Memo From Mac



The Burlington Hawk-Eye
The Hawk Eye
Burlington, Iowa

An Alice In Wonderland Feeling In Chicago 
September 1, 1968

By Peggy McCormally

"Curiouser and curiouser," said Alice, as she tumbled down the rabbit hole.

And Wednesday in Chicago, I felt a distinct parallel as I invaded the Windy City to visit my first political convention. Although John has been attending political gatherings for a quarter of a century, I managed to limit my participation largely to social meetings.

The deluge of news from Chicago and an early morning call from Mac, and I was on my way to participate in America's quadrennial exercise in democratic process.

To put things in perspective is difficult. There was much in Daleyland that was not really the convention or was it?

If, as the Democrats claim, they are the party the people, the people were there: from King Daley himself to the kids being drafted and clubbed to the paddy wagons. This was new and frightening for me. Putting first things first, it was an interesting exciting, emotionally exhausting experience.

I was in Chicago less than 2 hours and yet I came home feeling more confused and disoriented than ever. I had participated, vicariously at least, in history and I will never be the same.

Daleyland and this week more than ever, Chicago is Daleyland had an unreal quality. It is a complicated world of fantasy where the name of Richard Daley is prominently displayed on all manner of public structures. I wondered how this man had acquired such power. I remembered our visit last spring to the ghettos and contrasted their squalor with the spic and span, spruced-up-ness of Michigan Avenue.

We first paused at the iron rail in Union Station so we could see how the minority plank on Vietnam was going. It wasn't. And neither, it seemed, were we.

After a long wait for a cab, we dashed to the Conrad Hilton and Blackstone hotels to visit convention headquarters.

The hotels seem strangely deserted. Most of the delegates were in the Arena between sessions, feasting on 40-cent hot dogs, consuming vast quantities of free Pepsi. The headquarters of the obviously defeated candidates have an almost funeral quality.

To begin with, the staffs were tired; they had gone for days on dreams and visions of victory somehow. But they were gone, or nearly so. The pros all knew and even many of the volunteers knew it was over and that perhaps their party had done the one thing the Republicans could never have done themselves, elect Richard Nixon.

In the lobby of the Hilton, a newborn lion cub adorned in a red, white and blue collar was dozing through a picture taking session. Nobody seemed to know what it was all about. In fact more and more it seemed it be much ado about nothing.

We walked from the swank lobby to Grant Park and visited briefly with some of the young people. They were quiet, respectful; the park seemed much like Crapo Park in the spring, when the high school students were enjoying their annual outings. If there was a Communist plot of insurrection it was well concealed.

As we walked past the TV-familiar blue helmets of the well-armed Chicago police, it all seemed unreal. They seemed to be the Queen of Hearts's cardboard soldiers, waiting for the frenzied command, "off with their heads." As we were leaving, four truckloads of young Guardsmen drove up, assembled and began to march through the park. It seemed ridiculous that we needed this much protection from one another.

But then a young man, who could have been our Sean, complete with long hair and a beard, walked by with a bloody bandaged head and a bloodstained shirt. And I wondered who was protecting what...

We moved toward the subway as the closing hour rush began and made the impossible traffic situation worse, I wondered if the answer to the charge of police state and the solution to the transportation situation could have been solved by turning police cars into cabs and the paddy wagons into shuttle buses. It seemed much later when we finally got to the convention.

Way back when I taught my students about political conventions, I don't suppose I ever thought I would ever be at one and actually on the floor when "the name of the next president of the United States" was placed in nomination. But I was and I even chanted and waved a banner and deflated a balloon to take home to Megan.

It was an experience I'll always cherish. This was a part of the world I was giving to my children.

I can only pray that they do better with it than I feel at the moment we have.

Return to Columns.