1968 Democratic Convention, or How I Became an Alcoholic

1968 Democratic Convention, or How I Became an Alcoholic

 

When my first husband, labeled Madman Murphy by his Princeton colleagues, came to the end of his Sociology degree in 1968, the campus uncharacteristically fire-cracked with small anti-war rallies, civil rights demonstrations and teach-ins on avoiding the draft. I spent all my free time campaigning for the Democratic Presidential peace candidate, Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, in nearby Trenton with our toddler Joe hanging in an Army surplus knapsack on my back. Campus memorial services for Martin Luther King, Jr. ignited nascent embers in the Ivy League gentleman conscience. Bobby Kennedy’s funeral train passed by Princeton Junction on the weekend Madman Murphy graduated. We partied through the summer at the Jersey Shore. Murphy lifeguarded, Baby Joe and I frolicked on the beach, and we delighted in the safety of the light of day.

At night Murphy and I took turns babysitting and joining friends at our favorite watering holes. I started smoking pot and argued with everyone over the Viet Nam war. Jersey Shore barflies had nothing on me, after all, I’d been schooled by Princeton peace activists and Ramparts Magazine.

President Lyndon Johnson did not seek reelection. After Bobby Kennedy’s assassination in June, Eugene McCarthy, the intellectual standard-bearer of peace and justice, was left to shepherd the world toward a Democratic victory in his frenzied campaign for President.

In the summer, I tutored a young cousin in elementary arithmetic and sentence structure. I used my cash to buy stationery and postage stamps and took to writing letters to Bobby Kennedy delegates asking them to vote for McCarthy at the Democratic Convention in Chicago that August. I’d pontificate daily to friends and strangers on the beach and in the bars to test out new reasons to support McCarthy over the late-arriving establishment candidate Senator Hubert Humphrey. I fully expected my work to pay off at the Convention and longed to be at the youth festival planned in my hometown to celebrate McCarthy’s victory.

By the time I joined friends at a neighborhood Jersey Shore saloon to watch the Convention on TV, news accounts of the protests and riots were interrupting coverage of the political speeches inside the Convention Hall. But that didn’t matter to me. Soon all would be well. McCarthy would clinch the nomination and beat Richard Nixon in November. No doubt about it.

The unthinkable startled me out of innocent political bliss. The TV flashed back and forth between white men bullying peace delegates inside and police beating peace activists outside. Mayor Richard J. Daley ordered the police to shoot to kill. People who looked like me were dripping in blood.

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Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley at 1968 Democratic National Convention

What was happening? Eighty percent of primary voters were anti-war. We won the battle and I was sure we’d beaten back the war machine. The delegates rejected McCarthy and his peace plank, nominated Hubert Humphrey and iced out Democratic activists. 

And me? I added martinis, LSD, mescaline, speed, librium and cocaine to my diet. I could see no future. By the time the next presidential election rolled around in 1972, AA meetings monopolized my time and I did nothing but slap a George McGovern for President bumper sticker on my VW.

Is Donald Rumsfeld Sorry?

Is Donald Rumsfeld Sorry?

Throughout 2002-2003 I had been raging against the Iraq war, often rallying under the fire-red Calder sculpture at Federal Plaza hanging hope on words—sometimes from Reverend Jesse Jackson, sometimes from local organizers and sometimes from State Senator Barack Obama who told us, “I’m not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.”

In March 2003, after the US bombed Baghdad, I scrummaged up North Lake Shore Drive with 10,000 irate activists steeling ourselves against the Lake Michigan hoarfrost. Mayor Daley wanted no disruptions to the shoppers on the Magnificent Mile, so when we turned west toward non-permitted Michigan Avenue, the police herded us into a group near Walgreen’s. Troublemakers were handcuffed and hustled out of the crowd into police buses. My grey hair and down coat disguised the incendiary in me so I was not singled out. I crossed Michigan Avenue and watched from the sidelines before walking home to ice my smoldering knees.chi-protest09custody20120209100507

The Invasion of Iraq was a response to the terrorist group al-Qaeda’s attack on September 11, 2001. Heavily influenced by Neoconservatives, Bush Administration officials Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld announced Iraq not only possessed weapons of mass destruction but also colluded with the terrorists. Experts unleashed from the very recent Clinton Administration disclosed no evidence of either. After the invasion, they were proven correct but the Bush Administration kept fanning the flames of war.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who Richard Nixon once called, “a ruthless little bastard” was accused by his generals and officers in the field of having “abysmal military planning and lack of strategic competence.” Insufficient high-level support as well as the highly publicized exposure of Rumsfeld’s policy to detain enemy combatants and use enhanced interrogation techniques to torture them led to his ouster by the end of 2006.

And then one Sunday I found Rumsfeld sitting alone in the pew in front of me under the pulpit at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Chicago is his hometown. I had never seen him at Fourth Pres before but knew he was a member of the church. Church members had wanted him thrown off the rolls, banned, shunned. Pastor John Buchanan, a true statesman who had denounced the Iraq war in every sermon, once had to announce to the congregation, “Donald Rumsfeld is a member of this church and that’s all I’m going to say about it.”

All through the service that Sunday I fumed, formulating what I would say to Rumsfeld after the closing benediction. Perhaps I’d ask him if he regretted what he did, or perhaps I’d ask how many civilian deaths he’s responsible for. I settled for one word which I intended to deliver with samurai precision, swift and deadly.

Buchanan stepped down from the pulpit just before the service ended. He didn’t stand at the center to recite his usual benediction. He came over to Rumsfeld instead, greeting him with a handshake while escorting him out the side exit. I half rose from my seat and could see myself chasing after him with a clenched fist sputtering “Murderer!”. Thank God the pastor saved me from that embarrassment. I missed my chance but I trust Buchanan delivered a more dignified but just as pointed message. And who knows? Maybe Rumsfeld confessed culpability for the deaths (at that point) of 12,000 soldiers, 25,000 Iraqi civilians and the countless maimed and injured of his phony war.