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Burn Baby Burn: You Can’t Jail the Revolution: The Chicago 8


The Democratic National Convention of ’68 was a lesson in the horrifying lines of demarcation; the thin thread that separates a Police State from a Peoples Democracy. The Elections of ’68 in and of themselves were a farce, a frightening drama unfolding eventually between two nominees from both parties, that were not even in the category of strange bedfellows. Democrat Hubert Humphrey had an irritating voice that largely worked against him. Nasal and high pitched he sounded more like Truman Capote going into labor. On the other side of the two faced political coin of the realm was Republican Richard Nixon. Never trust a politician with a perennial five o’clock shadow and the jowls of a rabid bulldog. The only viable candidate it seems was an actual pig, called Pigasus nominated by Phil Ochs and nomination accepted by Jerry Rubin. This “peoples” nomination took place during the riots and both Ochs and Rubin, along with the pig were arrested by Mayor Daley’s goon squad in blue on an obscure still on the books livestock ordinance violation! OK, too many police pig puns I can get drowned in here… Pig Puns… Pig Pen… see?

 

This civics lesson of democracy eventually exploded for five days with the Chicago police rioting with billy clubs and batons; brute force, all in the haze of a tear gas, floated in an ethereal manner, a dreamlike fog, that burns and brings reality to a crashing halt. The cops rampaged beating everything in sight, including journalists covering the appalling events. Journalist’s cameras were smashed, film confiscated, and heads busted. Even Dan Rather was the victim of brutality on the convention floor and writer Terry Southern ran for cover into an apartment building head bleeding from wounds sustained as a journalist/observer.

 

The counter convention of the people was planned by many factions of the American Left, but the clown prince’s were the Youth International Party or “Yippees”, along with the SDS. Eventually the riots culminated in more bloodshed and the subsequent trial of the Chicago 8 began. In March, after grand jury after grand jury were convened, indictments were handed down. At the time even Ramsey Clark, Lyndon Johnson’s Attorney General, said they shouldn’t press charges as it was clearly a police riot. Nevertheless, tt went to trial and Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner and Black Panther Bobby Seale were indicted— Bobby was severed from the trial for unruly behaviour and contempt of court. The Trial then was of the Chicago 7. Listen to the lyrics of Graham Nash’s song, “Chicago” where he says, “So your brothers bound and gagged and tied up to a chair”.  There were also eight police charged with violation of civil liberties, and 16 un-indicted co-conspirators. Defence counsel was made up of the dynamic duo of the Sixties Left, William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass and judge Julius Hoffman presided.

 

The stage was set and the trial was about to get underway…only this time it was the American system of politics that was on trial against the backdrop of an unpopular war in Vietnam and assassinations in Memphis and Los Angeles. What did Zappa say? Oh yeah..It Can’t Happen Here!

 

The trial of the Chicago 7 was a regular P.T. Barnum three-ring circus of verbal sparring between the defendants and the crazy, old judge. The court jesters of the revolution were in full flower and by the time the curtain was about to come down, the jury— on February 18, 1970— found all the accused “Not Guilty of Conspiracy”. It was a victory for free speech, but Judge Julius still had one small ace up his sleeve; he cited all the defendants and their attorneys for contempt of court and sentenced the group ranging from 2 and half months to four years. Froines and Weiner were acquitted completely while the remaining five were convicted of crossing state lines with the intent to incite a riot. Each was fined $5,000 and sentenced to five years in prison.  In 1972 all the convictions were reversed by a Court of Appeals and the Justice Department decided not to retry the case. The contempt charges were also overturned and the defendants all went into different directions as if a shot gun had blasted them into post-Revolution space.

 

Abbie Hoffman, the class clown and court jester of activism published Steal This Book in 1971, which many of us did, causing bookstores to refuse carrying it. (Why carry a book that would end up in someones over sized field jacket, as opposed to cash in the bank?) Later he was arrested in 1973 on drug charges. He always claimed he was set up and the cocaine was planted, a tactic that was not unusual for police at the time.  In 1974 he skipped bail and had cosmetic surgery that would have made Priscilla Presley jealous and, underground once again, he hid for several years in plain sight in New York State under the name Barry Freed and worked on environmental campaigns. In 1980 he surrendered to authorities and received a one year sentence, but was released after four months.

 

His yellow jacket wasn’t complete yet and in 1986 he was arrested again with others including Amy Carter, daughter of Jimmy Carter, for his involvement in a protest against CIA recruitment on the Univesity of Massachussets campus. One of the witnesses for the defence was former Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Hoffman along with the others were found not guilty. Later, he appeared as himself in the Oliver Stone movie, Born on the Fourth of July, which was released 8 months after Hoffman’s suicide in April of 1989. Up to his death, he regularly lectured audiences about the CIA’s covert activities including assassinations disguised as suicides.

 

Then there was the Rubinesque Jerry Rubin. The political activist and author of Do It! made his left turn early in life and was involved in the planning of the March on the Pentagon along with Abbie Hoffman and another Chicago 7 defendant, David Dellinger. The March tried to levitate the building but alas and alack, it would not budge.  However, the 82nd Airborne were on hand to prevent protesters from entering the building and, although the Pentagon did not rise into the air, the rifle butts of the Airborne came down on protesters heads. After the Chicago Trial, Rubin became quite the Yuppie businessman and was one of the early investors in Apple Computers.

 

In the 1980’s, as the Batman and Robin of the “revolution” Rubin and Hoffman embarked on a debate tour of the U.S. called “Yippees vs. Yuppies” where Rubin proclaimed that the accumulation of wealth was the “real American revolution” and that activism was hard work and the abuse of drugs and sex made the counter culture a scary entity! You know, we are the people our parents warned us about! Rubin made a ton of cash running multi-level marketing schemes for health foods and was eventually killed by a hit-and-run driver in front of his massive penthouse on Wilshire Boulevard in 1994. A fitting end to an activist turned capitalist, eh? Hopefully the vehicle that ran him down was a Mercedes and not some cheap, domestic car.

 

Then there is Barbeque’n Bobby Seale, who along with Huey Newton (Burn, Baby, Burn) was a co-founder of the Black Panther Party and the defendant in the original Chicago 8 Trial who, due to his attitude, was severed from the trial and bound and gagged on orders of Judge Julius. He was sentenced to four years in prison for contempt of court… a contemptible court it was indeed.

 

In 1970, while in prison he was back in the courtroom for the New Haven Black Panther Trials. Panthers had allegedly murdered fellow Panther Alex Rackley, who it turns out was a police informant. One of the Panthers turned states evidence and claimed the order to murder Rackley was given by Seale himself.  The jury couldn’t reach a verdict, the charges were dropped, and Seale was released from prison in 1972.

 

He went on to write a cookbook, Barbeque’n With Bobby, which is not exactly the Anarchist’s Cookbook, but is full of bonifide tasty recipes for the carnivore in all of us.  The proceeds of book purchases went to various non-profit groups and social organizations and was involved in advertising for Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. In 2006 he appeared in the film, The U.S. vs. John Lennon to talk about his close friendship with John Lennon. He’s on Facebook today and who knows, there may be a cooking show in his future on the Home and Garden Television Network. Maybe the next cookbook will be called, “Fire Up The Grill, Burn, Baby, Burn”!


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