The violent Democratic National Convention protests of '68 get the Civil War reenactment treatment, complete with hippie costumes.
In what is perhaps the most literal and ambitious of all 40th-anniversary homages to the ’68 Chicago Democratic National Convention, the contingent known as “Re-enact ’68” is planning an August 28 historical re-creation of the turbulent events. The original incident, of course, involved several bloody days of clashes between protesters and the police and National Guard, as well as fiery speeches on peace and injustice amid clouds of pot smoke and tear gas.
Every Sunday at 6pm for the last several weeks, bright, shaggy twentysomethings Liam Warfield, Chip Hamlett and Ari Mejia (along with a mass of people that grows every week) have gathered near the fountain in Wicker Park to figure out how to evoke the spirit of that ideologically stormy summer.
The group’s foremost objective is to pack as many people as possible dressed in late-’60s clothing into Grant Park across the street from the Congress Hotel (formerly the Conrad Hilton Hotel), where the original protests occurred. “Not only will people wear costumes, but hopefully they’ll be doing the same drugs, dancing the same way and maybe feel inspired enough to sing together,” Mejia says.
During the homage, which starts at 5pm and doesn’t have an end time, activists who were present at the ’68 protests will deliver the same speeches they gave 40 years ago. Warfield has reached out to such luminaries as former Weather Underground members and local professors Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, White Panther leader and poet John Sinclair, and avant publisher Ed Sanders, though none are confirmed. “Hopefully, they’ll consider it a kind of class reunion,” he says. (Warfield’s hero, director Haskell Wexler, whose seminal film Medium Cool featured footage from the ’68 riots, wrote back saying, “Liam, that’s a terrible idea. If you want to know why, call me.”)
Other period touches include a band covering songs by White Panther house band the MC5 (possibly the only act brave enough or crazy enough to perform during the protests), and people playing roles of prominent ’68 figures who cannot attend or are deceased. For instance, an “Abbie Hoffman” will lead neo-yippies in anti–Vietnam War chants, and “Allen Ginsberg” will invite people to join him in transcendental chanting at the edge of the park, which the real Ginsberg did to calm the crowd as the 11pm park curfew neared.
The police, on the other hand, will play themselves. “I think they’ll be more than happy to comply,” Warfield says. “I’m not sure they’ll have much choice.” Warfield dropped off Re-enact ’68’s event-permit application to the Chicago Park District office last week, but says the re-enactment will go on regardless of whether the event is sanctioned.
As opposed to the “Re-create ’68” protests planned at this year’s DNC in Denver, the Re-enact ’68 agenda is less divisive. “What we’re doing is in the tradition of Civil War reenactments,” Hamlett says. “Part of it is honoring the event, and another is saying we’re reenacting it so we don’t have to go through it again. You reenact so you can kind of leave it behind you. It’s a way to lay it to rest.”