It was 50 years ago this week that the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago became a national spectacle, as a major political event turned into chaos that culminated with a police riot, much of it unfolding on live national television. Chicago met the protesters with 24,000 police officers, National Guardsmen and Army soldiers using tear gas and clubs. We feature newsreel clips from the week and go to Chicago to speak with former SDS and Weather Underground member Bill Ayers, who was arrested 50 years ago.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: It was 50 years ago this week that the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago became a national spectacle, as a major political event veered into chaos that culminated with a police riot, much of it unfolding on live national television. The 1968 DNC came in the middle of a year of mass protests against the Vietnam War. Protests had also erupted and civil disorders in April, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Then, on June 5th, Robert Kennedy was killed as he sought the Democratic Party nomination for president.
Democrats had to select a nominee after President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek another term amid fallout over Vietnam. His vice president, Hubert Humphrey, was ultimately nominated for president without competing in the primaries, after party bosses arranged for his support from most delegates. As protests raged outside the convention, inside, Aretha Franklin, whose funeral will be held Friday in Detroit, was invited to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
ARETHA FRANKLIN: [singing] And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Despite months of organizing that brought tens of thousands of people to the city during the Democratic National Convention, Chicago refused to issue permits for almost any of the demonstrators. Instead, they met…