Chicago – August 27, 1968 – In an already tumultuous year; one that started with what many considered to be the turning point in the Vietnam War by way of the Tet Offensive, to the increased level of protest against that war, to the refusal of a sitting President to run for re-election, to the assassination of a beloved Civil Rights Leader (Dr. Martin Luther King) to the assassination of a beloved Political figure (Robert F. Kennedy) – America was coming as close to coming apart at the seams as it ever had before – maybe for the first time in its history; America was in rapid-boil crisis mode.
If you look at 1968 – and depending on what you look at – it was a pivotal year in our social evolution. 1968 was still a year of Love-Ins and introspection – of self-discovery and a gradual dismantling of social taboos. But it was also a year of simmering intolerance – our race relations were sketchy at best. Unrest in our urban areas more than amply proved that – and when Dr. King was assassinated, our cities exploded in a wave of rage and destruction. Those promises of New Frontiers and Great Societies were wonderful words – but words and actions were nowhere near a meeting point. We were all faced with the realities that things looked good on paper – but their actual follow-through was far from starting.
And there was that war – the war many people supported in the early days – the one where protestors were something of an anomaly and were marginalized by the media over. But the one where those who were against it were growing in numbers every day. The war which created another huge division in our society – and one which culminated (for the most part) in a mass demonstration in Chicago during the Democratic Convention of 1968.
Many pointed to that event as Ground Zero for the Division of America – the event which stunned a nation; made many realize being against something had certain, sometimes lethal consequences – an event which became perhaps our end of Youth and the beginning of our Sober gaze of disbelief. An event which many felt came as close as it ever had to creating a crisis in America; a crisis of conscience – a crisis of belief – a crisis of character.
You may point to that event as the thing that got us started on this downward spiral – the event that triggered staggering, far reaching and long-term reprisals. Reprisals which came in form of blaming our educational institutions for fostering dissent as a valid means of expression – our media as keepers and echoes of conscience, where even stalwart former Vietnam War supporters such as Walter Cronkite were now calling for its end. The media became perceived as a bastion of radicalism and therefore the enemy. And so, since 1968, and perhaps because of Chicago, the gradual dismantling of those institutions, deemed inconvenient for an agenda – one which you may find yourself perplexed over today, some 50 years later. It took that long? Oh yes – change doesn’t take place overnight or at the snap of a finger. It’s slow and methodical and takes its place in our culture with deft invisibility. Or maybe it was just the perfect storm – or, maybe in true 1968 fashion, it’s our Karma.
In any event, here is an award winning documentary, produced for Pacifica Radio station KPFK in August of 1968 by the late William Malloch called A Day In The Park. Fifty years ago this week.