When you mix Chicago and political gatherings, you get some of the most electrifying and controversial happenings of all time.
Take, for example, the 1968 Democratic convention. The assassination of Bobby Kennedy left the Democrats only two choices: anti-war Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Lyndon Johnson's "stay the course" type vice president, Hubert Humphrey.
Humphrey took the convention while thousands of protesters took to the streets.
The turmoil resulted in the trial of the Chicago Eight: better known as the Chicago Seven after Bobby Seale had his civil rights violated and was given a do-over. Seale's original hearing was declared a mistrial because this co-founder of the Black Panthers, outraged by the government's accusations of conspiracy, protested so vociferously that the judge had him tied up and gagged in the courtroom.
"So your brother's bound and gagged and they've chained him to a chair, won't you please come to Chicago ..." comes from the Graham Nash tune "Chicago" penned about the injustices of 1968.
Vietnam was raging, cities were burning, and hope was waning - still Nash reminded people that they could "change the world, rearrange the world." Because, he sang, "It's dying -- to get better."
This wasn't the only convention held in Chicago that would "change the world, rearrange the world." In 1860 the Republicans -- holding only their second national convention -- selected on the third ballot a tall lanky guy from Illinois. Abraham Lincoln's victory against far better-known candidates upset the 1860 convention and solidified the identity of the nation's newest party.
The Republican Party formed in direct opposition to the two parties already in power. Consequently, the Republicans were called unpatriotic and accused of encouraging slave uprisings -- 19th century allegations of sponsoring terrorism. Just before their May convention, during the Cooper Union debates, Mr. Lincoln distinguished himself as a man who would not be bullied.
Lincoln didn't cower at the accusations, instead he quoted Thomas Jefferson's assertion that -- and I am quoting Lincoln quoting Jefferson -- "It is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation," and to eventually end slavery. Jefferson went on as Lincoln reminds us, "If, on the contrary, it is left to force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect."
Man, that Lincoln had guts! He took a chance - using the words of the author of the Declaration of Independence -- and confronted the cowards in Washington. He stood his ground and won the nomination.
Nash's "Chicago" suits Lincoln as well, "Won't you please come to Chicago or else join the other side."
This year's Green Party National Convention is in Chicago and it starts tomorrow. Like other Chicago conventions, it won't be typical. Much like the Republican Party of the 1860s, we Green idealists reject status quo politics. We are unafraid of false accusations and understand that the U.S. needs to be a better world partner.
I know this because I was their 2004 vice presidential nominee. And in 2004 Greens all across this country, among other things, helped me collect necessary items for homeless shelters. We helped veterans and victims of domestic violence. We helped families and we helped the mentally ill. It wasn't politics as usual, just politics as it should be.
Like Nash sang about the protesters in 1968, we try to remind our country that "if you believe in justice. It's dying. And if you believe in freedom. It's dying."
This week, in Chicago, we won't host a typical convention. We will demand an end to our wars and we will demand social justice at home. And even though we convene in one of the city's finest hotels, we will help the city's weakest individuals.
Our delegates and other attendees will bring necessaries for Chicago's homeless.
According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, about 74,000 folks were homeless in Chicago in 2006. Here too Nash's song fits, "In a land that's known as freedom, how can such a thing be fair? Won't you please come to Chicago for the help we can bring?"
E-mail me if you want to help or better yet, contact your local shelter and help them. Together we can, "change the world, re-arrange the world. It's dying to get better."