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“We Are Living in a State of Anarchy”: Radical Assessments and Agendas in the Year 1968

Protests against party leadership and policies during the 1968 Democratic Party National Convention, held in Chicago, exploded into violent street confrontations. The 10,000 protesters faced more than 20,000 army troops and police officers. The Walker Report, a federal investigation of the incident, characterized the conflict as “a police riot” and blamed Mayor Richard J. Daley in part for the “unrestrained and indiscriminate police violence.” While only seven police officers faced dismissal proceedings, eight leaders of protesting organizations were indicted for conspiring to violate the 1968 Anti-Riot Act. Documents from the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (or Mobe) and the Youth International Party (or “Yippies,”)— two groups central in organizing the protest—appeared in the following testimony of activist Tom Hayden at a House Committee on Un-American Activities hearing to investigate “subversive involvement” in the disruption. Hayden co-authored the Port Huron Statement, the founding document of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the leading New Left coalition, in 1962. Despite outrage at the current “state of anarchy,” he remained devoted to participatory democracy. Although Hayden and four others were convicted of various charges in the sensationalist Chicago Conspiracy trial, an appeals court reversed the verdicts.


To: National Mobilization Staff: Chicago organizers

not for circulation or publication

From: Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden.


The Purpose

American society is being destroyed by its unrepresentative government. The politicians who control the White House and Congress do not respond to glaring social needs or to the outcries of millions of people. Democracy is reduced to the sorry event of people trooping to the polls every four years tto [sic] vote for candidates who offer no serious choice.

Our taxes, blood and national honor are being poured out in the hopeless Vietnam war, while the violence in our cities exposes the real depth of our unsolved problems at home. Faced with a world wide cry for human rights, from Vietnam to our nation’s slums, top American politicians seem able to reply only with negative and self-defeating violence. But the violence of suppression solves nothing. The problems cannot be avoided or bombed away.

In 1960 and especially in 1964, the American voters supported peace in Vietnam and social reform at home. Since then leading scholars, religious figures, artists, even certain generals and businessmen have protested the war; the Senate leadership of both parties has criticised the President; opinion surveys show a large minority opposed to the fighting; nearly all of America’s allies have registered their opposition; world public opinion condemns the US as the aggressor in Vietnam. Yet the warmakers continue to escalate. Their domination of policy grows.

For a century American society has endorsed racial equality. But in 1968 a virtual race war is in the making. Since open rebellions broke out nearly four years ago, no social and economic answer has been put forward. The basic response of the government has been to violently suppress the rebellions then let evil conditions go on as before. Rotten housing, schools and jobs are the continuous lot of black Americans. Neither hard work in the cotton fields, nor politics, nor labor organizations, nor nonviolent demonstrations have made the American promise become a reality.

The problems of Vietnam and racism affect all Americans. Our country’s future peace and honor depend on a successful resolution of these two problems. Hatreds and divisions are being created which will take generations to end. America is becoming an ugly and insecure place to live. The country lacks the commitment to deal with racism, and cannot afford to anyway because of its preoccupation with Vietnam. Because our social imagination is blighted by these investments in violence, our life as a whole is degraded in countless ways. Cities are unlivable. Television is a wasteland. Medical needs are not met. Mental problems go unattended.

The political parties, especially the governing Democratic Party, fail completely to perform their function of solving social problems peacefully. The Democratic Party is bound to the demands of Southern racists who control key committee positions through seniority gained by generations of Negro disenfranchisement. These politicians are not only racists. They are old and out of touch with changes in our country and the world. They are believers in the use of force to maintain the status quo. The northern Democrats, though traditionally seeming more liberal and flexible than their southern allies, now are exposed to be fully as corrupt. Their power rests on urban machines which have failed to solve the problems of their largely Negro and working class constituencies. Elections in the North tend to be personality contests, or battles between competing ethnic groups, or competitions in which candidates out-promise each other. Nothing changes but the faces.

Above and behind this useless structure of petty politics have arisen huge bureaucracies with enormous power over the life and death of America’s people. These include the military which commands three-fourths of the taxpayer’s money and an equal percentage of all research and development; and large corporations which make their fortunes in the midst of urban squalor and world poverty. Where these giants cannot influence politicians, they simply buy them, and where they cannot buy them, they threaten to withdraw support of all kinds.

Against these conditions there is mounting resistance and revolt. The summer of 1968 will see the greatest outpouring of dissent ever witnessed in this country. Anger with police and rats, Vietnam and the draft is now massive and cannot be quieted with “better police methods.” This summer will bring a more determined and powerful movement for change. At the same time established solutions to the foreign and domestic crisis will harden and the democratic process will visibly close itself to any viable alternative. The axis of the Democratic Party—the blacks, the workers, the intellectuals—will experience a new consciousness of unrepresentation. Nixon, not Rockefeller, will be the Presidential candidate of the Republican convention. And Johnson, not McCarthy or Kennedy, will become the “alternative” for the liberals. To the average Democrat who wants a say on the widening war, high taxes, and urban squalor the “choice” will appear desperate. Many, for the first time, will wake up to the fact that in the wheeling and dealing of the democratic process the average person does not count. He is expected to participate in politics in about the same way that he goes to the movies. His choices are limited to which of the stars he least dislikes. This summer, millions of anxious Democrats will ask, what now?

The strategy of the anti-war and black movements in this period may help to answer this question. We may either take the initiative in laying the foundation for a new political force in the United States or be driven into isolation from average Americans. What we do now, how we prepare the country for the Democratic Convention, and how we respond to that Convention may well determine whether we bury the Democratic Party or set the conditions for Johnson to buy the movement.

A Proposal

A massive confrontation with our government—the Democratic Party—as it holds its convention in Chicago this summer is being organized. Given the right strategic perspective, this challenge could help transform the politics of the country. Since the New Deal, the Democratic Party’s electoral strength has depended upon the support of the politically conscious people in trade unions, black communities and the professions. Now major sections of this base are in opposition to the policies of the Democratic Party. At the same time, the country’s official leadership is determined to hold to the status quo. Every political sign points towards this conflict of interest coming to hammer blows at the August Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Our task must be to prepare the country to meet this political crisis by supporting and strengthening a people’s movement and a people’s force which the politicians cannot avoid or resist.

This proposal suggests several ways to build for a massive action in Chicago over a period of months: to use the Chicago demonstration to dramatize to the world the large numbers of people who feel unrepresented, and in fact disgraced and used, by our government’s policies on the crisis of Vietnam and racism and the mockery that democracy has become; and to unfold the Democratic Convention challenge in such a way that all of America and the world can look on and judge whether Lyndon Johnson or the demonstrators are better representatives of America’s tradition of democracy and social justice.

Specifically, the proposal is that events unfold in three major periods of activity.

First, from April 21 to April 30, the spring days of resistance. Where possible, the anti-war and black movements should focus on the Democratic Party. The undemocratic method of choosing delegates—through money and “pull”—should be exposed and opposed. The names of Democratic contributors who profit from war and racism should be revealed and their private comfort disturbed. Mayors who head local Democratic Parties should become the recipients of draft cards. State chairman should be burned in effigy for their support to Johnson, to the war and repression. The movement’s demands on the Democratic National Convention should be widely distributed and interpreted. Where appropriate, the positions of Dodd, Jackson and Symington should be protested. Englehard’s tie to Johnson should be attacted [sic]. The Texas construction companies which profit off Vietnam should be exposed, etc.

Second, the summer should become a period of intense organizing, education and demonstration. As local coordinating committees develop to plan the attact [sic] on the Democratic Convention, they should initiate recruiting and training programs for summer organizers—several thousand should be the objective—who build high school draft resistance unions, organize challenges to corrupt delegates, talk with teachers, doctors, veterans and welfare recipients about confronting the Convention on a particular day, gather intelligence on delegates who will be continuously confronted and talked to during their entire stay in Chicago, speak to hundreds of local trade unions about the war and racism, build pressure in the ghetto for the removal of all Democratic Party headquarters, and hold local war crime tribunals to expose prominent Democrats who manufacture anti-personnel bombs, poison gases or other weapons banned by international agreement.

Third, the summer should be capped by a week of demonstrations, disruptions and marches at the Democratic National Convention, clogging the streets of Chicago with people demanding peace, justice and participation in government. This should be a period in which the movement projects a series of broad, but concrete demands—demands which the vast majority of people can identify with, but which the Democratic Party is shown to be unable to meet.

The movement must not play into Johnson’s hands by attempting to prevent the Convention from assembling, a position few Americans would accept or understand. Rather the action should build steadily through the Convention week, each day escalating the demands and the tactics, building for a massive confrontation at the time of Johnson’s nomination. The initial challenges and activities might involve 50,000 to 100,000 people. The final funneral [sic] march on the Democratic Convention, beginning as the first ballot is taken, should bring a half million—people demanding a choice on the issues of peace and justice; citizens who have come to “make the democratic process work” by pinning the delegates in the International Ampetheatre [sic] until a choice is presented to the American people.

A well planned, educational build-up would preceed [sic] the final days of militancy; for example, alternative platform committee hearings; challenges inside the Convention as well as outside; continuous “lobbying” with every delegate; outdoor rallies; daily press conferences of our own making; and actions which project a series of concrete demands and grievances. A people’s platform hearing might be highlighted by Garrison testifying on the Kennedy assassination. Satre [sic] on US war crimes in Vietnam and Carmaichael [sic] on the causes of riots. For the mass media, our hearings should be able to compete with the Democratic Convention platform hearings.

Daily demonstrations should be organized so they do not become a massive blending of movement forces competing for TV coverage. Machinery is needed that permits demonstrations to clarify demands, not confuse the public. Perhaps each day of the Convention could be matched with each of the major demands of the anti-war and black movements. A schedule of demonstrations could be projected: one day for education; one for poverty; one for the draft; etc. Each day would be utilized to dramatize a single demand. Each day, actions all across Chicago would share a common issue focus.

For example, on August 26, a coalition of poverty rights organizations might surround the Conrad Hilton Hotel to wake the delegates with the demand for $20 billion to end poverty. Throughout the day, press conferences, disruptions and pickets would dramatize this demand. In the evening, poor whites, Spanish and black Chicagoans could march on the troops protecting the Convention to invite the delegates to spend the night with them in the ghetto instead of the Conrad Hilton and Palmer House. While the world looks on, the invitation is greeted with police clubs, brutality and arrests since the President’s injunction against all demonstrations at the Convention has just been violated. The following day, August 27, actions might focus on the draft, organized by a radical student coalition. The actions would be slightly more militant than the preceeding [sic] day with young people pinning draft cards on soldier’s bayonets or burning them on Mayor Daley’s lawn which is in the community beside the International Ampetheatre [sic].

A day by day focus on national grievances not only can clarify movement demands for the general public but allow for diversity in forms of protest, militancy and rhetoric. Such diversity is possible, indeed desirable, if there is agreement on the general strategic framework: to allow people who presently represent forces within the Democratic Party to clarify for themselves the limits of the present two party system; and to offer an alternative perspective and program to those millions who agree that a Johnson-Nixon contest is no contest at all. The objective of the movement should be to compete with the Democratic Party for people’s allegiance, by undermining its ideological and organizational base during this crisis period.

The Tasks

In addition to creating immediate discussions among movement organizations and activities across the country about the Convention confrontation, machinery must be built now to prepare for the spring, summer and August activities. For the February 24 National Mobilization conference in Chicago, drafts of alternative demands should be prepared. A pamphlet on “What Is the Democratic Party” which implies clear tarkets [sic] for the spring actions should be written and distributed. A black and white staff should be organized in Chicago. State by state, groups should form to research local Democratic Party corruption and develop delegate lists which can be forwarded to the National Mobilization office in Chicago. Regional coordinating committees that launch summer organizing projects and assume organizational responsibility for different days of demonstrations should be created. A lawyers conference must be schedules [sic] to build the legal defense and support. Preparations for medical stations attended by doctors should begin. Housing for 50,000 people must be found in Chicago. Fifteen large meeting halls are also needed. Educational and interpretative materials should be written. Research and organization for an alternative platform committee hearing must be started. A national press service should be established. A speakers program on the Democratic Party should be launched. And finally, funds are needed to support this program and the countless, creative activities that will develop as we approach the time when the President finds it necessary to employ troops from Vietnam or the ghetto to secuire [sic] his nomination and the breakdown of representative and meaningful government in American [sic] becomes an historic admission to all.


. . . Mr. HAYDEN. I don’t believe that there is a democratic machinery on the campus; I don’t believe the draft represents democratic machinery. And as long as there is no democratic machinery, then young people will either have to capitulate in the status quo, or have to find ways to resist it, and I don’t really advise that people find illegal ways to resist it because I think that the authorities are going to start putting people away.

Most of my friends are on their way to jail, for one thing or another. Most of the young leaders in this country in the movements—many of them unknown to you, many of them unknown to me—are facing prison sentences already, so I beg to differ with the idea that I advocate illegal action. But I do advocate action that could bring a university to a halt, as the actions of the students and faculty at San Fran State have brought that university to a halt, to try to straighten the university out.

Mr. ASHBROOK. Mr. Hayden, maybe we would disagree on the term, but it seemed to me from what you have said that that comes very close to anarchy.

Mr. HAYDEN. Well, we are living in a state of anarchy when a young man is faced by a draft board—the average age of its members is 58, one-fifth of those members are 73 years old—there is no mechanism for that young person to avoid intolerable choices, either of fighting in a war that he doesn’t want to fight in, or copping out and letting some Puerto Rican or young black person or poor working-class person fight for him, then isn’t that a state of anarchy facing that individual, rather than a state of law? He has no recourse; he has no machinery. And that is the situation facing all young people in this country, and it is a situation that I could describe in great detail in other spheres besides the draft.

Mr. ASHBROOK. Thank you.

That is all I have, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. ICHORD. Any questions, Mr. Watson?

Mr. WATSON. Mr. Hayden, I believe you stated in summation that we are going to lose, referring to the present generation, the establishment.

Mr. HAYDEN. No, I just meant HUAC has lost its authority. That is why no one pickets here any more.

Mr. WATSON. I see. Of course, perhaps some of us may assign other reasons as to why they not longer picket, but—

Mr. HAYDEN. I hope you don’t think it is the police.

Mr. WATSON. Oh, of course not. You have demonstrated that you have no fear or respect for policy authority. But did I not understand—

Mr. HAYDEN. Not when it is used in the way that you are using it to protect your so-called democracy.

Mr. WATSON. Did I understand you to say that the system, or whatever it is, this generation, we are going to lose?

Mr. HAYDEN. I think that politicians like Dean Rusk, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and anybody else I might have listed before and now forgotten have lost their authority with wide sections of the American people. I said that. I said that HUAC has lost its authority.

Mr. WATSON. And that you—

Mr. HAYDEN. And that you can’t retain it by having a younger chairman or being more reasonable, because that doesn’t deal with the fundamental questions.

Mr. ICHORD. Mr. Hayden, some of the newspaper columnists have stated that you and your group were very instrumental in the election of Richard Nixon. Doesn’t that somewhat frustrate you, with your feeling toward Richard Nixon, if those columnists are accurate in their assessment?

Mr. HAYDEN. No. I think that the election of Richard Nixon, in a sense, is—shows that the country will continue to run down until people decide to straighten it out. You know, it doesn’t really matter to me whether Hubert Humphrey or Richard Nixon is President of the United States.

Mr. ICHORD. Go ahead, Mr. Watson.

Mr. WATSON. You didn’t say earlier that you and those of your thinking were going to ultimately win?

Mr. HAYDEN. Well, I think we will at least outlive you. [Laughter.] Probably much of our time will be spent in penitentiaries. I think that we are more than an existential or romantic movement, however. I think we are a calculating movement, a political movement, and we are trying to make this country a better country and we expect that—we have every reason to believe that we have some chance to be successful in that effort.

Mr. WATSON. So your ultimate objective is to make this country a better country. You made that statement.

Mr. HAYDEN. Well, yes; I just made that statement.

Mr. WATSON. And you have, I believe, a lot of, or several comments in support of the so-called Walker Report.

Mr. HAYDEN. Not quite. I don’t quite agree with the Walker Report.

Mr. WATSON. You don’t quite. But some parts of it, you do. As I recall earlier, you said that it condemned this—

Mr. HAYDEN. It has a lot of evidence of what happened in Chicago between the police and demonstrators that I think is accurate evidence, solid evidence.

Mr. WATSON. Well, from this report, on page 49, I would like to read a paragraph. The report says it is a typical Yippie flyer, and it reads as follows, quote:

. . . Who says that rich white Americans can tell the Chinese what is best? How dare you tell the poor that their poverty is deserved? - - - - nuns—

And you know what I mean.

Mr. HAYDEN. What do you mean, Mr. Watson?

Mr. Watson [continues reading]:

laugh at professors—

Mr. HAYDEN. What do you mean, Mr. Watson?

Mr. WATSON. I will give you credit for being intelligent enough to arrive at an interpretation yourself. [Continues reading:]

disobey your parents: burn your money: you know life is a dream and all of our institutions are man-made illusions effective because YOU take the dream for reality. . . . Break down the family, church, nation, city, economy: turn life into an art form, a theatre of the soul and a theatre of the future; the revolutionary is the only artist. . . . What’s needed is a generation of people who are freaky, crazy, irrational, sexy, angry, irreligious, childish and mad: people who burn draft cards, burn high school and college degrees: people who say: “To hell with your goals!”; people who lure the youth with music, pot and acid: people who re-define the normal; people who break with the status-role-title-consumer game; people who have nothing material to lose but their flesh. . . .

And finally:

The white youth of America have more in common with Indians plundered, than they do with their own parents. Burn their houses down, and you will be free.

End quote.

That is a typical Yippie flyer. Those associated with you in this movement in Chicago and this, in your judgment, is the way to have a better America?

Mr. HAYDEN. I think that beautiful sentiments are expressed in that statement, and I wish that you could understand them, Mr. Watson.

Mr. WATSON. Fine, that wraps it up real well. Thank you.

Source: Congress, House, Committee on Un-American Activities, Subversive Involvement in Disruption of 1968 Democratic Party National Convention, Part 2, 90th Congress, 2d Session, December 1968 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1968).