LONDON–It was 45 years ago this summer that I found myself in Chicago, being bludgeoned by a police officer. Earlier that spring, my mentor–German social philosopher Erich Fromm–had convinced me that after two decades as a non-political entrepreneur, it was time for me to get involved. He persuaded me to make a political contribution to the Democrats’ anti-Vietnam War darling, Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, which earned me an invitation to the 1968 Democratic Convention, where I booked a room at Chicago’s Hilton Hotel. In the early evening hours of August 28th, I walked out onto the sidewalk, only to be rendered speechless by the sight of police officers beating protesters across the street, at Grant Park. Intervening to stop one particularly vicious volley, I stepped between a protester and an officer, where I met the business end of his billy club.
It was later reported that so much tear gas was used that Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee, felt its effects while standing in his Hilton shower–news to millions of Americans convinced that he never actually got off his derriere to protest while riots raged below him. Humphrey, who went on to lose the election, was not the only politician affected by riots in 1968. In France, President Charles de Gaulle was the focus of widespread demonstrations, sparked by young Parisians who resented his heavy-handed authoritarian style. While his party recovered nicely–expanding its majority in a hastily-called June election–de Gaulle never did. Recognizing that he had split the country, which saw him as out of touch, the old general resigned the presidency in a moment of grace less than a year later.