The Last Time They Came: Rememberances of Chicago August, 1968

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

They’re already here.  They represent various factions and causes; most say they’ll be peaceful, others are bent on causing problems. They’re coming by car, bus, plane and bicycle.  One guy reportedly “hopped a freight train,” as it’s known, to get here.

I’m referring to the protestors and alleged anarchists who have set sights on my home city of Chicago to exercise their First Amendment rights to protest the gathering of world leaders for the NATO Summit May 20-21.

Chicago has hosted big events before. Hey, we’re Chicago.  We’re a world-class city.  In fact, we hosted the Democratic National Convention in 1968.  You’ve probably read what happened, or saw the black and white footage on television: Cops bashing hippie protestors — as well as newsmen and people in the wrong place at the time — across the head with billy clubs; the protestors chanting “The whole world is watching!”; Mayor Richard J. Daley defending the actions of his police force; and, my city’s reputation figuratively being bashed across its head in the eyes of the nation and much of the world.

I was 13 years old at the time, and I was there.  Sort of.  And I remember it clearly.  Two occurrences stand out.

The Hippies Invade Walton Street. Our modest home was is in what’s now a relatively fashionable hipster neighborhood recently dubbed Noble Square.  (Helps with the marketing needed to  sell condos and sushi, you know.)  We just called it “The Old Neighborhood.”  One afternoon during the Convention, a Jeep driven by two long-haired guys with Southern accents pulled up.  They were from North Carolina, or maybe Virginia. But on the 1300 block of West Walton Street in 1968 they might as well have been from Mars.

My buddies and I chatted with the two guys, and I recall they were friendly.  And peaceful. I vividly recall two neighborhood girls, probably mid to late teens at the time, climbing into the Jeep to protest, or cavort, I guess, with the scruffy visitors.  Apparently, this rubbed the older guys on the block, greasers true and true,  the wrong way; one yelled, “Hippies suck!” To which the hippie in the passenger seat responded to with the bent arm salute.

The moral: Don’t let hippies driving Jeeps come into your neighborhood to take away your girls.

Rescuing Mom From the Prudential Building.  Back in the day, my mother worked the evening shift at Prudential Insurance in the (where else?) Prudential Building at Randolph Street just east of Michigan Avenue.  The building, once Chicago’s tallest, commands a prominent location and was several blocks north of the hotels where members of the Democratic party in town to pick a presidential candidate were staying.

One evening during the convention, we got a call from my mom: “They’re sending everyone home now because of the protestors. ” So my dad and brother and I got in the Impala and drove the 15 or so minutes downtown to get my mom.  As we headed back west on Randolph Street, I recall hearing shouts and screams in the distance; then I saw a wave of blue-shirted policemen chasing a wave of hippies and protestors south.

The image remains indelible in my mind; it was the closest I got to the violence of that summer, and it encapsulated what went wrong.

Already there have been some arrests of protestors, Monday morning in the Prudential Building, in fact.  And Tuesday, protestors known as the Black Bloc marched on the South Side and hurled insults — not projectiles — at police, who have been gearing up to keep the peace.

I trust the police learned a lot from 1968 and have sound tactics and strategies in place should violence erupt.  Rest assured, I’ll be watching, as will the whole world.

Why I’m Feeling Blue, Not Green. A Post St. Patrick’s Day Post

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

As I write this post, the day after the 2012 St. Patrick’s Day “holiday,” I have a profound sense of a color besides Kelly green.  I’m blue.

Blue because the world as I see it is spinning on its axis in the wrong direction.  Leaning too far to the left (or right), and not from a political perspective.   Drowning in a sea of conformity and acceptance.  Okay. Enough with the purposeful metaphors.

Here in my hometown of Chicago and elsewhere, the multitudes “celebrated” St. Patrick’s Day, reportedly a day to honor the patron saint of Ireland, the guy who according to legend drove out the snakes a long time ago.  I trust the snakes all drowned because Ireland is an island.

Here we dye the Chicago River a rich green and thousands — reportedly tens of thousands yesterday — line the streets downtown for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  And why not? We’ve had a long line of Irish mayors (Daley the First, and Daley the Second, most notably),  global business interests with Gaelic names (Aon Insurance — “aon” means “oneness” and it was founded by a guy named Patrick Ryan) and plenty of pubs and restaurants named after Irishmen and women — real and imaginary.

So why have I not embraced the “greenness” of St. Patrick’s Day here in mid-March?  Here’s why:

1. The Commercialization of the Holiday. St. Patrick’s Day has basically lost any of its cultural heritage or significance.  When was the last time you read about this guy from Ireland who chased out the snakes?  Or about any of the leaders of the struggle for Irish independence?  No, St. Patrick’s Day is mainly about drinking, using the holiday to hawk products or services and wearing something green.   Note the graphic below for an example.

The PRDude does not have reservations about any of these.  Hey, I’m in public relations and marketing — communications disciplines that build relationships and promote things and services we need and buy. But this development is indicative of the way holidays have been denigrated into efforts to basically sell beer and trinkets.  Think about it.  We use dancing cartoons of Lincoln and Washington to sell mattresses; the Easter Bunny hawks chocolate eggs; Halloween has “evolved” from an opportunity for kids to collect candy from neighbors into a platform for adults to dress like zombies or the latest reality star.  Don’t get me started about Christmas.

2.  What’s Happening to the Weather?  As I write this, it’s 74 degrees.  Earlier today, the mercury climbed to around 80 degrees.  It’s March, when we should be basking in 40 or 50 degree temperatures in the Midwest, donning raincoats and toting umbrellas around.

This is not “normal,” and I don’t like it.  Flowering bulbs that should be blooming in April are in full bloom.  Magnolia trees that normally explode with color in April are now flowering. Turf is starting to grow.  People are outside sunbathing!  Here we just completed a “winter that wasn’t” and now have lost spring to early summer.  The weatherman said we’ve set five new record highs for the month — and there’s still two weeks to go. Talk about March Madness off the basketball court.

A magnolia tree in full bloom in Chicago's Avondale neighborhood on March 18.

Our world is changing.  And, maybe not all for the better.  Sometimes, it’s beneficial looking back to the essence of a holiday or event that truly makes it meaningful, that truly gives it purpose.  Sometimes the cold, wet and bleak days of March make us enjoy and appreciate spring and summer when it does arrive for good.   There.  I’m not as blue anymore.