June 22, 2024

Will ’68 History Repeat Itself at This Year’s Democratic Convention?

Will we see a repeat this summer season of the notorious 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention that devolved into chaos and anarchy? This yr’s conference is, like 1968, set to happen in Chicago and social unrest is percolating on the Left, to say the least.

In a current interview on Fox News, Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn.—who challenged President Joe Biden within the Democratic Party presidential main—mentioned that given our present course of occasions, historical past is more likely to repeat itself.

“I’m afraid this is looking awfully like 1968 with a lot of anger and angst and disenfranchisement that I think are going to play out on TV this summer, and it’s going to be awfully contentious,” Phillips said on Wednesday.

In 1968, anti-Vietnam War and varied different far-left protesters descended on the Windy City to protest the celebration’s presidential nominating conference.

Illinois delegates maintain a banner touting Chicago Mayor Richard Daley on the conference flooring on Aug. 29, 1968, the ultimate day of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, held at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago. (Photo: Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

The scenario escalated when then-Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a Democrat, had sufficient and unleashed the Chicago Police Department on the protesters.

The media at the time strongly criticized the Chicago Police Department, however many Americans strongly sympathized with the authorities, who desperately sought to revive order. The occasions of the conference possible swayed loads of voters involved about violent radicals taking on their cities. Many within the media sided with the protesters, whereas the American individuals largely sided with the police.

Democratic Party delegates maintain placards at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, held at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago in August of that yr. (Photo: Archive Photos/Getty Images)

The chaos was possible one of many causes Republican Richard Nixon defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey in November 1968. Preelection chaos created by the Left led to the “silent majority” delivering Nixon a convincing victory.

Given the protests we’ve seen throughout the nation in current months and the strain the Left is placing on Democrats over Israel’s struggle in Gaza, it’s onerous to not suppose that this yr’s Democratic conference might see related protests.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has mentioned that safety is a “top priority” for the conference, however he’s hardly the law-and-order mayor that Daley was. In truth, Johnson has supported defunding the police, has overtly sympathized with the anti-Israel protesters, and even made it clear that he’s nothing like Daley.

As my colleague Tony Kinnett famous, Johnson has mentioned he’s a different kind of Democrat. In a sure sense, Johnson’s angle is an indication that within the long-term, the New Left factions that protested in Chicago in 1968 “won.” (More on that later.)

While outstanding Democrats and members of the media insist that 2024 gained’t be like 1968, it’s tough to not see {that a} storm is doubtlessly brewing.

There have already been significant protests at Chicago universities, pro-Palestine teams have sprung up around the city (some spouting chants like “Death to America!”), and a big group of anti-Israel protesters raised a Palestinian flag close to the place the Democratic conference is ready to happen Aug. 19-22. 

There’s no query that Democrats are already getting nervous about what might happen.

The 1968 conference was a seminal second in each the historical past of the Democratic Party and the United States. It signaled a long-term takeover of the celebration and varied different establishments by the New Left. 

Given that the comparisons will proceed to be made, it’s price trying again at what occurred 56 years in the past.

New Left Organizes to Sow Chaos

In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson had elected to not search a second time period regardless of successful a landslide in 1964. Even although the Vietnam War had been performed by Democratic presidents, the celebration had turned in an antiwar course. This turned a flashpoint for a celebration that had change into more and more divided.

The frequent narrative of the Chicago Democratic National Convention within the years that adopted was that it was a “mostly peaceful” protest of the Vietnam War, damaged up by a brutish and out-of-control Chicago police pressure.

That’s not precisely correct.

The actuality is that the well-organized protesters had been seeking to choose a struggle to bolster their trigger, as historian Stephen F. Hayward described in his guide, “The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order, 1964-1980.”

“The Chicago police reacted to a calculated provocation,” Hayward wrote. “And, like the case of fighting schoolchildren, where the second child to strike a blow is the one usually caught by the teacher, the media caught the police reaction and attributed it as the cause of the violence.”

Hayward defined how plans to disrupt the conference started as early as December 1967 and had been the product of three fundamental teams.

Those teams had been the Youth International Party, or the “Yippies”; the National Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, or “Mobe”; and the Students for a Democratic Society, the SDS. The factions had barely completely different agendas for what they wished to drag off in Chicago.

The Mobe typically wished a peaceable protest to happen, although it wasn’t precisely averse to inflicting mayhem—and doubtlessly, violence.

“It would be a mistake to think that the fight against the war can be won in the ballot box,” mentioned Mobe chief David Dellinger. “It still has to be won on the streets.”

The Yippies wished one thing extra like a large avenue competition. They introduced a plan to place LSD within the Chicago water provide. Chlorine therapy of the water would have neutralized any menace to the Chicago inhabitants, however the Chicago police took the menace severely sufficient to put officers in front of the city’s filtration plants.

The Students for a Democratic Society had been searching for a struggle. Hayward famous that the explanations the SDS was seeking to ratchet up violence is that they noticed liberal antiwar presidential candidates like Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy as a menace.

For leaders of this motion and others on the far Left, the complete American system wanted to be overthrown. They weren’t searching for peace in Vietnam; they had been seeking to overturn the American lifestyle and authorities.

While the three factions plotted completely different ways to attain their objectives, they had been nonetheless united behind a bigger agenda.

They wished to sow chaos as a lot as doable in order that they might ultimately shove their extra average cohorts on the Left apart and take the reins of energy. They wished to agitate, disrupt, and put probably the most strain doable on Democrats to bend to their will.

Humphrey incessantly talked about on the marketing campaign path that he wished to carry the “politics of joy” to the nation. The activists had been having none of it.

“We are coming to Chicago to vomit on the ‘politics of joy,’” SDS leader Tom Hayden wrote before the convention, “to expose the secret decisions, upset the nightclub orgies, and face the Democratic Party with its illegitimacy and criminality.”

Days of Rage

Given the opposite occasions of 1968, it isn’t onerous to see why the Democratic conference turned a large number in hindsight.

Two riots had already taken place in Chicago earlier within the yr. Civil rights chief the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot in April and Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June.

Many school campuses had been in turmoil within the spring. Student protesters had virtually shut down Columbia University and occupied Hamilton Hall earlier than being cleared out by the New York Police Department in late April. Yes, I’m nonetheless speaking about 1968 right here, not 2024.

By August, the temper was nonetheless deeply unsettled. The Democratic race got here all the way down to Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine. While the celebration had conceded an amazing deal to the antiwar wing, it wasn’t almost sufficient to appease the activists.

There had been late makes an attempt to maneuver the conference to Miami, however they didn’t come to fruition. Johnson, who remained a powerful influence in the party, was alleged to have said that “Miami is not an American city.” The present went on.

The 1968 conference was set to happen for 4 days in Chicago’s International Amphitheater, beginning on Aug. 26. Before the occasions kicked off, protesters started gathering within the metropolis.

Daley was hesitant to challenge permits to the protesters, however consented to allow them to collect miles from the conference in Lincoln Park. He then modified his thoughts and ordered Chicago police to implement an 11 p.m. curfew.

Again, whereas most of the about 12,000 protesters who confirmed up within the metropolis possible wished to conduct a peaceable protest, the organizers knew that it could be simple to control the scenario to provoke violence.

More from Hayward:

[H]ard-core leaders of the Left knew it could be simple to control the scenario right into a violent confrontation with police—and be capable to blame the police. 

Chicago’s police had been notoriously aggressive towards protesters and rioters. [Daley] had famously ordered his police to “shoot to kill” arsonists and looters throughout the riots that adopted King’s assassination in April. (It needs to be famous, nevertheless, that nobody was shot throughout the conference riots.)

Once the protesters had been pushed out of Lincoln Park, all hell started to interrupt free because the protesters violently clashed with police, who used tear fuel and billy golf equipment to disperse the gang.

It wasn’t simply police clashing with the protesters. Daley introduced hundreds of National Guardsmen into town, too, with the governor’s consent.

Violence continued to ramp up across the metropolis because the protesters continued to conflict with police, and members of the media acquired caught up within the melee.

Aug. 28 noticed probably the most vital day of violence at the so-called “Battle of Michigan Avenue,” which was televised stay. That evening, Humphrey secured the nomination as police clashed with protesters who had tried to march on the conference.

Authorities put up barricades across the conference website and tightened up safety even additional for the ultimate day of the conference, the place protesters twice tried to get into the conference corridor, however had been rebuffed.

Hundreds of protesters and law enforcement officials suffered accidents throughout the scrums and authorities arrested greater than 650 individuals.

Though many outstanding Democrats blamed Daley for the violence that passed off, Daley naturally disagreed.

He argued that calling on the police and National Guard was essential to suppress individuals who had been deliberately creating violence and dysfunction. 

Daley gave a speech addressing what had occurred.

“In the heat of emotion and riot, some policemen may have overreacted,” he mentioned. “But to judge the entire police department by the alleged action of a few would be just as unfair as to judge our entire young generation by the action of this mob.”

Daley additional mentioned that whereas he didn’t condone any violent actions, he additionally wouldn’t allow a “group of violent terrorists to menace the lives of millions of people, destroy the purpose of this national convention, or take over the streets of Chicago.”

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley confers with President John F. Kennedy, a fellow Democrat, within the Oval Office of the White House on July 11, 1962. Daley was nonetheless mayor six years later throughout the 1968 Democratic National Convention. (Photo: Arnie Sachs/CNP/Getty Images)

The Aftermath

SDS chief Hayden mentioned that the results of the Chicago protests was “100% victory in propaganda” and mentioned he hoped that what occurred in Chicago can be repeated across the nation every time Humphrey confirmed up at a marketing campaign cease.

From the angle of the New Left activists, the chaos was seen as a victory. The indisputable fact that a number of outstanding members of the media had been injured within the occasions was a bonus that might result in sympathy and optimistic protection for his or her trigger, or in order that they mentioned.

But attitudes across the nation had been hardly common. Most Americans sided with Daley and the police over the activists, and plenty of thought the police ought to have been much more proactive.

“A poll taken shortly after the riots found that 71 percent of Americans thought Chicago’s security measures were justified; 57 percent thought the police had not used excessive force, while 25 percent thought the police had not used enough force,” Hayward wrote.

In a way, each the activists and their most stalwart opponents benefited politically from the Chicago conference.

The average wing of the Democratic Party continued to lose energy and affect. The celebration was eternally modified by what had transpired, and fashionable narratives took maintain that the activists had been on the best facet of historical past, whereas the authorities had been merely reactionaries.

On the flip facet, a rising coalition on the Right—fed up with the city chaos and intentional agitation—would ship the White House in a landslide to Nixon.