I don’t know any city less interested in its own history than Chicago. It’s not just that we’re the newest of the world’s great cities. Or that we’re a city that reinvents itself every generation -- the husky, stormy brawling prairie metropolis of the early 20-th Century, the bootlegging capital of the 1920s, the provincial industrial center of the 1960s, the global city of the 1990s. It’s that our history is often so…embarrassing. It’s an impediment to our continual rebirths. For decades, Chicago’s best-known figure was Al Capone, as this Commander McBragg cartoon from the 1960s demonstrates.
And now, Adbusters, the magazine that spawned the Occupy Wall Street movement is reviving Chicago’s second most regrettable moment. As part of its campaign to urge 50,000 Occupiers to descend on Chicago for the G-8/NATO summits in May, Adbusters published a photo of blue-helmeted cops bashing anti-war protesters, with the legend, “In The Tradition of The Chicago 8 #OCCUPYCHICAGO. May 1 -- Bring Tent.”
The “Tactical Briefing” reads:
And this time around we’re not going to put up with the kind of police repression that happened during the Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago, 1968 … nor will we abide by any phony restrictions the City of Chicago may want to impose on our first amendment rights. We’ll go there with our heads held high and assemble for a month-long people’s summit … we’ll march and chant and sing and shout and exercise our right to tell our elected representatives what we want … the constitution will be our guide.
Come on, guys. We’re as far away from 1968 as 1968 was from Al Capone. There’s not a single cop still on the force from those days. (Although there is an alderman: Ed Burke worked the convention as a police officer.) It’s incendiary to assume that today’s police will behave as goonishly as their predecessors. So far, we haven’t had any violence in Chicago. I tagged along on the November 17 march through downtown, and I thought the co-operation between the police and the Occupy marshals was impressive. The cops asked which way the march was headed, and they stopped traffic long enough to let it pass.
Even members of Occupy Chicago are taking Adbusters to task for the 1968 image. Commented a blogger who goes by That Egy Guy:
The picture is of the 1968 Democratic National Convention police riots in Chicago. You may as well be asking upfront for it. AdBusters must know that Chicago has had close to 300 arrests related to attempts at encampment, that must be why they called for “peaceful barricades”. If you want to pick a fight with CPD, you should consult those whose name you are using.
For the record, the members of the Chicago 8 were Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, Dave Dellinger, Lee Weiner, John Froines, Rennie Davis and Bobby Seale. Five were convicted in federal court of crossing state lines with intent to incite a riot, but their convictions were reversed on appeal, on the grounds that their attorneys were not allowed to screen jurors for racial and cultural biases. The riots and the trial did leave a mark on American culture, inspiring the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song “Chicago,” the Haskell Wexler movie “Medium Cool” and the film Chicago 10. They left a mark on Chicago, too. One reason President Obama chose to hold his Election Night rally in Grant Park was to erase its association with 1968.
Let’s hope 2012 doesn’t provide another St. Valentine’s Day Massacre or the Democratic National Convention, an event the world will remember us by for the next 40 years.
Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!