Heady Times

It was 1968 and I was living on the South Side of Chicago with a black woman friend of mine who was also one of the up and coming movers and shakers in the local Civil Rights Movement. Those were heady times. Jesse Jackson's Operation Breadbasket met weekly someplace near Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House. I remember that part, because the first time I went, I got lost and found the Robie House instead.

My two-year-old son Christopher went with me to those meetings where he was often the only white child there. Eartha Kitt, fresh from telling off Lady Bird Johnson at the White House, once swept him up in her arms and carried him around the room. He pretends to remember that to this day. I went down receiving lines that included Mohammed Ali and Dick Gregory. Heady times indeed.

And then there was Martin Luther King. Killed. Bobby Kennedy. Killed. And I had to make a choice. Up until that time, the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War Movement had found ways to support each other. Both supported Bobby. But when Kennedy was killed, the black community fell back on an old and trusted supporter, Hubert Humphrey. The predominantly white Anti-War community fell in behind Eugene McCarthy. And the result was Richard Nixon.

I remember standing at a window of the Humphrey suite in the Conrad Hilton Hotel as one of my roommate's contingent of up and coming movers and shakers, looking down on Michigan Avenue at the hordes of war protesters across the street in Grant Park. One of my brothers was out there somewhere. I watched as a line of armored vehicles with mounted guns - I heard they carried tear gas cannisters - came lumbering down the street - and I decided that my place was there. Across the street. So I left.

By the time I made it down Michigan Avenue far enough that I could cross without running a police barricade - and then back into the park - it was too late. The Battle of Chicago had been fought and lost. Acrid whiffs of tear gas made my eyes water too much to get anywhere near the "front." So I wandered down the length of the park as close to the water as I could get and then made my way home.

My roommate was home already, and pissed off at me. She had gone to dinner with Jesse and Andrew Young and some of the other black leaders and had wangled a hard-won invitation for me, but I couldn't be found. When I told her what I had done, she was really pissed. I think both of us realized at that point that I wasn't mover and shaker material. I was okay with that.

Rallies and demonstrations have come and gone since those heady days. But if there is a true born descendent of the Battle of Chicago and the People's March on Washington, it is the Occupy Movement that has begun to fill city streets across the country. And once again, I can't quite get there from here. All the same, I want to remind those who do get there that even the lost battles of yesterday were not in vain. Much was eventually won. Real movers and shakers paid attention. I think they will do so again.