Monday, August 11, 2008

What Went Wrong in '68?

Tom Hayden, shown narrating this video provided by Rocky Mountain News in Denver, CO, is a well-known activist from the 1960s student movement. Once a founding member of Students For a Democratic Society, Hayden is now a writer, journalist, former politician, and adjunct professor. But in 1968 he and hundreds of other activists participated in the protests around the '68 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He was arrested there as part of the Chicago Seven, a group of seven 'ring-leaders' charged with conspiracy to incite the riots.

As Hayden explains, what happened in Chicago in 1968 was not a violent protest, but rather a “police riot,” the term used by the Walker Commission, a body appointed by the Nixon administration to investigate the events surrounding the Chicago convention. That violence was made all the more shocking by the fact that it was often inflicted upon persons who had broken no law, disobeyed no order, made no threat. These included peaceful demonstrators, onlookers, and large numbers of residents who were simply passing through, or happened to live in the areas where confrontations were occurring. Reporters and photographers were singled out for assault, and their equipment deliberately damaged.

This year's Democratic National Convention, fifty years after 1968, shares several similarities with the '68 convention. A large number of what the mainstream press considers "would-be" Democratic voters, are fed-up with the politics of the Democratic Party. Just as during the Vietnam War, when a Democrat-controlled government continued to wage war on a country which posed little threat to the 'American way of life', so too the Democratic-controlled Congress today has done little to stop the occupation of a country which (at least in hindsight) posed little threat to America's national security. This is perhaps the biggest similarity. But there are others.

The Denver Police are preparing for major street confrontations with protesters, just as in 1968, stockpiling various crowd control weapons, such as a sound-emitter which incapacitates demonstrators. A half-dozen military helicopters were recently spotted flying low over the Denver skyline. The Army is conducting exercises in accordance with their training for the Global War on Terror, said an Army spokesperson. And the City of Denver was recently granted $50 million in Federal grant money for security alone at the convention.

Scholars and writers this year are particularly interested in the parallels between 2008 and 1968. A Time Magazine special edition was recently dedicated entirely to the events reported by Time Magazine during 1968. Nineteen Sixty Eight is the year on everyone's mind. But the notion that this year's Democratic National Convention will be just like or very similar to the 1968 convention is misleading. Those parallels can only be carried so far.

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