Arthur Miller on the Surreal, Ideological Violence Underlying the 1968 Democratic Convention


“At the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, police riots erupted across the city in response to anti-war demonstrators. In this piece, Arthur Miller reflects on the aftermath of the riots and describes a candlelight walk and vigil that he took with other Democratic delegates on the night of August 28th, by Grant Park to the Conrad Hilton Hotel. In many ways, his keen observations on the nature of violence, the failures of the political party machine, and the act of protest speak directly to the present day. * There was violence inside the International Amphitheater before violence broke out in the Chicago streets. One knew from the sight of the barbed wire topping the cyclone fence around the vast parking lot, from the emanations of hostility in the credential-inspecting police that something had to happen, but once inside the hall it was not the hippies one thought about anymore, it was the delegates. Violence in a social system is the sure sign of its incapacity to express formally certain irrepressible needs. The violent have sprung loose from the norms available for that expression. The hippies, the police, the delegates themselves were all sharers in the common breakdown of the form which traditionally has been flexible enough to allow conflicting interests to intermingle and stage meaningful debates and victories. The violence inside the amphitheater, which everyone knew was there and quickly showed itself in the arrests of delegates, the beatings of newsmen on the floor, was the result of the suppression, planned and executed, of any person or viewpoint which conflicted with the president’s. There had to be violence for many reasons, but one fundamental cause was the two opposite ideas of politics in this Democratic party. The professionals—the ordinary senator, congressman, state committeeman, mayor, officeholder—see politics as a sort of game in which you win sometimes and sometimes you lose. Issues are not something you feel, like morality, like good and evil, but something you succeed or fail to make use of. To these men an issue is a segment of public opinion which you either capitalize on or attempt to assuage according to the present interests of the party. To the amateurs—the McCarthy people and some of the Kennedy adherents—an issue is first of all moral and embodies a vision of the country, even of man, and is not a counter in a game. …”
LitHub

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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