An excerpt from
No One Was Killed
The Democratic National Convention, August 1968
Sunday Night / Overthrow
The weather changed Sunday and became clear and perfect, in the 70’s, as if it knew people would need to call upon their highest potential of energy. Throughout the week, the weather would hold this way—truly beautiful, unusual in Chicago—weather where you can feel yourself spun with the sight of your eyes up, up, up into the sky.
On Sunday night, trash fires here and there, in the Park reflected their light off the leaves of trees. The kids no longer made any effort to keep the Park clean. Drums were going day and night without ceasing. You could walk on the beat of those drums the way Jesus walked on water. Kids were climbing in trees—“Did you ever make love in a tree?” Allen Ginsberg, with the most intense, the most receptive, the most relaxed feeling in the city, was Omming with a small group sitting around him. People were dispersed all over the Park between the Lagoon and LaSalle Street. No one was speaking of what had happened in the late afternoon. Guitars. One large group was on the central sidewalk, drumming. Another group was down by the Lagoon with drums around a Chicago actor who was dancing, high as the clear night sky above him. Tall and thin, with a bizarre innuendo that shakes up anybody who does not know him, the actor had been taunting the Yippies for two days for cowardice—for obediently leaving the Park at 11 PM every night just as the police demanded, even though the kids presumably insisted on their right to sleep in the Park. He had really been working the Park, and now his taunts were digging home. Bravery. He was the sort of man who would destroy himself before your eyes, in order to make some bizarre point known only to the littlest angel in Heaven.
He lost his balance, dancing to the drums, and fell into the Lagoon, and then swam out to the island, where he taunted the Yippies about starting the revolution on the island and staying in the Park by holding the island against the cops. None of these groups in the Park at this point were much aware of each other. The caucusing group with a portable speaker was on the eastern slope of the Park under trees. They discussed different alternatives all night long, and could agree on nothing except that of doing your own thing. There were those who advocated simple avoidance of suicidal conflict; those who advocated resistance and staying in the Park; those who advocated hitting the streets in demonstrations; and those who advocated dispersal in small groups, a fancy concept of retreat, that we discussed earlier, sanctified because it was borrowed from North Vietnam. None of these tactics and yet all of them, in fresh and spontaneous combination, finally happened. One boy in the middle of the caucusing group was yelling, “Fuck the marshalls! Up the marshalls! Bullshit!” He meant the “leaders” were too cautious! A few agreed with him. Soon he and the Chicago actor were going to meet. No decision was made and at a quarter to eleven the caucusing group and everyone else began drifting out of the Park the way they had drifted out every night.
Then in the group on the central sidewalk, the drums stopped, then began again. There were cries of “Stay in the Park!” I was about 50 yards away. Suddenly a floodlight was turned on, a lane of light springing through the trees and then swinging as the man holding the light walked backwards back into the Park. At first, people thought it was a police light, and there was a static moment of being drawn toward it and away from it. Without that media light, nobody would have known what was happening. The cameras were hungry for news, and they could even help the news to happen. In the lane of light, a tall boy was astride the shoulders of a friend, with the Viet Cong flag raised high,and striding beside him on the ground was the Chicago actor, and they were chanting, “Stay in the Park! Parks belong to people!” The actor was crying, “Revolution, now!” They turned the drifting retreat back into the Park and the people massed by the park building near the basebail diamond. At this point, the leaders and the Mobe marshalls, whom the Chicago cops in their wisdom arrested and beat in vans and stations, began yelling, “This is suicide! Suicide!” They were trying to pull the boy, who later told me he was only fourteen, down off the shoulders of his friend, and they were trying to pull down the Viet Cong flag, and they were yelling to get back to Clark Street, while people keeping track of the time, watching their wrist watches in the media light, were saying it was five minutes to eleven; and the crowd, in its fear of the cops at curfew, responded to the leaders and began heading back to Clark Street. Now the boy with the Viet Cong flag, seeing what was happening, turned the cry of back to the streets into the cry of “Onto the streets! Onto the streets!” And he hit the ground running with the flag. This the crowd found itself willing to do. It was much less fearful to hit the lighted streets in a demonstration. The boy with the flag and the drenched Chicago actor, who now walked with an air of regal satisfaction, led the charge and the massing of thousands on the intersection of LaSalle, Clark and Eugenie Streets. The catalysis of the event, that would burn its way finally through the Democratic Convention itself, was almost accomplished. Not quite. A daring kid, a bizarre and gifted actor with a sense of story, and a media light. Hello, mom. Hello, dad.
It was not yet fully accomplished because the Yippies had to re-enter the Park and, in violation of the curfew, confront the sweeping line of cops. The march pushed down LaSalle onto North Avenue, exultantly stopping traffic, with some Yippies wrapping up in blankets and lying down in front of the cars. Yippies were urging cars to honk in sympathy. One laughing woman stuck her head out the window and said to the Yippies standing in front of her car, “I think you ought to be able to sleep in the Park, tool But you can’t fight City Hall!“ The cops were taken by surprise, they had to re-group, but soon they appeared and drove the march off North Avenue and onto the sidewalks where the Yippies melted into the usual hippie crowd in Old Town. I followed with a few Yippies several yards behind an attack line of cops moving west on North Avenue. The Yippies and students were taunting the cops, “Look at the pigs in the street! Streets belong to the people!” The cops turned suddenly and charged and we ran in every direction and the cops laughed, slapped their thighs with their clubs, and continued their push west on North Avenue.
Now began that surge and milling of attraction to wherever something was happening. Arms were raised on LaSalle Street and the crowd on North Avenue headed beck there in intermittent movements. Raised arms became the common signal during the week to gather, to come back, to re-group. A signal that warms the soul. A human signal. Any two or three people who raised their arms and shouted, “Come back!” could turn almost any panic or retreat into a new confrontation. One group of marchers went south toward the Loop, headed for the Hilton, and was clubbed badly at the Michigan Avenue Bridge. The main group now gathered again at LaSalle and Clark, now in fear again of going into the Park: now again the tall hoy, with the tall, thin actor close by, raised the Viet Cong flag and carried it into the edge of the Park. Traffic was stopped for blocks on Clark and LaSalle, south and north, and their voices were raised above the ecstatic, impatient din of car horns. The crowd was uncertain, it needed urging, but its courage was up now, its feeling and energy high. The dark under the trees in the Park was not so forbidding. On one corner, there was a burst of smoke—some people say it was a smoke bomb or tear gas—and cries went up: “Roast pig! Roast pig!” and other cries of “Gas!”—but it wasn’t gas, or at least not much of it, not tonight. The actor was taunting the crowd more exultantly than ever: “Revolution!” Several kids moving along with the actor and the boy were urging the crowd and yelling, too. Then, with a cry, the crowd broke and streamed across the intersection into the Park, re-christening it: “Welcome to Ché Guevera National Park!” Those in back in the crowd hardly knew what was happening in front and simply let themselves be carried. They all spread over the parking lot and down the embankment on the east side of Stockton Drive, deep in the Park, and waited for what the cops would do. Some brave Yippies futilely wrapped themselves in blankets and pretended to go to sleep. I saw the tall boy leaning against the fender of a car on Stockton Drive. I went up to him and told him that was quite something he had done carrying the flag, turning the crowd on and around. “I know I look older,” he said, “but I’m only fourteen.” He was wearing his black hair cut like an Indian brave. He came from an Italian-American “greaser” neighborhood, as he put it, located on Chicago’s northwest side around Belmont and Cicero Avenues. He said he had been in only one previous demonstration, the Peace March in Chicago in April, where he was thrown into an elevator by the cops. “My parents can’t do anything with me. I run amuck.” I told him to take care, and he said, “I’ll probably never get to be twenty-one.” He said it with a swagger.
Then the police skirmish line, three deep, came through the Park. The cop bullhorn bellowed that anyone in the Park, including newsmen, were in violation of the law. Nobody moved. The newsmen did not believe that they were marked men; they thought it was just a way for the Cops to emphasize their point. The media lights were turned on for the confrontation. Near the Stockton Drive embankment, the line of police came up to the Yippies and the two lines stood there, a few steps apart, in a moment of meeting that was almost formal, as if everybody recognized the stupendous seriousness of the game that was about to begin. The kids were yelling: “Parks belong to the people! Pig! Pig! Oink, oink!” In The Walker Report, the police say that they were pelted with rocks the moment the media lights “blinded” them. I was at the point where the final, triggering violence began, and friends of mine were nearby up and down the line, and at this point none of us saw anything thrown. Cops in white shirts, meaning lieutenants or captains, were present. It was the formality of the moment between the two groups, the theatrical and game nature showing itself on a definitive level, that was awesome and terrifying in its implications.
It is legend by now that the final insult that caused the first wedge of cops to break loose upon the Yippies, was “Your mother sucks dirty cock!” Now that’s desperate provocation. The authors of The Walker Report purport to believe that the massive use of obscenities during Convention Week was a major form of provocation, as if it helped to explain “irrational” acts. In the very first sentence of the summary at the beginning of the Report, they say “… the Chicago Police were the targets of mounting provocation by both word and act. Obscene epithets …” etcetera. One wonders where the writers of The Walker Report went to school, were they ever in the Army, what streets do they live on, where do they work? They would also benefit by a trip to a police station at night, even up to the bull-pen, where the naked toilet bowl sits in the center of the room, and they could listen and find out whether the cops heard anything during Convention Week that was unfamiliar to their ears or tongue. It matters more who cusses you, and does he know you well enough to hit home to galvanize you into destructive action. It also matters whether you regard a club on the head as an equivalent response to being called a “mother fucking Fascist pig.”
The kids wouldn’t go away and then the cops began shoving them hard up the Stockton Drive embankment and then hitting with their clubs. “Pigs! Pigs! Pigs! Fascist pig bastards!” A cop behind me—I was immediately behind the cop line facing the Yippies—said to me and a few others, in a sick voice, “Move along, sir,” as if he foresaw everything that would happen in the week to come. I have thought again and again about him and the tone of his voice. “Oink, oink,” came the taunts from the kids. The cops charged. A boy trapped against the trunk of a car by a cop on Stockton Drive had the temerity to hit back with his bare fists and the cop tried to break every bone in his body. “If you’re newsmen,” one kid screamed, “get that man’s number!” I tried but all I saw was his blue shirt—no badge or name tag—and he, hearing the cries, stepped backward up onto the curb as a half-dozen cops crammed around him and carried him off into the melée, and I was carried in another direction. A cop swung and smashed the lens of a media camera. “He got my lens!” The cameraman was amazed and offended. The rest of the week the cops would cram around a fellow cop who was in danger of being identified and carry him away, and they would smash any camera that they saw get an incriminating picture. The cops slowed, crossing the grass toward Clark Street, and the more daring kids sensed the loss of contact, loss of energy, and went back to meet the skirmish line of cops. The cops charged again up to the sidewalk on the edge of the Park.
It was thought that the cops would stop along Clark Street on the edge of the Park. For several minutes, there was a huge, loud jam of traffic and people in Clark Street, horns and voices. “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Daley right over!” Then the cops crossed the street and lined up on the curb on the west side, outside curfew territory. Now they started to make utterly new law as they went along—at the behest of those orders they kept talking about. The crowd on the sidewalk, excited but generally peaceable, included a great many bystanders and Lincoln Park citizens. Now came mass cop violence of unmitigated fury, descriptions of which become redundant. No status or manner of appearance or attitude made one less likely to be clubbed. The Cops did us a great favor by putting us all in the same boat. A few upper middleclass white men said they now had some idea of what it meant to be on the other end of the law in the ghetto.
At the corner of Menomenee and Clark, several straight, young people were sitting on their doorsteps to jeer at the Yippies. The cops beat them, too, and took them by the backs of the necks and jerked them onto the sidewalk. A photographer got a picture of a terrible beating here and a cop smashed his camera and beat the photographer unconscious. I saw a stocky cop spring out of the pavement swinging his club, smashing a media man’s movie camera into two pieces, and the media man walked around in the street holding up the pieces for everybody to see, including other cameras, some of which were also smashed. Cops methodically beat one man, summoned an ambulance that was whirling its light out in the traffic jam, shoved the man into it, and rapped their clubs on the bumper to send it on its way. There were people caught in this charge, who had been in civil rights demonstrations in the South in the early Sixties, who said this was the time that they had feared for their lives.
The first missiles thrown Sunday night at cops were beer-cans, then a few rocks, more rocks, a bottle or two, more bottles. Yippies and New Left kids rolled cars into the side streets to block access for the cop attack patrols. The traffic-jam reached wildly north and south, and everywhere Yippies, working out in the traffic, were getting shocked drivers to honk in sympathy. One kid lofted a beer-can at a patrol car that was moving slowly; he led the car perfectly and the beer-can hit on the trunk and stayed there. The cops stopped the car and looked through their rear window at the beer-can on their trunk. They started to back up toward the corner at Wisconsin from which the can was thrown, but they were only two and the Yippies were many, so they thought better of it and drove away. There were kids picking up rocks and other kids telling them to put the rocks down.
At Clark and Wisconsin, a few of the “leaders”—those who trained parade marshalls and also some of the conventionally known and sought leaders—who had expected a confrontation of sorts in Chicago, were standing on a doorstep with their hands clipped together in front of their crotches as they stared balefully out at the streets, trying to look as uninvolved as possible. “Beautiful, beautiful,” one was saying, but they didn’t know how the thing had been delivered or what was happening. They had even directly advised against violent action, and had been denounced for it. Their leadership was that, in all the play and put-on of publicity before the Convention, they had contributed to the development of a consciousness of a politics of confrontation and social disruption. An anarchist saw his dream come true though he was only a spectator of the dream; the middle-class man saw his nightmare. A radioman, moving up and down the street, apparently a friend of Tom Hayden, stuck his mike up the stairs and asked Hayden to make some comments. Hayden, not at all interested in making a statement, leaned down urgently, chopping with his hand, and said, “Hey, man, turn the mike off, turn the mike off.” Hayden, along with Rubin, was a man the Chicago cops deemed a crucial leader and they would have sent them both to the bottom of the Chicago River, if they had thought they could get away with it. The radioman turned the mike off. Hayden said, “Is it off?” The radioman said yes. Hayden said, “Man, what’s going on down there?” The radioman could only say that what was going on was going on everywhere.
The “leaders”? The real leaders were out in the streets, the leaders were the men at your elbow when anything was happening. The leaders were everywhere. In the way that Tolstoy tells it in War and Peace, the cops and the City and Daley were Napoleonic in that they were haunted by a necessitous vision of a few essential leaders, while the Yippies and the demonstrators were like Kutusov, the Russian general, who knew that it was the spirit of battle that decided the outcome, and the spirit of battle summons forth the necessary men in any responsive situation. The good general stands aside and does not presume upon the spirit of battle. In Chicago, it went further, into an inexorable, deadly serious, rambunctious movement that knew its own power, and the conventional leaders became spectators before the lesson. Some of these leaders were those who tried to stop the tall boy with the VC flag. Many were frightened, and only a few were ready to go with it. “Beautiful, beautiful,” it was said, as if watching an electrical storm, but one with a lesson in it, patterns of a direction that already knew its own course.
The action stretched through the streets over an area of many blocks, south to Division Street and then southeast to the Michigan Avenue Bridge, and petered out in the dark morning hours. Yippies and demonstrators sought pads to crash: in the Movement centers (places for organizing activities and services for New Left and Yippies), in private homes, in the crash-pads in Old Town, in churches. Wherever they slept, the edges and depths of their sleep were permeated by relentless excitement, and they might well wake up with cops walking among them to find and take someone away.
Behind the iron fences of the garden in the Movement
center and first-aid station of The Theater on Wells Street
—home of the original Second City Players—Yippies
were packed, some actually sleeping on the flat extension
of the roof. Broken heads were being bandaged. A few
were holding the gates shut and looking out through the
bars to screen those who wanted to come in—trying to
keep plainclothesmen out. A numb caution, in the face of
the cop fury, now deadened many people’s feeling. But
the tall actor was sitting tilted back on a chair by the
gate, aglow, in good humor, similar to the feeling of
Julian Bond and his delegates when they knew they had
won. “Schultz!” he cried out when he saw me. “He’s all
right, let him in.” Haggard, numb, bearded faces were
looking through the iron bars of the gate out at the street,
as if fearing a supernatural invasion—cops, in short.
Only the actor, leaning back in his chair, laughed at the
stars, I gave him a sort of salute, not without awe and a
touch of dismay.