Place of Protest: Chicago's Legacy of Dissent, Declaration, and Disruption

Grant Park, 1968

Contesting the National Platform

Local legacies and national politics collide in the streets and parks of Chicago.

PROTESTERS FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY JOINED THOUSANDS OF VISITORS to Chicago in August 1968 for the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Civil rights groups like the Martin Luther King Jr.-affiliated Poor Peoples' Campaign attended with specific protest plans, while larger crowds joined leftist, anti-war organizations like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (Mobe), and the Youth International Party (Yippies). Many of the anti-war protestors were students recently politicized on college campuses, attending with a range of ideologies but generally united in opposition to the establishment as exemplified by the Democratic Party.
THREE KEY PROTEST LOCATIONS EMERGED. First, the city allowed a narrow stretch for demonstrations in front of the convention itself, located in the International Amphitheater. Built adjacent to the city's stockyards to host international exhibitions, the International Amphitheater hosted four national conventions prior to 1968. To the north and east, Lincoln Park provided a green area named after none other than Abraham Lincoln. Finally, Grant Park commemorated a Civil War general from Illinois, as did the park's now-iconic statue of John A. Logan. All three place names point to a civic legacy of asserting Chicago and Illinois' national significance, and Mayor Richard J. Daley was eager to continue that legacy with the DNC. Earlier in the year, when the city's west side convulsed after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Daley responded by deploying police to black neighborhoods with an infamous "shoot to kill" order. By convention time, police lined the streets again, contributing to the combustible tensions between visitors and locals, protesters and police, students and the establishment.

VIOLENCE STARTED THREE DAYS BEFORE THE START OF THE CONVENTION when police shot and killed Dean Johnson, a 17-year old American Indian out with a friend past curfew. Every night thereafter, police continued to enforce an 11pm curfew—sometimes brutally clearing crowds at Lincoln and Grant parks. The most publicized encounter happened on the third night of the convention when police used tear gas and clubs on students in Grant Park and nearby Michigan Avenue. TV cameras captured the confrontation taking place outside the Hilton Hotel, where convention delegates like presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey were staying. Political and cultural tensions at a national level combined with a distinctly local history of police violence created a convention week rife with conflict. To Daley's chagrin, the televised coverage of disorder at the DNC convention indelibly contributed to Chicago's legacy as a place of protest.

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