Chicago, Illinois, US
October 15
I enjoy riding my bike around Chicago in my free time, perusing art and gardens, enjoying good beer, and musing on the wackiness of life.


OCTOBER 27, 2011 3:06PM

ghosts of 1968

Rate: 9 Flag

Back in 1968, I was a little kid in Logan Square.  It was a nervous year in our neighborhood, starting with the west side riots after Martin Luther King's assassination.

The west side burned for days as all hell broke lose.  No one knew how far it might go.  We could smell the smoke and see it from our 3rd floor apartment, and occasionally see flames shooting high into the sky, visible above the trees on Kedzie Blvd.  Much of the worst destruction happened in the area highlighted in orange at the bottom of the map. 

Although over 40 years have passed, the west side has never fully recovered.  That destruction sowed the seeds of further destruction, which continues today.

west side riots 1968

The riots' explosion of violence against police and firefighers set the stage for what would come next.   When the protests and riots happened during the Democratic convention, my mother radiated fear.  It was impossible to avoid feeling it.  A threat that LSD might be put into the water supply caused more panic.  That might sound wacky now, but in the context of that time, some people took it seriously.

The anti-Vietnam war protesters gathered, camped out in Lincoln Park, and marched, in defiance of the mayor's refusal to grant any of the permits they'd applied for.  More protesters came. They were ordered to leave, and they refused.  Clashes with police turned violent.  Images of police beating protesters made the evening news, and the fear grew.  "The whole world is watching," they chanted.  And the world was watching that infamous moment in Chicago's history, captured so well in the film "Medium Cool."

The ghosts of 1968 still linger over City Hall and the Chicago Police Department, their invisible hands affecting official response for more than 40 years.  No one wants to go there again. 

Today the Occupy movement is spawning hundreds of protests across the country and around the world, and it shows no signs of letting up.  In contrast to the sometimes violent police response in New York and Oakland, the Chicago Police Dept. has kept restraint in their response to protestors.  The ghosts of 1968 and the whole world are watching now.  No one knows what will happen next.

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
I remember the Watts riots all too well. the 60's were filled with a lot of unbelievable things. Let's hope things remain civil this time around.
Seems to me that the mayor and city government want to do a deal, but it is not easy to negotiate with a movement that largely unstructured.

They need to immediately get their heads around that.

A non trivial minority of the OWS group would love to see polarizing violence.

Since there are potential votes among the protesters, I'm surprised the city isn't more on top of things.

Use of force is a sign of weakness.
There was a lot of unbelievably scary stuff happening in the 1960s. I do hope that today's protests will be civil going forward.

There's nothing easy about the situation here in Chicago. They're not being outright brutal, but they're doing their best to wear down the protesters by not allowing them to camp and forcing them to keep moving.

The minority in OWS who want violence concern me a lot. There's always at least one hothead who wants to be that match on the powderkeg if not restrained by others.

I agree that use of force is a sign of weakness - and of desperation. I hope it doesn't come to that.
I think I figured out what happened in Oakland. The mayor was investigated by OPD when she was a city councilwoman and protested over Oscar Grant. The OPD wants to get rid of her. So they acted like clowns and assholes the other night.

This could get the mayor recalled for sure.

The giveaway is that these were the same cops who worked for Ron Dellums, who did a masterful job. They forgot all that Dellums taught them? I think not. The OPD did this on purpose for a political agenda of their own.

It is inevitable that violence will be on the rise. The goal is to make sure that the cops are the only ones going rogue and getting violent.
Zuma - Interesting theory. I'll be curious to see where things go from here. I'm glad that Quan has changed her tune. Hopefully no one else ends up in the hospital - or worse.
I too, am old enough to remember this. The thing is, how do people get the opportunity to make enough protest to make a difference. We can't be afraid of what might happen, when we fear or cannot live with what is happening. I want this to be safe and secure protesting, but sometimes I wonder if that is possible. I try to think of Ghandi and I try to think of non violent ways because in the end it make the aggressor fall faster. Right now I see a group of people looking down on another group. Those pictures from wall street were telling with the 1 % swigging their champagne from on high. The thing is, the masses in the street, the police in the middle and they are still up high. Safe, untouched. How do they get touched? Not with the demonstration and the suffering of the 99%, no with personal infringement. Maybe the police don't protect them. Maybe there is something else that happens to some kind of penalty or fine or something, but how to do that? How to make them feel something they are content not to acknowledge. It personally threatens them in no way. That is the current conundrum. There is no power for the people to change laws that would knock them off that champagne soaked balcony, that will only happen if the republicans fail in re election and concessions are won in taxes and jobs. Until then, the stage is very large, the actors growing tenser and violence potentially could erupt. However the question then is who does that violence really serve? Who? Once again, the people on the balcony. This is going to be a long and dangerous road for the demonstrators and costly for the tax paid police to keep focused on it, but I see no alternative. The equality we seek democratically can only be found from elected the people who will serve the people, the majority, not the corporations, the 1%.
As long as the Chicago cops don't arrest more nurses. I imagine that City Hall's public relations dept. had a collective apoplexy. Unfortunately, the response by Oakland's less-than-finest affects the attitude of the Occupy movement towards police in general.
Sheila - I think there would be a lot MORE people out there protesting if fear of arrest and other repercussions weren't an issue. For some, possible job loss is one of those repercussions.

Ultimately, I think that laws and taxes are the way to reach the 1%. Large scale protests and related lobbying can influence lawmakers in ways that could make a difference.
Stim - I agree that arresting the nurses was a really REALLY stupid and wrong thing to do. I can just imagine the PR dept. reaction.

I think that Oakland and NYC police tactics have left a bad taste in many people's mouths. I'm glad that Chicago is not following their example.
and I hope they get some health care professionals down there that have a fixed location and are not there to force an issue, but there to actually offer first aid and just listen if that's what is needed
...and some clean water for these people, and heat sources, and ....
If city hall wants a real political nightmare just wait until some middle class (or even better rich) kid home for Christmas break dies from exposure.
To be effective, the protests must inevitably be disruptive. Not violent, but disruptive. Protests that are completely "polite" and "civil" and "reasonable" in the eyes of their opponents will, by definition, be ineffective, meaningless, and impotent gestures. I am not advocating violence but I am insisting that effective protests will necessarily be disruptive of "business as usual."
Julie - I agree.

Donegal - Yes, disruption tends to send the message more effectively, but there's a big difference between disruption and violence.
I'm from Chicago and have covered stories on the West Side. I also wonder with the G8 coming to Chicago in May if our city will become a center of more protests, hopefully all peaceful. Thanks for your thoughtful post.
Teresa - Thanks for commenting. I'm very concerned that protests at the G8 conference could be a nightmare for the city, especially in light of the official decision NOT to seek assistance from other police departments. I hope that my fears are unfounded, but there's a lot of potential for problems.
"No one knows what will happen next. "

as long as we just keep on going...we must! great post
Thanks, Heidi. Yes, gotta keep on going. The power and momentum of our citizen activism has built up to amazing levels. It's good to see some of it paying off with positive results.
Wow, I hadn't thought how violence in a city area could beget neglect, more violence, more neglect...and then forty years have gone by...
I remember the scare of LSD being put in the water...
Thanks for writing about this, sorry to take so long to get here : )
I still find it mind boggling how long this downward spiral could continue on the west side. There are pockets of revival here and there. New homes have been built and some old ones renovated in areas that have seen very little new construction since the riots.

Friends of mine bought an old house in North Lawndale and have been doing a green gut rehab on the place. They're gotten to be friends with their new neighbors. At phases of the project when there was a lot of basic manual labor needed, they hired some out-of-work neighbors to help.

There are pockets of artists' live/work spaces and new affordable housing. I hope that a full revival of the west side can create integrated, mixed-income neighborhoods - healthier for the long term.

The history of some previous neighborhoods' revivals has been artists, "urban pioneers," then real estate speculators - usually white people with more money displacing black and Latino people with less money. I have friends living in Humboldt Park and Garfield Park who chose those locations to live in affordable, integrated neighborhoods, not to be agents of displacement. Some of them face hatred and suspicion from long-time residents who fear that their neighborhood will become another yuppie enclave and they'll be looking for a new place to live in a few years. Resentment is understandable.

I'm curious to see what the west side will look like 10 years from now. I think a lot will depend on whether the economy turns around soon and whether more living wage jobs can be created that will help support these neighborhoods. The lack of good jobs for average people has been a slow-motion disaster for much of the city.