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The Slippery Politics of Making Peace in Chicago

Convention: OK, so the tree idea didn't take root. But Mayor Daley seems at least receptive to the concept of a statue to memorialize the protesters of '68.

August 26, 1996|PAMELA WARRICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHICAGO — As it was in 1968, the banter this year involved a few words about trees and featured a mayor named Daley, a protester named Hayden. Now it has shifted to political fencing over a proposed memorial statue, a model of which was unveiled here Sunday on the eve of the 1996 Democratic National Convention.

This time it was a different Richard Daley, son of the Chicago political boss of the same name who in 1968 called out the police and National Guard to put down the protesters he believed were ruining the last Democratic national confab here.

Dad then dismissed the scruffy, uninvited guests with a question: "What trees do they plant?" What, the question obliquely wondered, did these socially irresponsible young people (and their cause) contribute to Chicago or the planet?

Now, 28 years later, some of the '68 antiwar demonstrators, rebuffed recently in their attempt to plant a simple, yet symbolic, weeping willow in Grant Park--site of those protests--have upped the ante.

Tom Hayden, then a Chicago 7 (or 8) defendant and now a California state senator, unveiled a tiny model of the statue--to be executed by local artist Virginio Ferrari--to the 4,000 or so people attending a three-hour convocation / concert Sunday afternoon at Arie Crown Theater.

Comparing the sunken gardens of Grant Park to the Garden of Eden, Hayden announced: "It is time to reclaim the garden. We still have to fight for a world where children have the right to innocence."

He dramatically raised a silky black shroud to reveal the model, which he said was designed as a "circular space in which to contemplate the memory of conflict." The gazebo-like statue is designed for interaction by admirers, allowing them to sit around it.

Daley made a brief appearance at the concert but was not present for the unveiling. Asked earlier Sunday about allowing the sculpture to be placed in a prominent public Chicago site, Daley said only, "It's a concept."

Hayden said the mayor is open-minded about the statue prospects, but neither he nor Daley would elaborate on the future of such a siting or the negotiations between the two men. Clearly, neither seemed interested in embarrassing the other.

In his brief remarks, the mayor said he was sorry if anyone in Sunday's audience had felt unwelcomed in 1968. Then he offered an official welcome to the 1996 convention.

Almost as conciliatory was Hayden, who said, "If we were blinded by rage [in 1968] . . . I'm sorry."

According to a public relations advisor whose firm is advising both Hayden and Daley, the statue dilemma is not likely to be solved before the '96 election. Marilyn Katz said the two men had "cooperated well, but I don't see it being resolved any time before November."

Billed as the future soundtrack for a historic "Day of Healing," Sunday's event opened on a stage flanked by huge, projected peace signs. To audience members flashing their own hand signs for peace, Graham Nash sang the song he wrote 28 years ago to help raise money to defend Hayden and the other Chicago conspirators: "Please come to Chicago for the help that you can bring . . . "

Between speeches by such legendary liberals as Studs Terkel, Norman Mailer, Bella Abzug and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, singers Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills & Nash offered a soothing acoustic rendition of top '60s protest hits.

Although concert-goers seemed surprised by the apparent truce between Daley and Hayden, they left hopeful that the sculpture would have a better fate than the weeping willow.

The metaphor value of the tree scheme was inestimable--and economical as well. The willow was to have been donated by Chicago's handsomest hippie, Michael Butler, the visionary who produced "Hair," the hit '60s ode to love, nudity and civil disobedience. (Butler will now pay for the statue.)

But Daley is, after all, a Daley. And like his father, a consummate politician. So when the tree-planting idea was first pitched by Hayden, Daley indicated he'd do nothing to stop the plan.

As the convention's opening day neared, however, the city's Park District officials stepped forward to report with some glee that although trees and their planters are always welcome in the Windy City, trees planted during the month of August really don't do very well.

Or, as Daley's spokeswoman Lisa Howard explained: "Trees planted in this heat just don't grow. Since this clearly would be a no-win situation for the tree, we're not going to do it. We're not going to plant a tree, any tree, during the convention."

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