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The Whole World Was Watching (cont’d)
The End of Boss Conventions
Inside the convention hall, the Democratic Party honchos were battling as well. Rose argues that that turned out to be a very good thing for democracy – and Barack Obama.
Rose: The 1968 convention was the last boss-run convention. If Hubert Humphrey had come out within a few weeks with an antiwar position, he might have defeated Nixon and the world would be very, very different.
What happened subsequently were the so-called McGovern reforms, which emanated directly from the mishandling of the 1968 convention. It turned the power back to the people as it should have been. It began a series of reforms where the primary elections began to have real meaning. Primary elections at ‘68 and prior to that were really covers for what the bosses wanted. There were few legitimate primaries. Most of them were run by the hacks and that’s how Hubert Humphrey came to be.
…The reforms that took place under McGovern in subsequent years led us in a direct path to what happened this year. If we had had the same kind of boss-run convention, boss-run primary series this year, there is no doubt that Barack Obama would barely have struggled through it and Hillary Clinton may have been the nominee.
So the Democratic Party was reformed in many ways, with a lot of bad bumps along the way, by what happened in ‘68. Locally, the Democratic convention ignited the independent political movement largely along Chicago’s Lakefront, which later merged with black independents who had been working through the ’60s with the advent of Martin Luther King and so forth. Following the murder of Fred Hampton, black and white independents came together. And you can draw a direct line from that moment to Harold Washington.
The 1983 election of Harold Washington as Chicago’s first black mayor came courtesy of a progressive coalition of blacks, Latinos and so-called “Lakefront liberals.” Katz and Rose were there, once again, as advisors and operatives.
Katz: My straight line goes from ‘66/’68 to the folks who began to work together and formed the core group of the Harold Washington campaign. (Almost) everyone I worked with in 1982 I had met as a kid in ‘68. I believe that Barack Obama could only have emerged in Chicago. Why? Because since ‘68 there was a web of relationships between black civil rights groups, anti-war groups, women’s activities, immigrant rights activities, that has sustained and grown.
Drafting a Revolution
In 1968, an involuntary draft fueled much of the anguish over the war. If we had a draft now, would there be violence?
Rose: If there were a draft now, the anti-Iraq demonstrations would be a hundred-fold larger than they are now, maybe more. The difference between the size of demonstrations on the Iraq issue versus what happened back in Vietnam are attributable to two factors: the fact that 50,000 rather than 4,000 Americans died, but also the draft. This is why Charlie Rangel, the congressman from New York, said, “Let’s have a draft.” He wanted to create a backlash against the war. And that would have done it.
Whatever happened to the revolution? That story has not largely been told. Why did it fade away?
Katz: It is very hard to sustain a revolution after a moment of crisis. Very few people know how to do it anywhere in the world, which is why you have so much state capitalism. What is really interesting to me is that (’60s radicals) like Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn and Mike Klonsky have managed to live evolved lives in tune to fundamental social ideals, while figuring out a way to not only join the system but make changes. Small schools movement, juvenile justice, a whole series of things.
40 Years Later, a New Movement from Chicago
What we did here in Chicago had international implications: In ‘68 there was a workers’ movement in Paris, there was a worldwide movement of students. We lost that in the intervening 40 years. Now in 2008, with Barack Obama, we have a renewed sense that the whole world is watching again.
Rose: Looking back on ‘68, Chicago was the crucible of everything that was happening in America. It was a crucible of the student movement. We had the SDS headquartered here. We had the SDS meeting here. It was a crucible of the civil rights movement, beginning with the formation of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee). It was the crucible of the anti-war movement. Everything that epitomized the ’60s was occurring here, and it looks as if it is beginning again. The movement is not revolutionary, at this point, but evolutionary.
Katz: I think that millions of young people are flocking to Barack, as we did to the anti-war movement. In fact, the demonstrations in 2002 and 2003 were bigger than anything we had between 1963 and 1968. There were millions of people marching against Bush’s war, far bigger than anything against Vietnam.
Bush was successful in pointing out that no matter what we did, no matter how many millions of people demonstrated against the war, no matter how many state governments or city councils passed resolutions against the war, he was not going to change his policy. And the lesson for young people who are supporting Barack Obama in droves is that this is their chance to take government as they see it, for their generation. New paradigm, new generation.
The Democratic Party will gather once again later this month. Everybody is expecting a big party in Denver. Will it be an Obama coronation? Is that what we should be looking for?
Rose: I don’t expect anything serious to occur in the way of violence or significant demonstrations. They are setting aside protest areas as Chicago did in ‘96…there is a group of so-called anarchists. In my Red Squad file there is a wonderful line that says “Rose is a member of the anarchists.” There will be the nihilists demonstrating against the world, against the Democratic Party, against Obama, against everybody. I think it will be contained.
Katz: In 1964 the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were passed. Since that time, white men in the South have never voted for a Democrat in any majority. So while we look at ‘68 (in terms of) the war and the convention, the biggest reason for the loss was the Democratic Party and Congress embracing civil rights as their agenda. I believe in this election, with the issues of war and peace and the inclusive agenda. This election, more than any other, is not so much about two men, but who we are as a country and who we want to be.
So how do you resolve Obama’s move to the center? What about holding his feet to the fire? Don’t we need to keep him true to progressive issues?
Katz: We have to get him into office so then we can be the left opposition. I think it is a delicate balance between those of us who are progressive, how much you push, how much you don’t want to put him in very difficult positions that would embarrass him or give John McCain some advantage.
I think it’s a very complicated question. I think Barack is going to be who he’s going to be. I am going to argue quietly and be very supportive. On Jan. 20, if things aren’t going right, then I will lead the first demonstration.
Rose: I believe that almost everything the Obama people do, like the McCain people, like the Hillary people, is a fairly well-tested proposition.
Given that, I think Obama’s positions, the ones we like, don’t like and applaud, are all very well-tested. I know the guys who are doing these things, and they have run a virtually flawless campaign. So I have a lot of confidence that they know what they’re doing when they trim their sails and when they attack this way and attack the other way. I believe they are doing what will win and I think they have a concept of what will win.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they will win, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that I agree with everything they are doing in the process of winning, but what I do believe is that they are making correct political, if not moral judgments, every millimeter of the way.
Coining a Phrase
How did you coin the phrase, “The whole world is watching”?
Rose: It gets better with every telling. It was Sunday night, when the first head-beatings took place in Lincoln Park, and all the violence was occurring. I was in charge of the press for the MOBE. We had a big pressroom in a little storefront along State Street, not far from the Hilton Hotel. And the next morning we were holding a press conference where we were going to display to everyone the victims of the police rioting in Lincoln Park. Some of them were yippies, some of them were just ordinary people who had been going to the rock concerts there, some of them were MOBE people.
(SDS leader) Rennie Davis was our rotating spokesman that morning, and he got his first look at some of these victims and it made the Spirit of ‘76 look like a band-aid. And he looked at me before he went on, and he said, “Jesus, this is really bad, what can we say?”
And I said, “Oh, tell them the whole world is watching, and they’ll never get away with it again.”
Well, the whole world was watching, but I was wrong – they got away with it.
[Editor’s note: The transcript on which this article is based has been edited for clarity and brevity.]
Laura S. Washington
Laura S. Washington, an In These Times contributing editor, is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and political analyst for ABC 7-Chicago.