Memoir of a War Resister—A Novel of the 1960s

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Chapter 18—"Summer In The City"

On August 26, they got me up, made me take a shower and took me into Chicago for the anti-war protests at the Democratic National Convention. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to go up into my attic bedroom and die. I wanted to stare into space, pick flowers and eat Peter’s radishes. I wanted to forget the war, forget the election. I didn’t give a damn. They wouldn’t let me stay. We took the train to Chicago and gathered at Jake’s apartment two blocks from Grant Park.

A fragmented nation came to Chicago for the convention, the angry, the disenfranchised, the young, the poor, the black, the elite, the delegates, the candidates and me. Ten thousand demonstrators confronted by twenty-three thousand police. The country and the convention were wrought with divisions. Eugene McCarthy captured the hearts of the anti-war movement. Hubert Humphrey captured the delegates. Bobby Kennedy captured a bullet. Chicago was about powerlessness and hopelessness. Chicago was about the disaffected saying; We are here, hear us. You can kill Kennedy. You can kill McCarthy’s candidacy. But you can’t kill our rage, our despair, our hopelessness, our dreams. For me, Chicago was about being able to scream and march and push and pull because Jeff was dead and always would be.

“If we get separated, let’s meet at the apartment at 2:00 for lunch,” Jake said.

Hook never left my side as we walked around Grant Park and marched in the streets of Chicago. At night, we gathered at the apartment where Ginger played her guitar, Peter cooked meals, Hook sat next to me and held my hand, Marty and Jake made plans.

The third day it got violent. I loved every minute of it. “Fuck you, pigs,” I yelled at the police officers who dragged protestors through the park. I walked up and down the line of cops screaming obscenities at them. “You deserve to die, you jerks.” Hook was always nearby, ready to pull me out of trouble.

Abbie Hoffman, from the Youth International Party, or the Yippies as he preferred to call it, encouraged us to keep moving, stay in the streets, and cover our faces if they used tear gas. Abbie had a pig with him, Pigasus, who he nominated for President. I walked up to Pigasus and knelt down.

“Hey there,” I petted his head. Pigasus closed his eyes and blew air out of his snout in a contented sound. “You and me, buddy. We’re going to get it done, aren’t we?” I kissed Pigasus on the head and shook Abbie Hoffman’s hand.

Then the tear gas filled the air. “Shit,” I covered my mouth with my hands, trying to breathe some clean air. Tom Hayden, from Students for a Democratic Society, encouraged us to run into the streets of Chicago. If they were going to use tear gas, he wanted the whole city to be gassed.

I loved it. Hook tried to pull me out of the melee. I turned to him. “I’m not leaving,” I said, coughing, my eyes burning from the tear gas.

He handed me his red bandana. “Tie this over your mouth.”

It helped the breathing and I could still yell at the police. I didn’t care what I was yelling. As long as it was loud I was sure it would get the rage out of me, get the sadness out of me. At times, the tear gas was so thick, I couldn’t breathe even with the bandana. The tear gas let me cry.

As police beat protestors and kept the tear gas flowing, the world watched on national TV. We linked arms and yelled, “The Whole World’s Watching. The Whole World’s Watching.”

Mayor Richard Daley wanted to showcase his city and showcase it he did. In his attempt to repress the story, in view of millions watching on TV, the police clubbed photographers, smashed cameras and confiscated film.

It was what I needed. “Fuck you, Pigs,” I yelled at the police. I pushed forward and refused to disperse. Something hit a police officer on the face and the surge began with the police swinging nightsticks. Inside the convention hall, a nomination was taking place. The world didn’t watch the convention. They watched us. The police surged forward. We didn’t retreat. They started hitting. We stood our ground. I could get seriously hurt here. I didn’t care.

A police van drove up and out stepped six police officers in complete riot gear. Hook said, “Let’s go Becky.” But I couldn’t go, wouldn’t go, so Hook stood aside, watching.

“Disperse now,” a police officer said.

I turned to him, took the bandana off my mouth so he could see it was me talking. “You disperse, you asshole.” I couldn’t move out of the way of the nightstick fast enough. It smashed into my arm. It rose and come my way again, smashing the arm a second time. Then again, barely missing me, smashing into the head of the guy next to me. When the news stations announced that there had been a “display of naked violence in the streets of Chicago” they were talking about the guys in blue, public officials, paid by taxes to serve and protect. They weren’t serving and they weren’t protecting.

Blood streamed down my arm, staining my shirt and my pants. I screamed, “You fucking assholes. We’re here to stay and the whole world is watching.”

An arm grabbed me and pulled me out of the crowd. Hook carried me away and found an empty spot where he encompassed me in a hug, holding every single part of me. I cried and cried and cried. If he let go, I would have fallen. But he held me completely, the blood from my arm smearing his shirt. In his holding, I knew at that moment someday I would come out of this fog, this grief, this anger. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know when. I only knew I would.

When the convention was over Hubert Humphrey was left to pick up the fragments of a broken society and mend a party. The antiwar effort was left with a legend. Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden and six other protestors were left with a huge lawsuit and a trial. I was left with a four-inch bloody gash on my bruised arm and a great big jagged hole in my heart with unbridled rage, deep despair and somewhere way, way down, a bit of hope.

U.S. Soldier Body Count: 31,752

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