swelled around the Poor People's Campaign wagons heading south on Michigan Ave.
late Wednesday afternoon. Ralph Abernathy and the SCLC folks did not seem
all that delighted with our company as they inched up the Avenue from Jackson to the police blockade at Balbo.|
is the tenth installment in my series of memoir posts about the Democratic
Convention in Chicago in 1968 and my small role in the streets action
surrounding it. In Today’s episode I
hook up with the Poor People’s Campaign Mule Train, Amy and I reunite at
Michigan and Balbo, a short cab ride with “Thomas Jefferson,” and the Battle of
Wednesday afternoon of Convention Week I was accidently near the head of two or
three hundred folks trying to find our way out of Grant Park when we finally
found an open bridge over the rail tracks at Jackson. To our astonishment the Poor People’s
Campaign Mule Train was coming down Michigan Avenue heading south.
things had worked out differently in Memphis that April, Dr. King himself might
have been in the lead wagon. The Poor
People’s Campaign was his dream to unite the poor of all races into a new
movement for economic justice. But he
was dead and Ralph Abernathy was left to carry on. He was on the seat of the lead wagon dressed
in overalls. The mule train was meant to
recall the promise of 20 acres and a mule free and clear to Freedmen after the Civil
War. Their presence in Chicago was
really just to publicize a planned encampment in Washington to pressure Congress
for a whole new economic deal for the poor.
importantly, the Poor People’s Campaign had secured what almost no one else
had—a permit to drive their wagons right up to the doorstep of the International
surged over the bridge and joined the procession. Others were already with them. More joined as we inched south filtering in
from the Park or coming from elsewhere in the city.
tell the truth Abernathy and his people did not look exactly thrilled to find
their wagons suddenly engulfed by disheveled youth, many of us still reeking of
tear gas or nursing wounds. They had
good reason to believe that their permit would not be honored if we were with
them. And these folks who had themselves
endured so much police violence in the South, worried that we would draw the
same response down upon them again.
is only a few blocks south from Jackson to Balbo. But at the methodical, plodding pace of the
mule drawn wagons and as we clogged the street with swelling numbers it seemed
like an hour, or so to reach it as the Chicago Police scrambled to get a large
force in front of us and redeploy the forces from Grant Park and other sites in
we finally reached Balbo, the cops had enough massed force to block the march
further south. The marchers pushed up
tightly, filling Michigan Ave and spilling into the edge of Grant Park. It looked, as best as I could tell in the
press and confusion, that the crowd stretched back a block or more, but there
were probably no more than a couple of thousand folks. It was a standoff.
the crowd went into a chant after chant, Abernathy and his people negotiated
with the police. Eventually, they were
allowed to pass, but the cordon of cops quickly closed and blocked the rest of
was getting uncomfortable in the crowd. I noticed that the side walk was clear
right around the corner on Balbo across from the Conrad Hilton. I stepped over there to get my bearings.
light was fading to dusk when I heard my friend Amy Kesselman’s voice. She had found me again after we had been
separated earlier at the Band Shell. At
six foot two and wearing the only cowboy hat around, it was a lot easier for
her to find me. I would never have
picked all five foot nothing of her out the crowd.
tried to decide what to do. Amy wanted
to try and find other staffers from the Movement Center. She thought that they were well back on
Michigan. Since there was no way to push
through the crowd on Michigan, we decided to head north on Wabash then cut back
to the Avenue.
were some cops forming on Wabash, so we went on to State. It was amazing. Life seemed to be going on as normal. The sidewalks bustled with ordinary folk
going about their evening as if nothing at all extraordinary was occurring two
blocks over. We cut back to Michigan and
sure enough found ourselves to the rear of the crowd. But a glance made it clear that it would be
unlikely that we would connect with the others.
Now Amy wanted to go back where we started because she was sure things
were going to get interesting.
spotted a cab coming down Michigan. She
grabbed my hand and said “come on!” We
hopped in the cab. Amy asked to go to
State and Balbo. The driver looked
disgusted, whether at the short fare or our appearance. But just as he was getting ready to pull away
from the curb, the door of the cab flew open and two guys tumbled in, both
looking the worse for wear.
|Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, and Jerry Rubin--almost half of the eventual
Chicago 7. By Wednesday night Davis's busted head was swathed in
bandages, and Hayden popped into a cab convinced he was Thomas
Jefferson. I don't know where the hell Rubin was.|
of them was Tom Hayden. He was babbling
a non-stop monologue that didn’t seem to make much sense. “He thinks he’s Thomas Jefferson,” the other
guy explained. I’m not sure if he had
gotten bopped in the head at the Band Shell like Rennie Davis or if maybe Abbie
Hoffman had shared some dope with him.
Anyway, the second guy said, “We gotta get him to safety.” He mentioned the name of a hotel.
delivering Hayden and his pal to safety, we took the cab back to Balbo. Amy must have paid, because by this time in
the week I was down to pocket change.
was full dark by the time we got back to where we started, on the Balbo
sidewalk directly across from the entrance to the Hilton’s Haymarket restaurant. Bright TV lights shined down from the upper
floors of the Hilton, the official convention headquarters hotel were the media
and many delegates were encamped. We
could barely make out a line of blue helmets across Michigan. Protestors surged against them from time to
a large phalanx of cops appeared from Wabash and massed on Balbo. They had their batons out and looked like
they meant business. They marched in
military formation right down the street sweeping passed us on the sidewalk and
plowed into the mass of demonstrators, clubs flaying. The cops along Michigan joined the fray. I am told that another unit hit the crowd on
Michigan from the rear.
|Chicago's Finest slam into the crowd of demonstrators at Michigan and Balbo.|
you were alive and sentiment in the ‘60’s you probably remember the scene,
which was broadcast live on network television shooting the action from Hilton
windows. The police violence that had
largely been hidden from public view all week was there for the nation to see
in all of its savagery.
was like we were invisible on our side of the street, still in the shadows not
illuminated by those lights. Folks right
across from us in front of the Haymarket were not so lucky. Several of them looked to delegates, staffers,
and other associated with the convention, not protestors. But a handful of cops waded into them with
gusto. They pushed some through the
plate glass windows of the restaurant.
were still flaying as demonstrators began waving and pointing at the TV lights
chanting over and over “The whole world is watching! The whole world is
|As the beatings continued those in the relative safety of Grant Park
began pointing at the bright lights of the TV cameras aimed from the
upper floors of the Conrad Hilton and took up the chant, "The Whole
World is Watching, The Whole World is Watching!"|
of the wounded began to straggle up our side of the street hugging the building
for safety. We guided a couple of them
back up the street toward Wabash where I set up a kind of rough aid station
using the first aid kit on my utility belt and more of my dad’s handkerchiefs. Amy ferried more to me as I dabbed blood and
washed tear gas from eyes until my canteen was dry. I was soon out of what meager supplies I had.
and I and our patients were still in danger.
Squads of cops were now breaking off chasing demonstrators. We told our charges to scatter as they were able. We helped some get to State Street. We clamored down the stairs to the subway and
evidently were just ahead of adrenalin pumped squads of cops who swept up
Wabash and State beating any one they could find, including folks emerging from
got off at Diversey and stumbled into the church Movement Center exhausted.
Amazingly it was not yet 11 o’clock. We
huddled around the radio trying to find out what was happening.
|The National Guard taking up position on Michigan Ave. At first many demonstrators welcomed them as a relief from the the Chicago Police rampage.|
we left the National Guard relieved the Chicago Police on Michigan Ave. and
began pushing the crowd north. Greeted
at first as practically saviors from the cop rampage. Bayonets were sheathed and apparently not
used. Swinging rifle butts, however
Battle of Michigan Avenue waned, but cops kept sweeping for stragglers all
night. In the morning they even charged
into the hotel where they raided McCarthy headquarters, which had taken in
several wounded demonstrators. They beat
everyone in the room.
Next—Winding down, winding up, and getting on with my