FRANK KUSCH (AUTHOR, BATTLEGROUND CHICAGO: THE POLICE AND THE 1968 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION): It was a building of tension. By the time the party convened that summer, it was really set up to be the perfect storm. Everybody expected the worst, and they got what they expected.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOMTHE MESS IN CHICAGO:1968
FRED R. HARRIS (CO-CHAIRMAN, HUMPHREY 1968): 1968 was just a horrible year.
ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 4-4-68):ANCHOR: The reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, 39 years old and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the leader of the non-violent civil rights movement in the United States, was assassinated in Memphis tonight.
ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 6-6-68):REPORTER: Oh my god, Senator Kennedy has been shot!
TOM HAYDEN (CO-FOUNDER, STUDENTS FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY): Murder, murder, murder most foul! Was that on our minds? Of course it was deeply on our minds. Deeper than our minds. It was the agony of our generation. Death and destruction in Vietnam. Urban rioting and rebellion. Most people have an image of the time that was about sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Let me tell you, it was not a joke.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 1968):WALTER CRONKITE: Good evening from Chicago. The Democratic Convention begins in this International Ampitheatre.
FRED R. HARRIS: We went into Chicago with a great deal of trepidation. There were going to be huge anti-war protests and demonstrations, and we thought thered be great overreaction on the part of the Chicago Police. We tried to change the location to Miami, where the Republicans would have already held their convention, and it wouldnt take much new preparations.
FRANK KUSCH: Your average Chicago cop during that era was somebody who grew up working class. Their fathers and grandfathers often were police officers. They didnt have a lot of time for what they would call nonsense.
TOM HAYDEN: Wed had big demonstrations outside the government before. They always seemed to go nowhere, to no avail. The convention presented an opportunity to put on a lobbying effort aimed at the delegates, to see if there could be a peace plank passed on the convention floor.
FRANK KUSCH: The police were given pretty strict marching orders by Mayor Daley to keep the peace, and they were going to do that however they needed to do it.
TOM HAYDEN: We were really roughed up by the police no matter what we did. The city administration refused permits for any expression. The counter-culture people could not have a concert. The anti-war people could not march towards the visual sightline of the convention itself.
FRANK KUSCH: Theres quite a bit of symmetry between what was happening on the streets and what was happening inside the amphitheater.
ARCHIVAL (DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION, NBC NEWS, 1968):REPORTER: All these guards in civilian clothes have linked hands.
FRANK KUSCH: You had private security forces Daleys cops in plain clothes manhandling delegates, pushing them around, deciding on who was going to be able to speak, who was going to be ushered out when they said the wrong thing.
ARCHIVAL (DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION, CBS NEWS, 1968):DAN RATHER: Take your hands off of me unless you plan to arrest me!
FRANK KUSCH: At one point, Dan Rather is trying to interview delegates, he gets grabbed and roughed up by a security guard.
ARCHIVAL (DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION, CBS NEWS, 1968):DAN RATHER: We got, uh, bodily pushed out of the way, this is the kind of thing thats been going on outside the hall, this is the first time weve had it happen inside the hall.
FRANK KUSCH: That really speaks to the mood in that hall.
ARCHIVAL (DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION, CBS NEWS, 1968):REPORTER: I think we got a bunch of thugs here, Dan.
FRED R. HARRIS: When President Lyndon Johnson had announced that he wouldnt run for reelection, we had a promise from Vice President Humphrey that he would make a speech prior to the convention against the Vietnam War, and for a halt to the war. He did not do that. Also, we had Humphreys commitment that wed have an anti-war plank at the convention itself. That didnt happen either.
TOM HAYDEN: Thousands of people were allowed to gather in a park, and then the permit was removed because some kid pulled down an American flag. And then the police waded in and beat everybody up. Gas was everywhere. There were many head injuries and bleeding. Its hard to imagine.
FRANK KUSCH: Police officers found they were having bags of excrement, bags of urine thrown at them. It was chaos, multiple directions, terrible communication on what streets there were to clear, where theyre moving the protesters through. Nothing was very coherent. The police looked bad, and at times they deserved to be viewed poorly, and other times they did whatever they thought they could.
ARCHIVAL (DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION, NBC NEWS, 1968):ANCHOR: Sitting in his hotel room last night, Hubert Humphrey said, I dont feel very good with whats going on down there.
FRED R. HARRIS: I came out of that convention terribly depressed about the failure to adopt an anti-war plank, about what had happened in the streets. And I was very bothered by the fact that the Democrat Party was undemocratic. People felt the anti-war movement represented the majority of Democrats in the country, but that was not reflected in the selection of the delegates to that convention. They were establishment people, a big part of whom, what we now call super delegates.
FRANK KUSCH: Outside the convention hall, the protesters nominated a pig called Pigasus as the President of the United States.
ARCHIVAL (YOUTUBE):REPORTER: Sir, why did you decide to become a candidate?
FRANK KUSCH: Pretty good move.
FRED R. HARRIS: I was elected the Chair of the Party in 1969. I appointed a reform commission to be sure that thered be democracy in the selection of delegates. The main thing we wanted was that theyd be elected, but then in 1984, another commission decided to go back to some super delegates.
FRANK KUSCH: Conventions like Chicago show the very thin line between citizens getting along, feeling that they share common ideals, and seeing each other as aliens, as people that they dont recognize. The convention put a spotlight on those division that are always there just underneath the surface. The lesson of 1968 is: protesters need room to protest. In a democratic society, you cant manage the people all the time. You have to give them space to say their piece, or you dont have peace.