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After the Whole World Watched

Don Rose 30 August 2018 No Comment

You must know by now that this week marks the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Democratic Convention in my beloved Chicago–an event notable for the well-known battle of Michigan Avenue in which police beat bloody the heads and bodies of hundreds of antiwar demonstrators in what was later described a “police riot” while onlookers chanted “the whole world is watching.”


I was deeply involved, serving as an organizer and media liaison for the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (the “Mobe”) which initially called the demonstrations. Yes, I witnessed many, but far from all, of the major events of those five days–though fortunately my head never butted up against a police baton.

I don’t want to go into a narrative of those events, nor engage in the ongoing debate about whether a backlash against our actions helped elect Richard Nixon 69 days later. But I do want to identify some of the positive aftereffects.

First, on a national level it changed the way the parties nominate their presidents. That convention was the last one where a few big-time political bosses like Richard J. Daley picked the nominees. That’s because Senator George McGovern soon after led a reform commission that changed party rules to require all states to hold binding primary elections or caucuses. It further required state delegations to be fairly balanced as to race and gender.(Hubert Humphrey, the 1968 nominee did not enter a single primary.)

After popularly nominating several duds, some folk long for the days of the bosses again, but I maintain it was a positive democratic reform.

Here in Chicago, the response to Daley’s ravings at the convention and what his cops did on Michigan Avenue helped radicalize people all over the city, which led to a forceful, progressive-independent political movement that countered the old Machine in many ways.

Soon after the convention, in 1969, the Independent Precinct Organization was born and Bill Singer became the first independent alderman from the North Side. Independent movements also began to gel in black and Latino communities.

Later that year there were elections to the Illinois Constitutional Convention of 1970. From one end of the lakefront to another, from Hegewisch to Rogers Park and even to the northwest, independent delegates were elected to Con-Con. They helped shape the new constitution into the nation’s most progressive on matters of civil rights and civil liberties. (Unfortunately they could not win the big prize of a graduated state income tax.)

In the 1970s further big wins against the Machine came in congressional, aldermanic, state representative and state senate races. Joining a growing independent movement in the African American South and West Sides, the coalition elected Jane Byrne Mayor of Chicago against the Machine in 1979.

Well, that didn’t work out well, but the movement quickly corrected my mistake(I ran her first campaign) and replaced her with Harold Washington.

It’s fair to say these were all links on a chain that 36 years after 1968 would elect a guy named Barack Obama our US senator and give him a boost to the White House.

Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

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