Presidential Election 1972: Will Conventions Go the Way of Festivals? - Rolling Stone
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Presidential Election 1972: Will Conventions Go the Way of Festivals?

Unchallenged restrictions on anti-Nixon protests may prove that the Youth International Party is losing its edge

Youth International Party, Yippies, Nixon

Members of the Youth International Party (or Yippies) unfurl an huge flag near a tent as they protest during the inaugural ceremonies for President Nixon, Washington DC, mid-January 1969.

David Fenton/Getty

Miami Beach, Fla. —

Two weeks before the onset of the Democratic Convention, the Miami Beach City Council voted to ban demonstrators from camping anywhere in the city. The decision came despite recommendations to the contrary by Florida Governor Rubin Askew, Dade County Manager Ray Goode, and the mayors of both Miami and Miami Beach. It came at a time when demonstration organizers were predicting that fewer than 5,000 persons would show up for the Democratic Convention. And it came after the Youth International Party, the best publicized of the groups, had reversed earlier plans and were asking people to stay home until the Republicans convene August 21st.

Even by the standards of local Florida politics, the city council action seemed so demented that it was immediately suspected of being a bluff. The councilmen were seen as trying to impress voters with their backbone while discouraging demonstrators from coming down by maintaining the ban until the last minute. The author of the measure, Miami Beach City Manager Clifford O’Koy, hinted as much only a few hours after the council vote. “I fully expect that reasonable men will sit down now and negotiate,” he said.

But O’Koy, when he was interviewed by Rolling Stone on June 22nd, said he had no opinion on how to accommodate demonstrators. Twenty-four hours later he presented a detailed recommendation to the city council which urged that no camping be allowed in the city and that demonstrators be segregated by night at Haulover Park to the north and Watson Island on MacArthur Causeway to the southwest. Both sites are outside city limits and miles from the convention hall. This measure was adopted by a 5-2 vote.

A Zippie in the audience threw a meat pie at one of the majority councilmen. The councilman jumped up and took a swing at the Zippie, and the meeting ended on that note.

Afterwards O’Koy was asked what he would do if people tried to camp in the parks anyway, as they did in Grant Park in Chicago four years earlier. “Oh,” he replied airily, “I don’t know.”

In contrast, the meat pie incident not-withstanding, the demonstration people have adopted a demeanor approaching placidity; except in government, it is almost impossible to find a firebrand in Miami these days. Some, like Alton Foss of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, have been meeting with city and county officials for months, assuring them that they want no violence. Jerry Rubin, who a couple of months ago delighted in frightening the locals with predictions of a march by “20,000 naked Yippies,” and was taken seriously, now sounds more accommodating.

“If it came to a choice between a riot and sleeping somewhere else, I think all of us would choose to sleep somewhere else,” Rubin said, “We’re not going to die in Flamingo Park. . .

“We’re not going to be machoed or pressured into a false confrontation at the Democratic Convention when all that will do is help Richard Nixon, and we do not want violence at the Republican Convention. We don’t think that would serve anyone’s purpose. Our goal is to have a large number of people in the streets, and through the media to show the people of the world and the US how unpopular Nixon is. . .

“The Republicans don’t want to establish a precedent of having a site at the Democratic Convention that we would then use at the Republican, so they want to block the site for both and say if there’s trouble, let it be at the first convention. To avoid falling into that trap, we have withdrawn an earlier call which said there was going to be rock music, and that people should come from all over the country for a mass counter-convention. . .  . At first we thought there was going to be a close delegate fight between Humphrey and McGovern and we thought a large demonstration in the streets would hurt Humphrey. But now it looks like there’s really no point.”

So instead of naked freakouts, the Yippies have been throwing picnics for some of Miami Beach’s thousands of old people, many of whom are delighted by the attention. Planned for convention time is a “cultural bazaar” in the parks — in the daytime, of course — with artists and musicians including Max Neuhaus, the composer of underwater music, and John Harris. Harris is a sky-writing artist whose previous work has included etching the word RUN high above a shopping center in Rye, N.Y., then power-diving the plane toward the spectators below.

All this art seems to have done little to mollify the community. With an almost audible sound of hands rubbing together, a Miami Beach criminal court judge ordered normal court proceedings suspended July 9-15 and August 21-25, in anticipation of mass arrests. Militant Cuban-American groups have refused to meet even with antiwar groups as solidly based as the VVAW. Petitions suggesting that the demonstrators do everything but crawl back into the womb have been circulated by Ellis Rubin, an attorney often described locally as “a small-bore Joe McCarthy.” Rubin also has a reputation in south Florida as a publicity junkie, which is like being known within the Billy Graham crusade as a prude.

“I think the community is still reacting to some of the earlier estimates of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators,” said County Manager Goode. “A tremendous communication and education process has to take place.” If anyone were listening, some of that education could come directly from the organizers, none of whom talks anymore about a hundred thousand demonstrators at either convention. Rolling Stone stopped 30 people on the streets of New York who looked like they might go down to he conventions to make their presence known. None said he planned to go. Only one said he knew of anyone who did.

Nonetheless the government has been making preparations suitable to contain the hoards. Federal troops are to be quartered in Miami. National Guard units are to be stationed on Miami Beach. “The National Guard will be camped on the golf courses that we requested in the first place,” said Foss of the VVAW. “They can put the army there but they can’t put the vets there. That just blew my mind.”

This is all perfectly understandable, of course, to those who are convinced that Nixon’s Justice Department wants to see the Democrats besmirched by another round of nationally-televised street violence. According to one indigenous Yippie, Jeff Nightbyrd, federal law enforcement “advisers” have already managed to undo the work of meetings between the Yippies and Miami Beach police chief Rocky Pomerance. “Pomerance is a pretty bright cop who essentially wanted to deal with the situation,” Nightbyrd said. “But he’s ambitious. He wants to be president of the police chief’s association. These feds come in and they play the Big Time vs Small Time game on him. They say, ‘Look, you don’t really believe them when they say they’re going to be peaceful, do you, Rocky?’ And he says, ‘Naaah, they didn’t fool me.’ So he has shifted from dealing with the situation as it is to dealing with it in military terms.”

County Manager Goode said that as far as he is concerned, the feds have behaved themselves fine: “It’s a line that has been espoused by a few movement leaders, but I find absolutely no creedence in it at all, based on my contacts with federal officials. They’re being very careful in terms of a hands-off policy in trying to make this a locally administered process to every extent possible.”

Jerry Rubin offered his own version of Goode’s feelings. “Goode told me and Jeff Nightbyrd that when he went to Washington the first time he said he didn’t want to have a chaotic situation in Miami Beach during the conventions, Rubin recalled. “And the federal officials he spoke to said, ‘It wouldn’t be so bad to have it during the Democratic, would it?’ Goode told us, “I know they’re joking, but sometimes I wonder.'”

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