The 1968 Exhibit: Ramparts: the Chicago convention issue, September 1968

RAMPARTS, September 1968

The editors and publishers of Ramparts–one of the most important voices of the American left in the 1960s–spent much of the first months of 1968 preparing for the Big Event of the summer, namely the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in late August. Tom Hayden, who would later stand trial as part of the “Chicago Eight” (later, Seven) for conspiracy to incite violence at the Convention, wrote several essays on the antiwar movement for Ramparts leading up to the August debacle, in one of which he wrote: “The peace movement should catch up with the worldwide feeling that the Vietcong are the heroes of this war.”

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Ramparts fielded a impressive lineup of reporters and contributors for its coverage of the convention, including Hayden, Adam Hochschild, Pete Hamill, Sidney Schanberg, and Hunter S. Thompson. Later, Thompson wrote about his reactions to the bloody conflicts on the streets of Chicago: ”I went from a state of Cold Shock on Monday, to Fear on Tuesday, then Rage, and finally hysteria, which lasted for nearly a month.”

The Hayden quote (from the July 1968 issue of Ramparts) comes from the wonderful history of the magazine by Peter Richardson, A Bomb in Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America (New York: The New Press, 2009). Richardson devotes almost an entire chapter to the Chicago story, which begins:

“If 1968 was the year that America had a nervous breakdown, Ramparts was its most reliable fever chart. The national crisis had complex and interlocking causes, including policy failures, mounting frustrations, social ruptures, and political violence. Most of these developments were reflected–and in some cases, aggravated–by Ramparts and its coverage that years. As the nation plunged into crisis, so did the magazine. Ramparts began 1968 in the coils of conspiracy theories, became embroiled in the nation’s most controversial and violent domestic conflicts, and finished the year in fractious, chaotic collapse.”

The September issue–pictured here–contains the magazine’s reporting on the convention, and is necessarily somewhat anti-climactic. By the time the magazine hit the streets, the tear-gas had long dissipated, the wreckage had been cleared from Grant Park, the damage to the Democrats’ reputations had been done–and Hubert Humphrey’s promises had ended up in the trash, literally and figuratively.