh, yeah, remember how you told us it was quiet back in Old Town?  It wasn’t,” he said.
That fall, I returned to Shimer College in Mount Carroll.  I had stories to tell.  Helped keep me in pot and cheap beer at Poffenberger’s tavern.  It turned out to be my last semester there.
In December I came home and went back to work in the air-conditioning plant for six weeks. I raised enough money to get a very cheap apartment on Howe Street west of Old Town.  I started school at Columbia College as a creative writing major.  The major domo of the writing department was John Schultz who was working on his book about the convention, No One Was Killed.
In June I decided to join the IWW.  I had been thinking about it since encountering the old timers at headquarters.  To my astonishment the first Chicago Branch meeting I attended had almost a hundred members in attendance—most of them young.  I was in on the ground floor of a mini-renaissance of the old radical union.  By August I was coordinating IWW participation in the People’s Park project at Armitage and Halstead.  I spent the next ten or so years of my life with the IWW as an organizer, soap boxer, agitator, local officer, editor, and even my own term as General Secretary Treasurer sitting at Big Bill Haywood’s  desk.

This classic issue of the Seed was on the streets tor the opening of the Chicago 8--soon to be Chicago 7--trial in September 1969 and so, again, was I. 
When the Feds put Hoffman, Rubin, Davis, Dellinger, Bobby Seale, and sacrificial lambs John Froines, and Lee Weiner on trial charged conspiracy and inciting to riot, I joined by old Shimer friends Bill Delaney and Sally MacMurraugh  on  a march from Lincoln Park to the Federal Building that turned into a kind of running battle with police.  My experience staying upwind of tear gas paid off.
I also ended up working at the Seed in 1971, by then relocated to offices above Alice’s Revisited on Wrightwood.  The guys who had eyed me suspiciously when I wandered in on the at the LaSalle Street office were long gone by then.  It was my turn to be paranoid when strangers showed up at the office wanting to join the revolution.
I never turned in my assigned account of the Yippies during the convention to that Free University class.  I guess this is it.  Professor Lynd, will I be marked down? 
Next—We answer the musical question “What the hell happened to that young punk?”

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