Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark
Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 60 in November, 1968, this story appeared in Issue 100 in 1998 after being selected for publication in the retrospective volume Evergreen Review Reader 1967-1973.
Past fright, past exhilaration, past terror, past awe, past exhaustion, everything that happened that week in Chicago had a rightness about it. It came and went away so fast and hard that we may lose that sense of it.
Every night when I went to sleep, I saw lines and lines of blue helmets and blue shirts, and, later in the week, Guardsmen in fatigue uniforms with gas masks on and rifles at the ready. They were just standing there in my head as I went to sleep, and they turned slowly and looked at me, facing me as I went to sleep. They were not clubbing, not charging, not tear-gassing, not wildly beating anyone, not jerking the wounded out of hospitals and shoving them into paddy wagons, not breaking into private homes and dragging kids into the street for beating. They were just standing there, blocking the startling and vivid rush of imagery that begins when the waking mind lets go and I am not yet fully asleep. They were standing in a sourceless surreal light at night under trees or along streets. They were not facing demonstrators or Yippies, these cops and soldiers in my mind. They were facing me. If there was a stir in their lines, it was not a violent stir, it was the stir of underwater slow motion or of a beast sleeping. They were not threatening me in any overt way, they were not preventing me from going to sleep. They were not the obsessive squirrel-cage rush of cards or highway signs after a long night of poker or a hard day's driving, or the elements of any obsessive task. They simply stood there and blocked my dreams.
It is guilty, this power that lets these cops and soldiers be there in the mind and in the streets, blocking dreams, and it must die. It is guilty of blocking off and attacking to drive away that which will not be driven away, of blocking access, of blocking movement and anticipation in soul and time and history, in the relations of man to man.
The violence in front of the Hilton on Wednesday evening, that got such a spectacular play on TV, occurred because a series of events during the afternoon (that was up for grabs from moment to moment) resulted in a nonviolent march that was blocked but wouldn't go away. If blocking off does not cause people and intentions to go away, then the next response is attack. If attack does not do the job, then the next response is more attack, pitching higher each time, until the cops are wrecked by their own rage.
The Yippies were blocked from getting a permit to sleep in Lincoln Park, but they didn't go away, and so they were attacked, again and again, night after night, in Lincoln Park and in the streets of Old Town and other areas. The police attack in Lincoln Park for four nights was at or near the level of the violence in front of the Hilton that one time Wednesday evening. The National Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam (the Mobe) was blocked from getting a permit to march to the Amphitheater, but the marchers didn't go away, so they were attacked, again and again. Inside the convention, the McCarthy people were blocked, but would not keep quiet and would not go away, so they were attacked. The McCarthy kids, blocked from their main intention of ending the Vietnam war, would not go away because they went over to the demonstrators' side, and they were attacked. McCarthy himself, that strange man, blocked from greater effect by Richard Hughes and the Credentials Committee and by the finagling of timing on the vote on the minority report of the Rules Committee, would not go away. He crossed the lines of troops and cops to speak uneasily to the demonstrators, and, within a few hours, Ms headquarters in the Hilton was attacked. There is the wisdom of God in the stupidity of tyrants.
I stood Wednesday midnight with three Chicago newsmen on the grassy triangle at Lincoln and Clark Streets opposite the park that was empty that night of kids because a rumor was out that a cop had been killed downtown and, next to party disloyalty, the major crime all over the world is killing a cop. We were watching lines of troops and cops sweep the empty park, using flares, while a helicopter yammered round and round overhead with its searchlight playing through the trees. It was not hard to imagine the machine gun behind the searchlight One of the Chicago newsmen said, "This whole thing has moved me so far left I can see the back of my head. Do you realize I started out Sunday as an Adlai Stevenson Democrat?"
But the cops were frustrated because the park was empty and the kids would not go away in the streets and so the cops were escalating their attack every night. A few minutes later I was driving down Clark Street back to the Hilton, following one of those creepy buses, with its lights out, huge and packed with cops. It stopped at the corner of LaSalle and Clark where kids were congregated, milling and looking around, Yippies, residents, and tourists. They had every fight to be on that sidewalk, but no one thought anymore in terms of civil rights. We thought in terms of citizens' protection and a citizens' underground, and the makings of it were showing fast in the Lincoln Park area. The cops came out of that bus as if they were shot from a gun, howling and running as hard as they could after screaming kids who were running as hard as they could to get away, the cops beating everyone in reach with their clubs, jamming them up against the wall of the building, ramming them in the groin, and if a kid was caught in a no-exit situation, between cars, he was beaten senseless. The cops were incensed by the traffic that was stopped with all the chasing in the streets and they hit cars with their clubs and told them to move even when they couldn't move because the car in front of them couldn't move and the car behind couldn't either. On LaSalle, cop cars were making mighty believable attempts to run down groups of kids. A cop hit my car with a club and told me to move. I'd already been hit on the head once, and I'd come to regard getting clubbed as a practical problem, devoid of any social or political implication, a ghetto attitude. There were no media nearby. This was Wednesday midnight after the great event on national TV that evening.
This was a white man's conventions battle inside and outside, in the Amphitheater and in the Hilton, in the streets and in the parks, between white owners and their white sons and daughters. The owners came from within the city and from outside the city, just as their white sons and daughters came from here and elsewhere. The police invasion, almost entirely white in the Lincoln Park area, came from within the city, and some cops knew that their sons and daughters and kid brothers and sisters were on the other side. The Chicago black community, where a variety of separatist movements and attitudes are strong, shunned the convention, snubbed it. They never had it so good, the pigs were somewhere else, cracking white skulls for once. This was family war, family rage, miraculously stopping short of killing, though concussions and broken bones and arrests and beatings in police vans and stations went beyond numbering. They talk about restraint It was the Yippies and the demonstrators, who would not go away, who always pulled back at the point where cops would escalate to killing and, necessarily, Yippies and demonstrators would too. The blacks were wry and astonished.
There were very few blacks among the Yippies. Even fewer among the Mobe, and blacks were hardly present at all among the McCarthy workers. Blacks were more in evidence in the convention itself, where every effort was made to immobilize them as a major force in this country by slowly giving precedent for representation according to population percentages. The blacks within the convention, the Willie Browns and the Julian Bonds, were generally brighter, quicker, more aggressive, and more robust in feeling than their white counterparts. The young whites, particularly among the McCarthy workers and often in the New Left, were cool, manipulative, naive, arrogant, and with small presence of feeling. They didn't know yet that they had cops in their minds.
But as moment was booted into moment, and day into day, and we didn't know where the toe of history was going to kick us next, a number of black kids, made wonderfully curious by the sights on TV, began to show up both in Lincoln Park and in Grant Park by the Hilton. Most of them thought the Yippies were taking risks so dumb on the face of it that participation on their part was impossible. In Lincoln Park, on that deadly-feeling Monday night behind the barricade made of picnic tables and trash cans and the bonfires and the black and red flags flying in the media floodlights, a black boy suddenly stopped among the trees, as if with revelation, and screamed, "Black brothers! Black brothers! Get out of this motherfucking park! Them are white cops! They'll kill you, black brother, they'll kill you, if they catch you in this motherfucking park!" The black brothers knew the truth of it and they were already in motion to get out of the park, except for a black Yippie leader who always stayed with whites anyway.
Wednesday night there was a confused black caucus in back of the demonstrators in Grant Park confronting the Hilton, a lot of the blacks in African garb, and one black voice yelled to his fellows, "I ain't going to help any white man do anything! I ain't even going to help any white man get his skull cracked!" There were black guys who spoke through the demonstrators' portable speaker, and the Yippies and the demonstrators gave token appearance in support of a black CTA worker strike, but the number of blacks involved did not increase much. There were black comments on the sidewalks, though. There was a black man on the sidewalk in front of the Hilton who turned to the black woman beside him and said, with a sort of quiet, "Actually, no one is safe."
On Thursday afternoon and night, when two marches went into the fringe of the ghetto before they were stopped by a wall of soldiers with bayonets and a .50 caliber machine gun on a personnel carrier, first under the viaduct at 16th Street and next at night at 18th Street, the black people were answering the white marchers everywhere from cars, from windows, from sidewalks, with laughter, with applause, and with the Yippie sign, now become, in feeling anyway, the salute of revolution. They were honking their horns in sympathy and humor, as did whites on Michigan by the Hilton and on LaSalle and Clark by Lincoln Park. As I moved among them on the sidewalks, there was always that wry astonishment. The blacks, unlike the whites, taunted the troops and the cops with a sense of humor- "I know how you feel, brother. It's hell standing over there."
The reason the march was allowed as far as 18th Street on Thursday was not because Daley feared what the demonstrators would do at the Amphitheater, which was well-protected and ten exhausting miles away, but because beyond 18th Street is deep ghetto and God and Daley knew what might happen.
But the riots and the insurrections of the black community in the past three years did influence events, in style of police tactics. The Chicago cops gave warning what they would do in the April black insurrection and in the April peace march that was clubbed and driven out of the Civic Center plaza. They were more prepared during convention week for an uprising in the ghetto than they were for what actually happened. They were at a peak of training and conditioning, and their tactics came out of the heads of some of our most prominent sociologists, who are piggish in that they believe that any problem will yield to a prescribed or acceptable solution if we just apply sufficient brain-power, manpower, machine-power, fire-power, money-power, or just plain force. That a problem might even be helped to generate its own solution is too paradoxical and too threatening and much beyond them, because nothing scares the Monster more than letting people do what they want to do. The sociologists are going to say that the cops did not use their advice correctly and the National Guard did. The fact is that by the time the Guard came into it, the great and deadly energy was turned, by force of will on the part of many Yippies and demonstrators, back into dissent. The main idea in the contribution of these sociologists is that instead of shooting and killing there should be a massive show of force, of manpower, and quick stamping out the instant trouble starts. The Chicago cops took it so seriously they began stamping it out before it started.
From the moment the Yippies showed up in Lincoln Park the week before the convention and the Mobe began training its parade marshals on the ball diamond there, they were watched over by platoons of police, with helicopters overhead, and plainclothesmen mixing with Yippies and practically taking part in the marshals training program. This was during the week up to Sunday. Monday night, on the corner of Wells and North, after the streets had been cleared by blocking off and gassing and clubbing, there were crowds on all four corners and a great many blue shirts and blue helmets working their asses off, blowing whistles and thumping cars with their clubs and waving on traffic and shoving back bystanders. An old police sergeant said to a group of media men, "If my men would just quit blowing their whistles and take it easy, these people would go away." He shrugged and said he had his orders. Hundreds of times that week cops said,"I have my orders, buddy!"The sergeant was right in one sense, and every time I saw the police actually take it easy or go away, the demonstrators and Yippies also went away. But the event went much beyond the sergeant's wisdom.
There was a magnetic attraction of provocation between cops and Yippies and demonstrators. Allen Ginsberg chided the Yippies, saying that if you call a man a pig you bring the Pig out in him. That was shrewd, too, but the event pounded way beyond Ginsberg as it went way beyond every leader. And it may be that you don't get rid of the Pig until you name it and call it and bring it out, and only after a purge that knows its own reason, are you able to meet man to man. That happened in some areas of Chicago. The Yippies, during the day, were the only group who actually talked with the Cops, and the Yippies were the only group that some cops sought and talked with, big brother trying to straighten out kid brother and kid brother telling big brother why he was wrong. They were all out of the lower middle class, impulsive. There was a tall, quite distinguished Seagram's sort of man who was denied entrance to the Hilton Wednesday night because he didn't have a hotel key. He understood so well and congratulated the cops, "I think you boys are doing a fine job." And the cop who had denied him and was on the point of shoving him laughed uncontrollably.
The constant, massive presence of the cops to enforce the city's denial of permits exacerbated everybody with fear and hate. When I first came to Chicago in the late fifties, its police force was already known as the worst in the world, but for a different reason. It had become so corrupt that the price of a bribe for any crime was sinking lower every day. There was a scandal about some cops who had discovered the profits and pleasure of playing both sides of crime, and a solution was found in O. W. Wilson, the head of the Department of Criminology at the U. of California. The universities, again. The Chicago police department was modernized and computerized, and men with college degrees were sought to be policemen. Modern police science and Criminology went into the making of this department. They are fast, they can answer almost any call in three minutes. I have timed them. They still take bribes, and some still play both sides of the game, but they are different, and their technology is equivalent to that which we have visited upon Vietnam.
There was an escalation principle working between the cops and the Yippies, too. An insult from a Yippie demands one hard shove from a cop, a stronger insult means a club on the head, and a storm of abuse means wild beating. One Yippie kid hitting back with his bare fists means a whole neighborhood will be terrorized. Yippies finally arming themselves with rocks, ambushing cop cars and shattering every window and maybe hitting cops inside, means search and destroy missions will continue all night long.
Saturday and Sunday the Mobilization people, who planned huge marches and demonstrations, found their plans largely empty. There were no people to fill them, and both the Mobilization and McCarthy people had warned their supporters over the nation that coming to Chicago could be very dangerous. It seems that most people heeded the warning. There was one goal that the New Left admitted being concerned with, and that was winning over the McCarthy kids. They shared middle-class origins and there were such a lot of the McCarthy kids, and they worked hard, anybody would want their allegiance. Saturday the McCarthy kids, cool and well-protected with innocence and cynicism, sneered at the Yippies and the New Left, too, though Yippies and New Left were considerably divided on what they called the McCarthy phenomenon. The McCarthy kids felt themselves to be the advance guard of the new owners, and they felt they could make the system work for them. Wednesday their political orientation was broken, and they were on the streets getting gassed and clubbed too in their Ivy League suits, and their arrogant naivete was gone, for the time anyway, with the answer blowing in the wind.
It was what happened with the Yippies Sunday night in Lincoln Park, and escalated Monday and Tuesday nights, that filled the plans of the New Left with a stinging surprise, and sent out an impulse that zigzagged along the conduits of the real underground in our society, an impulse that jumped from the Yippies in Lincoln Park to the citizens of Lincoln Park, to the demonstrations in Grant Park and around the Hilton, to the McCarthy kids in the Hilton itself, and then into the Amphitheater where it sundered the Democratic convention. It was an impulse that destroyed old defenses and old connections and left behind a strong trail of new connections of consciousness.
The alliance between the Yippies and the New Left was loose and uneasy.New Left people don't dig the drug scene - oh, pot, that's all right now and then, but none of that zoom stuff - and the Yippies feel that many people in the New Left are the pigs of the revolution. New Left people are middle class, and there were a lot of working-class kids who called themselves Yippies in Lincoln Park. Yippies are impulsive, and New Left people try to plan everything. Yippies feel that New Left people are often stolid and a bit out of it. Monday afternoon, after the absurd breakthrough of the night before, there was a Mobe-organized demonstration in Grant Park in front of the Hilton. The demonstrators were donkeying around and around an asphalt path in the familiar pattern, but a lot of Yippies were sitting on the grass inside the circle and outside of it, staring sullenly at the Hilton. An SDS leader bellowed over the portable speaker. "If you are sitting on the grass, you are liable to arrest! Join the march!" The Yippies stayed right where they were, sitting on the grass, and stared at the Hilton, unmoved by any New Left exhortations.
It was the Yippies, in their mercurial fear and daring, who finally in Lincoln Park confronted the power of the state at its raw base, the police. It was an exercise in the absurd. They were the first to name, absurdly, the enemy, the Pig, the Monster, in the mind and in the society. They were the first to begin, absurdly, at the beginning. They wanted to sleep in Lincoln Park, where Chicagoans still go to sleep on hot nights and are not bothered by the police. They were denied permission, but they kept asking the city and they were obediently leaving the park at 11:00 PM. every night and leaving spotless grass behind them to show their good will. The training of parade marshals continued every day on the ball diamond. Hardly any of that training was ever used. It went up for grabs, except for the first-aid training, as did all the plans. The fight was over space, the fight is always over space, and the Pig eats space and will never be satisfied until the last bit of space is gone. The anthropologists, the bone boys, could have told the cops that they would be beaten. The invader of space is progressively weakened the deeper he carries the invasion, and the invaded becomes stronger in direct correlation. The Monster has carried the invasion very deep into the American mind and in Lincoln Park he tried to carry it all the way. Yippies could not stay and sleep in Lincoln Park, but demonstrators were permitted to stay in Grant Park in front of the Hilton all night long. In back of the demonstrators and among them, a sizable number of Yippies and other tired folk were wrapped up in blankets sleeping. It does not take long to draw the lesson about the Pig and space. The Yippies were increasingly pissed off about leaving the park every night at eleven and increasingly scared of what would happen if they didn't. Trash fires here and there in the park reflected off the leaves of trees. Drums were going day and night without ceasing. Kids were climbing in the trees-"Did you ever make love in a tree?" Ginsberg was Oming with a small group sitting around him. People were dispersed all over the park between the lagoon and LaSalle Street. Guitars. One large group was on the central sidewalk, drumming. Another group was down by the lagoon with drums, around a Chicago actor who was dancing, high as the clear night sky above him. Tall and thin, with a bizarre innuendo that will shake up anybody who does not know him, he had been taunting the Yippies for cowardice all afternoon. He lost his balance, dancing to the drums, and fell into the lagoon, and then swam out to the island, where he taunted the Yippies about starting the revolution on the island and staying in the park by holding the island against the cops. The caucusing group was on the eastern slope of the park under trees with the portable speaker. They discussed different alternatives all night long, and could agree on nothing except doing your own thing. There were those who advocated simple avoidance of conflict, those who advocated dispersal in small groups, those who advocated resistance and staying in the park, and those who advocated hitting the streets in demonstrations. None of these and all of them, in a fresh and spontaneous combination, happened. There was one boy in the middle of the caucusing group who was yelling, "Fuck the marshals! Down with the leaders!" There were a few people who agreed with him. Soon he and the Chicago actor were going to meet. No decision was made, and at a quarter to eleven the caucusing group and everyone else began drifting out of the park.