Amid the chaos, we deliver the McCarthy peace plank to the convention

Amid the chaos, we deliver the McCarthy peace plank to the convention

I recall my work at McCarthy HQ at the Hilton as having been somewhat mundane during the first couple of days—mainly stuffing envelopes and running packages from floor to floor or sometimes to nearby hotels. There were a few moments of glamour to my 18-year-old self, as when I entered a hotel suite high above the Chicago River to see the former Robert Kennedy aide Richard Goodwin on the phone plotting strategy.

Mostly it was mundane, and I would enviously look out the window down at the scene in Grant Park 20 floors below us, where swarms of young people were confronting squadrons of Chicago police on horseback. Sometimes we would see puffs of teargas rise up into the air, but behind our closed windows and the whirring of the air-conditioning we could not hear the chants like “The Whole World Is Watching” and “Hey, Hey LBJ, How Many Kids Did You Kill Today”.

My friend Don McLeese had been razzing me in the days leading up to the convention as to how I could stay "Clean For Gene" and cooped up in the Hilton with "the Establishment," when the real action would be going on down in the park below. Especially so now that the convention had been fixed to nominate Hubert Humphrey for President—even though he never won a primary--and McCarthy was effectively finished. Truth be told, I increasingly agreed with Don, but felt great love for McCarthy personally for having stood up and taken a brave stand against the Vietnam War in late 1967 and ultimately bringing Johnson down by nearly defeating him in the New Hampshire primary in March 1968.

But clearly something profound was happening down in the park below. I recall that during those days at McCarthy HQ, we mainly got filled in on what was happening in the park and at the Convention Center via TV reports. The hotel itself felt almost hermetically sealed off from encroaching reality.

Finally, on what I think was the last day of the Convention, there was a cry of excitement in the McCarthy suite when it was announced that the long awaited final version of the McCarthy "peace plank" for the Democratic Platform was ready and someone was needed immediately to take it to the convention hall immediately because the debate on the peace plank was set to begin in one hour. 

Looking back, it seems strange this would have taken place on the last day of the convention with the nominations still to come, but that’s how I remember it. In fact, looking now at Wikipedia, it seems that Humphrey’s own plank was being written and revised multiple times under pressure from LBJ. So it might make sense the final debate on the issue was held until the final day, with the nomination of President and Vice President to come later in the evening.

In any case, at that moment, the person holding up an envelope containing the peace plank said, “We need someone to drive our peace plank to the Convention Center. Who knows the back streets because there are police roadblocks on the main streets. Who here will volunteer to do this?”  No one raised their hand for a long few seconds, so I tremulously did so (or Dan and I did it together) and the guy immediately said, “OK, you two take it.”

I pointed out, however, that we lacked the required pass that would be needed to get within shouting distance of the Convention Center and the guy said, “Wait a minute. Let me figure this out.” He left the room to telephone the person at the convention center we were supposed to deliver the document to, and came back five minutes later with instructions and a box of several hundred copies of the McCarthy peace plank. "OK, our guy is going to meet you outside the convention hall at the corner of Halstead and Exchange. Get this box there pronto!"

I don't remember the exact street corner, but that looks like it might have been about right. 

I was immensely proud and excited to have been given this task, feeling that Dan and I were being sent on a holy mission to share the campaign’s vision of a humane peace with the world. We took the elevator to the underground parking garage in the hotel, got into our car and then drove west in the direction of the Convention Center.

We quickly understood, however, that more streets were blocked than we had been informed of, and we were effectively blocked from reaching the corner where we were supposed to meet our contact. Of course, in 1968 there were no cell phones and no way to reach the person we were supposed to find. We kept driving a block west, getting diverted down alleys north or south, sort of making crazy loops around the Stockyard District, with precious time passing and no idea what to do, feeling increasingly desperate.

Then as we drove down an alley a couple of blocks from the appointed corner, we saw a long-haired guy of about 30 in suit and tie who was waving frantically at us. This was the person were supposed to meet; he had figured out that we couldn’t get to the right corner and had come further up the street in search of us. I stopped the car and handed him the box with the copies of the McCarthy peace plank. 

“Thanks, man," he said. "Good job!” Then he took the box and rushed back in the direction of the Convention Center.