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‘This Isn't Peace and Love Anymore’: A Journalist at '68 DNC

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Today we wrap up our week of reflection on the Democratic National Convention of 1968. This month is the 40th anniversary of the infamous Chicago convention, and we’re revisiting the event with the people who were there. We’ve heard from a police officer, a protestor, a delegate—today we turn to a journalist. Abe Peck is the former editor of the Chicago Seed, an alternative newspaper published between the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The paper covered the convention and was an active player in some of its defining moments.

The Chicago Seed was founded in the Spring of 1967. And a few months later, it crossed paths with Abe Peck, who was on his way across the country.

PECK: Stereotype five guys in a VW bus going to the Summer of Love.

For Abe Peck, “Summer of Love” turned into the “Fall of Needing a Job,” and he headed back to Chicago. I recently met up with Peck just north of downtown...

PECK: We’re at what used to be 837 North LaSalle, across the street from the Moody Bible Institute. And The Seed was in an office here—a little step down office that looked like a drycleaner.

Peck started working at the paper, where he eventually became the editor.

PECK: It was owned by a guy who had a head shop on North Avenue and two photographers.

Peck says by the summer of 1968, the paper had a staff of about 8 or 10—running on stolen office supplies from staff members’ day jobs.

PECK: We would cover stories that weren’t really being covered elsewhere, or covered in very sometimes clumsy and maladroit ways. And we wrote a lot about what was going to happen at the time. There was no separation really and being part of a movement.

Peck says one of his more prominent memories from the 1968 convention right here, at the office of

The Chicago Seed.

It involved Chicago police, and it started—with pastry.

PECK: At that time, in April, we had brought them apple pies—to really try to say, hey, we’re not antagonistic.
CALHOUN: Was that a genuine olive branch.
PECK: Well, it was more than an olive branch. I mean we genuinely, and it all sounds very fragile and dafodilish now, but uh—but more than an olive branch I think it was a statement of principal on our part.

The police were suspicious of what might be in the pies. Peck says, fearing the worst, the officers donated the pies to a Catholic charity.

Activist Abbie Hoffman wrote in the Seed saying no one would be baked, with, non-traditional filling. Fast forward to the week of the convention.

PECK: We’re here, people are out, our little network of reporters and stringers, covering the park, or covering downtown at the point.

There are two gunshots.

PECK: And all of a sudden the window dissolves.

Without thinking, staffers at The Seed run outside.

PECK: People had names like Walrus. So Walrus and I ran outside, and the only car on the street is a blue and white police car, cruising slowly North.
CALHOUN: How positive are you that...
PECK: I’m certain, it was the only car on the street.

Peck’s says it was a defining moment.

But he says, if he has one memory—one definitive memory—it took place 8 blocks north, at the south end of Lincoln Park. So we hop into a cab and head up there.

PECK: We’re across from what used to be the Hotel Lincoln.

That at the west edge of the park, where Lincoln Avenue branches off of Clark.

PECK: This was kind of our turf. We had had a series of events here. Music and freak freely in the park events. And this is where we had hoped to have the Festival of Life as it was called.

But the Festival of Life needed permits—permits that the police refused to give them. Talking to the police, Peck came to believe that confrontation was brewing.

On Saturday August 24, thousands of people had come to the park for a day of music, and events—and were still there as the clock struck 11 and the park was closed.

PECK: And a police car comes shooting down to probe the skirmish line if you will. And someone throws something and did break one of the windows.

As history has it, the police stormed in, in a wave of nightsticks and teargas. Some people ran, some fought with the officers, some people tried to cool things down.

PECK: Allen Ginsberg, right where we’re standing here was trying to create a calm vibe. At that point he had gotten involved in Buddhism, and he was chanting, and there was a circle of people around him chanting ‘Om Om...’ And there were some cynical Yippies around them singing ‘Om Om on the Range...’
CALHOUN: So he’s doing this.
PECK: In the midst of chaos. Exactly. Just trying to send out a calming vibe. Anyway, they were crushed.

Peck says a crucial moment came as he left the park with a stranger.

PECK: I don’t know if he was just an angry guy or a police undercover guy or whatever. He picked up a metal garbage can and threw it through the front window of a police car. And I said, ‘Oh my god, this is really a change. This isn’t peace and love any more.’

As we got ready to leave, I asked Peck what it’s like when he reflects on that time.

PECK: Well, you know, I try to stay away from most of these kind of reminiscences. I’ve done a couple. You know, I don’t want to be a Spanish Civil War veteran. I don’t want to be ‘Oldest Confederate Widow Tells All.’

Peck took several minutes reflecting, trying to sum up his feelings about the time around the convention.

There were overarching themes—but there were few straight lines connecting the past to the present—the kind of connections journalists often look for.

At one point though, Peck paused, and settled one thought—a personal thought.

He said that for him, as a journalist and activist, Chicago in 1968 was the right place, and the right time.

I’m Ben Calhoun, Chicago Public Radio.

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