Report From Chicago
CHICAGO — In the gym of a seminary on the North Side, an ex-marine is showing a Baltimore Weatherman how to ram a heavy pole into a cop’s gut. There’s a Vietcong flag on the pole. The floor is littered with helmets, fatigue jackets, gas masks, goggles, canteens, gauze, and gloves. Most of the Weathermen are sitting tensely on the floor. A few practice karate kicks. No one enters the building without emptying pockets and being frisked.
At another church, only a few blocks away, the RYM II (Revolutionary Youth Movement) coalition of SDS is busy assembling its members as they trickle in from out of state, registering bail contacts on neat index cards, and frisking everyone at the door. Groups are organizing to leaflet the area’s black and brown communities. Someone announces an hour when tetanus shots will be given. Someone else wants to know how many Weathermen have arrived in Chicago. The mood is more relaxed, the church friendlier.
Chicago itself is uneasy. The heated clashes between blacks and whites in the construction industry have just cooled. The statue of a policeman in Haymarket Square was blown apart Monday. Tilden High, on the South Side, is on the brink of racial war. Policemen have shot one Puerto Rican, and two days later, will kill his brother, starting a major gun battle in which eight cops will be shot. The minister of the church housing the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican gang turned political, has just been killed. The Panther office has been invaded, several Panthers arrested, one ending up in critical condition in the hospital. The SDS National Office has been raided, Weathermen jailed and beaten, several severely. And the SDS National Action is about to begin three days in Chicago.
Wednesday night. The gathering is in Lincoln Park, scene of last year’s convention violence. Several hundred pick their way through the dark toward the giant bonfire in the park’s center. The light off a Weatherman’s helmet, the occasional flash from a camera, the static buzz from newsmen’s walkie talkies. More bodies begin to fill the gloom. There are no uniformed cops in the park. A large banner pictures a coiled snake with the inscription “Don’t Tread On Me,” symbol of Rising Up Angry, the new paper of a white revolutionary gang in Chicago. A tall figure in burlap robes with a staff and a yoke is going through an Old Testament-cum-revolution rap to cries of “Off the Prophet!” (The next day, 50 of the same will line the streets of the Loop, Chicago’s downtown, providing cute six o’clock news copy, and then disappear as mysteriously as they arrived.)
The rally starts at eight o’clock. There are intermittent speeches and chants. By ten o’clock the crowd has grown to four or five hundred. Tom Hayden appears out of the dark and takes the bullhorn. “It’s a lie that we oppose this Weatherman demonstration. It’s good to see people coming back to Chicago, back to Lincoln Park. We welcome any intensification of the struggle.” While about half of the Conspiracy Eight endorse the Weathermen, there is only tepid official sanction, due to Panther opposition. Jeff Jones, inter-organizational secretary of SDS, announces himself as Mario Delgado — pseudonym of the Weather Bureau — to knowing titters. As he speaks, there is a shift in the crowd, and the helmets begin lining up. There has been no announcement of a march, but within minutes the Weathermen are pouring out of the park, heading south toward Chicago’s plush Gold Coast and, hopefully, the Drake Hotel, residence of Judge Julius J. Hoffman. Most of the crowd trails along behind as the phalanx of 300 helmeted Weathermen begins running toward the string of luxury high-risers. Stones and bricks are picked up at construction sites along the way. Already some bottles are being dropped from windows. The crowd quickens. Now plate glass windows are, being smashed by rocks. Heavy poles shatter car windows and windshields. As the squad cars scream up and police race to head off the Weathermen, the mob suddenly swings east toward Lake Shore Drive. There are clouds of tear gas and scattered gunshots. The Weathermen have split in two. Those by Lake Shore Drive are met by car after car packed with cops, many unmarked. Shattered glass fills the street. In front of 1212 Lake Shore Drive, a pile of injured Weathermen is lying face down in the dirt with groups of cops glaring over them. One cop is holding up a piece of concrete, one foot on the back of his victim. “The motherfucker tried to hit me with this!” A team or five medics from the Medical Commission for Human Rights tries to get through to the wounded, but is charged by two policemen with clubs and quickly retreats. (Weathermen announced that unless MCHR carried rocks in their bags, they didn’t want help. Another medic, his face painted in gaudy dayglo, is soon hustled off into a van for carrying boric acid.
Fifty-eight are eventually busted. Several Weathermen are gunshot victims, one is in critical condition with a bullet in the neck. Some 30 store windows are smashed — banks, restaurants, drug stores, shops. No one reaches through the splintered glass to loot. The area is inundated with police. A Rolls Royce sits in front of one of the plusher high-risers, ringed by a crowd of incredulous onlookers. Three of its windows are smashed. A block away, a scarlet Lamborghini goes untouched. Several injured cops are hustled into cars. The comments of bystanders are not friendly: “I’m getting out my goddamn rifle.” “They shouldn’t put them in jail; they should be killed.” “They ought to shoot every one of the bastards!” “It’s commie backed.”
The next day Mayor Daley will call up 2500 National Guardsmen.
Thursday. The Weathermen’s Women Militia is scheduled to “tear apart” a major induction center in downtown Chicago. The women assemble in Grant Park below the Logan statue, across from last year’s site of the Battle of Michigan Avenue. There are a cluster of 50 or 60 women, army-dressed, helmeted, many with clubs. Ringed by newsmen and photographers, they sing and chant “We love our Uncle Ho Chi Minh, deep down in our hearts. We love our chairman Mao Tse Tung, deep down in our hearts …” And cry out “Oink, Oink. Bang, bang! Dead pig!”
The leadership of the group is late in arriving. When it does, the number of newsmen has swelled and cars of cops line Michigan Avenue. Her face shielded by raised hands, Bernardine Dohrn speaks from the center of the cluster: “For the first time in history women are getting themselves together. We’re not picketing in front of bra factories. A few buckshot wounds mean we’re doing the right thing. This is not a self-indulgent bullshit women’s movement. We refuse to be good Germans. We live behind enemy lines.”
After a quick huddle, the group opens up, lines up, and heads briskly down along the length of the park chanting “the only direction is insurrection; the only solution is revolution.” Police race to cut them off at the road. When the women reach the sidewalk, there is a double row of 20 cops. The front women try to break through, are stopped, wrestled to the ground, and thrown into nearby police vans, yelling “Power to the People!” One girl, her face squashed into the concrete by a cop’s foot, is screaming “Off the Pig!” The women regroup, but more police have arrived now, and set up a surrounding horseshoe of cops, keeping newsmen out. The women are outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and outmuscled. As they lose their momentum, several begin weeping. The cop in charge is ordering the women to drop their gloves and clubs and take off their helmets. If they don’t they’ll all be arrested. Eventually the women agree, and the police escort the women three blocks to the subway where they are ushered underground, shaken and torn by the outcome of their action.
An hour later, the RYM II forces, making their first open appearance, are rallying at the Federal Building where the Conspiracy Trial is going on. RYM II is supported by the Black Panthers and the Young Lords and is attracting a comfortable coalition of movement groups. There is none of the tension that the Weathermen elicit. It is lunch hour, Abbie Hoffman is down from the 23rd floor, spotting cameras, greeting friends, running his monologue. “Hey, Dick Tracy, did you get the money we sent you? … Let’s go see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid … We wanted to support the Weatherman action but there’s the Panther thing … I can’t go tomorrow — I’m Jewish and I gotta go to church … ”
An army of newsmen and camera crews is on a rooftop across the street. Squads of cops surround the skyscraper tower. The building itself is impossible to get into — all four entrances are heavily guarded by federal marshals. Even the press is having a hard time getting into the courtroom, and defense attorney William Kunstler has just filed a motion charging that legitimate newsmen are being excluded in favor of certain friends of the judge. (The New York Times had just run a spread on society women turning up at the trial.)
A Young Lord from New York addresses the milling crowd of 500. “Fascism is here. Look at the life and property the pigs protect. It ain’t my property and it ain’t my life. In Puerto Rico, students just blew up the ROTC building.” Wild cheers. “But we’re talking about revolutionary love. Revolutionary love says you gotta pick up the gun. We’re not racists or hate mongers or war mongers. But revolution is not a dinner party. We’re fighting for all of you in those glass offices.” Speeches by Mike Klonsky, RYM II coordinator, and Carl Davidson, Guardian columnist. And then Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party: “We support RYM II only. We oppose the anarchistic, adventuristic, chauvinistic, individualistic, masochistic, and Custeristic Weathermen. We don’t dig confrontations that lead people into struggles they’re not ready for. We want government by the people, for the people, and of the people. Fuck this shit of government by the pigs for the pigs, and of the pigs. This town’s hungry, and we need a barbecue.”
The Weathermen meanwhile have reshuffled their schedule — it had been clearly laid out on two sides of a detailed information poster.
They have abandoned the “Wargasm” (a revolutionary youth culture celebration), have postponed their high school actions, and are now filtering into the Federal Plaza for what is rumored to be a rally to co-opt RYM II support. But security quickly alerts Hampton who is speaking. The rally is abruptly ended, and everyone is urged to show up at the International Harvester plant in an hour for a massive action in support of the workers. About 150 Weathermen are now left alone in the plaza under heavy police scrutiny. They huddle together for a while and then, slipping helmets under coats, move out as unobstrusively as possible. But as has been happening since Wednesday, several are picked off and busted, identified as part of the action the night before, by Chicago’s Red Squad (The “subversive” division of police intelligence).
The RYM II action at Harvester is an orderly, sedate rally of about 40, sandwiched between the massive Cook Country courthouse and jail and the sprawling Harvester plant. About 60 brown-shirted deputies line the steps of the courthouse and more than 100 blue-helmeted cops guard the fences and entrance of Harvest. There is the familiar spectrum of movement groups, hawking politics and papers, passing around hats for bail money. The movement’s banner-maker YAWF (Youth Against War and Fascism), provides some satin splashes of color, a gaudy orange. The sound equipment has arrived and is working perfectly. There is the repeated invective against Weatherman, this time from an organizer within the plant: “They’re a bunch of fool-ass punks running around downtown breaking windows. We shut this plant down today without firing a single shot and cost the company a quarter of a million dollars.” (It was announced that enough workers had walked out of key production departments to shut down the plant for the day.) More workers rose and told of inhuman working conditions, an uptight company and working men sold out by the UAW.
The Harvester Plant is going to be torn down and moved to the suburbs where it will be inaccessible to the many black and Puerto Ricans now working in the factory. Thirty-five hundred jobs will be lost. It is rumored that a jail will replace the plant. “So the worker’s got no job, he’s standing around, he’s busted, and he ends up living — in jail — where he used to work!” The rally ends with a singling of “We Shall Overcome” and “Solidarity Forever” “When we say the ‘union,’ we mean the union of working men, not the UAW.”
Thursday night. The Weathermen mysteriously call a 10:30 news conference at the Chicago Sheraton Hotel. Sensing a hot late news item, more than 60 newsmen push through the convention crowds and pile in the narrow Club Room amidst the usual tangle and clutter of mikes, cables, plugs, lights, tripods, meters, tape decks, and cameras. There is the familiar news batter, traded with light readings, juvenile obscenities (“Stop goosing my ass!”), clowning with a helmet and gas mask, and what passes for fourth estate humor: “Call me a racist pig, Charlie.” “SD — what?,” “I wonder where our little friends are.” “Honky news collective over here.” and “Let’s get this show the road so I can eat dinner.”
Four Weathermen arrive, announce they will make a brief statement, and answer a couple of short questions. Half the newsmen start to walk out. Order is restored, and with two men standing behind them, the women give their names. One was shotgunned in the leg the night before and announces that a brother has just been shot. “Who?” click the questions, but she won’t elaborate for security reasons. Several cameras turn off and mikes are pulled out. There is a “no comment” on the Black Panther attack, and a short rap about Third World struggles from the other girl: “White people have lived off the labor of black and brown people for centuries. This is theft, and we are giving up the fruits and privileges of that labor.” She displays an NLF ring, recites “Determined to fight, determined to win” in Vietnamese, raises her fist along with the others, then the four quickly walk out past the angry and astonished newsmen
Friday. The Weatherman high school action is now cancelled. Too many people have been identified and arrested, high schools are reportedly under heavy police guard, and a long Weatherman meeting Thursday night began to challenge some of the tactics employed so far. Primarily, it is clear that not as many Weathermen have come to Chicago as expected (ditto for RYM II, who had predicted “more than 5000”), and that what was planned as demonstration actions are turning into highly vulnerable cadre actions. The Wednesday night attack has exposed the Weathermen to continued identification and arrest.
The RYM II action for Friday is at Cook County Hospital where organizers have charged medical genocide, forced sterilization of blacks, and the use of the hospital by doctors as a cheap educational steppingstone into suburban practice. “We are sick and tired of medical moonshots, like heart transplants,” says one doctor at the rally. “We want health care that serves the people.” A Black Panther announces the opening of a free health clinic, and there is an elaborate skit depicting the “systematization” under Pig Daley of a sick welfare woman with 25 children, followed by some “radical surgery” at the Panther clinic. Awaking from the operation, the woman slowly sits up on the table. “How do you feel?” asks the Panther doctor. A huge grin spreads over her face as she slowly intones, “Ho … Ho … Ho Chi Minh!”
Again, RYM II draws about 500 people, a noisy buzzing police helicopter, hundreds of police around the street and hospital entrances, and no trouble. Some doctors join the rally, a few heckle, and many line the streets or hang out of hospital and residence windows. Organizing at Cook County has been strongest in the non-skilled job areas.
After the rally, RYM II calls a press conference at their movement center, a church on the North Side (in fact, all SDS groups spent the three days operating out of churches). The purpose, explains Klonsky, is to get a little press coverage of RYM’s work which is being obscured by a “handful of people running crazy in the streets.” Klonsky tries to keep together the idea of SDS as mass organization with some internal struggles, and repeatedly denounces the growing characterization of RYM II as non-violent and pacifist. A Young Lord adds another Weatherman criticism: “Whoever heard of people breaking windows in a store and not taking anything?”
While RYM II meets openly and continues planning for the finale march and rally Saturday, the Weathermen are on the run. They have been temporarily thrown out of Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston when 150 Weathermen turn up instead of the expected 30. They are tossed out of another church when the pastor finds them in the basement beating a cop who has infiltrated the center. And as the Chicago rains pour down Friday night, flooding streets and cellars, there is frantic racing from center to center, from church to church, to head off an expected bust. It eventually comes at two o’clock in the morning at an Evanston church when 100 police break in on the Weathermen (mostly from New York) and arrest 43. Four warrants have been issued; two of those named are found in the church, the rest are arrested on charges of mob action and inciting to riot stemming out of Wednesday’s clash.
Saturday. The final day of the national action. Everyone is both exhausted and primed for the final offensive. Both RYM II and Weatherman have marches and demonstrations scheduled. Both reportedly have parade permits. RYM II goes through black and brown communities, attracting several thousand marchers and a heavy police escort. The windows are filled with clenched fists. It ends with a somewhat listless, overlong rally in Humboldt Park demanding independence for Puerto Rico and withdrawal from Vietnam. Those in RYM II feel that the support has been impressive along the way.
The Weatherman action is uncertain. Nobody knows how many are left, how many are out of jail, or how many are in hospitals. Weathermen have been having trouble communicating, finding safe refuges and untapped phones. Those walking the streets have resorted to jackets and ties and straight dresses. In Chicago there is an uneasy sense that every third person is a cop. The march is slated to start from Haymarket Square where the statue’s pedestal reads “In the name of the State of Illinois, I command peace.”
As Weathermen begin to gather at the statue, plainclothesman — most disguised as longshoremen heavies — wade through the newsmen and pull out clubs. They haul off four Weathermen, among them Mark Rudd, who is making a rare public appearance. Despite the quick bust, the Weathermen group grows. Bands of 10 and 20 march into the square chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!” and join the larger group. There are speeches, Marxist-Leninist cries, raised fists, chanting, and then the Weathermen suddenly swing into the street. The cop escort is especially heavy, in front, in back, and along the line of march that sweeps through the Loop and the financial district. National Guardsmen are poised at all nearby armories. Two baby-blue sanitation sweepers swing menacingly behind the marchers, their brushes twirling, but are unable to keep up with the pace of the Weathermen. Unlike Wednesday night, there are few stragglers or observers. Newsmen are keeping to the sidewalk.
Halfway down the route, the march suddenly breaks east through policelines. Bricks, clubs, and pipes are pulled out. Windows are smashed and chaos erupts as the column disintegrates into wild skirmishes with the police. Cops pour into the streets, grabbing everyone they can, pinning them to the ground or against cars until vans race up to cart off the arrested and injured. Several policemen appear badly beaten, the city’s corporation counsel lies motionless on the street, paralyzed from the neck down. Clumps of Weathermen dot the street and sidewalk with cops standing over them. The violence this time is brief. No guns are drawn. One hundred and three Weathermen are arrested.
It is difficult to assess the impact of the action. RYM II has not made much of a splash. Their numbers are not impressive for a much-publicized national action, despite grass-roots organizing with the Panthers and the Young Lords. Among those caught between RYM II and Weatherman, there is criticism of RYM’s political rhetoric, of a non-revolutionary appeal to workers, and of rather staid, uninspired actions and rallies. RYM has devoted a lot of energy to disassociating itself from Weatherman violence and confrontation and finds itself labeled as non-violent and pacifist. Suddenly, the Panthers and SDS (RYM) are the good guys, the friendly revolutionaries. They have been temporarily robbed of their bizazz, upstaged. On the other hand, they have incurred no liabilities, have not been busted, and have undoubtedly built up a stronger base of support than they had before the action.
With Weatherman, of course, the reverse is true. Close to 300 have been busted, some several times. Sympathies are low and bail money scarce. All are identified, labeled, photographed, catalogued. They have captured the headlines of Chicago papers for three days. They have demonstrated a street gang force that can march into the heart of Chicago and attack the police. They have provoked the calling out of 2500 National Guardsmen. They emanate an energy far in excess of their numbers. They aim to polarize and clearly succeed. At the moment, of course, returns are only in from the establishment poll, where there is extravagant hostility to the “roughneck fanatics.” At least in Chicago, there is a new sense of middle-class communion with the police. Police are praised and clucked over. Daniel J. Walker, architect of the report condemning the “police brutality” at the Democratic Convention, issues a statement applauding their behavior. Mayor Daley is smiling comfortably; his troops were restrained — at least in the publicity of the streets — and behaved as instructed. And even within the movement, there is an abundance of open hostility and despair at Weatherman politics and strategies.
Weatherman actions, however, are designed to turn on high school youths, white street gangs, working class kids. But it is unclear to what extent they have succeeded. Many Weathermen believe they are accomplishing just that. Many believe the Chicago action was a success. They have demonstrated the seriousness of their intention to physically smash the state.
There is much internal criticism of tactics, however. The women’s action was clearly a bust. The high school actions were aborted. And there is a growing feeling that Weathermen cannot expose themselves as publicly as they did in Chicago, that the only alternative now is to go underground.
The key to much of Weatherman politics appears in their conception of Third World struggles and the ideal of a world in revolution. They are out less to create a revolutionary movement in this country than to identify all “behind the line” white revolutionaries with anti-imperialist struggles throughout the world. It is this perspective that encourages a certain insularity from more “people-serving” organizing. There is a religious intensity to the Weatherman turn-on, a desperate exorcism of all middle-class hangups and privilege, and a lunging attempt to magically raise the level of revolutionary consciousness through exemplary actions.
The impact of the Weathermen in Chicago is still uncertain. All returns are not yet in. ❖
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 19, 2020