The other week, a facebook friend asked how these OSW protests compared to the protests of the 1960s. Then, for some dumb reason, I was watching a show about Phil Collins and he was redoing all the Motown Hits, which was weird in and off itself. However, one of the founders of Motown was in Detroit when the riots started and he told how people helped him “get out of there” before the violence got bad.
I did some research and found that the riots were very very bad. For instance, with the 1967 Detroit Riot mentioned on the music show, after five days of rioting, 43 people were dead and 1189 injured.(1)
Checking further I found this reference:
The summer of 1967 marked the apex of a cycle of ‘urban unrest’ that began during the mid-1960s in Harlem and Watts and tapered off by the early 1970s. During the “summer of love” one hundred and sixty four “civil disorders” were reported in one hundred and twenty eight American cities. Of these “disturbances” that took place in the summer of ’67, Newark and Detroit were arguably the most severe. Beginning on July 14th and lasting through July 17th, violence in Newark claimed 23 lives and destroyed over 10 million dollars of property. A mere six days later, on July 23rd, Detroit experienced a similar fate, resulting in the deaths of 43 people and the destruction of an estimated 22 million dollars of property damage over a five day period. Both “riots” were sparked by police activity in predominantly black neighborhoods, but the underlying causes were quite complex, including police brutality, persistent poverty, and a lack of political representation for African American residents, as well as local opposition to the Vietnam War.(2)
For two weeks in April 1968, beginning in the dark hours following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the city of Baltimore was devastated by a series of civil disturbances that left six dead, dozens injured and hundreds of properties, both private and public, burned, shattered and in ruins.(4)
So from the beginning, riots, protests, whatever you want to call the gathering of “the disenfranchised”, was put together by organizations with an agenda for media purposes.
Their organizing technique was to create a story of what would happen in Chicago, a story so outrageous and compelling that the media would communicate it to the world and 100,000 people would come to Chicago to act out the story. Yippie was trying to use the mass media to do grassroots organizing. As an organizing strategy it was a magnificent failure; because the city of Chicago refused to grant the Yippies any permits for the festival, only one band (the MC5) showed up and they played for less than an hour to a crowd of a couple thousand. The Festival of Life was over before the business of the Convention got underway.(3)
Interviewing a few friends who were in college during those times, there are a couple of things that were vivid in their memories. For one, the riots were happening mainly in the inner cities and did not affect the colleges until the Ohio State murders. When the Ohio State shootings happened, there began a season of demonstrations on many campuses. With student newsletters and other “underground” communications, people kept apprised of the events happening on other campuses. They basically joined in and copied each other techniques. As one friend put it, “ I would take a bucket of chicken to the demonstration as everyone was just hanging around most of the time. Once the TV cameras showed up, I would put away the chicken as we were then supposed to demonstrate as on other campuses.”
With today’s communications, things happened faster. However, with 24/7 news and everyone having a camera in their pocket, we see the hanging around segment of the “demonstrations” as well as the actual rallies and demonstrations.
So my answer to the friends who was wondering what it was like in 1968? Well, they are not as big, bad, or criminal, but definitely are more like 1789 France than 1968 America.