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Remembering 1968 as Chicago Prepares for G8

Don Rose 31 January 2012 3 Comments

April 27, 1968: some 8,000 peaceful peace marchers walk about a mile to Chicago’s Civic Center where a phalanx of police wade in without provocation, beat dozens bloody and jail scores more who are tear gassed in the Center’s jail cells.

Roosevelt University’s President Emeritus, Edward Sparling, led a citizens commission to investigate the incident and found total fault lay with the police and Mayor Richard J. Daley. It was obviously Daley’s forewarning of what would befall demonstrators who might show up for the Democratic National Convention in August. Call it batting practice.

It may have dissuaded some, but many came anyway. Daley fulfilled his promise with violence that stained Chicago’s reputation for decades and changed American politics for the worse.

Flash forward 44 years: Mayor Rahm Emanuel gets the G8 and NATO to meet here in late May. The host committee remains highly secretive about the true cost to the city, while some in the business community are fearful. The host committee head is former Richard M. Daley aide, Lori Healey, whose last great fiasco was being second in command on the committee to bring the Olympics to Chicago.

Emanuel is much subtler than RJD in his warnings to protestors. As noted earlier, he proposed onerous ordinances boosting fines, authorizing unlimited funds for surveillance equipment and permitting the deputization of others to police the protestors. Some strictures were nearly impossible to comply with.

Emanuel backed off a few after some aldermen and media complained—leading some to think he was magnanimous—but nevertheless passed provocative restrictions guaranteed to build in failure and almost automatically criminalize every participant.

My friend Todd Gitlin, the Columbia University author, historian and fellow veteran of 1968, recently summed it up in another publication: “…all applicants for permits (1) must supply at the time of application ‘a description of the size and dimension of any sign, banner or other attention-getting device that is too large to be carried by one person,’ and (2) that they obtain $1 million insurance coverage to ‘indemnify the city against any additional or uncovered third party claims against the city arising out of or caused by the parade, and agree to reimburse the city for any damage to the public way or city property arising out of or caused by the parade.’ (If all that weren’t tragic and farcical enough, it now also becomes mandatory that the applicant submit ‘a list identifying the type and number of all animals that applicant intends to have at the parade.) The minimum fine for a violation jumps to $200; the maximum is $1000 and/or 10 days in jail….

“It is full frontal abuse of the First Amendment,” Gitlin charges.

But wait—there’s more: He warns, “…the Feds may end up preempting the city by imposing their own still more stringent national security laws.”

This repressive ordinance was passed with the votes of some of our most progressive aldermen. Maybe they should have read it in the original German before voting “Ja!”

Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer


  • Jim Ridings said:

    Peaceful protestors at the 1968 Chicago convention? The fault was totally with the Chicago police? Sounds like someone totally buys into the Walker Report. By the way, whatever happened to that Walker fellow?

  • Terry Przybylski said:

    The famous Detroit riot of July 1967 occurred when I was a boy growing up near there. At that time, the incumbent mayor, Jerome Cavanagh, was widely and very justifiably denounced by residents of Detroit and its suburbs, who wanted to know why he hadn’t directed the police to crack down hard enough, fast enough, and instead let the riot get out of control–resulting in 43 deaths, numerous injuries, hundreds of fires and the start of an irreversible decline.

    It might interest Chicagoans to know that one year later, in August 1968, many of those same Detroiters, watching what was going on over here, were commenting, in my hearing, “Boy, isn’t that Mayor Daley over in Chicago just great! If only Cavanagh had cracked down on those (expletives deleted) last year the way Daley’s doing it now!” As we can see, Detroit didn’t survive as a viable city; Chicago did. So here’s my own extremely belated tribute: “Well done, Mayor Daley!”

  • Are you kidding? said:

    Detroit’s decline was driven not by a rebellion of the oppressed, but by the disinvestment of the owners of industrial combines, who left their workers out to dry while they moved their operations to cheaper and more easily exploitable labor overseas. If you don’t get that fundamental economic dynamic — one which has bedeviled cities from Flint, Michigan to Pittsburgh, Ohio — then you sure as heck don’t get what’s driving economic disenfranchisement today. Unfortunately, that makes you ripe fodder for the racist meme that all we need today is tougher policing to ‘solve’ our problems. What we really need is a level economic playing field — something that we will never get if incipient racism and a lack of awareness about class divisions in this country and on this planet can still be used as tools to divide and rule.

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