|DAYS OF PROTEST|
August 17, 2000
After a background report on the protests outside the Democratic National Convention, Ray Suarez talks with Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), a former protester himself, about the current protest culture.
Then, the NewsHour's historians discuss the effects of protests on politics.
JIM LEHRER: Now some historical perspective on protests, protesters in the Democratic Party, and to Margaret Warner.
WARNER: And we get that perspective now from three NewsHour regulars:
presidential historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss and
journalist and author Haynes Johnson. With them tonight, as he has been
most of this convention week, is historian Richard Norton Smith, currently
the director of the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids,
|Protests past and present|
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I think not only the difference that he mentioned - that there were focuses in the 1960's, whether it was anti-war or civil rights - but there was a linkage between the outside movements in the 60's and people inside. I mean, think in 1968, for example, the antiwar movement - it wasn't just a bunch of protesters outside feeling that there was no one inside representing them; there was an antiwar contingent in the Democratic Party. And when Ribicoff stood up and yelled at Mayor Daley on the middle of the television floor, you know, about the Gestapo tactics being used against the protesters and then Daley said get out, go home, that's part of the reason why I think the Democratic Party got blamed for the lack of law and order, because they were sympathizing with the demonstrators; they had a link to them.
That's the negative side of the link. The positive side of the link is when it was civil rights movement, there was a sense when the civil rights protesters were protesting outside that they were making themselves heard and eventually we got the great Civil Rights Act of '64, the Voting Rights Act of '65, when Lyndon Johnson takes the words of the protest movement "We shall overcome" and we get a Voting Rights Act eight years - eight months later. It was amazing.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with Doris that the people in the past inside the hall really had to listen to what the protesters were saying, they were tapping into something that they, themselves, many of them, believed?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: They did. There was even a better example, and that was 1964. That was the convention in Atlantic City that Lyndon Johnson was going to be nominated for president in his own right by acclamation. Outside the hall you had civil rights leaders who were demonstrating and saying the Democrats should move faster on civil rights, even though Johnson got the Civil Rights Act through Congress just the previous month - integrating public facilities - inside the hall you had two states in the South that were ready to walk out in protest over civil rights.
And, you know, I've been listening to these tapes of President Johnson's private conversations, and it's absolutely fascinating because Johnson was terrified that this whole convention would blow up not only inside but also outside. So what does he do? He's got the FBI listening in on the telephone calls of the civil rights leaders staying at their motels in Atlantic City and also trying himself through his people to get these Southerners to stay on the reservation. The result was, of course, the convention was fine. But if you listen to Johnson, he thought it was just about going to bring down his presidency. And at one point during this he says, "I've had it, I'm going to go back to Texas; I'm not going to run this time."
MARGARET WARNER: How do you see it then in terms of why protests then were more potent?
HAYNES JOHNSON: Well, with what he said, there was one issue that dominated at the time - civil rights - women's rights - the war - Doris said you had slogans - we're against that war, two, three, four, six, eight - you don't want that - I don't want to say - I mean, but this - everybody -
MARGARET WARNER: Each one was a different one-
HAYNES JOHNSON: And you understood it, and what we just heard Bobby Rush say was keep it simple, pop up protests, so the amalgam now is so vitiating; it takes you apart. There's no unity to the protests. We always have protests in politics. It is as natural as the air you breathe. You have to have politics and protests; they go together. Every political convention from the very beginning of the country has had protests. This party has had protests since the Civil War. In 1960 in this city, when John Kennedy got the nomination, I mean, Adlai Stevenson was charging into the city with his group to try to stop the nomination; so you had that kind of thing. The difference, though, from '68 - and this is really the history of it - the violence, what people saw of the violence - the beatings - that ever since then the fear of violence has sort of affected all of our politics and there's been a police presence that you didn't have before '68. And that's a big difference.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: We see it here this week too.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Yes. And there's more police than I've seen since Chicago in '68.
MARGARET WARNER: Richard.
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Yeah. But you're also - you're talking about what was, in effect, a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party in the late 60's so that the people outside the hall were inside four years later, in 1972, running - if you can call that convention run - or certainly managed - but in any event, it's interesting. One reason why I think these protests don't have more resonance - and I would say there is a linkage between inside and outside - both of them are playing to the cameras. What is going on outside there - and I'm not questioning their sincerity - but what is going on outside there is staged every bit as much for television as everything that is going on inside.
|'Days of rage'|
MARGARET WARNER: And you don't that was true in the 60's?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: There was a reason they were called days of rage. There was rage. There was - and when body bags were coming home every week and when protesters were being clubbed not only in Chicago but in Selma and elsewhere in the South, there was passion.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: There was a whole different culture in the 60's than now. It was a very activist culture. For many people, particularly young people, big public events cut across their private lives. It was part of who they were to be active in politics. Now it's a much more passive age, so the reason why these don't have sustaining value is that there is not a sense that they have been doing it every day, that they have been organizing, that this is who they are. It is, as he said, a pop-up thing in the sense that we don't have that kind of exhilarating sense of belonging to one another in a collective identity.
HAYNES JOHNSON: And the genius of the Civil Rights movement, Margaret, is it was a non-violent movement. They did want the cameras. I was in Selma. And they had the demonstrations; they wanted the press there, they wanted to kneel, and they wanted the police to oppose them. They wanted to be arrested because they were fighting for a cause they deeply believed in but it was nonviolent. That was the principle that drove it.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: But, you know, the other thing about '68 was that there was a connection in another way, and that was there was a big effort by Hubert Humphrey, the incumbent vice president, who was the most pro-Vietnam War candidate, to reach agreement with the forces of Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, who were against the war on a platform. He almost made it -- Lyndon Johnson vetoed that. That's when everything sort of collapsed. They weren't able to get a consensus, so you have all these kids in the street feeling that we can't even get a compromised platform on Vietnam. That's when you feel you need or they felt they needed to turn --
MARGARET WARNER: One of the things Bobby Rush said was when he said they weren't pop-up movements. They used to be much more grounded and it was a sustained activity and the conventions protests would be just one part of that. You are right about that.
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: There is no moral equivalent here. When Martin Luther King led a quarter of a million people in 1963 to Lincoln's statue on the Mall, that was a transcendent moment in it this country. The nation's conscience was aroused belatedly -- on the 100th anniversary of the emancipation that never was. For people to be protesting and arrested outside a furrier on Rodeo Drive the rights of animals, I'm not questioning the legitimacy of the cause but don't expect people to respond in the same way. I mean, it's almost a luxury, we're having these cultural protests if you will. We're protesting the very luxuries that our prosperity has provided.
HAYNES JOHNSON: It may be that each one of these protests is absolutely valid but to put them all across, you can't identify with them - and that's the problem we've got. The other problem we've got -- we live in a an age of violence. So we see Columbine, we see Oklahoma City, we see armed guards, terrorism. You didn't have that before '68. There has been a growth, and so it affects the tenor of a place, the psychology of a place.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Even though young people are volunteering in large numbers right now, there isn't the same sense that young people believe in political action to bring about the goals that they care about. So it's a whole different attitude I think toward politics and that gets communicated to the country at large. There was great support for those movements in the 1960's.
|The demonstrations' effects|
MARGARET WARNER: Michael, pick up something else Doris said earlier though, about the fact that those protests really had consequences and really changed society. I mean, it seems obvious, but -
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: If you had not had the protests for civil rights, we would be living in a very different way today. If you didn't have protests against the Vietnam War, it ended very belatedly, but it might not have even ended American involvement in January of 1973, and I think there is another element too. If you go back to 1968 or 1960, those were conventions that were not dominated by money in the way that these conventions are this summer. Now if you want your voice heard at a Democratic or Republican convention, to some extent you write a check for $250,000. If you've got it, go up to one of those skyboxes just above us and you can connect with party leaders and other delegates. That's something that people wouldn't have even dreamed of in 1960, and that contributes, I think, to some of the frustration that leads to what we're seeing outside this hall this week.
MARGARET WARNER: Richard.
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Well, the revolution areas have become the establishment, which happens sometimes with revolutions. Let's not forget Republicans as a rule don't demonstrate; they incorporate. There are, however -- thank you. There are protests inside the hall. This one, the Republican Party was taken over in 1964 by outsiders, the Goldwater right, who were furious at being condescended to for years. And on that night in 1964, when Nelson Rockefeller stood up there, denounced extremism, and the hall booed him almost off the podium, that was violence of a sort. Those were inside the hall.
HAYNES JOHNSON: The same thing - it wasn't the same tone, but in 1976, in Kansas City, when Ronald Reagan lost the nomination of Gerald Ford and - I will never forget that sound of the hall of the Republican delegates who were for Reagan - (making a buzzing noise) - bzzzz - angry - like angry bees - and you knew, and the whole country knew that Reagan hadn't really lost. He was on his way. He was on the stage.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Exactly. But, you know, the most important thing I think to remember about protests and social movements is that they really have affected the course of our country more than almost anything else. Most change has come from down upward. As long as the leaders are able to respond - and what you saw in the 60's were a number of leaders who could incorporate in a positive way what was going on - whether it was John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson on civil rights - and eventually McCarthy provided a channel. The protest movement was getting out of hand - I know from those antiwar marches I was in - you were getting more and more unruly. We were afraid we were losing ground. But then once McCarthy ran, there was a channel in the political system for all that energy, you know, the kids were clean for Gene, and suddenly the system itself was responding. That's when change takes places.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: But at the end, the system did not respond because people voted for Richard Nixon and this does not disagree with your point. People voted for Richard Nixon that year thinking that Nixon was going to be more antiwar than Hubert Humphrey, and one reason for the ferocious disillusionment of the protests of the next four years was people felt that they had elected Nixon under false pretenses, thought he would end the war, and instead the war dragged on for four more years.
HAYNES JOHNSON: You know, the consequences - you talked about earlier - about the war - we don't have a draft in this country today. Everybody before that protest movement - everybody had to serve. Now, almost no Americans choose to serve in it - nobody is going to commit force now because of the - it does change the fabric of the country.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We're going to leave it there for now. Thank you all four very much.