Yippie-topia: The Youth International Party at the 1968 Democratic National Convention

Every election season, it’s easy to think that the current one must be the most dramatic and controversial. Here at the Newberry, our collection constantly reminds us of the turmoil of the generations that came before.

One of these reminders relates to the contentious 1968 election that gave the Republican nominee, Richard Nixon, his first term in the White House. The library has a wealth of material on the turbulent 1968 Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Chicago, thanks in part to our collection of personal papers from Jack Mabley, a reporter who covered the DNC for Chicago’s American and amassed a trove of materials as part of his research.

Running up to the 1968 convention, President Johnson was the presumptive Democratic nominee, but division within the party and fierce opposition to the Vietnam War undid his candidacy. The convention was full of uncertainty, but was certainly going to attract anti-war protests. Groups of activists—both violent and non-violent—planned to take a stand at the convention. The Youth International Party—known as “Yippies”—were planning a full-on festival to accompany their non-violent protests. On March 26, 1968—five months before the DNC—they formally applied to the City of Chicago for permits to use Grant Park during the convention.

The Yippies’ application was rejected, and so they re-located to Lincoln Park. The “Yippie Map of Lincoln Park,” a piece of ephemera that Jack Mabley collected, reveals a carefully layed-out schedule and organized festival to take place August 20-30—with non-violent self-defense training, music, and workshops on “drug problems, underground communications, how to live free, guerrilla theater, draft resistance, communes, etc.” Regarding plans for August 28, the day the Democratic nomination was scheduled to take place, the Yippies were short: “Plans to be announced at a later date.”

The unfolding of the convention, of course, was more turbulent than the Yippies had imagined. In spite of all the careful planning and attempts to gain overnight permits for park use, the protesters and police clashed from the first day of the festival. Even a pig (named “Pigasus”), whom the Yippies farcically nominated for president, was jailed on August 23, as the police exhaustively attempted to thwart the Yippies’ plans, clear the park after the 11 pm curfew, and prevent the activists from entering the Loop or the convention amphitheater.

Myriad groups of militant activists and non-violent protesters blended together, and confrontations with police escalated into all-out rioting. (During and after the conflict, protesters and city officials blamed each other for the violence—with police claiming the protesters were violent and protesters claiming police violated their rights and attacked first; both sides of the story can be found in Mabley’s files.)

The context and impact of the riots and the convention are important to consider, with Nixon, the Republican candidate, ultimately winning the presidency. The outcome was predicted by the likes of Mabley and other reporters, as well as by California Governor Ronald Reagan: in a newspaper clipping Mabley collected, the future president predicts victory for Nixon if the GOP “sticks together.”

By Jamie Waters, Communications Coordinator at the Newberry