Police bust up McCarthy headquarters and Walter has an epiphany

Police bust up McCarthy headquarters and Walter has an epiphany

I remember feeling a great sense of relief and triumph, almost giddiness, as the two of us drove the VW back to the Hilton in the afternoon sun. It felt like we'd done something of almost cosmic significance. We parked in the garage and took the elevator back to the McCarthy suite, anticipating how we would be praised for our good work.  

The elevator doors opened, and we instantly confronted a mind-boggling tableau. The busy suite we had left 90 minutes earlier had been transformed into a war zone. Tables were turned over; papers were all over the floor and there was blood smeared on the walls. People were wandering around in a daze. Some were crying and moaning. Medics worked feverishly to bandage the head and body wounds.

“What happened?” we asked. It turned out that about 30 minutes earlier a contingent of police had erupted into the room without warning and begun indiscriminately beating defenseless volunteers with billy clubs, while smashing up the room. 

The police would later claim that several members of their force on the sidewalk in front of the Hilton had been struck on the head by objects thrown from above, including bags of excrement. I don’t believe that was ever proven, and even if true, the police never convincingly explained how they concluded that the objects had been thrown down on them from the McCarthy suite.

The charge seemed utterly outrageous to me, given the serious and highly disciplined nature of the McCarthy staff and volunteers. They were not yippies or anything slightly resembling them. But Mayor Daley’s police had been already engaged for days in a sadistic police riot; indiscriminately beating the crap out of protestors and even passersby in the parks and streets of downtown Chicago. Now they had gone a step further to apply their Gestapo-like tactics to the headquarters of the anti-war candidate for President.  

I remember Dan and I driving home that evening in a daze, having just witnessed something shocking jarringly out of context with our sheltered suburban life up until that point. The unthinkable had become real, crystalizing before our eyes. I realized during that drive home that due to what I had witnessed, I had abruptly shifted from ‘liberal’ to ‘radical’ in my political orientation; soon adopting a Marxist-LSD infused millenarian approach that would define my thinking for at least a decade to come.

The brutal police action in the streets of Chicago, including that insane attack on McCarthy HQ, led me to conclude that the American democratic system was irretrievably broken, and that revolution, both political and cultural, was the only solution. The 60s had truly come home for 18-year-old Walter Ruby, about to head off to his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin.

Tumultuous times lay directly ahead.