If you’ve scrolled through Netflix lately, you’ve probably seen Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7. The real-life story follows eight men who showed up to the 1968 Democratic National Convention with an anti-Vietnam war message arrested and tried to incite a riot and conspiracy across state lines.
The Netflix original portrayal stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Jeremy Strong, Michael Keaton, Alex Sharp, John Carroll Lynch, Noah Robbins, and kelvin Harrison Jr. The story is titled The Chicago 7. Still, it was originally known as the Chicago Eight.
Who Are The Chicago 7?
The men involved were all from different walks of life. Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, were amongst the founders of the youth international party, also known as Yippies. There was also the Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, who was chairman of the National mobilization Committee of End War in Vietnam (also called MOBE), and Tom Hayden. Hayden worked with Davis and led the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. Other activists, John Froines and teacher Lee Weiner were also apart of the initial planners. These individuals were anti-war, anti the Vietnam-war, and wanted an end to the draft and the loss of American lives overseas. Some of them are scruffy activists, others are pacifists. Regardless, they took to their Constitutional right to gather and gathered as protestors.
To set the scene, 1969 may have been a good time for rock n roll, but many other things in the United States was a bit of a shit show. At the end of the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, who was set to challenge Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic presidency, were assassinated months apart. There had been rioting in the spring to top that off, and a Chicago Telephone strike that fall. The American people were being pulled in many ways. This telephone strike also put a dent in the plans of airing the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
August 25, 1968
Things got rowdy on August 25, 1968. After protesters were met with almost 12,000 Illinois cops, and nearly 8,000 Army troops, and the same number of Nation Guard. And about a thousand secret servicemen mixed in there. On August 28, the “Battle of Michigan Ave” is when the real rioting was done. But not by the protestors. Officers attacked bystanders, protestors, medical workers, reporters, and anyone in the vicinity to show they meant business. They used tear gas and clubs to hurt countless and then nearly arrest 700 people.
Like a shot heard around the world, it wasn’t quite sure who was the first to do what. But, the bleeding American citizens both in and out of cuffs can let you know who ended it. Sorkin’s film shows his Hollywood version of this and clips of the actual c*ps beating actual American citizens in 1968.
This type of government vs. the people precedent continued into the Chicago seven trial with plenty of courtroom drama and shenanigans. Judge Julius Hoffman charged all the defendants with several accounts of “contempt of court” and even gagged and bound Bobby Seale; he also tried to try him without a lawyer present. What the defendants lacked in power to overrule judge Julius Hoffman they made up for in slight antics, such as the time Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin showed up go court in matching judicial robes; beneath those, they were dressed like police officers. They all also refused to stand for the judge when Fred Hampton was suspiciously “killed.” He’d been a big target for being a Black Panther Party leader for some time.
I won’t tell you how it ends. I will tell you this: after being allowed to make a few closing remarks and then proceeding with one final ‘up yours’ to the judge, Tom Hayden, someday in the future, was still elected as a senator. So, get rowdy to make a change!