Forty Years After Chicago, We Have Not Found the Things We Lost

The Chicago Seven were very serious peace activists and were baited into a festival of confusion instead of a festival of life in Chicago in 1968, launched to take the focus off the war.
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I read Sam Leff's thought-provoking article about the trial of the Chicago Seven, my testimony, and Tom Brokaw's words concerning my participation in the "Yippie Festival of Life." (see Leff's piece here)

I wanted to thank Sam for speaking out in such a clear and meaningful way about how we (not just me) were robbed (and everyone lost) in the circus that surrounded the Chicago 1968 Democratic Convention. The police brutality and smashing of the heads of protesters look more, in retrospect, like the methods applied to other protests in recent years around the world. Superimpose another language on Chicago, and you get -- what? A Third World country struggling to express itself? What it looks like is a police state wielding its power. See the crowds and the swinging batons, and hear the screams of the beaten and those who are being hauled off to jail.

Walter Cronkite himself, the most trusted man in America, said at the start of the convention, "The Democratic Convention is about to begin in a police state, there doesn't appear to be any other way to describe it."

He could see what was in front of all our eyes. He could see it clearly.

There was never a question in my mind that the war in Vietnam was wrong, that the Yippies were right. I had been protesting the war in Vietnam in many ways and many marches and many events from the time I was in high school, and my father was railing against our involvement in Indochina.

"Why in hell can't we see it -- the French got out, what are we doing there? We are going to end up hip deep in the muddy waters!"

And the damned fools said to go on. All of them did, from Kennedy and Johnson and Nixon. All David Halberstam's brightest and best, hip deep. My contemporaries were being drafted; my peers were singing their hearts out, some going to Canada because, like Dave Dellinger's father, they were serious, committed conscientious objectors.

I believe that Chicago, the Richard J. Daley administration, the police, as well as the organizers of the convention itself, whacked the Yippies over the head and dragged them off to jail -- were in part responsible for the continuation of the war in Vietnam. You know your history.

Combat troops were sent in as of 1965 but military advisers were in Indochina from 1950 and the first report of the death of a U.S. soldier was in 1957, from a land mine incident. During the French occupation in the 1940s, there was 'light' military adviser activity on the part of the U.S. The war was escalated in 1965 and resulted in 58,000 American dead. And the majority of the casualties in Vietnam occurred after 1968, after the Yippies' celebration of peace and light that bloomed into a public relations attack on the peace movement itself instead of the war.

If peace activists had not been beaten and jailed and muzzled -- as I was muzzled in Judge Julius Hoffman's trial of the Chicago Seven when I tried to sing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone"-- (always, always, Mary Travers' song -- God rest her soul) in my testimony there may have been a more positive effect in the country at large to end the war. Instead of concentrating and refocusing on the efforts to achieve peace in Indochina, there was a focus on the 'antics' of the peace activists in Chicago, who were, by the decision of the city of Chicago (and others?) beaten and jailed and prevented from peacefully protesting -- our right in this country, at least once upon a time -- in protest to the war.

According to Sam Leff, in his book, "Brokaw baits Judy to confuse her serious political activism with her serious alcohol problem, effectively editing out her major involvement with the Festival of Life."

As Churchill said to an unattractive woman who accused him of being drunk at a dinner party, "Madam, I may be drunk tonight but tomorrow I will be sober and you will still be unattractive."

Tomorrow came, I was sober but we were still at war in Vietnam and 50,000 more were dead. Now we are still in wars that are killing our young people. As necessary as they are said to be (and I disagree, I disagree) that murder in the name of lies needs goes on -- the fiasco which is Iraq is a bloodbath of eight years of the destruction of life and the drain on our finances by yet another original act of the Bush administration which bleeds us and continues to rob us of our self-respect and the respect of the world -- and if Alexander the Great had a hard time in Afghanistan -- and he did, he did -- we will try as he did to extricate ourselves from the country Alexander the Great himself said harbored "terrorists." That is what he called them nearly 2,500 years ago -- and he had to leave as bloodily as we will.

Abbie Hoffman, Dave Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, John Froines, Lee Weiner and Jerry Rubin were very serious peace activists and were baited into a festival of confusion instead of a festival of life in Chicago in 1968, launched to take the focus off the war. You don't have to have a brain trust to know that we were in the wrong war at the wrong time on the wrong continent. All of us -- the young, the eager activists who marched and sang and tried to bring about peace, were and are serious. Cronkite was serious when he came out against the war early on.

I am an activist of many years and challenge anyone to question the fact. But thank you Sam, for spelling out the insult for me, to forcing me once again to become aware that the day the Yippies died in Chicago was a day the peace movement has to look upon as its reason for being.

A lot of us are saying, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" ... about a lot of things. So, where is the peace movement today and how can we all get on board? The train is on the tracks; the cars are slipping by, one by one. It is time for a new Yippie movement to surface in this country and take back the flowers and silence the guns.

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