As the current Democratic Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina works its way toward the inevitable nomination of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to once again be the candidates in a reelection bid, I am reminded of a much different convention held in Chicago in 1968.

In that year, President Johnson was so embroiled in the divisive politics surrounding the unpopular Vietnam War that he decided in March of that year not to run again, and stepped aside. The 1968 Democratic National Convention was to be held in Chicago, and promised to be a contentious affair, fueled by partisanship, seeking back room alliances to lead to the nominations of a candidate who would appeal to the masses. Anti-war opponent Robert Kennedy had been the most likely candidate, but he was gunned down on June 5th, after winning the California primary, sending the delegates scrambling to find a candidate they could support.

On April 4th of that year, after civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated, riots broke out all over the U.S. The very next day, facing the likelihood of riots in the city of Chicago, Mayor Richard J. Daley told Chicago Police Superintendent James Conlisk to “Shoot to Kill” protestors. Then, ten days later at a press conference, expressed outrage that his order had not been carried out.

Daley was used to strong-arming opponents and ruling with an iron fist. Dissention was not tolerated in Chicago, and they called Chicago politics in that era “The Machine.” On page six of his seminal book “Boss,” famous columnist Mike Royko notes, “Daley was a product of the neighborhoods and he reflected it in many good ways—loyalty to the family, neighbors, old buddies, the corner grocer. You do something for someone, they do something for you.” However, Royko continues, “But there are other sides to Chicago neighborhoods—suspicion of outsiders, intolerance toward the unconventional, bigotry, and bullying.”

Protests in that era were dramatically different than protest movements now. People in the late ‘60’s really felt they could change politics and affect policies in the future. Nowadays, people speak in a more disheartened fashion, feeling that no matter the actions of any one individual or even a group, widespread change simply doesn’t occur. People seem to feel shut out of the process, but it’s important to point out, “No decision is a decision.”

My advice: Find something to care about and support. Make sure your actions have meaning, and believe in the possibility of change. It’s now almost cliché to claim: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” but I still hold firm to the faith that our lives do matter. As Emile Zola so profoundly states, “If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud!”

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