Ron Rosenbaum

Grant Park: 1968 and Now

It’s still sinking in, the Obama victory, it’s something almost too beautiful to believe. I think about Tuesday’s victory celebration in Grant Park, the mass of people filled with almost disbelieving joy. Tears of joy. I wasn’t there but I knew how they felt. And I think about another moment in Grant Park: the Chicago 1968 police riot. I was there that time. There were tears then too: Tears from tear gas.

It was my very first press-credentialed reporting assignment and it was amazing suddeny witnessing history being made. Bad history. Ugly history. History I never thought we’d recover from.

But Grant Park. It only now occured to me that it was named after the general who won the Civil War. A war about race. (please don’t insult your own intelligence with silly quibbles about the “real” cause of the Civil War being something else. No slavery, no Civil War. End of story).

At the time it seemed like we were heading for another civil war. I remember giving a ride back from the shattered city to three proto-Weather Underground types who talked all the way home about prerearing for “small group actions” whatever that meant and it didn’t mean anything good. It meant something like the West Eleventh Street townhouse explosion and self- immolation of one such “small group”. A few minutes away from the office where I worked then. I remember sifting through the rubble with Dustin Hoffman’s wife (they owned the place as I recall). Bad times.

And now another era, another crowd in Grant Park. I was thousands of miles away with a woman I loved. I’m sure everything will return to its normal state of hopelessness and horror and nuclear apocalypse before too long. But I had allowed myself to hope for this moment for a year. This one moment, this moment granted us to revisit Grant Park. To revisit, to revise it. I love this country, I feel immensely lucky to have been born here, to have been raised by parents who taught me that racism was evil. I particularly wish my mother was alive to witness this moment. I can see her furiously trying to wipe away the tears of joy she would have wept.

As Michelle Obama said, I’ve never felt as proud to be an American as I do now.