The 40th Anniversary of the Democratic Convention of ’68: Activism Then and Now

Someone sent me a link to a site that is promoting a re-enactment of the protests at the Democratic Convention of 1968. While some of my older activist friends and I kinda like the idea of a ritual in remembrance of this day, the first question that popped in our heads was ‘What’s the point?’ Their mission statement says:

’40 years ago this August, the streets of Chicago became a bloody open forum on the politics of power and resistance, as the Democratic National Convention lapsed into chaos and protesters in the streets were met with the gas and bayonets of Law and Order. The ghosts of this unresolved history haunt us to this day. We meet on August 28 in Grant Park to peacefully purge these ghosts and to make sense of our past through ritual reenactment, a living history lesson for the city of Chicago which asks, where were we then?, and where are we now?’

Although it may be an interesting and memorable history lesson, these are very different times, and re-enacting a violent day in history will do nothing to change the status quo. But the questions are being asked in order to gain some perspective. This led me to question how activism has changed during the past 40 years, and to wonder where it will go from here.

‘Where were we then?’

Many of the rights some of us have now were because of what happened in ’68. New frontiers were broken by the exploration of sexuality (free love), mind-altering drugs, the human potential movement, and alternative religions, The young and the oppressed banded together to express outrage at a system that didn’t recognize their rights, to demand equality, and to protest the war being fought in Vietnam. And though it seems that we’re in a similar place now with people who are fed up with a rogue government and another insane war, many people seem complacent and apathetic. Why? This leads to:

‘Where are we now?’

We’re in an Age of Apathy. People are too busy working two jobs to make ends meet, playing video games, social networking, texting, chatting, emailing, watching TV, and consuming whatever they can in part to quell their anger and fill an empty hole that’s surrounded by a wall of cynicism. Activism is still alive and well, but it’s nowhere near as organized as it was in the late ’60’s and ’70’s. The human potential movement with its emphasis of individualism and ‘looking out for #1’ has run amuck. The major human rights fights that were fought for in the 60’s and 70’s have now branched off into smaller, differentiated groups. Now there are various smaller groups, all trying to make their voices heard. All these smaller branches screaming their own tune drowns out any major song sung loudly in unity. So let me add another question;

‘Where are we going?’

The computer age has brought activism to the internet. The success of Anonymous’ protests against Scientology has given us a new model. And they’re not the only ones doing this. It’s difficult to organize people that are only known through cyberspace, but it’s being done and changes are happening. Blogs and forums are proving to be a powerful medium in making peoples voices heard. They’re even more potent when added with actual protests. The bigger challenge may be to spur the people who have become cynical and distrustful during these past years into action within a larger group setting. There are good reasons for their cynicism and distrust, but that’s a whole other article in itself.

I think the questions this group asks are a good starting point for a dialogue. But the last question is can people rise above all the in-fighting and bickering that goes on within certain groups, long enough to organize and attempt to make a difference? And then keep up the momentum once change has begun?

(Also: the documentary “1968”)


  1. “And though it seems that we?re in a similar place now with people who are fed up with a rogue government and another insane war, many people seem complacent and apathetic. Why?”

    Because Marx and company were wrong. Oppression does not lead naturally and necessarily to rebellion, rebellion does not flow naturally and necessarily from oppression. Either can exist for centuries, for millenia, without the other. It is hindsight and not fact that makes the two seem connected.

    “The success of Anonymous? protests against Scientology has given us a new model.”

    What success is that?

    “I think the questions this group asks are a good starting point for a dialogue.”


  2. On the other hand, you could take the best Chicago ’68 re-enactors and have a world series with the best civil war re-enactors, thereby allowing us to have such hybrid battles as the Yippies vs. the Confederates at Bull Run or Mayor Daley’s Police facing Lee’s Army at Antietam.

  3. There have always been revolutionaries against any and all governments throughout history. Revolutionaries existing is a condition of any society with enough perception of inequality of wealth or power.

    As to a SUCCESSFUL revolution, that’s a different question. It requires a perfect storm, it does. Though we as a people are mired in apathy, I think conditions in this country are headed towards a fruitful breeding ground for revolution.

    Our government’s actions to move towards a police state could be said to anticipate economic distress and the potential for violent uprising that a strong, angry populace possesses. The war on terror starts with muslim fanatics, moves on to immigrants, then comes the radical progressives (that would be us, folks), all the dangerous thinker types. Cleansing has a long history, and our government is setting up for it nicely. Without the rhetorical and logistical framework they now have in place, those in power would be getting FUCKED in the hard times ahead. As it is, they will just blow up some shit and blame us for it, and the ignorant scared masses will eat it up in the hopes of security, in the hopes that they’ll have enough to eat and a roof over their heads.

    Organize at your own peril.

  4. Thanks for the insightful posts, guys.

    As for the “success of Anonymous”, I’m referring to their ability at getting the word out about Scientology. Before Anonymous’ protests there weren’t too many people in the mainstream who had any idea of what this group was about. Now more people are aware of their existence and history, and more are speaking out.

    Just like everything else, activism via working alone or organizing, has it’s pros and cons. After what has happened recently with the protests at the RNC (see Klintron’s post above), I think we really do need to have this discussion. As a matter of fact, I now think it’s imperative. “Organize at your own risk”, indeed.

    While there is the potential for corruption in any organized group, working solitary gives the impression of a lone “lunatic”. I really don’t have a solution, but thought that bringing this issue up may make some mavericks think of one (or a few). And though much of this can’t really be discussed on a public blog (obviously), I think the question of “what are some alternatives?” is a valid one. Maybe amongst our peers and acquaintances we can “bump heads”, and come across some new ideas.

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