Archive for March, 2008


March 30, 2008

Yes, the current round of sniping between Obama and Clinton is at best unedifying and at worst potentially disastrous for the Democratic party.  The trouble with negative campaigning, especially when it’s mutual, is that the voters tend to believe all of it, on all sides.  When that involves both sides in a general election, the result is low voter turnout, which has been a problem in this country for a long time.  But when it involves the two leading candidates in a primary, the result is a totally unearned bonanza for the other candidate.  McCain has figured this out, and is milking it for all he can get. 

Many Democratic pundits have figured it out too.  Almost all of them want to solve it by getting Clinton to bow out.  It seems fairly clear that she can win the nomination only by the votes of the “superdelegates.”  Obama’s supporters are taking the position that the existence and position of the superdelegates is fundamentally illegitimate. They are the last vestige of the smoke-filled room system that preceded the reforms of 1972.  Are the Obamaniacs taking that position on principle, or just because it produces the result they want? They had no problem with the DNC’s position on the votes from the Michigan and Florida primaries, which coincidentally also produced the results they wanted.  Isn’t that convenient? as the Church Lady would say.

Certainly the sooner this mess is over, the better.  Certainly there is no point telling the candidates to stop slinging mud and talk about the issues–they have virtually no disagreement about the issues.  The conflict is completely about personalities.  Most US elections ultimately come down to personalities, or rather the perception of personalities. But usually the battle of perceived personalities is the last act, the general election.  This year is a rarity. There weren’t that many disagreements among Democrats about the issues, once the “not-serious” candidates like Kucinich were weeded out.  But the elimination of the not-serious candidates from the primary has left two candidates, pretty much in agreement about the issues, standing, not just one. 

And the test of “personality” this year may very well be the willingness to step aside for the greater good. Which is kind of like the old water test for witchcraft–if the water accepts the suspected witch, that proves she is innocent. It also leaves her drowned.  If she floats, that proves the water has rejected her for her witchcraft.  The punishment for which, of course, is burning. The candidate who bows out of this race may thereby be proved to be the nicer person–and also, of course, the non-candidate.  The candidate who stays is the one who gets to go up against McCain in the general election–after having proved himself or herself the meanest SOB on the block.  After that, all McCain has to do is avoid torturing kittens for a few months, and the election is his.

But, even assuming the “nice guys finish last” approach makes any sense in this election, why should the “nice guy” have to be the woman?  Is America really less ready for a woman president than for an African-American president?  Or are women just required to be nicer, when the issue of niceness gets raised at all?  Girls, admittedly, are raised to let somebody else have the last piece of pie.  Boys are taught that politeness demands only that they smile when taking the last piece.  Obama is very good at smiling.  Is this the scenario being played out now?

And one final question: cui bono?  Who benefits from this state of affairs? Obviously, the GOP.  Is it at all possible that at least some of the support behind Obama’s highly improbable blast-from-out-of-nowhere candidacy comes from the other side of the aisle?  Gee, ya think?

Red Emma


No News is Good News, or We’ll Always Have Paris and Britney

March 22, 2008

Dr. Andrew Weil, the alternative medicine maven, (and a college classmate of mine) says we should all try “fasting” from news, and perhaps even from media in general, a few days a year, to improve our mental and physical health. I’m beginning to think he has a point

Admittedly, the last couple of weeks have brought us a real overdose of news, even without input about Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Most of it is even real news, not filler. There was l’affaire Spitzer, raising all sorts of questions about private morality and public life. Then came its successor, the Paterson confession. In the purely political realm, there was the whole uproar about the Florida and Michigan Democratic primaries, which we are apparently doomed to repeat until we get it right.

Then came the Eternal Return of the clips of the Reverend Mr. Jeremiah Wright’s wildly gyrating sermons, resembling nothing so much as Richard Simmons on a good day. Followed by The Speech from Obama, condemning the sermons and loving the sermonizer.

Underneath all that was the steady drumbeat of The Economy, including the subprime mortgage disaster, the Bear Sterns crash, and the damage control scrambling of the Federal Reserve, while economists debated how many unemployed workers could dance on the head of a pin without constituting a recession, or maybe even the onset of a depression.

Over the last week, the Tibetans have been demonstrating or rioting, and the Chinese have been controlling the violence or beating up monks, depending whether you believe the Dalai Lama or the Chinese authorities. This may or may not encourage a boycott of the Beijing Olympics later this year. And, speaking of bad news from Asia, Sir Arthur C. Clarke died in Sri Lanka.

Finally, yesterday was the 5th anniversary of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, last night was a bizarrely noisy anti-war march here in Chicago, today is the first day of spring, and any time within the next week or so, we can expect the death of the 4000th US servicemember in Iraq.

Where can an overworked blogger stand in this swamp of significance? None of this stuff deserves to be ignored. Much of it demands immediate and personal reaction. I’m actually getting nostalgic for Paris and Britney, who could safely be ignored. Should we all just turn off our tvs, radios, and computers and go read Anna Karenina? God knows it’s tempting. Tolstoy has a lot to say about matters related to, for instance, the Spitzer affair.

Okay, I’ll just hit the high spots. I’m sort of immune to Obama’s charisma, partly because, in my neighborhood, he’s a prophet in his own country, with the corresponding lack of honor (he was our state senator before he ran for federal office, and his house is 5 miles from ours) and partly because I apparently suffer from a congenital deficiency in charisma receptors. So The Speech, while it struck me as well-drafted and well-delivered, didn’t make the earth move for me. I still haven’t made up my mind whether the Rev. Wright is a racist or just indulging in audience-pleasing hyperbole. Mr. Wired believes that, at some point, we have to stop pointing to, and trying to avenge, old wrongs on all sides, and just Start Over, both in the Mideast and the Midwest. I find that approach attractive, but I can understand why people who view themselves as the most recent and worst-damaged victims might have trouble with it.

Are we headed into a depression? Most of the controls FDR put into the system to prevent another one have since been removed or at least weakened. Yes, it could happen. My personal index on this is that three restaurants within a one-block radius of my office have closed down in the last three months. This is definitely a bad sign. And our cost of living has certainly gone up a lot in the last few months. When I do our taxes this weekend, I will have a better handle on how much.

Spitzer? If he had been a French politician, his constituents would probably just have yawned. But then, if he had been a French politician, he would never have made such a fuss about closing down prostitution rings either. For better or worse, we are not the French. So much the worse for our cooking and physical fitness, so much the better for our work ethic, I guess. What bothers me about the whole thing is how eager people are to condemn Mrs. Spitzer for not dumping him, and to attribute the worst of motives to her decision. She is, after all, the victim here, or one of them anyway. Is she staying to protect her “investment” (such as it is, since he seems headed for indictment)? Is she cowed and stupid (unlikely, since she graduated Harvard Law)? Is she, somehow, as sleazy as he is? Dammit, the whole point of the Women’s Movement was to give women options. A century and a half ago, women had to fight for the right to leave their unfaithful husbands. Now, apparently, they have to fight for the right to stay with them. All of this, of course, echoes the saga of Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, and was probably intended to, by the Justice Department operatives who put the Spitzer story on the front page. Sometimes the conspiracy theorists get it right.

Finally, we are five years into a war that never should have started. Five years used to be a reasonable length of time to use force to decide matters of international politics. It was long enough to decide every conflict the US was ever involved in before Vietnam. Now, apparently, five years is just an opening act. Maybe that’s what happens when a republic becomes an empire. In Europe, wars lasting seven, or thirty, or even a hundred years used to be par for the course. Are we headed in that direction? And if so, how long can we keep even the external trappings of a republic, much less its substance?

War is the ultimate enemy of liberty. The word “dictator” originally meant a leader given extraordinary powers specifically in wartime. All of the governmental intrusions most despised by libertarians in this country were brought to us by one or another real or metaphorical war. The income tax, the draft, the standing army, drug testing (courtesy of the “war”on drugs), wiretapping (as in the “war”on crime), and most recently universal ID-checking and inspection, in the “war” on terror. Permanent war means permanent loss of liberty. The Hard Right is fond of telling us that we can have freedom only if we are permanently prepared to fight for it. I think they may have it exactly wrong. Freedom is possible only in peacetime. And there are young citizens old enough to vote this year who cannot even remember peacetime, or being able to enter a public building without being searched.

Red Emma

Imagination is the Moral Faculty

March 17, 2008

My mother told me that a long time ago. Imagine–you will have to, because there can never be any scientifically valid proof of it–that other people are like you. They have insides.  Like you, they have eyes…hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions…. fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer… If you prick them, do they not bleed? if you tickle them, do they not laugh? if you poison them, do they not die? and so on.

Evolutionarily, imagination emerged among predators teaching their young to hunt, I think.  Pretend, says the mother sabre-toothed tiger to her cubs, that this branch, or bunch of leaves, or my tail is your prey.  Chase it.  Seize it.  Subdue it. At the same time, they are being trained to distinguish between play and reality, because if they get too carried away imagining mama’s tail to be prey and actually hurt her, she will swat them halfway into the Paleolithic. An inelegant beginning for such a lofty attribute.

Obviously, imagination is conducive to both individual and species survival.  If I were that prey animal, which way would I be headed right now?  Oh yeah, toward the water hole! The whole point of imagination is the ability to reason contrary to or in the absence of fact. Let’s stop sneering at coulda, woulda, shoulda.  They are what make us competent animals. 

Once we have learned the proper use of imagination, we can practice its use through stories and art, and hone it until it leads us to the Great Commandment.  Imagine that your neighbor is like you–as yourself–and then love.

Jane Grey

Sentence First, Verdict Afterwards–the 1968 Convention part II

March 16, 2008

A couple of posts back, I reminisced about the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention.  I left it in the middle of the Battle of the Conrad Hilton, as Mr. Wired and I were in the process of gaining our second bedroom.  The Convention had, in many ways, been foredoomed to be a total mess.  The cab drivers were on strike.  The CTA was threatening a strike.  The cops had been subjected to a month-long barrage of scare stories about what the anti-war demonstrators were planning.  The Black communities on the South and West Sides were still traumatized and on edge from the assassination of Dr. King earlier in the year.  Everybody was jumpy. 

 Downtown was almost literally an armed camp for the entire week of the Convention. Camouflaged trucks full of troops drove up and down Michigan Avenue and parked in front of most of the major buildings.  Police were three-deep on Loop street corners.  Like most people who lived in the neighborhoods, I was nervous about the lack of policing out there. I knew exactly what I would do if I were a mugger–go out to the neighborhoods and pick off every little old lady’s purse I could find while the cops were all downtown.

Naturally, after all that, Nixon got elected.  And early the next year, the federal prosecutors issued their indictments.  They were exquisitely even-handed.  Eight police officers, for using excessive force, and eight antiwar activists.   All of the cops were acquitted.  Then came the trial of the activists, a chaotic mixture of old-line pacifists, student organizers, civil rights leaders, and wild-eyed cultural revolutionaries.  Bizarrely, they were charged with “conspiring to incite a riot.”  As several people pointed out at the time, most of them had never met or talked to each other before the indictments, and wouldn’t have been able to agree on anything if they had. 

The trial was the social event of the year for the local peace movement.  Although it was officially a public trial, it was held in a relatively small courtroom, half of which was full of press.  Anybody else who wanted to get in had to wait in line for the better part of an hour before the morning or afternoon session.  I managed to find the time to wait for admission into the afternoon session one day.  While I waited, the federal marshals walked back and forth scrutinizing us.  One marshal looked very suspiciously at me, then went on to the end of the line, turned around, came back, and squinted at me again.  This time he gestured me to get out of the line and talk to him.  “Weren’t you thrown out of Judge Hoffman’s courtroom last week?”  he asked.  I pointed out that I had not yet managed to get in, much less be thrown out.  He shook his head, finding me less than credible, and took me upstairs, to be scrutinized by the female marshal in charge of chucking women out of Hoffman’s courtroom. She looked at me for a long time, before finally saying no, she’s not the one.  By the time I got back downstairs, I had lost my place in line, and never did get into the courtroom.  The trial rolled on without my ever getting to see it, and came to its end with all of the defendants and both of their lawyers being sentenced to years in prison for contempt.   The jury threw out all the conspiracy charges, and acquitted two of the defendants altogether.  The others were convicted on relatively minor charges.  Later on, of course, every conviction, including the ones for contempt, was reversed on appeal for one or another technical blooper on Judge Hoffman’s part. It was one of the most prodigious wastes of the taxpayer’s money ever to grace the federal court system.

Ten years later, I was a federal law enforcement official myself, working for EPA and going up to Hibbing, Minnesota to serve some warrants on a polluter.  My plane came in at the Duluth airport, and a federal marshal was detailed to drive me from there to Hibbing.  It was a two-hour drive, and we got to talking. He had been posted in Chicago during the Conspiracy Trial, so I told him my story, wondering if he could tell me which dangerous person I looked so much like.  He thought about it a few minutes.  “Jerry Rubin’s girlfriend, I think,” he said finally.  Great Cosmic Riddle Solved.

 My path crossed those of many of the dramatis personae, most notably Abbie Hoffman–our daughter baby-sat for his son (America, whom our daughter could not bring herself to call anything but “Ricky.”)  Twenty-eight years later, America was in Chicago for the 1996 Democratic Convention, and so was his brother Andy (ye gads what a gorgeous young man, like a Botticelli angel!) who helped me break into my car when I locked the keys in.  That year, I represented one of the defendants in the second Chicago Convention conspiracy trial, which involved another odd lot of activists who could not have conspired to order a pizza for lunch (literally–some of them were hard-line vegans, and some were omnivores.)  My client, by the way, was the only person I have ever represented who had a letter from the Dalai Lama attesting to his good character.  That trial, held in state rather than federal court this time, ended in acquittals for everybody too.  The judge, Themis Karnezis (who is now on the Appeals Court), was nothing like Julius Hoffman. He had a low tolerance for b.s., and could not understand why the Cook County State’s Attorney was willing to spend the better part of a year on and off to get a conviction of such utterly harmless people on such flimsy evidence. 

 Before that trial, I had been a little skeptical of the conventional wisdom among lefty lawyers that cops routinely lie on the witness stand.  But we put a high-ranking cop on the stand on a Friday afternoon and kept him there until 8:30 that night because every time this paragon of perjurers, this prince of prevaricators  opened his mouth, he contradicted either the video record, the testimony of another cop, or his own previous testimony.  Do most cops lie on the stand?  I don’t know.  But I know that when they do, some of them at least put on a really bravura performance.

 The Chicago Conspiracy Trial shaped politics and law for decades afterward, as well as tweaking individual lives, including mine, in some very strange ways.  I cannot imagine the movie being anywhere near as weird as the real thing.

Red Emma

Hillary: Not a Party Girl?

March 9, 2008

Late last year, the Democratic National Committee promulgated a rule to the state parties, forbidding them to schedule any primary on or before the date when Iowa and New Hampshire held theirs (January 3rd and 20th, respectively.) The penalty for violation was that the delegates from the wrongdoing state would not be seated at the convention, and their votes would not be counted.

States have been getting increasingly indignant about the primary process as the final results have happened earlier and earlier, well before many of the most populous states voted. Many of them have moved up their primaries in response. In response to this trend, the party wanted to put some sort of limit on early primaries. Was January 20 the best choice of a limit? Who knows? Anyway, Michigan and Florida held theirs on January 15.

Obama chose not to run or campaign in either state. Clinton ran in both, and did some campaigning.

The DNC responded by refusing to count the delegates elected in the Michigan and Florida elections, though they are now at least allowing them to attend the convention, wear funny hats, carry signs, and in general whoop it up.

If one of the candidates had already pulled well ahead of the other, we would probably never hear another word about Michigan and Florida, since their delegates not only wouldn’t count, they wouldn’t matter. But Obama and Clinton are almost dead even, and likely to stay that way through the rest of the primaries. Both of them need those delegates.

Obama says a rule is a rule and a penalty is a penalty. Clinton says “let the people decide.” She insists that the voters of Michigan and Florida have a right to have their votes counted somehow or other. Is this purely a matter of self-interest, given that she won all the delegates in both states? Not necessarily, because at the outset of the primary season, she urged Obama to campaign and run in those states too.

Aside from which, what most people who want to repair this mess are talking about, is allowing both states to do the primary over, presumably with both candidates on the ballot this time. Of course, the major problem is money–a regular ballot-box election in both states would cost roughly $40 million or so. Neither state government is offering to supply that money. It has been pointed out that “soft [ie unrestricted] money” can be raised for the party organizations to cover those costs, and apparently that is being seriously considered in some quarters. There have also been proposals for elections by mail, which would be cheaper by some unspecified amount.

The how-to problem will probably get resolved by some miraculous infusion of real or virtual money within the next few weeks. But the issues of political morality are more complicated. The courts, in previous decisions having to do with primary elections, have said both that a political party is a private organization with the right to make and enforce its own rules, and that sometimes it isn’t, ie when its rules infringe on the right of the voter (the most important cases on that subject were those involving the infamous “white primaries” of the Southern Democratic parties before the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional in 1944.) Obama appears to share the former position. Clinton, although she hasn’t actually said so in any detail, seems to think that any party rule which denies the voters the right to have their votes counted is unconstitutional, no different from a whites-only primary.

The closest the Supreme Court has come to enunciating the respective rights of state party organizations and state governmental electoral authorities was in the infamous Bush v. Gore decision, which started out with the explicit statement that it was not to be used as precedent for any later decision. So for all practical purposes the question is still open.

I desperately hope the Supremes never get a shot at it, given the mess they made of Bush v. Gore. And I’m actually more interested in the ethical merits of the case. Who’s the bad guy here? Is there a good guy? Let’s look at all the players: the states, the DNC, Obama, and Clinton.

The states chose to move their primaries up so as to have some real influence on the outcome, surely a legitimate end. But one of its major effects, as we are all well aware by now, is to stretch out the campaign season to an almost unendurable length. And the spectacle of the states madly jostling to be first out of the gate is, at best, unedifying, and at worst, obnoxious.

The DNC, in an effort to keep the primaries from oozing into the year before the general election (or why not the year before that?) drew the line. They drew it so as to preserve the traditional First State status of New Hampshire and Iowa. Why? Who knows? Love of tradition? (Conservative Founder Edmund Burke says, “when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.”) Some effective lobbying from New Hampshire and Iowa? Money under the table? (That seems unlikely, but cannot be completely written off.) The results of a hot game of draw poker?

The DNC made the rule, and made utterly clear the penalties for violating it. Michigan and Florida violated it. Now, says the DNC, they must pay the price. Unfortunately, the price is actually being paid by the voters of those states. “That’s representative democracy,” the party tells them. “Like when the legislature passes a tax–even the citizens who opposed it are required to pay it. Your legislature moved up the primary in violation of party rules. They were the ones who chose to disenfranchise you, not the DNC. Don’t blame us, we’re just following our own rules.” The DNC might also be justified in pointing out that the decision to move up the primaries was a popular one, among voters who were tired of getting to the party after all the food was gone and the band was shutting down, so to speak.  This was not a decision snuck in behind closed doors at 2 AM in blatant opposition to the will of the people.  So let those people pay for the decision, why not?

Mr. Wired, with whom we have had passionate arguments on this subject, says Obama’s acquiescence to the disenfranchisement of the voters of Florida and Michigan brands him as a party hack, willing to go along with whatever the bosses decide in their smoke-filled rooms.  Clinton’s “let the people decide” makes her the true populist, the independent thinker, the person who has taken a principled stand in favor of democratic (with a small d) process.

Others (I’m not sure where I stand on this right now) would say that Obama is a team player, and Clinton is willing to countenance breaking the rules if it gets her delegates. (Which, of course, in a do-over election, it might not. So much for that argument.)

Do we want to strengthen individual voters and candidates, as against party organization?  Does it matter that this time, the party in question is the Democrats? Maybe it does.  Which may sound strange coming from someone who, back in 1968 (see previous posting) actually tried to burn her voter registration card (which identified her as a Democrat) when the convention voted down a peace platform.  (BTW, the darn thing wouldn’t light.)  That convention was the last and biggest blast of the old-style party politics.  It selected a candidate who had not even run in any of the primaries, much less won.  Compared to that, what may or may not ultimately happen to the voters of Michigan and Florida is small potatoes.

I’m skittish now about anything that weakens the role of the parties, especially the Democratic party, and turns the electoral process into more of a popularity contest than it already is.  It’s bad enough being restricted to our current one-and-a-half party system (why is it that a society that can give us 150 kinds of toothpaste and 60 flavors of ice cream can only produce two more or less different political parties?)–why make it any worse?

Mr. Wired advocates a one-day nationwide primary sometime around April (for considerations of weather), with a runoff if necessary within one or two weeks afterward. He points out, reasonably enough, that in the national general election, we frown on  publishing East Coast state results even hours or minutes before the West Coast and Hawaii polls are shut down.  Why should primaries be different, with weeks and months between the various states?

One of the reasons most often given is that we want the primaries to be a process,  in which the voters in the later primaries are affected by what has happened previously.  It’s the difference between the baseball playoffs and a round robin tournament, I guess (though I’m weak on sports metaphors, and may be totally wrong about this one.)  But maybe, given where we are now, that’s not such a good idea anyway.  We already spend too much of our electoral decision time looking over our shoulder to see what everybody else is doing or has done or might do.  Why can’t we bring back the secret ballot, for real, with everybody deciding simultaneously, in isolation?  At least try it for a couple of cycles, just to see how it works out. 

All of our tinkering with party rules should be tentative anyway, and we shouldn’t be bashful about backtracking on any of it.  Were the 1972 changes such a great idea?  Do we maybe want the smoke-filled rooms back (but without the smoke, obviously)? 

So anyway, reasonable people can differ on whether Obama is a team player or a party hack, and whether Clinton is an independent thinker or a hot-dogger.  And with any luck, the DNC will work out some sort of compromise, preferably on other people’s money, that expresses the will of the voters in Michigan and Florida, preferably as of now rather than back in January. 

Red Emma

Return With Me Now to Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear…

March 2, 2008

Somebody has just released a movie about the “Chicago Conspiracy” and the 1968 Democratic Convention and its accompanying festivities.  I’m a little spooked to realize that the convention happened nearly 40 years ago, and I was there. At the time, I realized it was an Agincourt Moment.  You know,

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
    And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’

“And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
    Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

Having been raised on Shakespeare and English history, I saw most of the earthshaking events I was actually somehow connected with in that light.   I have gotten to do the St. Crispin’s day routine only once or twice so far, but maybe it’s time to do it again.

At the time—August 28, 1968—I was 26 years old, married, working on a graduate degree at the University of Chicago, and teaching college English at Roosevelt University, a small liberal arts college distinguished at the time mainly by being located across Michigan Avenue from Grant Park.Like most people I knew, I was distressed about the Vietnam War, and the murders of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.  I had been to a couple of small, uneventful anti-war demonstrations. I believed in nonviolence. 

And I had been reading the stories in the Chicago papers  about the mayor’s anticipation of mayhem and murder in the streets and LSD in the water supply.  Since Chicago’s water supply comes directly from Lake Michigan, and it doesn’t take much water to dilute LSD to utter insignificance, I wasn’t much worried about that part of the predictions.  But the mayhem etc. in the streets had already been happening for nearly a week.  The previous Saturday night, I had been to a Country Joe McDonald concert, and the next morning in the Sunday paper, I saw that Country Joe had been beaten up by unidentified assailants shortly afterward.  Reporters had been dragged off the street by police (nothing unidentified about them) and beaten up. 

So that Wednesday, the 28th, I went to the rally in what is now the Old Bandshell (actually it’s the Old Old Bandshell, as opposed to the Petrillo Bandshell which succeeded it and which has now in turn been succeeded by yet another bandshell in Millenium Park), with a friend of mine who was a reporter for the Chicago Daily News.  I think I just figured he would know where all the interesting stuff would be happening. 

It started out as a fairly ordinary anti-war rally, if “ordinary” is ever the appropriate term for such an event.  At the beginning, we even believed there was a permit for it.  Like most of the people there, I wouldn’t have been there if I thought it didn’t have a permit.  Later on, somebody announced that the permit had been revoked.  Nobody was about to disband at that point. 

Lots of speeches, by Allan Ginsburg, Norman Mailer, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, and, I think, a student of mine who had just burned his draft card, along with lots of other people whose names I no longer remember and may not even have known at the time.  Ginsburg did his usual mantra, to calm the energies of the situation, he said.  It sort of worked for a while.   Then Rennie Davis talked about the increasing levels of casualties in Vietnam, and went to pull down the American flag that flew in front of the bandshell.  Several of the people in attendance began chanting “half-staff, half-staff”, which we thought made more sense than pulling it down altogether.  A melee ensured at the flagpole.  I couldn’t see much of it, but at the end of it, the flag was down, and Davis emerged with his head bleeding.   

Somebody with a radio announced to us, at one point, that the Convention had voted down a proposed anti-war platform plank.  On the roof of the Field Museum behind us, the National Guardsmen were posted, their rifles at the ready and pointed toward us.  I realized for the first time that we were The Enemy.  I rehearsed in my mind the motions necessary to dive under a bench if shooting started.  It didn’t. 

When the rally ended, we all decided to march to the Amphitheater (where the Convention was being held.)  We formed up in lines, with Dellinger calling out, “Helmets on the outside, women on the inside, protect your brothers and sisters, anyone who tries to incite you to violence is a provocateur…” 

And then we realized we were surrounded on all sides by the National Guard.  We were, clearly, not going anyplace anytime soon.  People sat down on the grass in the sunshine, broke out lunches and radios, sharing both with anybody in the vicinity.  For an hour or so, it was a vast picnic. 

As I sat listening to the Convention proceedings on some stranger’s radio, I realized someone was calling my name.  I had to look around a couple of times to ascertain that it was one of the National Guardsmen.  I got up to see who he was (it’s hard to distinguish faces under the helmets) and discovered it was one of my students from the previous semester, who had taken an Incomplete and still owed me a paper.  We talked a while about when he was going to get me his paper, and what was the College’s drop-dead date for Incompletes.  When I went back to the people I had been sitting with, they were all amazed to hear that a National Guardsman could be a student, with grades and papers and Incompletes just like anybody else. 

After a while, people got tired of sitting and angrier at what they heard happening at the Convention, so we got up again to try to march to the Amphitheater.  The National Guardsman moved around enough that we couldn’t tell whether we would be permitted to march. 

After a while it became obvious that we not only wouldn’t be allowed to march, we weren’t even being allowed to leave the park.  Lots of miscellaneous individuals, including me, tried to make end runs around the obstacles. By that time, all I wanted to do was get to the train (the entrance was just outside the park) and go home. I had not the slightest intention of going to the Amphitheater or doing anything else illegal. I worked my way toward the train entrance, when people began calling out, “the soldiers have their masks on.”  Which meant gas masks, I realized a bit too late, which meant that they were preparing to use tear gas.  The back of my throat started to itch.  Then my eyes stung.  And teared.  Amazingly, I got out to the sidewalk outside the park, and at the water fountain there, I washed my eyes until they stopped hurting.  Dripping and red-faced, I headed for the train entrance.  Surrealistically, I passed a middle-aged Black man walking a poodle.  He said something to me that sounded like, of all things, a pass.  I couldn’t believe it, so I ignored it and zipped down the stairs to the train.

The train schedules were messed up, of course.  By the time I finally got home, it was well after dark.  My husband and our British neighbor from across the hall were sitting on the end of the bed watching what later became known as the Battle of the Conrad Hilton.  The Conrad Hilton was directly across the street from Grant Park, and was as far as those who had stuck to their plan to march to the Amphitheater actually got before being attacked by the police.

The most personal consequence of the ’68 Convention for me (and my husband) was that our aforementioned British neighbor and his wife were so disgusted at what they saw that night that they moved to Vancouver six months later.  Their apartment had two bedrooms; ours had one.  We took over their apartment, bought it when the building went condo 12 years later, and are still living there today.  I still sometimes feel mildly grateful to the First Mayor Daley for having a second bedroom.

A note about media statistics:  when we first got to the rally, my reporter friend, who was after all responsible for getting the facts straight, asked one of the police on the scene how many people he estimated were there.  The cop said, “Well, the capacity of this place is ten thousand.  All the seats are filled and there’s people standing all over the place, so figure twelve thousand.”  When I got home that night, the news was giving the crowd count at the bandshell as seven thousand.  The ten o’clock news said five thousand.  When I woke up the next morning, the radio news said two thousand.  I stopped listening at that point, afraid that if I didn’t, we might all just disappear.

Back then I had not yet become Red Emma.  I was definitely Jane Grey, so I will sign this in her name.

Jane Grey