Days of Rage
|Days of Rage|
|Part of the opposition to U.S. involvement in Vietnam|
|Date||October 8–11, 1969|
|Goals||Create mass action to end American involvement in the Vietnam War|
|Resulted in||City damages and arrests of Weathermen|
Fred Hampton distances the Black Panther Party from the Weathermen
|Parties to the civil conflict|
The Days of Rage demonstrations were a series of violent actions taken over a course of three days in October 1969 in Chicago, organized by the Weatherman faction of the counterculture-era group Students for a Democratic Society.
The group planned the October 8–11 event as a "National Action" built around John Jacobs' slogan "bring the war home", which grew out of a resolution drafted by Jacobs and introduced at the October 1968 SDS National Council meeting in Boulder, Colorado. The resolution read, "The Elections Don't Mean Shit—Vote Where the Power Is—Our Power Is In The Street". It was adopted by the council, prompted by the effects of the 1968 Democratic National Convention protest activity in August and reflecting Jacobs's advocacy of direct action as political strategy.
In 1969, tensions ran high among the factions of SDS. The Weathermen were still part of the organization but differences were coming to the surface. "Look at it: America 1969" put forth SDS's bottom line regarding the National Action. By the end of August, the differences between the Weathermen and Revolutionary Youth Movement II (RYM II) had emerged, leading to the resignation of RYM II leader and member of SDS Mike Klonsky from the Weatherman-controlled national office leadership. He accused the Weathermen of going back on the convention's mandate. Weathermen members Mark Rudd and Terry Robbins responded, saying that priority must be given to building an anti-imperialist youth movement.
In the months before the Days of Rage, despite the tensions within SDS, many members of Weather/SDS worked non-stop in promoting the demonstration. Lyndon Comstock was sent, along with three other members, to Lansing, Michigan to organize and promote the event. Leaflets were printed and distributed to high school and community college students during the day, while at night members would spray paint anti-war graffiti on local school campuses.
On October 6, 1969, the statue commemorating the policemen killed in the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago was blown up; the blast broke nearly 100 windows and scattered pieces of the statue onto the Kennedy Expressway below; no one was ever arrested for the bombing. Weatherman found itself isolated from SDS, but maintained hopes that thousands would attend the mass demonstration in Chicago.
Events of the Days of Rage
Despite efforts to recruit youth and promote involvement, participation in the "Days of Rage" demonstrations was not as broadly based as advertised, or as participants had hoped. About 800 Weatherman members showed up prior to October 8 and faced 2,000 police officers. No more than 300 were left willing to face the enormous gathering of police a second time around on the evening of Wednesday, October 8, 1969, in Chicago's Lincoln Park, and perhaps half of them were members of Weatherman collectives from around the country. The crowd milled about for several hours, cold and uncertain. Tom Hayden gave a short speech, telling the protesters not to believe press reports that the Chicago 7 disagreed with their action. Abbie Hoffman and John Froines, other members of the Chicago 7, also came but decided not to speak and quickly left. Late in the evening, Jacobs stood on the pedestal of the bombed Haymarket policemen's statue and declared: "We'll probably lose people today ... We don't really have to win here ... just the fact that we are willing to fight the police is a political victory." Jacobs' speech compared the coming protest to the fight against fascism in World War II. By this time there were around 350 protesters. Jeff Jones announced "I am Marion Delgado", an adopted folk hero of Weatherman (Delgado was a five-year-old boy who had accidentally derailed a passenger train in 1947 by putting a slab of concrete on the track with intent to merely break the slab), and for the first time told the crowd the target of the march: the Drake Hotel, home of Julius Hoffman, the judge in the Chicago 7 trial.
Finally, at 10:25 p.m., Jones gave the pre-arranged signal over a bullhorn, and the Weatherman action began. John Jacobs, Jeff Jones, David Gilbert and others led a charge south through the city toward the Drake Hotel and the exceptionally affluent Gold Coast neighborhood, smashing windows in automobiles and buildings as they went. The rioters attacked "ordinary cars, a barber shop ... and the windows of lower-middle-class homes" as well as police cars and luxury businesses. The mass of the crowd ran about four blocks before encountering police barricades. The rioters charged the police, breaking into small groups, and more than 1,000 police counter-attacked. The Washington DC contingent reached the hotel's front drive. Before any attempt to gain entrance to the hotel could be made, an unmarked car pulled up to the curb and began firing revolvers into the group of about fifteen unarmed rioters. Although many rioters had motorcycle or football helmets on, the police were better trained and armed; nightsticks were aimed at necks, legs and groins. Large amounts of tear gas were used, and at least twice police ran squad cars full speed into crowds. After only a half-hour or so, the riot was over: 28 policemen were injured (none seriously), six Weathermen were shot (none fatally) an unknown number injured in other ways, and 68 rioters were arrested. Jacobs was arrested almost immediately.
The next day a "Women's Militia" of around seventy women Weatherman members met at Grant Park, where Bernardine Dohrn addressed them. The plan was to raid a draft board office, but they were overpowered by police when they tried to leave the park. Later that day, Illinois Governor Richard Ogilvie announced that he had called in over 2,500 National Guardsmen to "protect Chicago". The Weathermen cancelled protests that had been planned for that evening.
Supporters of the Revolutionary Youth Movement II (RYM II), led by Klonsky and Noel Ignatin, held peaceful rallies of several hundred people in front of the federal courthouse, an International Harvester factory, and Cook County Hospital.
At the October 9 RYM II rally at the federal courthouse, Black Panther leader Fred Hampton disassociated his group from the Weathermen, saying, "We believe that the Weathermen's action as anarchistic, opportunistic, individualistic, [...] chauvinistic, [and] it's Custeristic." That night, the Weathermen uncovered a police informant, who was then severely beaten by one member of the group. The assailant, who immediately appeared on wanted posters, became the first member of the Weathermen to go underground.
On October 11, the Weathermen attempted to regroup and reignite the direct action. About 300 protesters marched swiftly through The Loop, Chicago's main business district, watched over by a double-line of heavily armed police. Led by Jacobs and other Weathermen members, the protesters suddenly broke through the police lines and rampaged through the Loop, smashing windows of cars and stores. However, the police were ready, and quickly sealed off the rioters. Within 15 minutes, more than half the crowd had been arrested—one of the first, again, being Jacobs.
Richard Elrod, a city attorney, was paralyzed after Weatherman member Brian Flanagan stomped his construction boot repeatedly on Elrod's neck. Elrod accused Flanagan of attacking him, while Flanagan maintained that Elrod simply hit a concrete wall. Flanagan was charged with attempted murder and other crimes but was acquitted on all counts. The Weathermen later produced a song mocking Elrod, a parody of Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay", including the lines "Lay, Elrod, lay / Lay in the street for a while / Stay, Elrod, stay / Stay in your bed for a while." Elrod, despite his injuries, went on to serve as Sherriff of Cook County until 1986 and then served as a judge for the Circuit Court of Cook County until his death in 2014.
The Days of Rage cost Chicago and the state of Illinois about $183,000 ($100,000 for National Guard payroll, $35,000 in damages, and $20,000 for one injured citizen's medical expenses). 287 members of Weather were arrested during the Days of Rage and most of the Weathermen and SDS' leaders were jailed. The organization paid out more than $243,000 to cover bail.
Jones and other Weathermen failed to appear for their March 1970 court date to face charges of "crossing state lines to foment a riot and conspiring to do so". "Unlawful flight to avoid prosecution" charges were added when they failed to appear in court.
The Days of Rage demonstrations did not turn out as Weathermen members had anticipated. The combination of low turnout and enormous numbers of police made for an even more violent demonstration than originally intended. The reaction to the Days of Rage demonstrations damaged the relationship between the Weathermen, SDS and the Black Panther Party while paving the way to more militant actions by the Weathermen and eventually leading to the organization moving underground.
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