Patricia Nell Warren

Election 2008 Seen From Election 1968

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | January 09, 2008 2:02 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Politics
Tags: Chicago, civil rights movement, peace movement

Today in Los Angeles I saw a screening of Brett Morgen's stunning documentary film "Chicago 10." As America barrels on towards the Presidential election, this film ought to be required viewing for every American voter. Especially those under 40, and most especially every high-school and college student. If you're 20 or 30 today, you weren't even alive during those thunderous demonstrations that shook the nation during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago -- the clank of troops rolling into the city, the tidal waves of arrests and beatings, the demonstrators venting their outrage that a Democratic President, Lyndon Johnson, was escalating the Vietnam War.

You don't remember the high-profile trial afterwards -- the Justice Department trying to stick the demonstration organizers with conspiracy charges that would send them to federal prison. You don't remember America floundering in the moral mire of another ugly and unpopular war -- with the difference that there was a military draft in those days, that could send young men off to die or come back maimed in body or spirit.

As an American who was young and involved during those times, I watched the film with a 100-minute-long lump in my throat and a breaking heart.

Americans who marched in the 1960s and 1970s believed that we were compelling our government to change -- not just to get out of Vietnam, not just to grant freedom to women and blacks and gays, but to take a big turning point towards greater democracy and a greater say by the people -- especially young people -- in government policy. The quiet older activists like David Dellinger of MOBE (Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam), who marched in suits and ties, played just as powerful a role in the Chicago drama as the young colorful shaggy-haired Yippies like Abby Hoffman. And the Justice Department failed to nail the "conspirators" -- because of obvious bias by the original judge, all the convictions and the contempt of court charges were later overturned.

Yet somehow, during the 1980s and '90s, when a lot of us thought that our hard-won victories were a done deal and we switched our attention to living the good life, a lot of what we won was quietly, slowly, stealthily taken away from us.

Today Americans are at it again -- going down to another Democratic Convention, with civil-rights issues once again convulsing the country. Once again the Democrats are under fire. But the United States is not in as strong a place to consider change as it was in the 1960s. The media are less friendly towards dissent. Many of our students are apathetic and nonpolitical, consumed with worry about peer pressure and credit card debt, not as ready to risk everything to march. The law-enforcement machine that demonstrators face today is far more ruthless than the one that the Chicago marchers fought in 1968, with far greater legal power to grind up the lives of activists. Today there is no draft issue to galvanize the country. Despite the efforts of Cindy Sheehan and others, we still have no national groundswell of a peace movement like the one that turned Chicago upside down in 1968.

In spite of these drawbacks, however, the times we live in are what we have to work with, and we are the generations who have to do that work. We can't relive the activism of 1968. We have to do it with the resources we have today, and we have to storm the barriers that face us today. The word "change" is in the election air once again. Will the Democrats change and start being real defenders of democracy again? Will America really change? Will we make the right changes? Will we make the changes stick this time?

Go see "Chicago 10." It's as riveting as any documentary that Michael Moore has done.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.

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Actually a lot of what you thought you
won you never won in the first place.
Nothing has changed since 1900, and the
Power Elite will still run things which
Both Obama and Hill-Dog are a part of.
The Illusion continues.

One difference you know..
All of the front runners are for the war.
And all the front runners are for Big
They are all versions of Nixon.
Oh well.
You know it's really a good time to be
Old and a bad time to be young.

Good post by the way..
Take care

I wouldn't say nothing was won since 1900, Sue. There was the New Deal, which changed a few things around here. I think we could use a new one of those right now.

The Changes in the middle of last century required more vigilance than Americans practiced in the 80's and 90's. Unfortunately, vigilance is something that many of our compatriots aren't good at, and a small group of them are good at stifling.

The roots of the New Deal go back to just after the
turn of the century.....
People in this country have become fat dumbed down
and Lazy...

Oh one thing i found interesting....
Did you know..
nearly all the votes counted during the
N.H. are counted in secret?

We are so Very Screwed...
The sad part is it's our fault.

Take care

I have not seen this movie, but I have read "Steal This Book" by Abby Hoffman. He was advocating women's liberation and gay rights years before people coalesced around these issues and made them into real movements.

That's what I always wonder when I see and read about those times: Where are today's true activist visionaries? Where is the outrage? Where are the marches, the riots, the unwavering, uncompromisable demands for an America that serves all of its citizens?

In the name of non-violence, we have ripped out the very heart of what it once meant to be an activist and a freedom fighter in this country. No wonder our government has returned to behaving as it did in those days. There's no one left with the courage to stand against it, no matter what the cost.

Like it or not, we are the new counterculture, and we have miserably failed our sisters, brothers, and ourselves.

I agree, Rebecca. We have lost our spirit of outrage. To be an activist in this day and age means to send out some emails, not protest, march in the streets, or demand justice.

I thought we might have seen some resurgence of true activism when the anti-war protest started, but those quickly died down. Nothing seems to be able to penetrate the "let's work within the political system" mindset of our country. I’m all about working in the system to make change, but change can also begin from frustrated, angry citizens who fight back.

Great post, Patricia. I’ll be sure to go see the documentary…

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | January 9, 2008 2:23 PM

In the name of non-violence, we have ripped out the very heart of what it once meant to be an activist and a freedom fighter in this country.

Rebecca, I may be reading you wrong, but are you saying that a commitment to non-violence has been responsible for the apathy so widespread in today's America?

If so, I strongly disagree. A commitment to non-violence is possibly the most radical commitment an activist can make, and leads to anything but apathy. The Catholic Workers Movement is an excellent example. And, of course, Gandhi.

I think the widespread lack of political outrage and involvement in America is a result of many factors, large among them a concerted indoctrination of young people in a cult of individualism. Advertising plays a large role in this, as does entertainment. Collective action and concern for those less fortunate is widely ridiculed and promoted as not "cool." In their place, selfishness, greed, and “me firstism” are put forth as respected aims.

This is completely opposite the 1960's when hippies, collectivism, and challenging the system were considered by the vast majority of young people (other than the GWs, Rumsfelds, and Cheneys of the world) to be the height of “cool.” Rocking the boat, making revolution, caring about causes greater than one’s self were all glorified.

Although, to be fair, the revolution of the 60’s did not, in many respects, endure: many former hippies are now committed yuppies.

Last week, NPR had a long piece on 1968 and it's echoes and reflections this year, and some of it was really chilling, mainly the similarities between Robert Kennedy and Barack Obama.

That was a years of such political upheaval - assasinations, riots. I hope that we can end the war and achieve goals without such a terrible cost.

To be an activist in this day and age means to send out some emails, not protest, march in the streets, or demand justice.

Amen, Waymon.

I agree Rebecca There was a time when being an activist meant getting pushy.
Not standing in some stupid "free speech"zone.
That is bullcrap......

Thankfully the old fashioned activism is making a comeback.

Take care

Don't Taze Me Bro...
Or you will regret it.

Brynn, yes that's what I'm saying. Too many activists take "non-violent" to mean "non-active" or "non-aggressive" and we are suffering greatly because of it. I'm not saying people should go out there and get into physical fights with cops, etc., but I think some significant and active civil disobedience could prove to be just what we need to stir things up in this country.

I absolutely agree with Bryan on this. Non-violent action is one of the most motivating, demanding and effective modes of political action available to us. It's about highlighting the contradictions, forcing people to acknowledge the moral bankruptcy of defending a status quo position, creating personal examples of sacrifice for others to live up to.

If you find yourselves plagued by bureaucratic DC 'leaders' who would really prefer we leave our political work up to them, you're dealing with elitists, not pacifists.

Our email campaigns need to be based in believable, physical work being done on the ground. And the larger numbers of writers and petition signers serve to amplify the messages of the people doing F2F non-violent protest.

Furthermore, it just isn't safe today to put your body in front of a police officer today unless you have a skilled media and advocacy team. Someone needs to document the bruises and keep you from being crushed by crippling felony charges. I speak from personal experience.