By DAN WALKER
David Farber. Chicago '68.
Professor Farber provides a well-researched presentation of the background and events surrounding the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. It is a pleasure to read this retrospective survey of the scene which I examined as director of the Chicago Study Team for the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence only a few months after the convention.
Professor Farber focuses mostly on the pre-convention activities of the youth anti-war movement, which receive a total of 160 pages as compared to about 100 on the turbulent events of convention week. The backdrop story is taken largely from press accounts and therefore speaks primarily as "event" history rather than "human" history. Inevitably, it downplays (to take only one example) the motives and actions of the violent radicals who would have been delighted to see a bloodbath at the convention doorstep. But this is not a criticism of Farber I had the same problem. My only point is that we will probably never know the extent to which the sometimes crazy antics of the Yippies and their allies helped to give vent to feelings that otherwise might have erupted in much more serious violence than actually occurred.
In his analysis of the camps, marches, police actions, confrontations and ultimately riots, Farber fortunately goes beyond the media accounts into personal statements and other firsthand sources. Except for relatively minor omissions, he tells a scholarly story. All essentials are, to my knowledge, accurate.
Chicago '68 is especially worth reading 20 years after the events it depicts to refresh one's recollection as to what sixties-style police confrontations with mobs were like quite different from the film clips now seen almost nightly on TV news from around the world. The police have learned how to be tough with confrontational mobs while keeping individual acts of brutality to a minimum.
But the real heart of the book is the 50-page concluding analysis. Here Farber describes well the bind in which the young protestors of the sixties found themselves caught between the forces they decried and the causes they espoused. They were right, of course, about the war. To quote the author, the "anti-war movement displayed its courage and its heart even as it revealed its unworkable politics." Unworkable at the time, yes. But history will surely record that the youth politics of the sixties laid the groundwork for the populism that swept the nation in the seventies and ultimately elected Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan (and me).
It is fascinating that the generation of parents which was charged with permissively raising the college youth of the sixties was in turn infected by the anti-establishment and anti-government virus spread by their children. This virus was strong when I walked the state in 1971 and first discovered the deep feelings later called populism which no one at the time consciously related to the shouts, placards and marches of the previous decade.
I only wish that Professor Farber had had the mission and the space to place Chicago '68 into the broader context of that remarkable and turbulent decade. Its coalescing of not one but five broad people-oriented movements will undoubtedly make it one of the most significant decades of the century in American life. Farber rightly touches on this theme. All five movements (anti-war, student protest, women's rights, civil rights and consumer-environment rights) found at least partial expression in the developments described in this book.
It is my hope that Professor Farber will carry on the pursuit which he has begun. I would be glad to ruminate with him on this fascinating historical subject from where I am. I have plenty of time on my hands. □
Dan Walker (Democrat) served as governor of lllinois from 1973 until 1977. Rights in Conflict is the title of the report he directed on the 1968 National Democratic Convention in Chicago. Walker is now serving a seven-year sentence in federal prison in Duluth, Minn.
April 1989 | Illinois Issues | 25