The Ghost of the 1968 Antiwar Movement Has Returned

At the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, anti-Vietnam War protesters clashed with police officers — whose brutal role in the confrontation was later described by a federal commission as a “police riot” — hijacking the focus of the convention.

Those young demonstrators had come of age seeing continual — and effective — protests during the civil rights movement and national mourning after the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who a year earlier had staked out his opposition to the war, saying that while he wasn’t attempting “to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue” he wanted to underscore his belief “that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money, like some demonic, destructive suction tube.” He said he was “compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor, and attack it as such.”

This was a generation primed for protest, with moral conviction as the foundation of its outrage about the Vietnam War — the first television war, one in which Americans could see the horrors of war, almost in real time — and the draft that saw around two million Americans conscripted during the era. The movement against it began mostly on college campuses and grew.

Of course, semesters end and students go home for the summer. But their opposition to the war didn’t end with the academic year. In the months leading up to the ’68 D.N.C., which took place in August, organizers planned a major protest, intended to be held regardless of whether it was sanctioned, drawing students from around the country. Before the convention, Rennie Davis, one of the organizers, told The New York Times, “No denial of a permit is going to prevent the tens of thousands of people who are coming to Chicago from expressing their convictions on these issues.”

This is all playing out again.

Young people, in particular, are following the Israel-Hamas war on social media and many are horrified by what they see. They’ve also grown up with protest movements — Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the Parkland, Fla., students’ gun control campaign — as the backdrop of their lives. Over 1,000 Black pastors have called on President Biden to press for a cease-fire in Gaza. And we’re seeing antiwar protests spread across college campuses.

As in 1968, the semester will soon end and those students will leave for the summer, allowing more time and energy for their efforts to be focused on the D.N.C. in Chicago in August.

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