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Going Back to Grant Park

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Harold Meyerson's Oct 29 column in the Washington Post, "Return to Grant Park" persuaded me to go to Chicago for the election returns and the Return. I'm looking forward to being with colleagues of the campaign that I've worked with in ten states and at the Chicago headquarters, but I'm sorry to miss the night watch (and I hope) celebration with family and colleagues in Pennsylvania.

For me, this Return to Grant Park closes a circle in my life. At Martin Luther King's funeral in Atlanta, Bob Kennedy asked me to campaign for him in the California primary, and I took leave from the new College at Old Westbury to do so. Then at the climax of that sad spring and early summer of 1968, I went to the Democratic Convention in Chicago, representing Sargent Shriver.

The last chapter in Of Kennedys and Kings tells my story of that Convention, including the peaceful vigil several of us from the Kennedy and McCarthy campaigns organized to stand between the protesters in Grant Park and the police. At close range, or on TV screens, we had seen the terrible police violence against the protesters (which some of the protesters had tried to provoke). We enlisted convention delegates and some party leaders, including Senator Abe Ribicoff and the whole Massachusetts delegation, to walk out on an empty Michigan Avenue and stand silently on the sidewalk along the park, with angry protesters and angry police on either side, with National Guardsmen patrolling the street. The day ended in my one-night in jail, listening to Humphrey's acceptance talk midst tear gas fumes blowing into our holding cell.

It was the end of an era that began with the high hopes of John Kennedy in 1960 (or with Martin Luther King's non-violent action) in the late Fifties. That was a turning point that took the country down for a long time. As you know, I put aside finishing my memoirs of eight decades to campaign for Barack for most of the last year and a half. The finale of that book, with luck, will be the beginning of another era of promise, with Barack -- a turning point we can hope will be an upward one.

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