The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago has become one of the emblematic events of the decade, a culmination of years of hope and idealism that spiraled into days of rage, causing wounds to the party and country some scholars believe persist to this day.
Divisions within the Democratic Party over the war in Vietnam were on display inside the convention hall, while outside in the streets and parks of Chicago, anti-war demonstrators were met with violence from the Chicago Police Department and Army National Guard under the direction of then-mayor Richard J. Daley.
When President Lyndon B. Johnson announced in March of 1968, that he would not be running for re-election, a broad array of politicians and organizers saw the opportunity to influence the course of the war. Some, including Vice President Hubert Humphrey, supported the war. Others, like Senator Eugene McCarthy and the young political organizers of the New Left, were strongly against the war and wanted to adopt an official plank opposing it.
The Youth International Party, or Yippies; Students for a Democratic Society; and other New Left organizers applied for permits to hold protests in the city's parks during the convention. Daley delayed granting any permits, leaving organizers in limbo and allowing frustrations to mount.
Fed up with waiting, organizers decided their voices would be heard with or without permission.
August 23, 1968
Three days before the official start of the DNC, the Youth International Party holds their own candidate nomination at Chicago's Civic Center, now called Daley Plaza. There is a large police presence as the Yippies nominate their own candidate for president: a pig named Pigasus. Seven people are arrested along with Pigasus.
August 24, 1968
Delegates begin to arrive in Chicago. In Lincoln Park, protesters hold drills as they prepare for their demonstrations. Mayor Daley deploys the National Guard, the New York Times reports. He also implements an 11 p.m. curfew for the park. On that day, protesters obey the curfew.
August 25, 1968
The Yippies begin their Festival of Life in Lincoln Park. There are about 2,000 attendees, according to newspaper reports from the time. Chicago police sweep the park at 11 p.m. and beat demonstrators who don't leave, pushing them out of the park and into the Old Town neighborhood. In the wake of the night's unrest, the New York Times reports that the National Guard has once again been given "shoot to kill" orders if protesters do not obey them, or if they see looting.
August 26, 1968
Mayor Daley officially opens the 1968 Democratic National Convention at the International Amphitheater, which closed in 1999, on the South Side of Chicago near the Union Stockyards. Thousands protest the start of the convention in the South Loop and Grant Park. The Festival of Life continues in Lincoln Park.
Inside the convention, tensions in the party become obvious as delegates argue long into the night. Outside in Lincoln Park, police use tear gas to clear protesters at 11 p.m. Demonstrators and reporters covering the protests are beaten by Chicago police.
August 27, 1968
Protests continue in multiple locations. In Grant Park, the protests are largely peaceful. In Lincoln Park, they are violent. Tensions continue to rise inside the convention. Dan Rather, then a reporter for CBS, is roughed up by security as he attempts to interview a delegate who is being escorted out of the hall. The incident is broadcast live on television.
August 28, 1968
The only permit issued by Mayor Daley for a protest is for August 28. Approximately 15,000 people attend the demonstration in Grant Park. Chicago police form a human barricade around the protest to prevent demonstrators from marching to the convention. As a result, protesters end up on Michigan Avenue and outside the Conrad Hilton Hotel.
Police and National Guardsmen beat protesters and some reporters, despite the large media presence. A strike by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers prevents the scene from being broadcast live, but television networks shuttle the footage to their hubs at the convention hall from which the shocking images are then broadcast. The riot becomes known as the Battle of Michigan Avenue. Hundreds are injured and hundreds more arrested.
August 29, 1968
Inside the convention hall, Vice President Hubert Humphrey accepts his party's nomination for President of the United States. Outside, hundreds of protesters try to march to the International Amphitheater and are stopped with tear gas and more violence from police. The convention officially ends.
Chicago police said a total of 589 people were arrested, and 119 police officers and 100 protesters were injured. The Medical Committee for Human Rights said more than 1,000 people, including protesters and members of the press, were injured and treated during the Democratic National Convention.
The events of and around the 1968 DNC exposed deep rifts both in the Democratic Party and in the New Left. Many organizers of the New Left would point to the DNC as the moment the movement started to fall apart, especially as it failed to affect the party's nomination. In November, Humphrey narrowly lost the election to Richard Nixon.
On December 1, a panel led by Dan Walker released its findings on violence surrounding the DNC in a report called "Rights in Conflict: The Walker Report."
"The nature of the response was unrestrained and indiscriminate police violence on many occasions, particularly at night," the Walker Report stated. "That violence was made all the more shocking by the fact that it was often inflicted upon persons who had broken no law, disobeyed no order, made no threat. These included peaceful demonstrators, onlookers, and large numbers of residents who were simply passing through, or happened to live in, the areas where confrontations were occurring."
In response to an article in the Los Angeles Times in 1996, Walker himself wrote to the paper to clarify his meaning.
"What I wrote in my personal summary of the over-300 page fact-filled documentation of the tragic events is this: 'A majority of Chicago police acted responsibly; a minority engaged in violence that can only be termed a "police riot,"' " Walker's letter reads. "No one who reads objectively the facts detailed in "Rights in Conflict" could reach any other conclusion regarding a minority of the police on duty; those facts were taken from many hours of movies, thousands of still pictures and thousands of eyewitness accounts, including those contained in over 1,000 FBI statements taken from participants."