GQ: The Mess We Made

Compiled by David Gargill

In August 1968, a party divided over race and political tactics and a hugely unpopular war (sound familiar?) erupted in rage at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

GQ interviewed more than seventy five people who were there in '68, from former presidential candidates to activists of all stripes to retired Chicago cops, and asked them to re-create what took place over the days of August 22 to 30. Among the participants are: Dan Rather, then a floor reporter for CBS News; John Berendt, who long before he went on to write Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil worked as an associate editor for Esquire and was charged with making sure the magazine's reporters (William S. Burroughs, Terry Southern, and Jean Genet) didn't get lost among the chaos in Chicago; Donald Rumsfeld, then a young congressman from Illinois who was there as part of a Republican "listening post" organized by Pat Buchanan, who also takes part in the oral history. The list also includes George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Gore Vidal, Harold Ickes, Julian Bond, Tom Hayden, Dick Gregory, and Shirley MacLaine, among many others.

This excerpted highlight describes the events of the third day of the convention, Wednesday, August 28, when the violence in Chicago reached a climax, in what is now referred to as the Battle of Michigan Avenue. The excerpt begins in the early morning of the 28th, as protesters gather outside the Conrad Hilton, where convention delegates are staying. It continues throughout the next 24 hours, taking in the events at the convention hall, where the peace plank (a commitment to pulling troops out of Vietnam that divided the party) is defeated, and then the violence that explodes in the city as police and National Guard troops clash with protesters on the streets.

Wednesday, August 28, 1968

1:00 a.m. Police and National Guard set up perimeter around Conrad Hilton.

George Hitzman (National Guardsman): When we were called up, the hippies were really going wild. We pulled up our transports in the park across from the Hilton. Oh, they were really giving us a good mouth job, all kinds of insults. They were calling us the baby killers and all that. They would come walking down the line and stick little daisies in the ri?es. Once we got into formation, though, all of a sudden they weren't so brave. Then we shut them up.

3:30 a.m. An army vet in crowd at Grant Park grabs microphone and asks delegates in their hotel to blink their lights in support of the protesters outside.

Peter Yarrow (folksinger, Peter, Paul and Mary): I put on my three-piece suit and went into the convention hall and started buttonholing people. I went to Birch Bayh, who I had worked with before, and I said to him, "You can't expect me to support you from here on out unless you support this peace plank." And from the look on his face, I knew my ability to use Peter, Paul and Mary's history of campaigning was going to be very minimal. I went back to the Hilton that night feeling very discouraged. I went up to my room, which overlooked Grant Park, and I heard someone down below saying into a microphone, "Delegates, if you are with us, flash your lights!" So I went over and started flipping the light switch up and down, and then I heard a huge cheer come up from the crowd. I realized that the wall of this hotel looked like a Christmas tree.

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