Monday, August 20, 2018

Plan to block O’Hare resonates with 1968 protests, and not in a good way

     What did sleeping in a city park have to do with ending the Vietnam War?
     A lot, apparently.
     To some people, that is, a long time ago.
     Many, actually, based on the thousands of protesters who insisted on occupying Lincoln and Grant parks, 50 years ago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, which will be much in the public eye over the next week as it nears its Golden Anniversary. For four nights, protesters tried to stay in the parks past the 11 p.m. curfew, and the city sent police to clear them out.
     I wish interest were mere nostalgia for the days when hippies clashed with baby blue helmeted cops.
     But instead it seems ripped from today’s headlines, like “Lake Shore Drive protest leader vows to shut down O’Hare traffic on Labor Day.”
     The Rev. Gregory Livingston, who led protesters to shut down Lake Shore Drive Aug. 2, now plans to reprise his triumph on the highway leading to O’Hare International Airport on Labor Day, Sept. 3.
     But before we consider that, let’s reflect a moment on that convention protest. The Democrats were nominating benign political hack Hubert Humphrey, despite his not having run in a single primary. The Hump was expected to continue LBJ’s policy of miring us deeper into Vietnam. Young people, required to fight and die in that war, were not happy about this.
     Had Mayor Richard J. Daley let them protest, violence could have been avoided. But he wanted to keep his city under control — his control — and squashed the protests, magnifying them.
     Eventually, cities learned that a softer touch works far better. Which is why Rev. Michael Pfleger was allowed to shut down the Dan Ryan July 7, and Rev. Livingston could lead a tiny band of followers to close Lake Shore Drive. Because dragging them away would look bad.
Still, it’s hard to get enough of something that doesn’t work, and it’s tempting to continue blocking roads, the way the kids, clashing for three nights in August 1968, went full throated into the fourth. It wasn’t about the war anymore; it was about the protests.

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  1. I had never thought that the '68 protests were counter productive, although I should have. I was a cab driver in those days, fresh from being softly booted out of the Navy due to my own personal protest against the war. I happened to be cruising around downtown about the time things were getting hot and heavy in Grant Park, when an hysterical young woman came running up to my cab, shouting, "The cops are beating everybody up; it's terrible; it's awful." I told her, "Get in if you want me to take you somewhere." She went running off and I shrugged my shoulders and went back to work. I found out later that my father, newly a Sergeant after numerous cloutless tries, injured his knee trying to leap out of a squad car to join in the melee. As a cab driver, I aways hated a parade. I didn't know until now that a protest was worse.


  2. Livingstone is coming across as someone who wants his own part of that lucrative political pie.

    1. I don't think it's necessary to impugn Rev. Gregory Livingston's motives in order to oppose his disruption of traffic that far from helping his cause, might very likely turn many people against it.


  3. One of Lina Wertmuller's films (I forget which one) starts with footage of Hitler, Mussolini, fascist parades, etc., while a narrator bitterly lists reasons the fascists came to power. One of them is, "The ones who voted for the Right because they were sick of strikes." That sort of backlash is what worries me about truly disruptive protests.

    1. Exactly. The hicks in the sticks, and angry white folks in the Rust Belt suburbs, helped elect Trump because they were sick of the Black Lives Matter protests and the violence that followed. Of course, that wasn't the only reason. They just didn't care for Hillary. But the disruptive protests pushed them into the GOP camp, and gave His Orangeness enough electoral votes to "Eek!" out a victory.


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