Chicago 1968 – demokraternas konvent

Inte alla demokratiska konvent utspelar sig i en så lugn och sansad omgivning och i så lugna samhällsförhållanden som årets konvent som ska äga rum i Denver. Där Barack Obama och hans trolige vice-presidentkandidat, den vite Joseph Biden från Delaware förmodligen kommer att få sina kandidaturer bekräftade.

Annat var det exempelvis 1968, i Chicago. Efter ett år av uppskakande händelser så som morden på Robert Kennedy och Martin Luther King var det dags för demokraternas konvent i Chicago:

The North Vietnamese and the NLF launched the Tet Offensive in late January 1968. Their combined forces attacked more than 100 cities, provincial capitals and even the citadel of American power in Vietnam, the U.S. embassy. The ancient capital of Hue was occupied by the NVA/NLF for over three weeks. It was only the massive use of American military power that staved off collapse.

Public opinion shifted massively against Johnson and his policies. The war went from being ”winnable” to a ”quagmire” in the public mind. McCarthy went from being perceived as a Don Quixote-like figure to a credible candidate. In the New Hampshire primary, held two weeks after Tet began, McCarthy got 40 percent of the vote. Johnson won, but McCarthy’s showing was seen as a rejection of Johnson and foreshadowed his political humiliation.

Bobby Kennedy, who had announced that he wouldn’t challenge Johnson hours before the Tet Offensive began, changed his mind in mid-March. Soon after, Johnson himself announced that he wouldn’t seek the nomination for reelection, nor accept the Democratic nomination. Johnson’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey, then announced that he would run in Johnson’s place.

But the hammer blows kept coming. Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis within a week of Johnson’s speech. Over 100 cities saw rebellions in the wake of his death. Two months later, in early June, Bobby Kennedy won the California primary, making him the probable, though not certain, presidential nominee. After his victory speech, he was assassinated.

It seemed like the whole political system was coming unglued.

Chicago styrdes av en konservativ falang av demokraterna, ledd av den legendariska borgmästaren Daley. En borgmästare som skapat den korrupta demokratska partiapparaten i Chicago. Han hotade alla demonstranter som tänkte komma till Chicago för att protestera mot Johnson och Vietnamkriget och gjorde klart att inga demonstrationer skulle få äga rum:

The city’s reactionary Democratic mayor, Richard J. Daley, made it clear that he would tolerate no demonstrations or other activities directed at the convention. He mobilized his police force–well known for its racist violence and corruption and backed up by National Guard and other military units–to intimate prospective demonstrators.

The Democrats were the war party, but the withdrawal of Johnson from the campaign created something of crisis for the antiwar movement. The most hated figure was gone, but who would replace him?

As the convention neared, it became clear that Humphrey, who received a miniscule amount of primary votes and once boasted that he had given hundreds of speeches in favor of the Vietnam War, would be the nominee. The party establishment, which controlled the bulk of delegate votes would support Humphrey and marginalize the McCarthy forces. Convention delegates actually voted down an antiwar resolution put forward at the convention.

På grund av dess olika omständigheter gjordes ingen större mobilisering av demonstranter till Chicago, men det dök i alla fall upp 20 000 och dessa fick problem med Daleys rasistiska ch våldsamma poliser:

In the end, about 20,000 demonstrators came to Chicago to protest, despite the city denying permits to protest outside the convention or any of the candidates’ headquarters.

From the moment they arrived, they faced the full fury of the Daley machine. Cops beat, maced and arrested demonstrators for perfectly legal activities. Reporters and McCarthy supporters were targeted by police. Photographers had their camera broken and film confiscated. The violence spilled onto the floor of the convention itself. One speaker denounced Daley’s ”Gestapo tactics” from the podium.

Händelserna vid demokraternas Chicago-konvent 1968 påverkade kanske inte politiken eller presidentvalet så mycket. Men det fick desto större betydelse för att radikalisera ungdomar i USA:

The effects of Chicago on young activists was historic. Many had gone ”Clean for Gene,” cutting their hair and wearing suits and ties to support McCarthy’s challenge against Johnson. The nomination of Humphrey, the violence of Daley’s police and the continuation of the war turned a generation of radical activists into revolutionaries.

This political development was also shaped by other international events. The May general strike in France, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Tet offensive convinced this generation that radical change was possible, but could only be achieved by a revolutionary restructuring of society.

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