Chicago, First Day, Last Day

The First Day

        First I drove by Lincoln Park at noon, to see what's happening. Not much, just a loose cluster of kids pretending to be grooving: maybe two thousand, faint percentile shadow of the quarter-million promised and plausible all spring. Which suits me fine, to see so few: for, though I've come here deliberate hot and cold myself to help some ugliness reveal itself, I've still been warning kids off for months, traveling, laying out the vision of Convention Death Chicago, pure pool of danger.

        At worst now, few will go down. And I can almost pretend that the smiling young men in the autumngold sun of the park farther south are some new healthy version of Boy Scouts, with crisp tents and hand tools of wood and oiled metal. So picturesque in their olive uniforms, enjoying their encampment. Even old ladies smile at them, snap their shots with Polaroid "Swingers."

        I should Be Responsible, make the rounds of dim offices where my brothers are working. But I can't stomach another meeting, so I decide just to drive around and see what vibes I pick up from this city which has, by its preparations, already broadcast the message, and now waits in blind calm, not knowing what to do next, unable to alter the course of its fears.

        I weave in and out of the streets around the Amphitheater, center of the local beehive. Neighborhood's almost empty of people, but each corner hosts a small swarm in helmets and nightsticks, their uniforms glow bluer in the sun than a J. C. Penney work shirt. Enough of that, I know them from Berkeley the Haight New York Denver ... cop killa creep, pow pow pow.

        Likewise I already know about the people of North Lakeshore, where I'm staying on an umpteenth floor of wall-to-wall carpets and electrostatically precipitated air. I've read their romantic literature, I know what images my sideburns and moustache, shoulder-slung-weary leather camera bag, and all that send them flashing on. Romantic frosting on the cake of ice repugnance they're too polite to betray by more than a glance when we cross in the elevator. Not that I look much different from any other kid on the streets these days, maybe a little older.

        So I spin away from the Amphitheater in a widening spiral of aimless search. I drive through the black flatlands. Board houses with asphalt torn shingles, must date from when this was country. Streets lined with slim black people, dour long young men, girls in bright ribbons, in an aimless Picasso silence (Blue Period). Until I drive through: hippie, hippie, they cry; not the little jump-roping girls who shrill it elsewhere, but the young men already long jobless, their voices dusky with anger.

        I drive through the white flatlands. Dingy brick duplexes, isolated on tiny lawns like pathetic embattlements. Young men again, with the thick shoulders of Poles or some other rough ethnic. Not a sound, just stares. Except from those who sweep close in a muffler-blasting car, explode in derisive laughter. Enough, some food.

        BARBECUE BEEF! yells the sign, and I stop on some border between black and white. Peppers and generous beef, I lie on the lawn watching a gang of kids playing baseball, deep and timeless in that dear corny drama. "Here comes Easy-out, here comes Easy-out!" and up to the plate walks this skinny little kid, his bat already heavy with defeat, to ground out to the pitcher. I take a few pictures, feeling nostalgic and a bit unreal: am I sure this isn't Dearborn, Mich.? or maybe Manhattan, Kan.? And where does all the hate and killing come from anyway?

        I'm walking back to the car, this Resistance kid just in from Minnesota appears to ask me questions, with his bedroll, two young girls from the block rush up to answer, they're in bell-bottoms, maybe fourteen, and so I'm a taxi dropping people off. He goes to the Resistance's central office, near the university, from which seventy-five of his brothers are doing their deliberate solid organizing. Finishing his Ph.D. in physics, he is quiet, polite, intense. Jail glitters in his spectacles. He doesn't smile at the girls alive and easy with chatter and giggles, but they ask him what he does and listen earnestly while he explains: …  to build something new takes a total life commitment …

        On me the girls turn serious as we drive away. "I can't believe you didn't get jumped," says the tall one with braces and thoughtful eyes, "they jumped even me, I mean even me." "Yeah, three days ago," says her blonde buddy, "I just couldn't believe my eyes seeing someone like you just standing there. We thought we'd never get a ride. But if a gang of them had seen you …"

        I let them out at the Park, wander around for a while myself (they're amazed, too, that I leave my car unlocked). Kids are still doing mostly nothing. I decide to go home and read Playboy, sit with a Scotch (how quaint!) on the umpteenth floor, look out over this city's intricate vista of black and white, and think about what it all means.

        What it all means: Chicago is a Teaching Machine, and its lesson brings us -- the hip and radical young, America's white niggers -- almost up with the black people. For why have the ghettos been quiet this summer; has America changed? Scarcely. The black people now know it's for real, this matter of theirs, life and death. They have watched their local and national governments arm against them, and now ponder and organize what to do next.

        Likewise with us. Chicago advertised its lesson: cops and troops, against a landscape of simple hostility. We got the message in advance, which is why we stayed mostly away; now the other America will eat this vision of violence borne by the Media. We know now, too, that our matter is for real, watching our governments arm. And the sparseness of our presence here, like the black summer silence, is not acquiescence. For while Humphrey's Convention plays out its charade, and after, while the country slides right toward the election, new styles of action will be debated, fanned, and resolved among us. Perhaps they are already presaged in the industrial sabotage spreading through the San Francisco area for about the last year? Whatever. But that so few came to this war they've staged doesn't promise peace.      

The Last Day

        Tear gas isn't so bad, after you get used to it. By the third day no one panicked and ran, and few complained though it billowed in gusts for eight hours straight. It's a bummer, but you recover if you don't rub your eyes, and the only place really to fear it would be in a closed space, like inside a corridor.

        It sure made an air pollution problem, though, and distinguished the general action. They gassed and beat kids out of Lincoln Park Tuesday night. The next night they broke up our planned march opposite the Hilton with massive clubbing and gassing, and on Thursday unloaded more soldiers than you can imagine in a dream of boot camp on the street to divide the Hilton, which they imagined we were going to storm, from us, four thousand raggedy pretty kids sitting on a compact mass of park we'd liberated, steeped in tear gas and waiting to get stormed and impounded in magnificent on-the-spot cages formed from their barbed-wire-enclosed jeeps. Like a movie set. Would you be surprised if they got a training film out of this affair?

        The rest is familiar, from the streets of the Haight, Berkeley, Oakland, Sunset Strip, Century Plaza, Whitehall, the Pentagon, and so on, where now perhaps forty thousand kids have received this odd form of training. Seen one street action, seem 'em all (so far). Save for novelties like sustained tear gas and them soldiers, Chicago was simply more extensive than any other in its damage and drama.

        After each time I tell myself: the next time I have to watch a cop clubbing and clubbing a fallen chick, or leaning down to squirt mace in the face of someone three others are kicking and beating, I'm simply going to crack, and pick up a brick and try to kill one. And the line of cops charged in screaming Kill Kill Kill, and I didn't, and nobody did, as usual. And split heads turn out to be an interesting if fairly predictable art form after you get used to them. And the medics were fearless and brave and totally magnificent, as always and even more so, constantly rushing with gauze and tape and squeeze-bottles of liquid to wash tear-gassed eyes.

        There was visible evolution in the community and coordination of people on the street, who grew from a discontented bickering rabble to a group able to move together and begin to protect its own and keep coherence under stress. Granted, no one was actually rescued from the cops by battle, as far as I saw, though two stray cops were beaten joyously. But if the Thursday march, that was tear-gassed at 18th Street and regrouped opposite the Hilton to face the National Guard, had been allowed to proceed toward the Amphitheater, it might have held together well against the neighborhood gangs. who were waiting on street corners with piles of garbage and cans and stones, and signs reading DOWN WITH HIPPIES!

        Anyway, what I mean to report is that (a) we learned again that you can't fight the fuzz by massing in the streets, you get smashed; and (b) the way this group of strangers learned to move together under stress augers well for our survival adaptability in even quite more violent circumstances. Which may well be coming. For can you believe Nixon vs. Humphrey? Or not flash that they'll move to smash us? And meanwhile kids in their growing strangeness have all this energy that will out, and no place within the system to park it. Campuses will blow like popcorn this fall.

        I should mention that I imagine the images over the teIly, of what went on both within and without that Death Convention, will spin around many people ‘s heads, in America and around the world. In the sense of a massive media-multiplication and -manipulation, our action in Chicago was a total success. It was too tremendous an exposure, all that could be hoped for. Or planned for. And my only gripe with the notorious YIPPIE! and National Mobilization organizers is that what happened was perfectly predictable; and that organizing for Chicago should have been carried out honestly on this basis, instead of with images of lollipop non-violent Festivals of Affirmation, or of clockwork controlled coordinated demonstrations, which were bullshit from the start.

        I'm glad our people have more sense than their leaders. So many sensed the dangers well, so few showed, and these so well. We made our point at the cheapest possible price, a few hundred split skulls. Given the army of destruction they saw in our few thousands, can you imagine how they'd have over-reacted had even 50,000 of our brethren with their passions showed up, and how many dead we'd be mourning? The time for that's not yet. Pardon my sad fantasies. But everyone senses that Chicago is not over, that it's another in a series of beginnings. Something's going on, and it's getting clashy and turbulent.

        One other thing I saw in Chicago has left me thoughtful. I've been seeing street people -- activists, hippies, what have you -- and picking up on their recent tone and gossip across the country. Moods sweep us, partly as a result of our training in the Fad Machine of America's technological economy. Our sound's been growing darker, harder. Guns. Up Against The Wall, Mafia threatening our friendly neighborhood dope dealers, sabotage, check the state of your stomach, hard rain's started falling.

        But here we were, this brief community of a few thousand kids, huddled choking and weeping with tear gas, waiting to get creamed by this array of soldiers that just kept arriving and arriving. And nobody during the three days had really seriously flung stuff at the cops; and despite the surrounding social evidence, our mood was not one of killing. And everyone was singing; and I could hardly believe my ears, pardon the cliche, but it was like dirt had been scrubbed off the apple-cheeked face of the calendar of some long-ago year when we were young in our hope and hadn't yet run around telling each other to go see Battle of Algiers.

        We were singing "America the Beautiful" and "We shall not be moved" and "Lay down my sword and shield," all tbe same corny stuff kids waiting for the cops sang during the FSM in 1964, in S.F. City Hall during the I960 HUAC demonstrations, in the South, at the Pentagon, and at peace marches, god knows where else. Also Dylan's "Blowing in the wind" and "The times they are a-changing"; and Phil Ochs in harmonic person. You can identify a people, a culture, by their music. And maybe tell a bit about them; draw your own conclusions. But I just wanted to say that, despite the grime of recent time, and the sad early knowledge we're beginning to accumulate, and our premonitions, the face we turned up in Chicago was the same face we've been working with and trying to will into social existence, all these long twelve wandering years of the Movement. We are still in some sort of touch with our selves.

August 1968


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