Will the 2024 Democrat National Convention be a Replay of 1968?

In 1968, Chicago was known as “the city that works,” meaning a powerful Democratic political machine commanded it.

The master of that machine was a virtuoso politician and mayor named Richard J. Daley. A year before, “Boss” Daley had pitched Chicago as the site of the 1968 Democrat National Convention.

As Mayor and Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee, Daley promised that nothing amiss would occur as thousands of Democratic delegates converged on the Chicago Amphitheater, along with an expected thirty or forty thousand protestors who threatened to hold city-wide demonstrations against the War in Vietnam and a surfeit of other grievances, including civil rights and the military draft.

Leaders of the Democratic Party took Daley at his word. And why not? After all, “Boss” Daley ruled Chicago and Cook County, and the man was adept at keeping the city’s powerful Democratic machine fueled with obedient Democratic voters no matter what he had to do.

Case in point: In Chicago, the dead vote early and often—and always for Democrats.

The Donkey party was also indebted to Daley because it was widely understood that the “Boss” put John F. Kennedy over the top in his 1960 run for the White House against Richard Nixon. Post-election stories reported that Daley used his political machine to stuff the ballot boxes in populous Cook County, ensuring the critical state of Illinois went to Kennedy.

Mayor Daley on the convention floor in 1968

As somebody who spent much of his life as a reporter, foreign correspondent, and editor at the Chicago Tribune, I knew Boss Daley’s immense clout in the Democratic Party and powerful grip on Chicago.

City aldermen and almost all Democrats in the State Assembly didn’t sneeze without Daley knowing about it.

However, today’s Chicago is not the same “city that works” it was when Mayor Daley reigned. Not by a long shot.

The country will discover that in August when the Democrats arrive in Chicago for their 2024 national convention.

Today’s Chicago is run by a feckless Marxist mayor named Brandon Johnson, who, since his February 2023 election, has turned the city into an urban battleground where gangs and street crime run rampant.

Thanks to Johnson and his anti-police tactics, the once-proud and powerful Chicago Police Department is a demoralized outfit that has been defanged and emasculated by George Soros-supported prosecutors who think it is better to allow vicious offenders to roam the streets than to keep them incarcerated.

Before Johnson’s election, Chicago Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) president John Catanzara warned voters.

“If this guy gets in, we’re going to see an exodus like we’ve never seen before,” Catanzara said, predicting 800 to 1,000 officers would leave the force. He added that “blood in the streets” will follow a Johnson win.

Catanzara has been proven correct on all counts. At least 1,600 police jobs are vacant in the city, and more than 1,000 police officers have left the force since Johnson’s election. His stated policy of defunding Chicago’s police department hasn’t exactly endeared him to the cops, and neither has his disastrous soft-on-crime strategy.

Not long after Johnson’s election, violence exploded in the Chicago Loop. Most of the mobs were young people gathering in the city’s center. Fights broke out, stores were looted, people danced on top of cars, and two teenagers were shot.

Johnson’s response was to urge Chicagoans not to “demonize’ the youthful perpetrators” for their excesses and violent behavior.

Saying “kids are just being kids” wouldn’t have cut it with Boss Daley. Had this rampage happened under his watch, there would have been hell to pay.

You need only look at what happened in August 1968, when Democrats held their convention in Chicago.

The months before the convention had been some of the worst in American history. Anti-war demonstrations were everywhere; Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, a leading candidate in the 1968 Democratic presidential primaries, was assassinated in June, and the bloody Tet Offensive in Vietnam demonstrated that the war in Vietnam was not going to be easily won, if ever.

For months, the nation’s hippies, anti-war protestors, civil rights activists, and those just angry at the status quo in the country warned that there would be chaos in the streets of Chicago if the Democrats showed up.

I was the editor of my college newspaper at the time and had gone to Chicago to cover what I was sure would be a big story. I wasn’t wrong.

Undaunted by threats from radical leftists like Students for a Democratic Society, Mayor Daley and the Democrat leadership pushed ahead.

“Let ’em come,” Daley taunted the protestors.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party delegates continued to arrive in a city that seemed to be under siege. National Guardsmen and policemen met the delegate’s planes. Their hotels were under heavy guard, and the Amphitheatre was an armed fortress.

After several days of raucous and sometimes strident altercations inside Chicago’s International Amphitheater, Democratic delegates finally nominated Hubert Humphrey for president and Edmund Muskie as his running mate.

       Humphry and Muskie 1968

As delegates battled inside the arena, thousands of demonstrators outside were massing in the city’s parks. Members of the Youth International Party (Yippies) and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE) led by Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, and Tom Hayden decided to nominate their candidate—a pig named “Pigasus the Immortal.”

“They (the Democrats) nominate a president, and he eats the people,” Hoffman said. “We nominate a president, and the people eat him.”

Before the Democratic Convention, MOBE and Yippie activists applied for permits to camp at Lincoln Park and hold rallies at the International Amphitheatre, Soldier Field, and Grant Park. Hoping to weaken the protestors’ strength, Mayor Daley approved only one permit to protest at the bandshell in Grant Park.

That anemic attempt at appeasement failed. About a week before the convention, thousands of protestors without permits set up camp in Lincoln Park, about ten miles from the Amphitheater. Expecting police resistance, protest leaders organized self-defense training sessions and amassed stores of food, medical supplies, and ammunition (primarily rocks and bottles).

But Mayor Daley was not about to allow a rag-tag army of demonstrators to disrupt the convention, and he didn’t. At least, not at first.

Daley allowed the protestors to remain in Lincoln Park, but the day before the convention began, he sent in about 2,500 riot police to enforce the 11 p.m. curfew he had ordered in all city parks. Wearing riot gear and gas masks, the police lined up and fired tear gas into the crush of demonstrators.

Chicago Police Engage Protestors in Lincoln Park 1968

Protestors rushed wildly out of the park, blindly falling over each other because of the tear gas. They were met by police who clubbed them to the ground and threw them into paddy wagons.

When the convention opened the following day, Daley and his police force assumed the show of force in Lincoln Park had weakened protestors’ resolve. However, much to their dismay, demonstrators were back outside the Amphitheater. TV networks were told they couldn’t provide live broadcasts of the violent demonstrations outside because of what Daley said was an “electrical workers strike.”

A furious news media charged that the news blackout of the demonstrations was a deliberate attempt to prevent the public from learning about the citywide protests.

Mayor Daley shrugged his shoulders. “I have no control over the unions,” he quipped.

That evening, protestors surrounded the Conrad Hilton Hotel, where many delegates and candidates stayed. Police attempted to maintain control, but Daley eventually sent in the National Guard to assist in keeping demonstrators from entering the hotel.

Protestors Surround Hilton Hotel 1968

The next day, Wednesday, August 28, some 20,000 protesters gathered for an anti-war rally at the Grant Park bandshell. Several thousand police in riot gear also gathered along the park’s periphery.  Police watched as a protestor climbed a flagpole near the bandshell and removed the American flag. That was too much for the men in blue, who quickly moved in to arrest him. Protestors rallied to his aid, pelting police with rocks, bottles, and food.

A few protestors showered police with plastic bags filled with human feces. The bags sometimes burst open on impact. I recall reporters referring to those protestors as “waste baggers.”

Thousands of protestors moved from Grant Park back to the Hilton that evening. Within a few minutes, police surged into the crowd, pummeling protestors with nightsticks and firing hundreds of tear gas canisters. This time, TV cameras caught the battles between police and protestors, and a horrified nation watched as police waded into hundreds of protestors, clubbing them with nightsticks before tossing them battered and bleeding into paddy wagons.

Chicago Police Clearing Out Grant Park 1968

That was the Chicago that greeted demonstrators in 1968 when Boss Daley was in charge.

It will not be the Chicago that pro-Hamas and pro-Palestinian protestors will encounter when they show up in August to protest Israel and the Biden administration.

More’s the pity, as the Brits say.

The Chicago of Marxist Mayor Brandon Johnson will no doubt allow protestors to burn, loot, and attack police, who will be ordered to “stand down” rather than fight back. Unlike Boss Daley, Johnson is an unrepentant Marxist who supports the protestors. He will undoubtedly see to it that whatever damage they do gets plenty of coverage.

Meanwhile, some 7,000 delegates will divide their time during the convention between the United Center for evening events and McCormick Place Convention Center for daytime events. How delegates move between the two venues might be a challenge if protestors decide to shut down major freeways and streets.

Democrat planners are undoubtedly keenly aware of the ghosts of 1968 that will haunt the 2024 convention. They are looking for ways to preempt protestors’ opportunities for heckling if some manage to gain entrance to either convention venue.

Quashing violence and disorder is at the top of convention planners’ priorities. Unfortunately, unlike 1968, Democrats will not have a mayor they can trust to do that. If anything, Mayor Johnson might be leading the protestors.

While demonstrators in 1968 were highly motivated and ready to engage the police, today’s protestors are savvier about gaining entrance to political events. They are adept at getting tickets and finding sympathetic supporters inside venues.

But it’s outside the venues during the convention that has many Democrats worried—especially when Mayor Johnson says things like this:

“If there’s any mayor who understands the value of protest and demonstration, it’s me. Without protests and real demands of a government, people of color and women do not have a place in society.”

Pro-Hamas & Palestinian Protestor Encampment at Columbia University

Democratic delegates and Chicagoans should expect a different kind of mob from the one that battled the police in 1968. If recent demonstrations on college campuses in New York and Los Angeles are any guide, this crowd will pitch tents in parks and demand food, medical care, and electrical power so they can charge their phones, laptops, and any other appliances they have schlepped with them.

I bet you dollars to doughnuts that Mayor Johnson will comply. Protesting in 2024 is more well-appointed and comfy than it was in 1968.

Nevertheless, it’s just as well that Boss Daley’s potent and formidable Democratic political machine is a distant memory in Chicago today.

In its place is a Marxist mayor who disdains America and the police and a billionaire Democratic Illinois Governor (J.B. Pritzker) who is out of touch with the great unwashed. Gov. Pritzker has offered to provide the Illinois National Guard—a proposal Johnson has predictably declined.

It’s not exactly a robust defense against the pro-Hamas hordes who are planning to descend on the Windy City in a few weeks.

Of course, given the sophisticated temperament of these 21st-century protestors, I predict the Chicago cops won’t have to worry about “waste baggers.”


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About Ronald E. Yates

Ronald E. Yates is an award-winning author of historical fiction and action/adventure novels, including the popular and highly-acclaimed Finding Billy Battles trilogy. Read More About Ron Here

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