by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
[N]ot all protest is the same, and just because people are in the streets does not mean “democracy” is thriving. Surely that is one of the lessons of the Sixties.
That transformative decade was hardly the first in U.S. history to see marches on Washington, or elsewhere, but it was arguably the first to see protest become, in the popular mind, the handmaiden of revolution, and riot a legitimate form of social protest. That was what became clear in 1968. The violence at the DNC started as “protests” by the “Youth International Party,” the “Yippies” whose first demand was “an immediate end to the war in Vietnam.” But the Yippies were not interested in gentle reform: “We shall not defeat Amerika [sic] by organizing a political party,” Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman declared in his 1969 book Woodstock Nation. “We shall do it by building a new nation — a nation as rugged as the marijuana leaf.” Also heavily involved in the mayhem in Chicago were members of Students for a Democratic Society, many of whom by 1968 were tiring of civil disobedience; the next spring, a faction of SDS members would officially form the Weather Underground, an outright domestic-terrorism outfit. A resolution penned in 1968 by Weather Underground co-founder John Jacobs, encouraged by events in Chicago, was titled: “The Elections Don’t Mean Shit — Vote Where the Power Is — Our Power Is in the Street.”
Add to the above much of the activity of the Black Panther Party, on the rise in the late 1960s, and it’s clear that much of the “protest” that made the period so tumultuous had nothing to do with restoring Cobb’s cherished “norms of democracy.” Its aim was to overthrow the whole system, relying on an ever-finer line between “protest” and violence.