Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Summer of ’68 Chicago Style—Winding Up and Looking Back

Chicago cartoonist Skip Williamson perfectly captured the ziegiest of the times.

Note:  The ninth and last entry in my series of memoirs.  I pack it in and what happened after.
I doubt I got any sleep after getting back from the Battle of Michigan Avenue.   I ran across the street Thursday morning to get copies of all of the papers from the boxes on the corner and started in making breakfast. 
More than half of our charges were missing.  Some had enough of adventure and wisely gone home.  Others left sleeping bags and personal stuff leading us to suspect they were either in jail or in the hospital.  In those long ago days before cell phones and Twitter there was not good way to check their whereabouts.   Hell, we didn’t even know the real names of most of the kids.
By mid morning a couple of them had staggered in.  Plans were being made for the last big event—one last try at a big march down Michigan Avenue to the Amphitheater.  Everyone knew it was doomed to failure and would end badly.  And frankly, I didn’t have the stomach for it.  I told the SDSers that it looked like there were enough of them to wind things down at the Movement Center.  I was going home.
By mid-afternoon I climbed on the El at Diversy, made connection to the Skokie Swift at Howard and was home before dinner.  Meanwhile the marchers on Michigan Avenue encountered not the Chicago Police, exhausted from days of beating Yippie scum, but the Illinois National Guard.  Some folks evidently thought that the young guardsmen, most of them just desperate to avoid being sent to Nam, would be gentler.  They were wrong.
The marchers were met by a line of Jeeps mounted with coils of barbed wire and guardsmen with unsheathed bayonets.  They also had rifle launched tear gas grenades that had both greater accuracy and could knock a protestor senseless. 
Not at all sorry I missed it, but felt like a deserter.
My mom in Skokie wouldn’t speak to me.  I had violated the admonition she gave me every time I left the house since I was 12—“Don’t disgrace the family.”  When Dad got home from work I handed him his World War II utility belt, canteen, and ammo pouch/first aid kit.  There were still a couple of his purloined, now blood soaked, handkerchiefs inside.  “It saw some action again,” I told him.  The old combat medical officer just nodded.  We never spoke of it again.
I had already made reservation to fly to Ohio on Friday to spend some time with my best high school buddy Jon Gordon at Antioch College in Yellow Springs.  I boarded the plane at O’Hare in pretty much the same uniform as I had worn all week—plaid shirt, red neckerchief, denim jacket, and soiled white Stetson, this time with the wadded up newspaper padding removed. 
Down the aisle and a few seats ahead I recognized a familiar face—SDS honcho Carl Oglesby.  One arm was encumbered in a very heavy cast.  Before takeoff, I ambled up the aisle and asked him what had happened.  It took him a moment to connect me with the kid he met in the bar late Sunday night.  Then the light went on.  “Oh, yeah, remember how you told us it was quiet back in Old Town?  It wasn’t,” he said.
That fall, I returned to Shimer College in Mount Carroll.  I had stories to tell.  Helped keep me in pot and cheap beer at Poffenberger’s tavern.  It turned out to be my last semester there.
In December I came home and went back to work in the air-conditioning plant for six weeks. I raised enough money to get a very cheap apartment on Howe Street west of Old Town.  I started school at Columbia College as a creative writing major.  The major domo of the writing department was John Shultz who was working on his book about the convention, No One Was Killed.
In June I decided to join the IWW.  I had been thinking about it since encountering the old timers at headquarters.  To my astonishment the first Chicago Branch meeting I attended had almost a hundred members in attendance—most of them young.  I was in on the ground floor of a mini-renaissance of the old radical union.  By August I was coordinating IWW participation in the People’s Park project at Armitage and Halstead.  I spent the next ten or so years of my life with the IWW as an organizer, soap boxer, agitator, local officer, editor, and even my own term as General Secretary Treasurer sitting at Big Bill Haywood’s  desk.
I also ended up working at the Seed, by then relocated to offices above Alice’s Revisited on Wrightwood.  The guys who had eyed me suspiciously when I wandered in on them at the LaSalle Street office were long gone by then.  It was my turn to be paranoid when strangers showed up at the office wanting to join the revolution.
I never turned in my assigned account of the Yippies during the convention to that Free University class.  I guess this is it.  Professor Lynd, will I be marked down?

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