As usual, Nicole Sandler begins the show with an update of the news of the day.
This week marked the 50th anniversary of the riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Journalist Will Bunch reflected on that night in a long Twitter thread. He joins us today to talk about how that night influenced the rest of his life.
Here’s Will’s Twitter thread:
- OK, OK, I know it’s always the big anniversary of…something, but to me, tonight is the only (political) anniversary that matters. What I watched 50 years ago tonight put me on a journey to become the person I am today. Pull up a chair and I’ll try to explain why.
- I was 9 years old on August 28, 1968. I’d been a precociously nerdy kid – a Civil War history geek at age 5, now a sports fan who demanded my dad’s NY Post every night to read about baseball. But I was starting to get curious about the bigger world. How could you not?
- On June 6,, I was walking to school (kids still did that) when I heard blaring from a car that Bobby Kennedy had died of his gunshot wounds. The news scared me in all the ways that a 9-year-old gets scared. And MLK had just been killed. Was this the world I’d been born into?
- I had a vague awareness of the election, mainly because my dad – a school textbook editor in his early 30s – was going off to volunteer for Eugene McCarthy. So, when the Democratic convention in Chicago came that August, I had a naïve curiosity to see what was this all about.
- The big night was Wednesday, August 28, the roll call for president! Some of my parents’ friends came over to watch because we had a newfangled big color TV in our linoleum family room. They came every year for Miss America. This would be a different kind of “beauty pageant.”
- While we were watching the debates, the anchor – probably either Chet Huntley or David Brinkley on NBC – made a stunning announcement. There was violence between police and protesters at the Conrad Hilton Hotel, so serious they would break away from the proceedings to show it.
- Today it’s hard to explain what a big deal this was. There was no easy technology for cutting to live coverage. Film would have to be instead raced to the convention hall and aired, unedited. The film of the riot was 17 minutes. America would never feel the same.
- The dark, blurry, TV-camera lit footage was shocking. It showed police wailing on everyone and anything with flying nightsticks and occasionally their fists. No sooner had they finished clubbing a protester or journalist when the next posse ran into the throng, swinging.
- In the background, a chant: “The whole world is watching.” I was spellbound. About halfway through, my parents’ friend Bobbi Sherman said something I will never forget: “I don’t think little Willy should be watching this.” Needless to say, that had the opposite effect!
- I vaguely recall retreating to the top of the stairs – but continuing to watch. It was a moment that – even at age 9 – demanded taking a side. You were with authority, using ruthless violence to suppress political dissent, or you were against them. I chose the hippies.
- Now when I was done with the sports section, I always read the front page, too. In 1972, I stayed up until 3 a.m. to watch George McGovern win the Democratic nomination. By the next summer, I was a teenage Watergate geek, racing home from day camp to watch John Dean testify.
- What happened on Aug. 28, 1968, is why I became a journalist. I’d always known I’d liked to write, and now I knew what I wanted to write about — earth-changing events like the one that had both repulsed and electrified me on that summer night
- Some of my naïve youthful ideas in 1968 were exactly that. I believed I’d been born into a unique moment of human history, when the world was changing for the better, that young people would stop this stupid war in Vietnam and all the ones after that. That isn’t what happened
- Only years later did I understand that most Americans who saw what I saw that night were on the side of the cops – or why. That there is an authoritarian streak in this country, that people wanted tin soldiers and Nixon coming, and their children would vote for Donald Trump.
- Many would argue the battle lines of modern American society – all the culture wars, the red states vs. the blue states, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street and the Trumpsters and the Resistance – were etched in blood on the streets of Chicago that night. I don’t disagree.
- As I grew older, the reality of the revolution that wasn’t morphed into a sense of a disappointment – hence my over-the-top obsession with ‘60s history and music – but that sense of loss is also what drives me forward, as a writer, as a dad, as a human being.
- Witnessing – 50 years ago this very night! — the inhumane violence and the repression of a police state that was fighting to defend its immoral war on the other side of the world caused me to thirst for something bigger, and that is justice.
- Yes, it’s been a long time since that Chicago police riot, but that blood can be wiped clean with justice, for the victims of today’s police brutality from Ferguson to Baltimore, or for the mothers and babies oppressed by federal agents at the southern border.
- Yes, the war in Vietnam ended a long time ago, but the mindset of American militarism that caused it is still very much alive from Afghanistan to Yemen. Voting rights so hard-won in the 1960s are getting stripped away in the 2010s. The whole world needs to be watching…again
- Even if you weren’t yet born on August 28, 1968, know that you are fighting a war that, arguably, began on this very date. So here’s to my side – the dissenters, the revolutionaries – and here’s to our victory, even if I wonder if I’ll ever live to see what that looks like.
- As Graham Nash would later sing about this night, “Won’t you please come to Chicago for the help that we can bring/We can change the world/Rearrange the world.” – 30 — com/watch?v=r4BJpC…