1968 Democratic Convention...what happened?

With the Democratic race for the nominee so close and the superdelegates more important than ever, I’ve heard people express the opinion that if the “will of the voters” is thwarted, mainly by superdelegates ignoring their constituents and voting for Hillary, it will be worse than the 1968 Democratic convention.

I was barely a year old at the time, so my memory of that event is rather murky. :wink: I know there were riots, but I don’t know why or how or what the ramifications were.

Can someone clue me in?

Here’s a good place to start.

Also follow the link to the page about the protests.

And there are numerous Google links to the fiasco, including YouTube video.

What I remember about that convention (I was not there, just saw it on TV) is that there were anti-war protestors and demonstrations outside in the streets of Chicago. The police cracked down (very literally) on these, in what was termed later by some a “police riot.”

I remember nothing about there being a problem inside the convention hall; business went on as usual.

In 1968, because of controversy over the Vietnam War, LBJ decided not to run again, so there was a nomination fight. Unlike nowadays, where most of the delegates are picked in primaries, back then, most of the delegates were picked by the state party leadership.

The big controversy among the Democratic party in 1968 was over the war. The “front runner” was Hubert Humprey, LBJ’s vice president, who’s position on the war was similar to that of LBJ’s (work out a negotated peace, based on the peace talks going on in Paris and withdraw). However, a lot of Democrats, especially younger Democrats who were at risk of being drafted, were more strongly antiwar, and supported an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, and the anti-war democrats lined up behind, first, Bobby Kennedy, and then after he was assassinated, Eugene McCarthy, a senator from Minnesota, both of whom supported rapid withdrawal from Vietnam.

However, like I said, at the time, most delegates were picked by state party leaders, and Humphrey, even though he didn’t participate in any of the primaries, had won over the support of the state partie. Meanwhile, although most Kennedy supporters backed McCarthy, not all did. So, after everything, Humphrey went into the convention with enough delegates to get the nomination.

A lot of the antiwar Democrats, especially the college students who made up a really vocal segment of Kennedy/McCarthy supporters, were upset by this, and there were protests in Chicago by thousands of antiwar protesters outside the convention. They were upset both because they associated Humphrey with the Johnson administration who they blamed for the war, and also because he had been nominated without entering any primaries, so they felt that the “voice of the people” wasn’t being heard.

The mayor sent police to try to break up the protest and it led to violence, as the protestors resisted the police and the police attacked the recalcitant protestors. 8 people were arrested afterwards and charged with incitement to riot (“The Chicago Seven”), and that’s an interesting story if you’re interested in looking it up.

Not totally. Some speakers mentioned the problems outside, and Mayor Daley was not pleased. Plus the two screen shots of boring speeches against demonstrators getting clubbed was not very helpful.

There were demonstrations at the Republican convention also, but it was in Miami Beach and I remember that the police were able to keep the dermonstrators away from the convention center. Plus, no Mayor Daley to escalate things.

So there were no primary elections, like now? The state party leaders decided who to nominate?

No primaries. But popular music was much better than it is now…

There were primaries, but the vast majority of delegates were chosen by the state party leaders. The primaries gave everyone an idea about how the candidate might run (and, going further back, they weren’t used at all).

The system wasn’t as bad as it seems. The state leaders wanted a winner and steered clear of pushing their own agendas, since the president probably wouldn’t affect those. The system brought us Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, and JFK in a hundred years, so it certainly could pick a good candidate.

As far as the politics were involved, Humphrey himself wanted a withdrawal as quickly as possible, but as VP was not allowed to speak out and overrule the president. But the antiwar protesters outside the convention were what crippled Humphrey’s chances (though really not fatally – if the election had been held a week later, he probably would have won, since his support was growing and Nixon’s was dropping – a Harris poll even put him ahead (within margin of error) a few days before Election Day).

And the anti war protesters that were filling the streets of Chicago were doing all sorts of very entertaining things to piss of the establishment. They called in guerrilla theatre and it was freaking out the suits majorly.

Stuff like getting into the New York Stock exchange and throwing bags of dollars bills onto the trading floor and causing chaos. Or trying to give change to business men in three piece suits in the business district while dressed like panhandlers. Or like trying to levitate the pentagon, (the national guard was called in, just in case!), they were very creative.

While these events didn’t happen in Chicago they were the lead up to it. No one knew what those crazy kids would do next - better call the National Guard, just to be sure things don’t go badly.

In fact, calling in the National Guard proved to be the very thing that almost always insured things did, in fact, go very badly.

A factor in this was a fringe element in the crowd of protesters (the Weathermen and suchlike) who set out to provoke exactly this reaction from the police. And the police cooperated to the extent that by the time it was over, at least one British MP had been clubbed to the ground for having the temerity to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. While the instigators should certainly have been rounded up and given an all-expense-paid vacation to the Greybar Hotel, the behavior of the police was, on the whole, abominable.

And then there was Mayor Daley’s deathless malaprop (I think):

In addition, RFK was shot just after winning the California primary, so there were a lot of delegates at large by the time of the convention.

You were dead on in your description of how Humphrey racked up delegates, but the rest of your timeline was off.

Kennedy wasn’t first - McCarthy was, and Johnson didn’t withdraw from the race until McCarthy’s strong showing in the New Hampshire primary. This brought Kennedy into the contest to seek the antiwar vote, and Humphrey in to contest as a more traditional Democrat.

Kennedy and McCarthy fought bitterly in primaries for months, while Humphrey ran favorite son surrogates in primary states and sought the backing of party leaders to gain delegates through pledges.

It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when protesting a National Convention was considered novel, and newsworthy, and even frightening. Nowadays every convention–and every IMF meeting and every international summit and every globalization forum–attracts protesters. The host cities plan for it in advance, and designate areas in which to protest, and the police train in riot control.

That didn’t happen in 1968. Chicago was super-tense after the West Side Riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King in April. Mayor Daley’s attitude was that there should be no demonstration of any kind, anywhere. His police force regarded the protesters as spoiled punk trouble-makers and outside agitators, and in the absence of any restraint from above, behaved accordingly.

The protests, and the out-of-control police, had little to do with the convention itself. Inside the hall, some big-city mayors and Southern governors were casting about for an alternative to Hubert Humphrey, whom they regarded as a weak campaigner, but there was zero chance that an anti-war firebrand like Eugene McCarthy would win. In the end, no alternative surfaced (Ted Kennedy refused to run), and Humphrey won by default.

At the time, most Chicagoans supported Daley, and believed the protesters had gotten a well-deserved ass-kicking. (I was eight years old at the time and I remember my father cheering on the cops.) The “losers”, however, wrote the history books–scads of reporters and intellectuals got beaten up in the mayhem, and wrote eloquent condemnations of the police and the city after the fact. The episode is now remembered as a low point in city history.

My most vivid memory was Dan Rather getting roughed up on the floor. As Cronkite said, there were a bunch of thugs down there.

From this site

Tuesday, August 27th

I have a slight scar on my left cheek from a police nightstick on this night in Lincoln Park. I woke up in a cell jammed with other people picked up in the sweep. They held us for a few hours then kicked us loose on foot. On the way back to the park, I bought a silver peace symbol about the size of a dime that I have worn ever since.

My God! Can this really be forty years ago???

Good thing those mostly Irish police didn’t know that he was a British MP, or he would have really gotten it!

longhair, that’s absolutely fascinating! To actually know of someone who was there and did their bit. I can imagine that peace sign is extremely special to you. Wow!!

And I must admit that I’d have loved to seen exactly what the National Guard would’ve done if the Pentagon had begun to levitate. :smiley:

I like this part:


Any Dopers remember what the pig was charge with? Was the pig read his/her Miranda rights? :stuck_out_tongue:

On the subject of the trial, this film is recommended.

Also, for anyone who wants to know more about the riots, check out the movie Medium Cool, which was shot verite-style during the actual events. It’s kind of an uneven film but the stuff that’s great about it makes it more than worthwhile viewing.

I’m still trying to get my head around the concept of “no primary elections.” So the great unwashed* spent their time petitioning their state party leaders, trying to convince them to vote for this one vs that one? And the Presidential hopefuls spent their time also schmoozing the party leaders?
*those who cared enough, of course.