Weatherman-SDS goes it (very much) alone
Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Carl Davidson and Randy Furst

Weatherman-SDS goes it (very much) alone in ’kick-ass’ brawl

First Published: Guardian, October 18, 1969.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Oct. 8-11 “invasion” of Chicago organized by the Weatherman faction of SDS–the one national action sponsored by the nation’s largest white radical organization all year–fell flat on its face.

Aside from a few hundred hard-core Weathermen and supporters, the “kick-ass” action was a fiasco. Many of the demonstrations scheduled during the four-day antiwar protest failed to take place.

The Weatherman “mass march” Oct. 11 attracted no more than 200 people. There were no “jailbreaks” or “wargasms” and the action by Weatherman’s women’s militia was stopped by police before it got off the ground.

As many as eight people were wounded by police gunfire the first evening after the Weatherman group departed from Lincoln Park and began rampaging through the city, fighting police and breaking windows.

Gov. Richard Ogilvie called up some 2600 National Guardsmen, but they mostly kept out of sight except for 150 soldiers who patrolled the streets during the “mass march.” The Guardsmen appeared to be strictly for show. Police managed to contain the demonstration with brutal precision.

After four days, virtually the entire Weatherman group was in jail, some with serious injuries. One of the few Weatherman leaders still free said, however, that the action was a “victory.”

Throughout the Weatherman action, RYM-2, a faction contending with Weatherman for leadership in SDS, conducted an alternate series of demonstrations in Chicago supported by the Black Panther party and the Young Lords. Better attended than the Weatherman actions, these demonstrations were minor in size compared to the strength SDS could call upon in better days. These disciplined protests were in marked contrast to the Weatherman street-gang approach.

Weatherman and RYM-2 both developed out of the original Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM) tendency in SDS last winter and spring. The groups split before the SDS convention in June but united at the convention on the issue of ousting Progressive Labor Party and its Worker-Student Alliance subsidiary from the organization. Weatherman, which controls the national office and many regional offices, is so named because of a position paper entitled, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” (after a line by Bob Dylan), elaborating the group’s conception of “two, three, many Vietnams,” including a “Vietnam” within the U.S. behind enemy lines. RYM-2 added the numeral to distinguish itself from the original RYM.

The Chicago antiwar protest was originally intended to be a mass national action, bringing tens of thousands to Chicago in support of the Vietnamese liberation struggle and the Conspiracy 8 case currently on trial in this city. Weatherman, as national leaders of the action, converted the protest into a “kick-ass, fight the pigs” demonstration which drastically limited the number of people who would participate to a few hundred Weatherman adherents.

Movement organizations throughout Chicago sought to disassociate themselves from the Weatherman action. The Conspiracy 8 issued a statement announcing they were not connected with the protests. Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther party, denounced the Weatherman group as “opportunistic, adventuristic and Custeristic,” speaking of the Oct. 8-11 confrontations as “revolutionary child’s play.” The Weatherman faction, he continued, was “leading people into a confrontation they are not prepared for.”

The entire four-day demonstration was characterized by confusion and ill-planning, despite Weatherman’s paramilitary character. Actions were cancelled at the last moment, speakers issued contradictory statements, no literature or leaflets were distributed and the faction itself experienced internal dissention over what constituted effective militancy in the face of being vastly outnumbered and outmaneuvered by police.

It’s not that Weatherman did not try to organize a mass demonstration. Up until shortly before Oct. 8, spokesmen predicted between 10 and 20 thousand would participate in the demonstrations leading up to the “mass march,” which was expected to attract “up to 50,000 people.” Weatherman groups have been trying to build support for Oct. 8-11 for months, staging “jail-breaks” in high schools in several cities to inspire white youth to join in “converting pig city into people’s city” and to create a “revolutionary white fighting force,” the nucleus of Weatherman’s “red army.”

Two days before Weatherman’s Oct. 8 debut, a dynamite explosion destroyed a 10-foot statue of a policeman in Haymarket Square here where the “mass march” was to begin later in the week. The statue commemorated policemen who died during the 1886 Haymarket riot. The Weatherman group denied responsibility for the bombing.

Hours before, the Weatherman memorial to Che Guevara and Nguyen Van Troi, the Vietnamese martyr, in Lincoln Park Oct. 8, the Young Lords – an organization of radical Latin youth – called a press conference to disavow connection with the Weatherman faction. Spokesmen from the Panthers and RYM-2 also spoke.

It was evident from the very beginning in Lincoln Park, scene of the confrontations at the Democratic convention last year, that Weatherman was grossly incorrect in the estimated number of people who would join them. About 50 people were in the park shortly after 8 p.m. when the organized Weatherman contingent–80-strong–marched in wearing an assortment of helmets, chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is gonna win.” They all gathered around a bonfire, a few hundred yards from about 100 policemen and reporters.

“Long live the Vietcong,” someone shouted. “Right-on,” another replied. People began chanting, “The streets belong to the people.”

The rally began. “We’re gonna tear up pig city U.S.A.,” the first speaker declared, addressing about 300 listeners, who cheered. “What we’re going to do in the next four days is to totally change what the U.S.A. means,” he continued, indicating “it’s already happened around the country in Pittsburgh and New York.”

A second speaker denounced GIs, including antiwar GIs who presumably do not join the “red army.” “He’s got to join us or else he’s a pig.” Cheers.

A woman spoke next. “We’ve shown that we women can fight. We went to Pittsburgh and they thought we would run, but we didn’t. We’re going out and bring the war home, right here in the heart of the mother country, Chicago. We’re going to tear the motherfucker up. We’re going to make communism around the world and destroy imperialism and we’re starting in Chicago, the biggest pig city.”

The rally ended near 10:30 p.m. with the announcement that the group would depart for the Drake Hotel, residence of federal judge Julius Hoffman, presiding in the Conspiracy 8 case.

Chanting, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh .. . ”the Weatherman group marched out of the park. Many carried clubs. The marchers, followed by police, plainclothesmen and reporters, veered down Clark St. toward Chicago’s, rich “Goldcoast” community, running through the streets breaking windows in buildings and cars. Although Weatherman leaders carefully instructed the group only to “hit the cars of the ruling class,” every car in the area was smashed. (“I guess they got carried away,” one Weatherman said later.)

Most of the demonstrators held together until confronting an intersection with 10 riot cops forming a human barricade. The front of the march scattered, violating all norms of Weatherman “kick-ass” rhetoric, but many of the others remained for a bloody encounter, with injuries on both sides.

The rest of the evening was a brawl, with the majority of the Weatherman group fighting hard and as well as could be expected. Police captured one youth who had thrown a brick apparently at random through an apartment window and proceeded to beat him brutally. “Kill ’em,” “kill ’em,” one of the cops was shouting. The youth managed to pull away one cop’s blackjack before several others beat him into unconsciousness.

At another intersection, demonstrators beat up a taxi driver who left his car. On Wells St. two bystanders were attacked by the demonstrators.

The worst clash occurred nearby when police opened fire with revolvers. John Van Veenendall, 22, was hit in the neck. Marshal Berzon, 22, was shot in the neck, chest and arm. He is reported in serious condition at the hospital. Elizabeth Gardener was shot in the left leg with shotgun pellets. All told, about 75 people were arrested that night, including 40 Weatherman members.

The group returned to their “movement centers” after the action. The demonstration had taken a heavier toll than expected.

For greater maneuverability and protection, the Weatherman group split into “affinity groups” of five to 15 people. An “affinity group” from Portland, Ore., went to Lincoln Park with seven people but returned with only two. Two of the women in the group had been badly beaten – one was in the hospital, one in jail. Two other men were in jail. One man was said to have been “missing in action.”

At McCormick Seminary, where many Weathermen stayed the night, a debate ensued over the evening’s action. Two lines of thought emerged. One group said the action lacked leadership. The other said people failed to follow leadership–as when the front ranks broke at the first encounter. The leadership position was that people weren’t militant enough.

Leadership wanted more militancy

“The leaders want to keep fighting,” a Weatherman told the Guardian. “It thinks maybe we can beat them. They want to make it more militant and win.”

The following morning about 70 helmeted women and 30 reporters showed up at Grant Park for the women’s militia action.

Former SDS interorganizational secretary Bernadine Dohrn delivered a militant speech, declaring, “The pigs of Chicago rampaged against the people” yesterday. The gunshot casualties mean “we’re doing the right thing,” she said.

Carrying NLF flags and clubs, the women chanted as they marches down a sidewalk toward an Army induction center they intended to disrupt – but they never got further than Michigan and Balboa Aves.

A police official informed them they could not continue to march because they were carrying “dangerous weapons.” In the shoving match that followed, 12 women were arrested. The remaining women decided it was no use continuing. They dropped their clubs as ordered and were escorted to a nearby subway by police.

About 50 helmeted Weathermen showed up at a rally called by the Panthers, Young Lords and RYM-2 in front of the federal court where the Conspiracy trial is being held. There were no major incidents.

From here on all further Weatherman actions became tentative. Expected reinforcements never materialized. It was clear by now that only a few hundred people from throughout the radical left were going to join with the Weathermen. A spectacular “wargasm” – a combination rock & roll-political tribute to revolutionary culture – was called off. The “jail-breaks” scheduled for Oct. 10 at several high schools were called off, too. About 50 people were waiting at McCormick Seminary for instruction from the leadership about which schools would be hit. The phone call never came through.

About the only action relating to the Weatherman “invasion” Oct. 10 was a statement from the Conspiracy defendants declaring “The Conspiracy does not agree with all the Weatherman tactics or strategy.”

While the Weathermen were “kicking ass,” RYM-2 was conducting a series of small actions some distance away, intended to provide an alternative to Weatherman more in keeping with the original SDS mandate for a mass national action.

The RYM action started on a down-hill note. Although organizers had only four weeks to build for the demonstrations, they estimated 5000 people would show up from outside Chicago. Only about 500 finally arrived.

RYM-2 had planned Oct. 8 to be a day of small demonstrations at draft boards, tax offices, factories and in working-class neighborhoods. Due to lack of forces, most people distributed leaflets at Cook County hospital and the International Harvester tractor works.

Oct. 9 was scheduled for a boycott of high schools and colleges, initiated by the Panthers. Students were to mass at the federal building in the loop for a rally in support of Bobby Seale and the Conspiracy. About 300 people showed up. Part of the small turnout was ascribed to the Weatherman action. Asked how many had turned out from his school, one high school organizer answered: “about six. After last night, most kids were afraid to walk out. Even if they did, they wouldn’t come here, with all these pigs and Weathermen running around.”

Mike Klonsky, a former SDS national secretary, started the rally without waiting for the sound equipment. The first speaker was Yoruba, from the Young Lords in New York. He condemned the government’s repression of the Conspiracy, the Black Panther Party and other organizations. Carl Davidson, another former SDS officer, focused mainly on the war in Vietnam. “What we have to do here and all over the country throughout the year,” he said, “is to begin to unite the struggles of the American people with the liberation struggle of the people of Vietnam. The defeat of the U.S. military in Vietnam is not only a victory for the Vietnamese people, but also a victory for the masses of the working people in this country and everywhere else in the world where people are fighting against imperialism.”

Panther Fred Hampton devoted his talk to a denunciation of the Weathermen.

Some of the approximately 500 police at the rally arrested four people they recognized from the Weatherman action the night before. The rally ended quickly with people leaving in small groups.

Within an hour, groups of young people started arriving for a rally at the International Harvester plant, several miles away. The area was surrounded with hundreds of police. About 500 people attended the rally, including some 60 workers, mostly blacks and Latins.

The rally started with Noel Ignatin, a worker in the plant and a national officer of SDS. “I’d like to start by letting all of you know that we shut the plant down today.” The crowd roared.

Ignatin explained the conditions in the plant and how the workers had been frustrated and sold out by the union in their efforts to change things. A few days before, a black worker had been unfairly fired, which led other workers in his department and three other departments to take the day of the rally as a time to walk off the job in protest early that morning. Since those departments were crucial to production, around noon most of the other workers walked out and went home. By the time of the rally, only a few skilled workers and the foremen remained in the plant and production had ceased.

About 12 workers spoke, most focusing on the oppressive conditions in the plant, racism and on how the union had sold them out. Several lashed out at the war.

After two hours, the crowd sang “Solidarity Forever,” broke up and dispersed without confrontations or rests.

On Oct. 10, RYM-2 held a rally at Cook County hospital. Over 1000 people turned out, including about 100 hospital workers. The rally ended two hours later, without incident.

The main RYM-2 action, co-sponsored by the Panthers and the Young Lords, was a disciplined antiwar march demanding immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, with secondary demands such as independence for Puerto Rico. About 1200 people gathered for a rally in People’s Park, on Chicago’s North Side and then surged into the street, pushing through a thin line of police. Although there was no permit, police made no effort to stop the march, partly due to the numbers and partly due to the explosive Puerto Rican community sympathetic to the demonstrators.

The march proceeded–for five miles through working class neighborhoods–black, brown and Polish. In black and brown areas, people responded by joining in the militant chanting and raising fists in solidarity. By the time the march neared its destination–another park –hundreds more had joined in. More than 2000 attended a second rally.

In the early morning hours of Oct. 11 police raided a residence the Weathermen were using, arresting 43 people, reducing still further the number of Weathermen who would show up at the rally and “mass march” late in the day.

The Weatherman group had obtained a permit for holding the rally in Haymarket Square. Before the meeting got underway, police spotted SDS national secretary Mark Rudd in a crowd of about 30 people. Four plainclothesmen charged into the group, seizing and beating Rudd and three others. The charge was participating in the Oct. 8 ”Goldcoast” melee.

The rally began with about 100 people surrounding the bombed out statue, later swelling to 200. Then seemed to be as many reporters and photographers as demonstrators.

Wearing a red helmet, Weatherman leader John Jacobs began to speak. If revolutionaries are to make their position understood by white people, he said, “we must fight in a public way, not in a covert way. This will mean higher costs. We have to show by example that it can be done. We do not have to win militarily against the pigs. We win politically by fighting the pigs . . . We are in a strategic position behind enemy lines. We have to fight to make an example. We aren’t going to make that final sacrifice today. Not many will die today. I hope that no one will die today. We must open up a political front today.”

The second and last speaker was an unidentified woman. “We brought the war home,” she said. “Now we have taken a new step. White America–that’s us–has joined the revolution. This city is under siege. We are the first whites to fight back.”

Led by a police car, the group moved out of the Square on a route that was to take them through the Loop to Grant Park. A single black flag with a hammer and sickle identified the march. They never reached the park.

As the marchers arrived at Madison, the front group veered East, knocking over a few policemen and began running wildly breaking windows.

A bloody battle ensued. Many police and demonstrators were injured during the 30-minute confrontation, the most serious injury was sustained by assistant corporation council Richard Elrod who was paralyzed from the neck down after being beaten. Elrod, a city official, was assigned to follow the demonstrations. He allegedly struck or apprehended demonstrator Bryan Flanagan who retaliated. Flanagan is being held on $100,000 bail on charges of mob action and aggravated battery. A total of 135 people were arrested. Several were taken to hospitals. Some 27 police were reported injured.

About an hour later, when the streets were cleared, a leader of the Weatherman Ohio collective was walking down Michigan Ave. “They thought we were gonna attack them on Thursday and Friday, but we didn’t. Did you read, ’Vietnam Will Win’? This was just like the NLF. It was true warfare, just like in Burchett. We did it behind enemy lines.”

Nearing Grant Park he remarked, “There were only 250 of us and we brought out 2600 National Guard.”

“What does it mean? It means we won a victory,” he said in response to a question. “We created a white fighting force. It was a beginning.”