Summer of Love

It was Chicago 1968 (though it could have been anywhere then). Thousands descended upon the host city of the Democratic National Convention to “express” their “concerns” over the war in Vietnam and the nation’s political direction, in general. It turned into a hellacious five days. More than 20,000 police, National Guardsmembers, and U.S. Army soldiers assembled by the city clashed with the 87,000 or so who came under the proud labels of YIPPIE (Youth International Party) and MOBE (National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam).

Flash forward to 2008: The political convention war protester crowd is gasping for air, making minor stands at national party gatherings in Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul. They have received scant coverage by a media as fickle as the consumers of news they work to attract. The “news” is the 40th anniversary of the now-epic — and violent — assembly witnessed, experienced, in 1968. Then-Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley’s force numbered three to four times those gathered to protest in Denver.

Estimates place the number of war protesters in the mile-high city at well under 10,000. Those actually protesting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and not rallying for other causes is anyone’s guess. (C’mon, you know ‘em “Free Tibet” vilification of the world bank, U.S. oil dependence, and of course the hot PETA pick to name a few.)

The march on Democratic National Convention organized by various groups including the Iraq Veterans Against the War, drew 3,000 vets and other detractors, according to Denver officials. The group, whose members included those wearing Army Greens and Marine Corps dress blues, despite a lack of permits for their protest was allowed to move forward as planned. Law enforcement officials played escort and rerouted traffic to smooth the way. Following a brief, but peaceful, stand-off at the convention site, the group delivered its message demanding the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and other overseas conflicts to an aide for Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama.

St. Paul protesters failed to follow Denver’s lead (big surprise). They also chose not defer to the plight of Gulf Coast residents as Hurricane Gustav made his way ashore in a region whose future remained in question. (Flashback three years almost to the day of another storm — Hurricane Katrina.) Police seemed to be on hand in larger numbers than Denver (Is there crime in Minnesota?), and their riot gear came in handy as things took a tumultuous turn.

Events of 1968 were fueled by tremendous racial turmoil and political unrest: Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated April 4, 1968, and Democratic presidential candidate Robert M. Kennedy was gunned down June 5 of that year.

The beginning of the end of Generation Protest might have been the first Me Generation two decades ago. The latest nails in the coffin might be the iPod, the iPhone, and a Prada bag or two. (Prosperity! Thy name art Apple!) Regardless, violence at “peace” rallies is nothing short of Kafkaesque. Impassioned Americans (and a bunch of also-rans), looking for camaraderie, a cause and a sense of belonging, are willing to wage war … against war.

So, what exactly are they protesting?

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