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How Does The Political Anger Now Compare With The Anger Then?

When Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said there might be riots if he’s denied the nomination at this summer’s GOP Convention, many people thought of the last time there actually were riots at a political convention.

It was 1968, and the Democratic Convention in Chicago was marred by violence between anti-Vietnam War protestors and the police. And it was all televised.

Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti speaks with Tom Hayden, a founder of the Students For A Democratic Society, about whether there are parallels between the anger then and the anger now.

Interview Highlights: Tom Hayden


On his experience at the Democratic Convention of 1968

“It would have been peaceful except for the suspension of all permits, including not letting young people sleep in the parks in their own sleeping bags, which guaranteed craziness in the streets, because the police would come with tear gas and daily dozers — which are these Jeeps with concertina wire attached to the front — and they would come running over through the park shooting off pepper spray and driving people, gagging, into first-aid centers and into the streets where, in anger, they just adopted the tactics of escaping the police and running down all alleys and if necessary confronting the police and being arrested.

“There were 600 people arrested, there were 63 reporters beaten up. It’s interesting that of the arrestees, all of them were from Chicago, they were home-grown. They were not outside agitators.”

On the previous convention process

“It was a rigged system, as Bernie Sanders would say today, but the reform of the party led to equal representation of women and open primaries, presidential primaries. All of those things were a democratic opening, but they didn’t come in time. I think the law and order was, that was the refrain, because this was a year, remember that really rattled people in their bones, including me. The murder of Robert Kennedy, the murder of Martin Luther King, murder most foul was what we expected.”

“It’s far better than having a bunch of guys with cigars and Cognac deciding behind the door of a hotel room who should be president of the United States. We have to make these distinctions quite clear to this generation.”


On lessons learned since 1968?

“We’ve come a long way. We have an African-American president, we’ve got a settlement of the Iran nuclear question in the works, we have a black Attorney General, we have a potential Supreme Court fight coming like no other and it all comes down to this election.

“I think the Obama majority, which is multiracial, multicultural, and multilingual on paper is enough to win the November election. What we have to guard against is divisions. Bernie’s people sometimes tell me that they’re not going to vote for Hillary under any conditions. I think that’s unwise and as an activist, I intend to do everything that I can to speak everywhere in the country to heal the wounds without unnecessary bruising and scars which often lead to voter disaffection and lower turnout and that leads to defeat.

“I’ve experienced enough close elections and stolen elections to not want that to ever happen again.”


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