August 26, 1968
The 1968 Democratic National Convention
At the height of a stormy year, Chicago streets become nightly battle zones.
Anti-Vietnam War demonstrators march down Michigan Avenue in one of the peaceful events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention week, which attracted thousands of young protestors to the city. (Tribune photo by Bill Yates)
Colorful young activists such as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin had vowed to lead Vietnam War protesters to Chicago to disrupt the convention. Chicago police fueled the paranoia by publicizing reports that demonstrators were planning to spike the city's water supply with LSD. Mayor Richard J. Daley made it clear he would brook no attempts to disrupt the convention or sully the city's name. The Illinois National Guard was called up and roads to the International Amphitheatre were surrounded with such heavy security that the Tribune called the convention site "a veritable stockade."
As the delegates jammed into Chicago's downtown hotels, thousands of young demonstrators moved into Lincoln Park. Attempts to get city permits to spend the nights in the park had failed. So each night, police moved in, sometimes using tear gas and physical force to clear them out. At first, the news media focused on events at the Amphitheatre, where tempers flared during debate on the Vietnam War. CBS newsmen Mike Wallace and Dan Rather were roughed up on camera by security guards, causing anchor Walter Cronkite to intone to a national audience, "I think we've got a bunch of thugs here, if I may be permitted to say so."
The clashes reached a pinnacle on Wednesday, Aug. 28. TV cameramen in the Conrad Hilton Hotel (the former Stevens Hotel) turned their cameras down on the crowd, which chanted "The whole world's watching." Someone threw a beer can. Police charged and dragged off protesters, beating them with clubs and fists. "Many convention visitors . . . were appalled at what they considered unnatural enthusiasm of police for the job of arresting demonstrators," the Tribune reported the next day. It would later be called a "police riot." That night in his speech nominating George McGovern, Connecticut Sen. Abraham Ribicoff criticized the "Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago." Television cameras zoomed in on an enraged Daley, shouting back at the rostrum.
Not until August 1996, with a different Mayor Daley running Chicago, did the Democrats return. That convention, at which President Bill Clinton was nominated for a second term, was a carefully managed affair. But the whole world was not watching.