“Large amounts of hair spray were sold in the Old Town area stores during the time of the Convention. The expulsion of hair spry from a can when set fire to works as a home-made flame thrower. Royal Blue Food Store reported large groups of Yippies purchasing large quantities of hair spray. It is common knowledge that Yippies have no use for hair spray or other cosmetics for personal use.”
City of Chicago report on the 1968 Democratic Convention
The atmosphere was combustible indeed. Firebrands called for mass demonstrations. Over a hundred anti-war groups, brimming with young anti-war boomers and older grizzled veterans, vowed to flood the streets of Chicago for the Democratic National Convention of 1968.
Standing ready to protect the city: an army of Chicago’s finest, national guardsmen, and federal troops brace for an estimated 100,000 troublemakers. Some Democrats plead to move the convention to off-the-beaten-path Miami.
The 1968 Election
Night falls. Curfews are announced. Most older protesters are ready to call it day. Most boomers are feeling their new left oats. Rocks start flying. Batons flail. The next three days turn into a running battle between law enforcement and protesters. Tear gas mixed with marijuana smoke waft across the Windy City. Continuous, intimate television coverage electrifies and divides the nation. “The whole world is watching!” chant the demonstrators.
Baby boomers were regarded as the force behind the violence and rebellion. Played out in the streets of Chicago, the drama became an uber-moment that illuminates historical change. It brought “middle America” criticism of boomers to fever-pitch national attention and began a debate over the effects of the baby boomer generation that continues to this day.
The defense lawyer
Six months later a Chicago grand jury handed down an indictment that read like a Who’s Who of the “New Left.” Bobby Seale, founder of the Black Panthers, called the judge a “racist” and “fascist,” refusing to cooperate. Judge Hoffman shackled him to a chair, a poignant symbol of the past that was too much to bear. Soon, Seale was separated from the co-defendants. The 8 became the 7 that would go down in history.
The trial turned into a political circus, going far beyond those counterculture goals of guerrilla street theater in Chicago. Among the antics were Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin showing up in judicial robes and throwing kisses to the jury. Luminaries Arlo Guthrie, Timothy Leary, Jessie Jackson, Phil Ochs, Judy Collins and Norman Mailer testified.
The six month spectacle was covered in lurid detail by the national media. Five of the seven were convicted of crossing state lines with intent to incite a riot.
The Defendants: Lee Weiner, Dave Dellinger, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, John Fronies, Rennie Davis, and Abbie Hoffman.
• The convictions were reversed on appeal and the Justice Department declined to retry.
• Approximately 7000 protesters came to Chicago, far below predictions. When the tear gas settled, the official count was 589 arrested with 100 demonstrators and 119 law enforcement officers injured. Mayor Daley promptly gave Chicago police a raise.
• Inside the convention hall there was a clear split between those who supported the boomer-inspired protests and the “old guard.” Senator Ribacoff declared on national television that if peace candidate George McGovern (the baby boomer favorite) were President, “we wouldn’t have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago.” Cameras captured Mayor Daley catapulting from his seat at the remark, shaking a fist at the podium and uttering an epithet that appeared to be the “F” word. Later, he would claim he was shouting “faker,” a common insult in old Irish politics.
• The Yippies were formed in 1968 to do revolutionary street theatre at the Democratic Convention and beyond. The name was loosely based on “hippies.” The Yippie flag: