The Whole World Was Watching, Where Were You?

The Whole World is Watching as Police Descend on 1968 Democratic Convention Protesters

The Whole World is Watching as Police Descend on 1968 Democratic Convention Protesters

How might a 15-year-old, Mexican-American young man, on his first protest, react as he experienced the events at the 1968 Democratic Convention? This is what Steve Cole asked himself, not having been in Chicago then, as he wrote the chapter Admission Essay in his novel, Citizen Cárdenas. In a few earlier chapters Mamerto “Memo” Rodriguez is  mentioned as a friend of protagonist Jesus “Gato.” Cárdenas. Memo had been a promising GED  student with a way with words in 1972.   His teacher Alexia Stone encouraged him to apply to the University of Illinois Circle (UIC) campus.  His draft admission essay for UIC  ended with the following section on the 1968 Democratic Convention. Want to win a free copy of Citizen Cárdenas?

From “Admission Essay,” Memo Rodriguez, 1972

It  was  the  summer  of  1968.  What  a  crazy  year.  Scenes  from  Vietnam  were  on  the  news  every  night.  The West Side was on   fire  after  Martin Luther King was killed. Students in France rioted. Then  Bobby Kennedy got killed. One day in August Aaron called me up. Said he  and Johnny  were  going  down  to  Grant  Park.  Did  I  want  to  protest  the  war? I didn’t know anything about protesting but I was afraid my brother Eddie might  get  drafted  and  I  wanted  to  see  my friend Aaron who I was attracted to.

We  agreed  to  meet  at  the  Armitage  “L”  stop.  It  was  early  afternoon  when  we  made  our  way  into  the  park  east  of  Michigan  and  Adams  and  headed  south  through  the  park  toward  Balbo  Avenue   where  the  largest  group  of  protestors  gathered.  Even  though  there  were  a  lot  of  police  down  there  it  seemed  like  a  big  hippie  party.  Aaron  saw  some  girls  he  knew  in  a  group  of  about  eight,  so  we  walked over. Everyone was wearing red bandanas and smoking Panama Red. They didn’t seem to care that there were pigs all around. A  few  hits  later  neither  did  I.

I don’t know how much time went by when the mood suddenly  changed. People with armbands started coming through alerting the  crowd,  now  three  times  more  packed  than  when  we  first  arrived.

“Get  ready,  the  pigs  are  coming.”

“Stay  with  your  afinity  groups.”

“Put  damp  cloths  over  your  nose  and  mouth,  they’ll  be  tear  gassing  us.”

“The Whole World is Watching”

I  was  really  getting  into  the  chants,

“1,2,3,4  we  don’t  want  your  fucking  war.  Hey,  hey  LBJ,  how  many  kids  you  kill  today?”

Between  the  chants  I  heard  a  few  words  here  and  there  from  dueling  bull  horns.

“.  .  .  unlawful assembly  .  .  .”

“The  whole  world  is  watching.”

“.  .  .  last  chance  .  .  .”

“The  whole  world  is  watching.”

“.  .  .  you  will  be  arrested  .  .  .”

“The  whole  world  is  watching.”

I couldn’t see what was happening unless I jumped straight up  and  caught  a  glimpse  of  a  line  of  light  blue  riot  helmets.  The  next  moments are a jumble of memories. Pop. Pop. Clouds of grey smoke.    The crowd moving at first back toward the lake, then people running  every which way. I could see night sticks coming down on heads and  backs. A pig pushed Johnny down and raised his club. Not thinking,  I  grabbed  the  cop  from  behind,  twisting  him  enough  for  Johnny  to   get  up.  The  pig  tripped  and  we  ran  and  ran.  My  eyes  were  burning  from  the  pungent  gas  so  we  kept  running  toward  the  lake  and  toward  the  Art  Institute.  Aaron  was  yelling  to  us  from  an  entrance  to  the  parking  garage  below  the  park.  We  ducked  down  the  stairs  not  thinking  it  was  probably  a  dumb  thing  to  do.  But  there  were  no  police  near  the  stairway  we  went  down.

We  crouched  behind  cars  and  scooted  from  one  to  the  next  heading  as  far  south  as  we  could  go  and  changed  levels  more  than  a  few  times.  Sometimes  we  just  sat  to  let  the  time  go  by.  It  was  dark  when  we  went  upstairs  near  Jackson.  Flashing  lights  broke  the  constant  sodium-vapor  light.  Sirens  and  chants  seemed  to  be  coming  from a few blocks south of where we were. We looked at each other.  We  didn’t  need  to  speak  to  know  we  all  had  enough.  We  made  it  to  the  Ravenswood  “L”  and  then  sat  apart  from  each  other  in  case  the  police  might  think  we  were  a  group  of  protesters.  Before  Armitage,   Aaron  came  by  and  said  he  knew  a  hippie  house  near  the  Belmont  stop we could go and watch the news on TV. We all wanted to know  whether  they  would  show  the  police  cracking  heads.

Entire Admission Essay (PDF file)

Tell Us Where You Were, Win a Free Copy of Citizen Cárdenas

Fill out the form below telling where you were when you were watching the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic Convention protests and police reaction and you may win a free, softcover, copy of Citizen Cárdenas. Five entries will be selected at random to win a free, inscribed copy of Citizen Cárdenas. Let us know if you want the book to be inscribed to someone other then yourself. Contest ends September 1, 2018.

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