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1968 DNC Protests, 50 Years Later: Organizers Recall Coalition Building & Running Pig for President

StoryAugust 28, 2018
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We revisit the 1968 DNC protests in Chicago, where Yippies Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin nominated a pig named “Pigasus the Immortal” to compete with candidates Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon. They hoped to In-Hog-Ur-Ate Pigasus instead. His platform was to be a pile of garbage—”just like the platform of all the other parties.” They demanded Pigasus be taken to the White House for a foreign policy briefing and given a Secret Service detail. Pigasus was later arrested along with many others, who were charged with disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace and bringing a pig to Chicago. Defense attorney William Kunstler later accused the Democratic Party of the same charges. We continue our conversation with Black Panther Bobby Seale, arrested for inciting a riot and gagged during the Chicago 8 trial stemming from his speech at the protest, and SDS activists and organizers Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, as we continue our series “50 Years Ago.” We’re looking back now at 50 year ago this week at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which became a national spectacle, a major political event. It was Hubert Humphrey, I believe, was nominated, but the news was in the streets, a police riot, much of it unfolding on live national television, hundreds of people arrested. We’re joined by Bobby Seale, the founding chair and national organizer of the Black Panther Party. He’s joining us from Oakland, California. In Chicago, Bill Ayers is with us—he was arrested 50 years ago yesterday; I believe it was August 27th in the evening—and Bernardine Dohrn. Bill and Bernardine, longtime SDS leaders, Students for a Democratic Society, and then Weather Underground members. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, Juan who was also there in 1968 in the midst of the police riot.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah. Well, I’d like to bring Bernardine into the conversation. Bernardine, one of the interesting things that the—the Democratic National Convention protest got huge press coverage, but a few weeks earlier there had been a Republican convention, which had nominated—in Miami Beach, which had nominated Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew as the candidates of the Republican Party. And there were also protests in Liberty City, in Miami, by the black community, where three people were killed and hundreds were arrested, and yet that protest at the Republican National Convention got nowhere near the kind of coverage that occurred in the Democratic National Convention—another example of this racial bias in the media that has continued to this day. So I’m wondering if you could talk about that disparity—and you’ve dealt with that throughout your life in terms of the criminal justice system—but also why you went to Chicago.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: Well, I had just been elected, Juan, one of the national officers of SDS, just a month before. So I was organizing, with other people, for the Chicago demonstrations. And I think that it was important to recognize that at that moment in history, because of 1968, because of the assassination of Dr. King, because of the riots in 30 cities that followed that, the relationship between the war, permanent war or aggressive war by the United States, permanent war in Vietnam at that time, and the black freedom movement was integral. They were related to each other. The Black Panther Party had this Ten-Point Program. I urge everybody to take a look at this brilliant Ten-Point Program, which includes a plank against war, and certainly against U.S. aggression in the world. And that became a central part of SDS organizing at the time. I think our relationship to saying that the failure of either party to take a position on war—something we still see today, right? Both parties support permanent U.S. aggression around the world, especially in the Third World. This is an extraordinary thing. So, it’s what we have in common with Black Lives Matter, with Undocumented and Unafraid, with the activists and organizers of today.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, during the 1968 protests in Chicago, there were also other groups there. The Yippies—Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin—nominated a pig, named Pigasus the Immortal, to compete with candidates Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon. They hoped to In-Hog-Ur-Ate Pigasus instead. His platform was to be a pile of garbage—”just like the platform of all the other parties,” according to Hoffman and Davis. They demanded that Pigasus be taken to the White House for a foreign policy briefing and given a Secret Service detail. Pigasus was later arrested along with many others, who were charged with disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace and bringing a pig to Chicago. Defense attorney William Kunstler later accused the Democratic Party of the same charges. And I think there are actually scenes of the police trying to haul the pig into a paddy wagon.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about this whole—this other part of the protest, the anarchists and the other groups, as well, that joined with SDS outside the convention headquarters?

BERNARDINE DOHRN: It was a terrific moment of unity, so that all sectors, including people that we thought at the time were not political, but were really sick of permanent war, were sick of watching troops, U.S. troops, come home, were sick of the body counts and torture that was going on in Vietnam, were against the war. And the American people, in fact, at this moment in 1968, were turning against the war, first time—really, first time ever. And that was an extraordinary development.

So, I think you’re right that the humor that the Yippies brought into the demonstrations those days and the kind of irreverence that people felt about the authorities meant that there was a collection of people come to Chicago who were really not afraid of the Chicago Police Department, even though they were aware—they were aware of how brutal and what a history—history that goes up to today, by the way—of the Chicago Police Department being a racist, aggressive force in favor of white supremacy. So that awareness and consciousness among the people who came to Chicago was, of course, borne out by even official reports.

And let’s not ignore that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI were in the middle of all this and were developing their own COINTELPRO program and their own program to assassinate black leaders and to attack, really, the Black Panther Party and the forces of radical black politics, which were spreading like wildfire.

AMY GOODMAN: Inside the convention, security personnel also roughed up reporters. This is a clip of then-CBS News reporter Dan Rather on the DNC floor as he was punched in the stomach, describing what happened to CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite on live national television.


DAN RATHER: What’s your name, sir?

GEORGIA DELEGATE: Problem is, I’m being manhandled!

DAN RATHER: And what is your name, sir? Take your hands off of me!


DAN RATHER: Unless you intend to arrest me. Don’t push me, please.

UNIDENTIFIED: [inaudible]

DAN RATHER: I know you won’t, but don’t push me. Take your hands off of me, unless you plan to arrest me!

UNIDENTIFIED: Wait a minute.

DAN RATHER: Wait a minute! Walter, as you can see—

WALTER CRONKITE: I don’t know what’s going on, but this—

DAN RATHER: Well, Walter—

WALTER CRONKITE: These are security people, apparently, around Dan, obviously getting roughed up.

DAN RATHER: Well, Walter, what’s happened here, we tried to talk to the man, and we got bodily pushed out of the way. This is the kind of thing that’s been going on outside the hall. This is the first time we’ve had it happen inside the hall. We—I’m sorry to be out of breath, but somebody belted me in the stomach during that. What happened is, a Georgia delegate—at least he had a Georgia delegate sign on—was being hauled out of the hall. We tried to talk to him to see why, who he was and what the situation was. And at that instant, the security people, well, as you can see, put me on the deck. I didn’t do very well.

WALTER CRONKITE: I think we’ve got a bunch of thugs here.

AMY GOODMAN: “I think we’ve got a bunch of thugs here, Dan.” That’s iconic CBS News host Walter Cronkite responding to the police treatment of reporter Dan Rather inside the DNC convention hall in 1968. Bill Ayers, your comment on what was happening inside and, then, of course, outside? And you were from Chicago. Your father was a major figure there. Wasn’t he head of Chicago Edison?

BILL AYERS: Yes, he was the chairman of Commonwealth Edison in Chicago. And I came from that background. But I was there as part of, you know, the grassroots of protesters. But what you see in that clip is exactly what we had hoped would happen, which is the true nature of the political establishment showed itself. The true nature of Chicago power showed itself. And so, it wasn’t just outside. It had migrated inside. And the kind of violence against any dissidence was palpable. And Dan Rather got one blow, but many of us got many others. But that was the nature of what was going on. That’s what we wanted to show the world. And indeed we did.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: And, Amy, you could say that you saw this happen at Standing Rock—


BERNARDINE DOHRN: —last year, so reporters that are on the scene. This is why the United States military has organized so that the press is not—the American press has no access to war on the front lines in the United States today. And I think that that’s really an important reason why we don’t have the kind of antiwar movement that we need here. I know there’s antiwar sentiment in the United States and some strong organizations working at this, but I think that visibility of power unleashed against other people, who you can see and identify with, was a critical part of what happened in Vietnam.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to bring Bobby Seale back into the discussion here. Bobby, one of the—clearly, what happened in the aftermath of the Democratic National Convention is that Richard Nixon, the nominee of the Republican Party, was able to ride to victory, a narrow victory, over Hubert Humphrey, because Humphrey was so—had so alienated even segments of the Democratic Party and progressives in the United States. And Nixon then, on a law-and-order platform, becomes president. The impact of Nixon’s election on not just the black community, but progressives throughout the country, I’m wondering if you could talk about that, especially in light of our current political situation.

BOBBY SEALE: Yeah. What you have to understand is that 1968 as a whole, before Dr. King was killed, I had forged a coalition with SCLC, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. Martin Luther King’s organization. What happens is that he was killed. Now, I only had 400 members in the Black Panther Party up and down the West Coast. I had no chapters and no branches across the country, right up to the point of Dr. King being murdered. Dr. King was murdered outside of the riots. I stopped riots, really, in my community and stuff. I didn’t like—I did not want people getting killed. But my point is, is here: Young black folks rushed into my organization. So, from April 4th, when Dr. King was killed, to the day that Nixon was elected that year, my organization swoll from 400 members up and down the West Coast to 5,000 members and 49 chapters, branches in neighborhoods across the United States of America. This is really what happened. Dr. King being killed, they were so upset.

And I was telling people, “Rioting is not going to get it. What you have to do is get organized.” And me, I was always about political electoral politics. I wanted to build political electoral political machines in the African-American community. But what we did is we not only did that, we started coalescing with all kinds of organizations across the country. And this is what upset the power structure. At the point Nixon was elected, literally elected, a week later, he had a meeting with J. Edgar Hoover. In the first week of December after he was elected, right then and there, J. Edgar Hoover was—the first time, he was on national television saying, “The Black Panther Party is a threat to the internal security of America.” And that—and then I called a retreat for every chapter, every branch all across the country. I wanted no less than two people, as much as four and five, from every chapter and every branch. Seventy-five percent of them responded. And I taught them—see, I’m an old carpenter, a builder, a architect. You see, I’m a high-tech person, you know what I mean? But I love details. And I taught them how to fortify our offices, etc., how to network with people across the country—any positive politicians, any liberals, any churches, etc., etc., etc. So we became coalesced all across the United States of America. And they began to attack us.

Now, in doing my film—in doing my film, I researched and found, right after Nixon was sworn in, I have a tape of him—you know, Vanderbilt University carries one of the biggest archives there is. And I found the Watergate telephone conversation with Nixon on the phone. “Now, J. Edgar, when are you going to get rid of these damn Black Panthers for me?” “Well, sir, we’ve been trying.” “Now, John Mitchell’s going to call you. I—I—I want you to move on this and get rid of these Black Panthers for me.” This is Richard M. Nixon, right after he’s sworn in. A month later, John Mitchell, the United States attorney general, under John—is on national television: “By the end of this 1969 year, we’ll be rid of these damn Black Panthers.” I’m telling you, these—and they came down. And that year, they attacked. I mean attacked; I don’t mean coming in saying, “You’re arrested.” They just came in shooting, 24 different offices of my Black Panther Party all across America, including—

AMY GOODMAN: Bobby Seale, we have to end it there, but we’re going to extend this discussion, and we’re going to put Part 2 under web exclusives at democracynow.org, because we want to talk about what happened to Fred Hampton, head of the Chicago Black Panthers in 1969, when he was gunned down by Chicago police. I want to thank Bobby Seale being with us, founding chairman, Black Panther Party. Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, we also want you to stay with us. I want to ask Bill Ayers about McCain’s comments linking Barack Obama to Bill Ayers.

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