On Monday night I went to see Brett Morgen's Chicago 10, an animated/snatches-of-newsreel documentary on the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots and subsequent Chicago Seven conspiracy trial (the filmmaker rounded the seven up to ten to include attorneys Bill Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass as well as Black Panther leader Bobby Seale).
It's an ode to the glory days of dope-addled bomb throwing that filled my non-Boomer, truth-in-history heart with dread: Somewhere in the Midwest, I imagine, a textbook editor is pasting a photo of a stoned and hirsute Abbie Hoffman beneath a caption that reads, "Ending the War, Fighting for Civil Rights."
Nooooo, please, sister, stop!
Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, et al. delighted in radical chic (and its attendant windfall of easy sex) LSD, and comic relief. They're a part of the 1960s narrative, but not a substantive part. If anything, they kindled a backlash that gave us Richard Nixon and six more years of bloodshed in Vietnam.
Make no mistake: If I weren't preoccupied with learning to crawl in 1968, I likely would have been rioting and getting my noggin' cracked by Chicago's finest. And like most privileged, male protesters, I would have monkeyed an excuse to sidestep the draft while my less-connected compatriots in Everett, WA went off to serve and die.
It's all those Midwestern textbook editors who should take note that counterculture jesting not eclipse Hoffman and Rubin's predecessors who made up in courage what they lacked in glitz.
I'm thinking of the Greensboro lunch-counter protestors, and MLK, and the self-immolating Buddhist Monks in SE Asia, even Oregon Senator Wayne Morse who was one of just two U.S. Senators to oppose the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution. These were passionate, risk-taking folks: Sober, intense, unyielding.
Pretentious movies, of course, call for pretentious Northwest asides: When it comes to radicals, the Seattle Seven were infinitely more compelling than their Chicago counterparts. For heaven's sake, we had Michael Lerner, he of Tikkun and Bill and Hillary-braintrust fame.
Maybe it's the baby-boomer schmaltz that triggered my inner-hardhat. Halfway through Chicago 10, I struggled to erase flashbacks of a 2006 Simpsons episode, written by Tim Long, in which Abe "Grampa" Simpson decides to be euthanized. To enhance his final minutes on earth, Abe asks to hear the music of the Glenn Miller Orchestra while watching footage of cops beating up hippies.
So wrong, Grampa, but somehow resonant, given the times.
The truth-in-history narrative even extends to Barack Obama's speech on race. On March 18, Obama was introduced by a graying statesman named Harris Wofford, a former university president and (briefly) a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. It was Wofford who introduced Martin Luther King to the non-violent resistance tactics of Mahatma Gandhi and who shepherded the Peace Corps during its formative, early years.
Still, Harris Wofford won't get stopped on the sidewalk and asked for his autograph. Wish I could say the same for Tom Hayden and Bobby Seale.