“Hello everybody, and welcome to 1968,” announces a man dressed as Allen Ginsberg. The crowd assembled in Grant Park settles in for two hours of speeches, the next scheduled event in tonight’s reenactment of 1968. Earlier, participants heard a performance by a New York-based “radical marching band,” the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, and followed them in a protest-like parade across the Metra tracks to Michigan Avenue and back. Forty years ago to the day, on August 28, 1968, hippies, Yippies and assorted idealists and radicals clashed with the police outside the Democratic National Convention, but tonight’s reenactment makes no attempt to recreate the angry, confrontational attitude of the 1960s. The protest-parade is followed by a group of bored bike cops, several of whom appear to be text-messaging. The programs handed out to reenactors include a message at the bottom: “In the unlikely event that we are asked by city officials to relocate this event, or to cease-and-desist, please do not panic, argue or make a fuss.”
The first speaker is Don Rose, the former press secretary for the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. As he tells how he invented the slogan “the whole world is watching,” John Schultz listens nearby. Schultz, the author of a book on the 1968 protests titled “No One Was Killed,” was an eyewitness to the events of forty years ago. What does he think of the reenactment? “Great mix of people, all kinds, including a few undercover cops,” he opines. “And there are a few who are professors like me.” In fact, the crowd seems to be mostly made up of twentysomethings born after 1968, followed by graying radicals old enough to have participated in the protests.
Rose, now a music critic, finishes speaking and rushes off to the Jazz Festival. Next up is Schultz himself, who remembers standing in Grant Park when the news came in that the Democrats had rejected the proposed “peace plank”: “This guy only a few yards away from me listening to his transistor radio suddenly started sobbing with anger and ran toward the flagpole and said ‘Take it down! Take it down! Take it down!’ and some others were yelling ‘Burn it’ and ‘Tear it up’ and this and that.” Further speakers follow, both moderns and impersonators, including William Burroughs (“I feel that the police of Chicago, the mayor [and] the Democratic Party are all too irrational to deal with in a rational manner”) and Jean Genet (“I find the hippies very pretty, very beautiful, very curious and interesting. The ones with the blue helmets and revolvers and the blue dress, they’re the ones I love the most.”) The organizers nominate a chicken and a cock for president and vice president, respectively, and the night’s activities continue. Nearby, the police continue texting. (Sam Feldman)