Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Walk in the Park, 40 Years Ago

The Obama campaign is planning a huge Election Night victory celebration in Chicago's Grant Park, weather and vote tallies permitting.

Just reading about it makes my eyes water at what happened there 40 years ago.

Tear gas was stinging my face and burning my throat as armed men in masks pushed us deeper into the park. My middle-aged legs were pumping hard across the grass when a teen-aged war protester grabbed my arm and drew me to a water fountain. "Soak your handkerchief," he said, "keep it on your face."

I was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in August, 1968, but that night I found myself among young people being herded into Grant Park by National Guardsmen and Chicago police.

After the defeat of an anti-war resolution in the hall, another delegate and I had taken a convention bus heading into town. As we stopped for a traffic light in front of the Mayflower Hotel, cops with clubs and soldiers with rifles were pushing kids into the park. We got off the bus, joined the crowd and were immediately separated by a surge of bodies. With the wet handkerchief over my face, I stumbled along until I finally found an exit and a taxi.

Back in my hotel room, eyes still burning, I turned on TV to see what the rest of the country was seeing--American kids being gassed, clubbed and herded into police vans at gunpoint. In the convention hall, looking at the footage, Walter Cronkite was saying in disgust, "It makes us want to pack up our cameras and go home."

If and when an African-American man faces a cheering crowd of young people and old there the night of this November 4th, it may erase that memory once and for all.

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