Friday, August 31, 2018

Labor Day Celebration Returns to Woodstock Square in 2018

Lauren Underwood, candidate for Congress from the 14th District; Andrew “Drew” Georgi, candidate for McHenry County Clerk; Suzanne Ness District 2 County Board candidate and Larry Spaeth, District 6 County Board candidate will join the lineup of speakers at the fourth annual Labor Day Celebration on Woodstock Square this Monday, September 3 from 11am-2pm. 

Lauren Underwood, candidate for Congress from the 14th District shown here in the Crystal Lake Independence Day Parade, will be a featured speaker at the Celebrate Labor Day event in Woodstock

The traditional rally with speakers and music will highlight the origins and traditions of Labor Day, Woodstock’s own connection through Eugene V. Debs and the aftermath of the Pullman Strike of 1894, and the continued relevance of the labor movement and democratic values today.
Steve Stukenberg, one of the principle event organizers extended a special invitation call to working families, “Join us in Solidarity to celebrate Labor voices of the past and labor voices of the future.”

Story teller Jim May and Kieth Johnson of Off Square Music at the 2017 Labor Day Celebration.
Hosts Robert Rosenberg of McHenry County Progressives and Kathryn Potter of the Democratic Party of McHenry County will be also joined with a full roster of speakers. Kathleen Spaltro of Woodstock Celebrates and the upcoming Debs/Pullman program this fall, story teller Jim May, and labor historian and activist Patrick Murfin will discuss the history of Labor Day and its Woodstock connections.  Speakers on today’s labor issues and mobilizing for change include Brian Dupois of the Northeastern Federation of Labor AFL/CIO, Aaron Goldberg of Lake-McHenry Democratic Socialist of America (DSA) Chapter; Carlos Acosta of ASME and a County Board District 5 candidate, and Kristina Zahorik, Chair of the Democratic Party of McHenry County.

The Old Man orated in 2016 and will be back this year.

will be provided by Keith Johnson and Off Square Music.
New this year are hot dogs by Pixie-Dawgs.
The program is co-sponsored by McHenry County Progressives and Democratic Party of McHenry County.
For more information see the Facebook Event at .

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Murfin’s Chicago Summer of ‘68—Winding Up and After

The National Guard rolled out their barbed wire cage Jeeps to block marcher on Michigan Avenue on Thursday.  I was not there to see it.

Note:  This is the eleventh and final 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.

After his campaign offices in the Conrad Hilton were raided by club welding police early Wednesday morning Eugene McCarthy crossed Michigan Avenue into Grant Park where he spoke to a mixed crowd of battle weary demonstrators, convention delegates, campaign staffers, and the press.  He was greeted warmly even by the most hardened leftists.  It took some courage.  Word was that the Police would try to stop his appearance by any means necessary.  Broad daylight, too many cameras, and his sudden and unexpected foray from the hotel probably saved his ass.

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 a 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 barbecue.  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 L 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.

Network cameras zeroed in on Mayor Richard A. Daley's enraged face as delegates denounced the ongoing police violence. 

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.

The original Chicago Conspiracy 8 defendants--From top left Yippies Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis of SDS, Black Panther Bobby Seale,  low profile rank-and-filers Lee Weiner and John Froines, and Dave Dellinger of the New Mobe.  After trying to represent himself Seale was bound to a chair and gagged by Judge Julius Hoffman and eventually separated from the trial leaving the Chicago 7.
I also ended up joining the staff of 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?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Murfin’s Chicago Summer of ‘68—The Whole World Was Watching

The crowd 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.

Note:  This 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 Michigan Avenue.
Late 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.
If 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. 
Most 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 Amphitheater.
We 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. 
To 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.
It 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 the city.
When 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.
As 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 us. 
I 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. 
The 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. 
We 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.
There 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.
She 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.
One 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. 
After 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.
It 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 time.
Suddenly, 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.

If 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.
It 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.
Batons 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 watching!”

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!"
Some 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.
Amy 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 headed north.
We 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 theaters.
We 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.
After 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 were.
The 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 life.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Murfin’s Chicago Summer of ‘68—A Commotion in Grant Park

An aerial view of the crowd assembled at the Petrillo Band shell in Grant Park for the Mobilization rally Wednesday Afternoon.  Amy Kesselman and I were standing near the front out of this shot just to the right.  We were lucky not to get trapped in the seats.

Note:  This is the eighth 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 Amy and I make it Grant Park, where a certain literary lion makes an appearance and the Cops go ape, again.
Everyone knew that Wednesday of Convention Week was going to be the Big Day.  That’s when the Democrats down at the International Amphitheater were supposed to select their Presidential candidate.  The press and cameras of the nation were on hand for the event. 
For the first time I had a running buddy when I left the church Movement Center that morning.  My friend Amy Kesselman came with.  Amy stood a good 5 foot nothing.  She had short black hair, deep brown eyes, and a little mole on her upper lip.  Cute as a bug’s ear.  Hey, I was 19 and noticed such things.  But I would never dream of putting a move on her. She was so intensely serious, in her 20’s and a dedicated SDSer of the community organizing stripe.  Out of my league, for sure.
I met Amy when she was working with 49th Ward Citizens for Independent Political Action (CIPA), in Rogers Park in the spring of ’67.  She gave what would now be called technical advice and support to our high school organization—the fighting Liberal Youth of Niles Township (LYNT)—which may be the lamest acronym ever—when we put on a program called Up Tight About the Draft? That summer she helped get me credentialed as the youngest voting delegate to the New Politics Convention held at the Palmer House where I met—or at least shook hands with—Rev. Martin Luther King and assorted other movement leaders and/or heroes.  And it was Amy who got me my glamorous slot as baby sitter, cook, and dishwasher to the high school kids back at the Movement Center.
We took the train down town.  It was a very pleasant day, the warmest of the week, but still cool enough for me to wear my denim jacket.  Tuesday the city was under a high haze or light clouds, but that day there was a glorious clear blue sky.  Most of the seating in front of the Band Shell in Grant Park was taken when we got there.  Speechifying had already begun.  The park swarmed with cops in their baby blue helmets, but they seemed to be keeping their distance.
We found a spot just to the right of the seats but within ten feet or so of the stage.  We had a very good vantage point for the program.  Phil Ochs was there to sing again, but this program was more about the speeches.  Boy was there a parade of them.  All of the by now usual suspects—Dellinger, Gregory, Ginsberg, Rubin, and Hayden made appearances. 

Norman Mailer harangued the crowd.   A furious Tom Hayden is on the right with his back turned. 
Then Norman Mailer was introduced.  He was the only man in the park in a three piece suit.  He looked just like the crumpled photo that had been showed to me at that party back at Eileen Claire’s earlier in the summer.  Maybe his mop of curly hair was a little longer, a little more hip.  Mailer had a lot to say.  At least it was stuff we hadn’t heard a couple of times already.  But he was full of himself and droned on.  Tom Haden prowled the edge of the stage not far from me, growing angrier and angrier.  He wanted to move the program along, but Mailer was too into his moment.
While we were listening to speeches in the Park, so were delegates in the Convention Hall who were debating a “Peace Plank” to the Platform proposed by Eugene McCarthy’s forces.  Word got to the rally that it had been soundly defeated.  As the crowd booed and jeered someone started to haul down the flag from a pole on the left of the stage, just across the crowd from us.  I couldn’t get a good view, but evidently a gaggle of cops surged forward to arrest him starting a small melee around the flag.  After he was dragged off others succeed in bringing the flag down and hoisting a shirt smeared with real or fake blood.  It later turned out one of the hoisters was an undercover cop.

The police charge the Bandshell crowd pinning many against the seats.

Realizing that this would bring a full scale assault the word went out for Mobe marshals to deploy around the crowd.  I never heard the call, which undoubtedly saved my ass.  Most of those in the seats still watching the stage were unaware as the cops closed in from three sides, swinging their clubs.  The line of marshals was pinned against the seats, many beaten senseless, including Rennie Davis.
The crowd stampeded many falling and stumbling amid the seats.  The cops beat them unmercifully where they fell.  Amy and I had room to maneuver and stayed out of harm’s way.  We could see a few objects being thrown back into the police lines, but the battle was one sided.
If you ever say the movie Medium Cool, you may remember a blurred shot of the red-headed leading lady streaking across the screen in terror.  Haskell Wexler was filming with his cast on the scene and they were caught up in the attack.
After a few heart pounding minutes, the police retreated dragging their prisoners with them.  People began to attend the wounded.  I dabbed blood from a few broken heads from the collection of my father’s old handkerchiefs that I carried in the old ammo pouch on my utility belt. 
From the stage Dellinger and Hayden tried to regain control of the crowd.  Except that they couldn’t agree on what we should do.  Dellinger wanted to go ahead with the announced big march from the rally to the Amphitheater.  Hayden, recalling the tactics of Lincoln Park wanted people to break up into small groups to try and infiltrate the city then join up on Michigan Ave. for a march.
Like most of the crowd, I decided to stay with the March.  I figured there was safety in numbers.  The far more adventuresome Amy, I believe, opted to go with the small groups.  Anyway, we got separated.

Cops block the attempt to march from the Band Shell to the Amphitheater.  As we waited in the sun for more than an hour top brass and Red Squad dicks prowled the line identifying individuals.   I was surprised when I was pointed out and a Red Squad guy said, "We know who this is."

We lined up on a sidewalk alongside the Band Shell, but headed north, probably to get to the nearest bridge over the Illinois Central tracks.  But we were unable to move.  The police blocked the march for lack of a permit.  Dellinger and others tried to negotiate a deal to let us pass.  We stood in that long line for at least an hour.
After while a small knot of cops, a couple of brass in uniform and hulking Red Squad cops in mufti came down the line.  They had a young guy with them—either a stool pigeon or an undercover agent.  He was picking out people in the line and identifying them as one of the Red Squad goons scribbled furiously.  When they got to me one of says, “Oh we know who this guy is.” I didn’t recognize the guy from either of my two earlier personal encounters with Chicago’s finest. Now I admit with my cowboy hat I stood out, but I was astonished that any one as insignificant as me would be even be noticed.  Later I figured that because of the SDS folks, our Movement Center was probably under much more intense surveillance than other places.
After it became apparent that the March was going nowhere, the crowd began to break up to try and find a way out of the park.  This was not easy as most paths were quickly blocked.  A large group of us headed into the park in search of a route.  We were hemmed in at a distance on either side by cops. 
We came on a set of tennis courts each surrounded by 10 foot high chain link fences.  But there were narrow open doorways and on the far side an opening to what looked like an open road to the north.  Those in the lead plunged into the courts. I dutifully followed, but was sure that once a two or three hundred of us were inside the cops would shut the gates and we would be trapped.  I will never know why we weren’t, but it was an immense relief to get out of those cages.
Our first glimpse of the National Guard defending bridges over the railroad tracks from the park to Michigan Ave.  We finally found an open bridge at Jackson.
We were finally headed north on Columbus Drive.  We tried to get across the tracks at Congress.  But the first Illinois National Guard troops we had yet seen were blocking the way.  The same was true at Jackson.  A suburban mom type in a respectable sedan drove passed us up to the road block.  Where she came from or how she got there I don’t know, but she didn’t seem to be a demonstrator.  She had picked up an injured kid who was in the back seat.  She argued with a Guardsman that she just wanted to get the kid to a hospital.  The trooper was having none of it.  She tried to inch forward, which is when another Guardsman punctured her front tire with a bayonet.
We kept moving north through the park until we found a bridge unattended at Jackson.  Somehow I was near the head of the column, which probably happened when we reversed directions.  We could see something moving south on Michigan Ave.  We surged out of the park, across the bridge, and into what we could not expect.
Next—The Whole World Was Watching, the Battle of Michigan Ave.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Murfin’s Chicago Summer of ‘68—A Foggy Night

Allen Ginsberg chanting in Lincoln Park.  A night session in the fog would be interrupted.

Note:  This is the seventh 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 encounter Alan Ginsberg in a fog and other people get their heads cracked again.
It was a chilly, damp night and pitch dark by the time I made the Lincoln Park after a long walk from the Coliseum and Grant Park with a pit stop at the Mark Twain Hotel.  A thick fog rolled in off the Lake.  The later it got, the thicker it got.  There was no program, no performances, or speech making, at least where I circulated.  The crowd grew, milled around, and tried occasional chants.  The enemy—the police—were invisible behind those fog banks.   Some folks began to build barricades of park benches, picnic tables and trash cans.  That made me nervous, I moved away from them.
Not long before 11 o’clock, my attention was drawn to drumming and a flickering fire away from the main crowd.  It was further south, close to where La Salle Street turned east-west and formed the edge of the park.  My guess is that we were not far from Cardinal Cody’s mansion.  It was hard to tell.  And my memory might be faulty.
As I got close enough to see what was going on, I found a knot of maybe a couple of hundred people.  At the center, sitting cross legged and looking serene, was Allen Ginsberg chanting “Om, Om, Om, Om, Om Mani Padme Om.”  As he droned, the tension seemed to drain a bit among those surrounding him even as the moments to a sure assault ticked by.
Esquire's "special corespondents" convention week--William S. Burroughs, Terry Southern, Gene Genet, and Alan Ginsberg.  Southern drank, Ginsberg tried to bring peaceful vibes by meditation, and the fierce Genet hoped for bloody revolution. 

Ginsberg was there with a posse of writers, supposedly as observers and journalists, not demonstrators.  With him that night were the Beat novelist and junkie William Burroughs, the French playwright and novelist Jean Genet—always described in the press as the “hoodlum poet”—and the American satirist Terry Southern.  Of course, I could not have picked any of them out of a line up.  But Ginsberg was easy to recognize.
I learned later from a story that Southern published in Esquire that the band had arrived in the park not long before me after a day of drinking.
I almost forgot about the militants building those barricades behind the banks of fog.  But tension rose as 11 PM passed without apparent police action. 
I’m not sure how much time passed, but eventually I decided to head back to the Movement Center thinking that maybe the cops had decided to pass up a battle in the fog.
Once again I was wrong. Not long after I was out of the area, teargas mixed with the fog and formations of police attacked the makeshift barricades, clubs swinging.  Ginsberg and company evidently eluded the police, but under cover of that fog some of the worst beatings of the week were administered that night.  Press members, especially photographers, were singled out and attacked so successfully that I know of no pictures taken in the park that night after the attack began.  Eventually the cops once again pushed demonstrators out of the park and into the streets of Old Town.  They continued to fire tear gas in the neighborhood.  When local residents began to offer shelter to fleeing protestors, cops stormed front porches and beat them senseless on their own doorsteps. 
For the second night in a row I had missed the main battle.  When the kids straggled into the Movement Center with fresh horror stories, I began to feel like a deserter under fire. 

Next—Wednesday afternoon at the Band Shell and searching for a breakout from Grant Park.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Chicago Summer of ’68—Tuesday Out of Lincoln Park at Last

Irony of ironies, the Chicago Coliseum was a sports arena and exhibition hall built inside a war trophy--the castle like walls of infamous Libby Prison.  It had hosted political conventions including the 1896 Democratic Convention where William Jennings Bryan delivered his Cross of Gold Speech.  It had housed massive rallies by the German American Bund before World War II and rallies led by both Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Honorable Elijah Mohamed .  Not to mention hockey matches, wrestling, eight day bicycle races, roller derby, and the Rolling Stones.  Now on it's crumbling last legs Abbie Hoffman rented it for his unbirthday party for LBJ.

Note:  This is the sixth 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.  In today’s episode I attend LBJ’s Birthday Party at the Coliseum, visit Grant Park for the first time, am plied with Malort by old radicals, and walk into the fog of Lincoln Park.
I woke up sore as hell on Tuesday morning in the Church basement. Even when you are 19, days of fitful sleep on a cold, hard floor will get to you. Not that anyone slept a lot.
Coffee by the gallon in big white enamel pots boiling on the stove was the order of the day. Sugar was in short supply. So was milk that wasn’t powdered. Kids who had never had a cuppa joe black hung on to heavy mugs with both hands.
The big event of the day was LBJ’s Birthday Party. This was an Abbie Hoffman extravaganza to be held that afternoon at the old Chicago Coliseum. Big name musicians and speakers were advertised. And since the event was held in a rented and paid for hall, even the most jaded of us expected that it would come off.
The kids scattered either to head for the Coliseum or Lincoln Park. After cleanup, I headed out, too. I jumped on the EL at the Diversey Station right across the street from the Church. The trains were still running despite the wildcat CTA strike. I had no sense then that I was scabbing on the strike by hopping on board.
By the time I got to the Coliseum on Wabash south of the Loop and only a block west and a couple south of Police Headquarters at 11th and State, it was already pretty full.
The castle-like stone exterior of the Coliseum had been the facade of the infamous Libby Prison in Virginia where thousands of Northern prisoners of war perished in harsh conditions. After the Civil War, the victorious Yankees had dismantled it stone by stone and re-assembled it after the Chicago Fire on burnt out ground south of the Loop. Inside the walls promoters built a sports arena, which also doubled, ironically enough as a convention hall. Democrats had assembled there in 1896 to hear William Jennings Bryan declaim his famous Cross of Gold speech.
But by this time the Coliseum was pretty rundown and only a couple of years away from demolition. It was still used for occasional wrestling matches and as a rock concert venue and rented out on the cheap to outfits who could not afford better digs for their events. Which, of course, fit the Yippies to a tee.
In Hoffman’s view it also had the advantage of putting a large crowd closer to the Convention site at the International Amphitheater at 43rd and Halstead than any permitted demonstration was able to get. That is except for a bunch of old time pacifists led by the Quakers who did get a permit and staged the only picketing near the Convention Hall all week with nearly 1000 participants on that very day. Neither the Yippies nor the media paid the slightest attention to those pacifists and their demonstration has vanished from memory.
I had last been in the building in April of ’67 where it was the site of a rally following one of the biggest of Chicago’s anti-war marches. I had seen Dr. King that day giving one of his early anti-war speeches.
The place was pretty much as I remembered it. Except because it was a cloudy day the sun shining through holes in the roof did not dapple the crowd.

Country Joe McDonald was nearly as ubiquitous that week as Phil Ochs.  He led us in the Fish Cheer at Abbie Hoffman's LBJ Unbirthday Party.

My main memory of the program was Country Joe McDonald and the Fish Cheer:

For it’s one, two, three
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me I don’t give a Damn!
Next stop is Vietnam
And it’s 5, 6, 7, open up the pearly gates
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why
Yippie! we’re all gonna die.

Phil Ochs was there, of course, and the literati, supposedly journalists for Esquire—Allen Ginsberg, Jean Genet, William Burroughs, and Terry Southern. How they were going to justify their press credentials after this was anyone’s guess. Hoffman, and Dave Dellinger and Rennie Davis of the Mobe provided the oratory. At the end comedian Dick Gregory took the stage and invited everyone over to his house on the South Side, which would take them by or near the Amphitheater.

With typical Yippie cheek, a mock Convention was part of LBJ's Unbirthday Party at the Coliseum .

We surged out of the Coliseum and headed south. The vanguard of the 2000 people or so got no more than a couple of blocks before it was turned back by police. Reversing course the cry was now “Grant Park! Grant Park.!”
We made it to the park and took up the space across from the Convention Headquarters Hotel the Conrad Hilton on Michigan Ave.  The Hilton also housed the offices of Gene McCarthy’s campaign.  We mingled and chanted on the expanse of lawn in front of the General Logan equestrian statue.  For the first time, some climbed the statue, the site of a later bloody melee.  There were more speeches.  Because TV cameras were set up in the upper windows of the Hilton, for the first time national viewers got a good look at the protests, most of which had been held virtually out of sight of the bulky cameras.

We gathered in Grant Park across from the Conrad Hilton.  Convention Delegates and McCarthy staffers drifted over from the hotel and mingled with the growing crowd.
Curious or supportive McCarthy staffers and volunteers and even some Convention delegates crossed the street to mingle with us.  Other than some tussles at the edges, there was no major confrontation between police and demonstrators.  In fact the police allowed some demonstrators to remain in Grant Park all night unmolested.
As evening approached, I decided it was time to get back to the Movement Center.
I cut over to State Street and began walking north from there. Pretty soon I was alone. Across the river somewhere I moved over to Clark St. It is a very long hike from the south end of Downtown to the North side. By the time I got to Division I was tired and thirsty. I ducked into the bar of the old Mark Twain Hotel for a beer. Unknown to me, it was a hangout for the remnant of the old Bug House Square radicals, several of whom had gathered from the cheap rooming houses nearby to watch coverage of the convention on the saloon TV. When they saw me, it was not hard to for them to tell I was a demonstrator.

The Mark Twain Hotel and its bar had seen better days when I stumbled on a nest of old Bug House Square radicals who plied me with Malort.
Three or four of them, yammering in various European accents, surrounded and peppered me with eager questions. They were also glad to stand me for a round or three or four. Beer, brandy, even Malort, once described as “incredibly bitter, with notes of earwax, fire, poison, and decaying flesh” offered to me out of respect for my supposedly manly willingness to face “the damn bulls.” I gagged down the Malort, although I think I would rather have been tear gassed. After an hour or so I stumbled out of the saloon and resumed my journey,
I passed through Lincoln Park that night, although my memory of it is hazy—damn that Malort. That was the evening the Black Panther Bobby Seals showed up just long enough to give a little speech about “resisting the pigs by any means necessary.” That little episode, the only thing he did all week in conjunction with the convention, was enough to get him indicted and eventually tied and gagged in Julius Hoffman’s courtroom.
It was also the evening that 200 clergymen raised a giant cross and prayed, for which the police were more than happy to crack their skulls.  Some witnesses called the attack on the clergy the most brutal of the whole week.
Tomorrow—The tale of Ginsberg and more about the Battle in the Fog Tuesday night in Lincoln Park.