Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomers Witnessed Apollo 1’s Fateful Mission

January 31 is designated as an Annual Day of Remembrance for the brave men and women who lost their lives in the pursuit of space exploration and discovery. This year marks a fateful anniversary in that regard, as fifty years ago this week three astronauts lost their lives in a preflight fire aboard Apollo 1 (NASA titled AS-204).

Scheduled to launch on February 21, 1967, Astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were to be the first crewed flight of the Apollo missions that would eventually take us to the moon.

This was to be Roger Chaffee’s first space flight. The other two, however, were veterans of the Space Program. Virgil “Gus” Grissom reached space in July 1961 aboard the Liberty Bell 7 capsule in the Mercury-Redstone 4 mission. After a 15 and half-minute suborbital flight, his space capsule sank in the ocean on reentry. Grissom was quickly retrieved by the US Navy. Edward White became the first American to perform a spacewalk in June 1965. He was one of two astronauts aboard Gemini 4. Pilot James McDivitt and White spent four days in space, on only the tenth manned spaceflight launched by the US.

On January 27, 1967, the Apollo astronauts suited up for a planned preflight test of systems in the Command Module, which was in place on top of the Saturn rocket (AS-204) at the launch site. At around 6:31 p.m. EST, the crew reported a fire inside their module. From the subsequent investigation and report to Congress, we know that a voltage surge was recorded around one minute before the fire was reported. The fire began beneath the Senior Pilot’s couch and spread through channels that were designed to deflect debris away from the astronauts during flight. It quickly surged through the Command Module, which contained 100 percent oxygen, consuming flammable materials and wiring and filling it with smoke. Pressure built inside the module with the heat from the fire, making it exceedingly difficult to open the inside of the two-layer hatch since it opened inward. The crew on the platform outside could not see the astronauts through the viewing window due to the smoke, and were not able to approach the capsule in time due to the heat. All indications pointed to the Apollo crew and platform personnel following procedures, but in less than twenty minutes, the crew was officially reported dead.

As a result, NASA grounded all flights while an investigation was conducted. It was to be nearly a year before the next launch, which was a severe setback in the middle of the Space Race. President Kennedy’s goal of getting a crew to the moon and back within the decade seemingly became an impossible mission.

In our day and age, it seems unbelievable that there wasn’t a system in place to handle such contingencies as an onboard fire before the spacecraft was launched. However, we need to remind ourselves that putting people into space was a completely new thing, and virtually every aspect had to be developed as the Space Program progressed. As a result of the investigation, NASA initiated major design and engineering changes before the first Apollo flight was launched. Among these changes were:

• An outward-opening hatch
• Mix of oxygen and nitrogen in the module
• Fireproof storage containers
• Protective covering over wiring and flameproof coating on wire connections
• Plastic switches were replaced with metal
• Emergency oxygen system to isolate crew from cabin emergencies
• Fire extinguishers onboard and on the launch platform

The deaths of Grissom, White and Chaffee hit the country — and boomers — hard. For boomers like Mister B who followed the Space Program through every mission, it was a devastating blow, like a member of the family had passed away. Mister Boomer recalls seeing pictures of the damaged module in Life magazine, along with photos of a subsequent zipline escape system installed on the launch towers. Though it was a severe setback for the Space Program, after NASA presented their findings and intentions for modifications to Congress in April of 1967, there weren’t many people ready to give up on achieving President Kennedy’s challenge that he made only six years earlier.

Do you recall hearing the awful news of the deaths of the Apollo 1 astronauts from the first TV and radio reports, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Space and have Comments Off on Boomers Witnessed Apollo 1’s Fateful Mission

Boomer Icons Who Passed On in 2016

2016 was a tough year for boomers. We lost a massive number of historical and cultural giants that helped shaped our boomer years. Here are just some of this illustrious group:

Leonard White – January 2
As a television producer, Mr. White brought boomers the now-classic TV spy series, The Avengers.

Robert Balser – January 5
His name was hardly a boomer household word, yet boomers know his work. Balser was an animator who co-directed Yellow Submarine (along with Jack Stokes, who died in 2013). He also worked on the cartoon series Jackson5 and the animated movie Heavy Metal.

David Bowie – January 10
A colossus among boomer-era rock musicians, Bowie was ever inventing and showing us another side of his collection of talents, from singing to song writing, acting to producing, ever the supreme showman. Here is what Mister Boomer had to say about one of his recordings: “Wild Is the Wind”: A Boomer Story.

Glenn Frey – January 18
Frey, a boomer himself, was the founding member of the Eagles. The band’s southwestern-rock style was present in multiple hits in the 1970s, making them a favorite of many later-era boomers.

Paul Kantner – January 28
In 1965 Marty Balin approached Paul Kantner to join his new band, the Jefferson Airplane. The band, fronted by lead singer Grace Slick, went on to become a symbol of the psychedelic scene in San Francisco during the Summer of Love with the blockbuster boomer hits of Somebody to Love and White Rabbit. Kantner wrote music himself, but the closest he had to a hit was the song Wooden Ships, which he co-wrote with David Crosby and Stephen Stills. After the dissolution of the band, Kantner formed Jefferson Starship. Mister Boomer was not a big fan of Starship, but thoroughly enjoys Airplane to this day including Today, a Kantner-penned song featured on the Surrealistic Pillow album from 1967.

Maurice White – February 3
The co-founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, White was the band’s lead singer. He also co-wrote many of their hits, including September, Sing A Song and Shining Star. In the dark days of disco (in Mister B’s estimation), Mister B would request Earth, Wind & Fire songs from the DJs to avoid having to hear disco music.

Harper Lee – February 19
Boomers will recall Lee as the author of To Kill A Mockingbird, a novel about race and class in the Depression-era South. In 1962 it was made into a motion picture starring Gregory Peck. Many early boomers read the book in school, but most boomers saw the film at some point in their developing years.

Nancy Reagan – March 6
Born Anne Frances Robbins, Nancy Reagan was a film actress before boomers knew her as Ronald Reagan’s wife and America’s First Lady. She was an influential figure in Reagan’s White House, and boomers will recall her role in creating the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign.

Keith Emerson – March 11; Greg Lake – December 7
Two-thirds of the iconic group, Emerson, Lake and Palmer died this past year. Emerson was the founding member and keyboardist of ELP and before that, the Nice, which also featured a blending of rock, jazz and classical music. Bassist Greg Lake met Emerson while the Nice was touring with King Crimson. Together they formed ELP, and recruited Carl Palmer on drums. Their first record was released in 1970. Mister Boomer was a big fan of music that fused other genres, especially jazz and classical.

Patty Duke – March 29
Boomers will always remember Patty Duke for her Academy-Award winning performance in The Miracle Worker, and, of course, for the television series that bore her name. Read Mister Boomer’s take on the show: Boomers, Now Isn’t That Special (Effects)?

Prince – April 21
Prince Rogers Nelson was himself a Baby Boomer, having been born in 1958. A musician, songwriter and musical innovator, he burst onto the music scene in 1976, influencing countless legions of musicians who followed.

Muhammad Ali – June 3
Boomers first knew him as Cassius Clay, a boxer of immense talent who became the Heavyweight World Champion, but was willing to give it all up by declaring his conscientious objector status for the Draft in 1967. He took the name Muhammad Ali in 1964. Boomers will always remember and respect him for his support of the Civil Rights movement and anti-war stance, aside from his being “the Greatest” in the boxing ring.

Margaret Vinci Heldt – June 10
The world will remember Margaret Vinci Heldt for giving us the Beehive hairdo. Read Mister Boomer’s exploration: Boomers Say a Fond Goodbye to More Icons of the Era

Glenn Yarbrough – August 11
Yarbrough began his musical career as lead singer for the Limeliters (1959-63), but most boomers will always remember his classic hit, Baby the Rain Must Fall, from 1965.

Gene Wilder – August 29
Like most boomers, Mister B first heard of Gene Wilder from his starring roles in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles and two of Mister B’s favorites, Young Frankenstein and The Producers. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Wilder did a series of films with Richard Pryor that are beloved by later boomers, including Silver Streak and Stir Crazy. He married Gilda Radner, one of the original cast members from Saturday Night Live, in 1984.

Edward Albee – September 16
This American playwright brought us Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which ultimately became a boomer cultural phenomenon as a film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Arnold Palmer – September 25
Considered one of the greatest professional golfers who ever lived, most boomers will recall their fathers sitting in front of the TV on weekends in the 1950s and ’60s, a beer in the hand while watching Arnold Palmer on the PGA circuit. Arnold Palmer also gave us the drink that bears his name, a mix of lemonade and iced tea.

Tom Hayden – October 23
Boomers will recall Hayden as the radical founding member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960s. Known for his activism in Civil Rights and against the war in Vietnam, he went on to marry Jane Fonda and from 1993 to 200 served in the California state legislature, first as an assemblyman, then as state senator.

Robert Vaughn – November 11
Best known to boomers for his starring role in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., this actor became part of the pop culture landscape.

Florence Henderson – November 24
Ms. Henderson had appeared in numerous movies and TV shows as both an actress and singer during our younger years, but most boomers will always remember her as the mom on The Brady Bunch.

John Glenn – December 8
One of the original seven U.S. astronauts, boomers watched as he became the first American to orbit the Earth (1962). In 1974 he became a U.S. Senator, representing his home state of Ohio, where he served for 24 years. In 1998, at age 77, he became the oldest man to travel to space, going up a second time with the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery. After John Glenn, Mister B and his teammates on a city league baseball team called themselves The Astronauts.

Henry Heimlich – December 17
If his name sounds familiar, it’s because we boomers were around before Dr. Heimlich came up with the life-saving maneuver that bears his name. Boomers saw the adoption of the method for helping choking victims and the signs posted at every restaurant and government building.

Carrie Fisher – December 27
What else can be said about Carrie Fisher? Boomers knew her for Star Wars, of course, but also as the once-wife of Paul Simon.

There were many others who passed on this past year, of course, who made their mark in the annals of boomer history. We have, as the old saying goes, lived in interesting times.

Which boomer icons will you remember, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies,Getting Older,Pop Culture History,Space,Sports,TV and have Comment (1)

Boomers Continue to Witness Political History

This week this country elects a new president. While for the first time a woman is the nominee for a major political party, Secretary Clinton was not the first woman to be listed on a ballot for a presidential election, and is one of five women vying for the office of president who appear on the ballot this year (Jill Stein, Green Party; Mindy Finn, Independent; Angela Nicole Walker, Socialist Party USA; and Hannah Walsh, United States Peace Party). California businesswoman Carly Fiorina sought the Republican nomination this election as well, but lost her bid during the primaries. In fact, dozens of women have run for president over the past 150 years, though they did not represent the two major political parties of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Until this year, these women ran in the name of secondary and tertiary political parties.

Victoria Woodhall was the first woman candidate for president listed on the official ballot of the majority of states in the election of 1872. As a suffragette, she ran under the banner of the Equal Rights Party. She was nominated by the National Woman Suffrage Association, which also named Frederick Douglass as her running mate for vice president. Ultimately she did receive a very minor percentage of votes, but gained no electoral votes. Technically, she was not Constitutionally able to run for the office — not because she was a woman (there was no law preventing that), but because she had not reached the age of 35. President Ulysses Grant won re-election that year.

Boomers have voted for female candidates for local, state and federal offices since the earliest boomers reached voting age — just not for president. Yet it is hard to imagine that the Nineteenth Amendment — giving women the right to vote — was only ratified in 1920, a short twenty-five years before the beginning of the Boomer Era. Since the voting age across the country was 21 at the time, the first presidential election in which boomer-aged men and women could legally vote was 1968. We all know how that turned out. Boomers had a war they wanted to stop on their minds, not female presidential candidates. With the battle cry of You’re old enough to kill, but not for voting from the song Eve of Destruction, boomers’ protests of the Vietnam War helped to change the voting age to 18.

Throughout the Boomer Years, women attempted to run for president. In 1952, three women tried: Ellen Linea W. Jensen for the Washington Peace Party; Mary Kennery for the American Party; and Agnes Waters for the American Woman’s Party. Each received zero percent of the national vote. In 1964, Margaret Chase Smith, the then Republican Senator from Maine, ran for her party’s nomination, but ultimately lost out to Barry Goldwater. Since she had received 25 percent of the votes in the Illinois primary, her name was on the ballot at the national convention as the first woman nominated by a major party.

1972 saw two women attempt to run. Linda Jenness would appear on the ballot in 25 states under the Socialist Workers Party. Democrat Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress in 1968. She served seven terms as a representative from the state of New York. In 1972, she sought the Democratic nomination for president as a champion of minority education and employment opportunities, and vocal opponent to the Draft. Her candidacy ran all the way to the Democratic National Convention that year, where she became the first African-American woman to have her name placed in nomination for the office of President of the United States.

Despite the plethora of women candidates on various party platforms throughout the decades for both president and vice president, it wasn’t until 1980 that Geraldine Ferraro became the first vice presidential nominee for a major political party. Running mate to Walter Mondale, the pair lost the election to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Mister Boomer does not recall the first female candidate he voted for; it may very well have been for a judicial or congressional position. The point is, Mister B didn’t think much about the gender of the candidates, and he believes many boomers thought like he did. After all, we wanted to change the world, rearrange the world as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had sung. Surely today’s candidates owe a debt of gratitude to those who came before them. Nonetheless, Mister B wonders how the female candidates of days past would have fared in today’s political and social environment. How would Victoria Woodhall, as an outspoken suffragette activist and three-time divorced woman, be treated by the press or in social media? There is one common thread that runs though these candidates that spans their 140+ years: each was willing to put everything on the line to oppose the white-male dominated political machine.

Viable female candidates for the highest office in the land is the ultimate prize so many boomers fought for through the age of Feminism. We can only hope that boomers will live long enough to see the day when the country lives up to its promise set forth in the Declaration of Independence, that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men — and women — are created equal…

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Embraced Voting for Write-In Candidates

The tumultuous presidential election of 1968 was the first in which any Baby Boomer was old enough to vote. Many saw, in that election, a system that did not coincide with their vision of a better and more peaceful planet. Therefore, many first-time boomer voters decided that their vote would not go to support the same political parties that mired the country in the social unrest and foreign wars of the day. They wanted to change the world, man! For them, and thousands of other voters from coast to coast, only a write-in candidate would do.

Write-in candidates were not new to the election process in 1968. Every four years, there is always a group of people dissatisfied with the candidates from the two major parties. So, people have been taking advantage of their right to write-ins since the 1800s. Rules for write-ins, however, differ greatly from state to state. In fact, five states — Hawaii, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota — have never allowed write-in candidates. Louisiana joined the five in 1975, favoring instead a system in which anyone can get on the regular ballot, regardless of their party affiliation. Through the years stipulations have changed as well. In some states, a candidate must declare him or herself a write-in candidate before the election and in most, pay a fee. These “official” write-in candidates will not be on the ballot, per se, but are on a list that is required to be posted at polling stations.

Of course, people have been writing in all sorts of names over the years, real and fictional. In states that require registering, any name written in that is not on the list is discarded and the vote not counted. If there are votes for names on the official list, they must be sorted by hand, which is why election workers have perennially complained about write-in candidates. In some elections, the write-ins have kept workers going late into the night. For individual voters, however, write-ins have been their own personal protest.

As such, people have chosen all sorts of write-in names. Some come up in every election, while others are tied to a particular era. “Mickey Mouse” has probably received the most write-in votes of any fictional non-candidate. Reports indicate the Disney character has received votes in every presidential election since Mickey appeared in Steamboat Willie in 1928. Election officials in Georgia fought this trend by attempting to remind voters that a candidate had to be real, and follow the Constitutional requirements for running for president. Consequently, since 1987, no one has been allowed to vote for Mickey Mouse in that state.

Other common write-in votes of the Boomer Era that were cast in appreciable numbers included:

Donald Duck: in some states he was as popular as Mickey Mouse
Bozo the Clown: many people figured if they were putting a clown in the White House, it might as well be Bozo
Johnny Carson: the late night talk show host got votes throughout the 1960s and ’70s
Frank Zappa: the Mother of Invention was inspiration for several early-to-mid-era boomer voters
Miss Piggy: the beloved Muppet character from Jim Henson received the vote of many late-age boomers in the 1970s
Zippy the Pinhead: Bill Griffith’s quintessential 1970s underground comic character turned syndicated comic character captured many boomers’ humor and satire, and their vote

State election boards list a host of votes for other “candidates,” including the names of sports stars, spouses and even, “Me.” In the 1960 election, “Bacon” received votes in Georgia, and “Seymour Butts” was making the rounds in the 1960s.

Pigasus Pig
One of the more infamous write-in candidates of the Boomer Era was Pigasus Pig. Just before the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Youth International Party (YIPPIES) decided to name their own write-in candidate, and “he” would be a real pig — a 145 pound animal that was purchased from a farmer for the occasion. YIPPIES leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin demanded that the government treat the pig’s candidacy the same as other candidates, and afford Pigasus White House briefings and Secret Service protection. Instead, at a rally in Grant Park to announce the candidacy, Pigasus Pig was confiscated by the Chicago police on the grounds that an old city ordinance against bringing livestock into the city had been violated. YIPPIES leaders were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct but were later released when they posted $25 bail.

Pigasus became the property of The Anti-Cruelty Society, according to the Chicago Tribune, and lived out his days on a farm along with Mrs. Pigasus and a piglet that the YIPPIES had also purchased for the theatrical candidacy. Despite the party’s failure to get Pigasus a declared candidate, his name became a write-in for some sympathetic boomers.

While voting for a write-in candidate may seem like a good idea at the time, ultimately, when it comes to a presidential election, the vote is wasted. There have been documented incidents of write-in candidates winning state office, and even Congressional seats, but the president is actually elected by the Electoral College. As such, it is highly unlikely a presidential write-in will ever win.

How about it, boomers? Did you cast your first vote for president — or subsequent votes —  for a write-in candidate?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Boomers Embraced Voting for Write-In Candidates

Boomers Saw Their Favorite Characters Run for President

Now that the presidential nomination conventions of the two major parties have finished, the hard work of campaigning in the run-up to Election Day has begun. During boomers’ formative years, TV shows, magazines, ad agencies, PR firms and marketing companies all saw the potential of promoting their characters in fake political campaigns to a generation whose oldest members were just beginning to reach legal voting age.

The voting age was 21, as noted in the song, Eve of Destruction, when Barry McGuire sang, “You’re old enough to kill, but not for voting.”  The earliest boomers were angry that they could be drafted into the army yet could not take part in the voting process. It would not be until July of 1971 before the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and the age was changed to 18.

Many comics, writers and actors saw that 1968 battlefield as a theater of the absurd, so it was a natural evolution that popular characters would be paraded out to run for president. There had already been a tradition of fake campaigns dating back to the 1920s, when there was a Betty Boop for President campaign for the cartoon character, and the 1930s, when humorist Will Rogers mounted his faux run for the presidency.

Here are some favorite TV, comic book and cartoon characters who ran presidential campaigns in the Boomer Generation’s formative years of the ’60s and ’70s:

Howdy Doody, 1948
For many boomers, their first television memories are of the puppet Howdy Doody. In 1948, when the first boomers were just three years old, Puppet Playhouse Presents Howdy Doody ran a TV episode that featured a Howdy Doody for President theme.

Huckleberry Hound, 1960
The year John F. Kennedy was elected president, Huckleberry Hound had a running storyline in a comic book outlining his campaign for president.

Yogi Bear and Magilla Gorilla, 1964
In a crossover attempt in two comic books, Yogi Bear and Magilla Gorilla “ran” against each other for president. Buttons and campaign memorabilia were printed and distributed through the comic books. Each purchase was considered a vote for the candidate. Yogi’s vice presidential pick was Huckleberry Hound. Dozens of these buttons and pins are still available online today.

Pat Paulsen, 1968, et al
You can’t mention presidential candidates, real or not, without mentioning Pat Paulsen. He is perhaps the most persistent non-candidate in election history. Paulsen ran for president in 1968, ’72, ’80, ’88, ’92 and ’96. These were official attempts, though his campaign speeches were all tongue-in-cheek. He “ran” on the Straight Talking American Government (STAG) Party, but got on the ballot as a Republican and Democrat in many state primaries. Paulsen actually finished second to George Bush in 1992 in the North Dakota Republican Primary, and finished second to Bill Clinton in 1996 in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary.

It all began in 1967, when Paulsen, a comic and musician, was singing parodies of folk singers in comedy clubs. His friend, Tommy Smothers, caught his act one night and offered him a job writing songs for his TV show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Paulsen started on-air appearances on the show as a befuddled and disgruntled editorialist with deadpan humor. Tommy Smothers suggested he take his character into a presidential campaign and the rest is history. In our era of sound bites, we can recall that in political campaigns, the tag line served as the sound bite of its day. Paulsen had favorite tag lines used in his campaigns. In 1968 he had one printed on buttons that pictured his head on the body of a bald eagle. The tag line read, “I’ve upped my standards … Now up yours!” In live appearances and TV interviews, he was fond of saying, “If elected, I will win.”

In 1970, Paulsen was given his own show, Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour. It only lasted 13 weeks, but on the very first show, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey was a guest. It was a testimonial to the influence of comedy on elections.

Dick Gregory, 1968
Comedian and Civil Rights activist Dick Gregory launched his campaign in the 1968 election. He had fake dollar bills printed with his face on them. The headlines above and below his portrait said,  “For President of The United States of America — Gregory — One Vote.”  The satirical implication was obvious — he was buying your vote.

Snoopy, 1968
The popular Charles Shultz comic character had a storyline of the dog running for president, but the campaign went up a notch when The Royal Guardsmen released a song called, Snoopy for President. It sounded suspiciously like The Royal Guardsmen’s Snoopy vs. Red Baron and other Snoopy Christmas songs. In fact, we recall The Royal Guardsmen today only for their Snoopy songs.

Alfred E. Neuman, 1968
In Mad magazine’s 11th Annual Edition of More Trash From Mad the cover features a drawing of LBJ stepping out of the presidential limousine. His car sports an Alfred E. Neuman for President bumper sticker and the gate post, with the address 1600 visible, had a poster for candidate Neuman. The bumper sticker and poster came with the issue.

Again in 1972, a Mad cover featured Alfred E. Neuman for President. This time, the candidate himself was pictured with a straw convention hat that had been smashed over his head. The band around the hat held the pitch, Alfred E. Neuman for President.

Archie Bunker, 1972
Though his “campaign” was not part of the All In the Family TV show itself, Archie Bunker seemed a natural to run for president, with his over-the-top opinions on everything. The Archie Bunker campaign was a PR move, complete with campaign buttons. You’ll find the buttons for sale online.

These are just a few, since there were many more before, during and after the ’60s and ’70s.

Do you recall a favorite cartoon, comic book or TV character who ran for president, boomers? Did you obtain campaign memorabilia back then?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,TV and have Comment (1)

Boomers Witnessed The 1968 Democratic Convention

The Republicans have finished their nominating convention, and it is the Democrats turn this week. That has prompted Mister Boomer to recall that there were many memorable political conventions from both parties during the boomer era, from Eisenhower to Kennedy, Johnson to Nixon and on to Carter. Yet none was more memorable — and infamous — than the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Illinois, which took place from August 26 to 29.

The time leading up to the convention set the stage for conflict in all its forms. There was a Democratic president — Lyndon Johnson — who declined to run for re-election based on public protest of the Vietnam war; the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam proved the war was far from over, and the response was additional troops were committed; the country had experienced two years of race riots in major cities; and Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy, both proponents of the Peace and Civil Rights Movements, had been assassinated.

In March of 1968, representatives from more than 100 anti-war groups met in Illinois in an effort to coordinate protests during the convention. Their objectives were varied, but the common thread was “change” and especially, an end to the hostilities in Vietnam.

Chicago’s mayor, Richard Daley, was an influential leader of the Democratic Party. Together with President Lyndon Johnson, they effectively lobbied to keep the convention in Chicago when some party members suggested to moving it to Miami. Daley was known to run a “tight ship” when it came to control of his city, and his police force already had a reputation for strong-arm tactics before the delegates and protestors arrived.

Daley had the convention hall ringed with a fence topped with barbed wire, which afforded delegates only one way in and out. Protests were to be kept away from the arena area and any requests for permits to march near the hall were denied. A force, numbering more than a  thousand, composed of police, National Guard, army and Secret Service would be called upon to defend the hall space and “keep the peace.” To top it off, there was a taxi cab driver strike underway, and a heat wave caused sporadic outages of air conditioning inside the hall.

As protests grew in size and rancor outside, inside the hall there were protests among the delegates themselves. First, when a “peace plank” was proposed for the platform, party leaders postponed discussion for two days until protests inside the hall forced a debate. A representative from each side of the issue was selected to debate for one hour. Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine was chosen to represent the Johnson-Humphrey argument for continued Vietnam intervention, while Representative Phil Burton (CA) spoke on behave of the peace plank, which would, among other things, call for an immediate halt to the bombing of North Vietnam. Party leaders gave the win on all counts to Muskie, so delegates from New York and California began singing We Shall Overcome. Since the convention was televised, this internal protest among Democrats was available for all to see.

Word was that Vice President Hubert Humphrey had already quietly locked in enough party delegates to secure the nomination weeks before the convention. Humphrey did not run in any state primaries. Since Humphrey was perceived as “Johnson’s man,” the Peace Movement delegates were opposed to his nomination.

Senator Eugene McCarthy (WI), a Peace Movement candidate, had won six state primaries, and Senator Robert Kennedy (NY) won four. Bobby Kennedy had just won the primary of the most populous state — California — when he was assassinated. Most of his delegates were picked up by Senator George McGovern (SD), a third peace candidate, but he remained uncompetitive. Behind the scenes, Mayor Daley had kept his controlled delegates uncommitted in the hope of persuading Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy (MA) to run, but Kennedy expressed no interest.

Nonetheless, in 1968, the Parties, and not the voting population, decided who would be the nominee. The Democratic Party chose Hubert Humphrey as their banner bearer. This enraged protestors outside, and violence — which was escalating throughout the week — increased in clashes between police and protestors. On the final day of the convention, Humphrey had chosen Edmund Muskie as his Vice Presidential running mate, while outside the hall it was to be the bloodiest day of an already bloody week as protestors attempted to get closer to the convention hall.

Reports indicated that police were taking off their identification badges when they took to swinging billy clubs at protestors, injuring hundreds in the process. The smell of tear gas entered the hotels of some delegates and members of the press were also attacked. Mayor Daley had let it be known he felt the press was as much a part of the problem as the protestors. Nearly two dozen reporters were seriously injured. Officially more than 500 people were arrested. A report issued by an Illinois businessman after the convention put the majority of blame for the violence on the police. Mayor Daley responded by giving the police a raise.

The most famous of the arrested protesters became known as the Chicago 8. They were the first people tried under the 1968 Civil Rights act, which made it a federal crime to cross state lines to incite a riot. They were Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin (leading members of the Youth International Party [YIPPIES]); David Dellinger (chairman of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam); Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden (members of the Students for a Democratic Society [SDS]); Lee Weiner (a research assistant at Northwestern University); John Froines (a professor at the University at the University of Oregon); and Bobby Seale (a founder of the Black Panthers). The group was tried together. In the courtroom, the defendants were intent on voicing their displeasure at their arrest and treatment. Bobby Seale became so disruptive that the judge had him bound and gagged, and tied to a chair. He then was separated from the others and given his own trial. In the end all were convicted for either contempt of court or crossing state lines to incite a riot.

In November 1968, Humphrey was soundly defeated by Republican Richard Nixon. The voices of unhappy Democrats caused the Party to develop the current system of primaries, and during the 1972 election, added superdelegates. 1968 was to the be the final convention where the Party chose the nominee. Nixon pursued a “peace with honor” strategy in Vietnam but the U.S. finally left when the Viet Cong took Saigon in January of 1975.

In 1968, Mister Boomer was a mid-teen. He was a sheltered Midwesterner who did not understand the complexities of the situation. He saw the violence from Chicago on TV and could not comprehend the whys and wherefores that led to these clashes. Four years later, in 1972, he had registered for the Draft, the Vietnam war was still ongoing, and he saw Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in concert. He had already purchased the album 4 Way Street, and the protest songs on the album, Chicago, about the ’68 convention, and Ohio, about the shooting of unarmed protestors at Kent State University in 1970, struck a chord with Mister B. It was the spark that initiated his political awareness.

What do you recall about the 1968 Democratic Convention, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Boomers Witnessed The 1968 Democratic Convention