The late, great Dr. Hunter S. Thompson would undoubtedly have a lot – an awful lot – to say about the current goings on in the world.
Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Wisconsin, ‘Curveball’, George W. Bush’s book… All of this would be fodder for a can’t-miss HST book… Or – at the very least – an interesting series of articles.
Lately, I’ve been re-reading Thompson’s “Kingdom of Fear” and I came across a passage in which he speaks of protest, and his understanding of the action and of the word itself. Long before the uprising in the Middle East, long before the mess in Wisconsin, there was the National Democratic Convention of 1968 in Chicago.
Thompson described the Convention of ’68 as ‘the end of the sixties’. Heartbreaking violence was the theme of 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were both assassinated, and the hopes and dreams of a great many people died with those great men. In the midst of the turmoil, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley planned to showcase Chicago’s achievements to both national Democrats and the entire country. Instead, chaos ensued.
The Chicago Police Department clashed with protestors of the Convention, and in the middle of everything, Thompson was there to witness it all first hand. What he saw was enough to render him a paranoid wreck for months after returning home to Colorado from Chicago. Protestors and journalists alike were roughed up and beaten by overzealous police officers. Mike Wallace and Dan Rather were actually beaten while inside the halls of the Democratic Convention. Nobody, it seemed, was safe.
At one point, as he tried to flee from the suddenly violent Chicago streets, Thompson was accosted by two police officers as he tried to enter his hotel. They tried to shove him back into the chaos. He flashed them his press badge, but it didn’t matter. All around him, Thompson could both hear and see his peers being beaten for nothing other than the fact that they happened to be there. Terrified, he shoved his way past the officers and into the hotel lobby. He made a bee-line for his room where he sat cross-legged on his bed for hours, weeping.
He had this to say about the fact that the officers were attempting to keep him in the streets, plotting to ensure his own beating at the hands of their riot gear-clad brothers…
“That was the point. My very innocence made me guilty – or at least a potential troublemaker in the eyes of the rotten sold-out scumbags who were running that Convention: Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, Lyndon Baines Johnson, then President of the United States. These pigs didn’t care what was Right. All they knew was what they wanted, and they were powerful enough to break anybody who even thought about getting in their way.”
At any rate, the real reason I began this post was to pass on Thompson’s observation of what it means to protest. So here it is:
From Kingdom of Fear…
In seems to me that the underlying assumption of any public protest – any public disagreement with the government, “the system”, or “the establishment”, by any name – is that the men in charge of whatever you’re protesting against are actually listening, whether they later admit it or not, and that if you run your protest Right, it will likely make a difference.
Norman Mailer made this point a long time ago when he said that the election of JFK gave him a sense, for the first time in his life, that he could actually communicate with the White House. Even with people like Johnson and Mac Bundy – or even Pat Brown or Bull Connor – the unspoken rationale behind all those heavy public protests was that our noise was getting through and that somebody in power was listening and hearing at least weighing our protest against their own political realities. . . even if these people refused to talk to us. So in the end the very act of public protest, even violent protest, was essentially optimistic and actually a demonstration of faith (mainly subconscious, I think) in the father figures who had the power to change things – once they could be made to see the light of reason, or even political reality.
That’s what the bastards never understood – that the “Movement” was essentially an expression of deep faith in the American Dream: that the people they were “fighting” were not the cruel and cynical beasts they seemed to be, and that in fact they were just a bunch of men like everybody’s crusty middle-class fathers who only needed to be shaken a bit, jolted out of their bad habits and away from their lazy, short-term, profit-oriented life stances . . . and that once they understood, they would surely do the right thing.”
– Hunter S. Thompson, “Kingdom of Fear”, Simon & Schuster 2003For those of you who only know Hunter S. Thompson through the lens of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and have written him off as a lunatic drug addict… Read “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72″ and witness the Doctor in all of his political, satirical, and literary glory.
Also posted at The Altered States of Munley