In my mind is an awful memory. It was Chicago. The year was 1968. The nation was probably as divided as it had been since the Civil War. We watched as police and protestors clashed in Grant Park and outside the convention center and delegates' hotels. Walter Cronkite called the scene outside a "police state." An investigation later called it a police riot. Mayor Daley's face is forever etched into my memory as he angrily made a fist and scowled at the camera.
This has been a nightmare for 48 years. It was a low point in our political process. I watched it all with fear and anger, sadness and disbelief. We had seen so many riots and protests around the world and were witnesses to the failed attempt at a democratic breakthrough in Czechoslovakia which had been squashed by the Soviets less than a week earlier. There were, to many, eerie similarities. We can't be seeing this in our own country, can we?
The protestors picked up a chant from Prague:
The Whole World is Watchingwhich indeed it was.
The whole world is watching again, I am sure, as the GOP gathers in Cleveland, OH to nominate Donald Trump as their presidential candidate. The whole world watches because what we do here in the US can have significant impact around the world. What we do here is not limited to our borders.
The whole world is watching and try as I might, the pictures of Chicago 1968 are as fresh as ever- and as fearful as ever. Maybe even more so. We have already seen some violence at Trump campaign events and protests are promised for Cleveland. In the past few years there has been increased violence in protests against police. We have seen riots in many different cities, protests ending in arrests, a sniper attack against police and a mind-numbing series of mass murders against whoever the deranged individuals want to attack. At the same time many police forces have become more militarized, almost like small armies. It is all a set-up for disaster. In short, we are living on the edge.
The Democrats aren't in a much better position, although they are working together to mend their internally broken fences. Anything can happen there, as well. Philadelphia isn't exactly a small-town and has had its share of problems. Headlines indicate that things could wreak havoc there as well as in Cleveland.
In many ways our political and cultural system is facing the most important two weeks in many decades. Police forces in two big cities have one of the most difficult tasks they have seen in just as long. Americans like to protest. It's how we got started several centuries ago. They will be there at both conventions.
I am trying to remain hopeful and calm. It is a difficult task these days. For most of us this is all out of our hands. We will be observers, like the rest of the world. We can do nothing about it directly. But I am going to do a couple things for my part:
- I will be praying for peace. I will be praying that we can recognize our fellow Americans of all political, racial, gender orientation, or opinion. We are all Americans and need to work together to keep our American experiment moving forward.
- I will make a pledge to avoid making inflammatory statements or judgments. Sadly, though, it has reached a point where making any statement of opinion on one side of an issue or another brings condemnation. We must move beyond that! We must re-learn how to dialogue. I will work somehow to do that.