Then and Now

Watching the beautiful events of Tuesday night in Grant Park, I thought of my dad covering the 1968 riots that happened in the same place. I asked my dad to write about this juxtaposition; here is what he wrote:

Personal histories are forever and indelibly marked by momentous events.

I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination or when I witnessed man’s first walk on the moon. I hate to admit it, but I even remember where I was when I heard of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death. The event was seared in my mind when I got home and found my mother crying.

I thought of this as hundreds of thousands jammed Grant Park recently to witness the debut of America’s first African-American president-elect. They were mostly young people filled with hope and enthusiasm. They cheered as tears welled in their eyes. It was a time, a place and an event not to be forgotten.

I remember being in a different part of that same Grant Park some 40 years ago. There were plenty of young people in the park that night, too. But they were jeering, not cheering. I was there because it was my job to be there as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News. The Democratic National Convention was being held in Chicago that year and Vietnam anti-war protesters had gathered in the city to make their voices heard.

They were shouting and chanting. National Guard troops were lined up along Grant Park--often called “Chicago’s front yard”--in an effort to contain thousands of protesters. I saw police, wearing light blue helmets, arrive in busses. They started swinging their truncheons as soon as they hit the street and encountered anyone in their paths. A teargas canister came rolling down Michigan Avenue in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel.

The crowd of young people massed in the park across from the fancy hotels, and their voices grew louder. “The whole world is watching. The whole world is watching,” they chanted as television cameras recorded the events for all to see.

Citizens were shocked at the actions of the police. Senator Abraham Ribicoff came to the podium in the convention hall and accused Chicago of using “Gestapo tactics” in trying to silence the protestors. Mayor Richard J. Daley, a delegate to the convention, shook his fist at the senator and shouted profanities at him. A government commission later described the event as a “police riot.”

I will never forget that week of the Democratic National Convention. It was so different from the jubilant scene of the other night.

I have returned to the vicinity of Grant Park dozens of times since 1968, but I wasn’t there to witness this week’s election celebration. Like millions of other people across the world, I was at home watching every minute of it on television.

Although I wasn’t there in person this time, I was able to see the hugs and high-fives, the smiles and the waving of the “yes we can” signs, the absolute joy of it all. It was a totally well organized and planned event that came off without a hitch.

And maybe the best thing about the triumphant celebration was this reality. The whole world was watching. -- Joe Cappo