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At the Gates of God-Drunk but Unafraid

By Timothy Carlson

By the end of the second Day of Rage, Chicago was still there. The Weatherman publicity man had left town, and their nicely structured itinerary was shot to hell. Their withdrawal in search of tactics, oddly enough, became an effective tactic by itself. Perhaps the most important element of music is its silences-the rests between notes. The Weathermen continued to wrench the mind of the press by doing nothing.

Revolutionary logic will always work in a straight-street city-a city of schedules. police reporters with deadlines unable to see beyond what is actually happening. There are arrests to be totaled. conditions of victims traced through the various hospitals, statements of. . .

Word goes out that the Weathermen are holding a press conference at the Chicago Sheraton at 10 Thursday night.

There is a golden shield with crossed swords and lions behind the empty chairs awaiting the Weathermen. There are four sparkling golden candelabras with plastic candle-flames in them. reflected in the baroque loopy swirling mirrors surrounding the room. Television mikes are poking out from the fireplace like so much kindling. Five large television cameras are digging into the rug. Talking floats in the air like the cigarette smoke, making no recognizable pattern.

"What are you doing back from Israel?"

"See if we get any noise . . . (sound men are linked to every television camera like air supplies).

"There'll be no tape recorders here. . ."

Which makes quite a few people grin. There seven tape recorders wrapped in leather on the table. A pitcher of water appears on the table, matching all the glass ashtrays. the glasses. Forty men. wearing ties, fill the room.

It is ten after ten. The Weathermen are late to their own press conference.

"Who called this press conference?" someone is asking.

The void in news has been putting each reporter on edge for ten hours. The a.m. deadlines had drifted by with no news events to write about their stories were of the settling smoke.

Now they were all together.

Twenty after ten.

A photographer plucks a gas mask from under the chair of one of the city reporters who has a seat nearest the empty chairs. The photographer hands if to the reporter and suddenly everyone in the room has something to focus on-something is happening. The reporter passes it off to a black reporter next to him.

"Put your gas mask on, too. ?. Yeah, hold still ?. With or with out? With." Click.

An announcement: "The people who are going to make the statement were held up."

A radio tuned to a police channel squawks. A girl in a yellow dress. a golden watch medallion and brown Clairol hair. comes into the room and sits next to a young reporter with executive sideburns. She has a big bag looped around her shoulder. and large square-framed yellow-golden metallic glasses. The Club Room is hot and close.

Cameraman have knobs and buttons to twirl. Reporters drink water and talk.

"Jesse Jackson's gonna call up and call it all off. He's the one who calls all of these things off. If you call me a racist pig for that one. I'll . . ." said the man at the first chair to the black reporter.

"You'll die before I call you a racist pig."

Many laugh without realizing that the exchange makes no sense. You can hear the teeth grinding. the television cameras are still. A sound man in a turtleneck opens a window, the klieg lights are tested again while a foghorn from the lake sounds over the growing murmur.

The radical press is quiet. A bearded man in a work-shirt and with tape on the bottom of his tennis shoes sits cross-legged on the floor and bows his head.

Suddenly four Weathermen slide into the room in a blur of jeans. army field jackets, and a green silk bandana. Two are girls.

"We're from SDS and we've come to make a statement. There will be a brief question period afterwards."

"How brief?" yells out the black reporter.

"Brief!" spits back SDS.

"How brief?" he yells again.

"Brief!" says SDS.

"Well, if we can't ask questions, there's just no point in this press conference. See you later." And all the city reporters at the front of the table start to get up and go.

"Look. if you assholes would sit down and quit screwing around we can get this press conference over with." roars another reporter. "Please go ahead with your statement," he says to SDS.

A tall, pale. pretty girl identifies herself as Elizabeth Gardner of Seattle. She is one of those who had been shot in Wednesday night's action. As she begins to talk, she makes the mistake of looking at exactly where she is.

Television cameras, tape recorders. long sound mike poles pointed at her from the corners of the room, klieg lights, ashtrays, notebooks, ties, hot men, closed room, sweat, tapping fingers, shined shoes, winding knobs, leaning-all pointed at her like some mad animal . . . like a gun. All through a blue funk from glowing cigarettes. the faces are dark and there is a menacing murmuring. She had descended into the pit and her words rush out in a whisper of extreme unction.

"I was walking on the street . . .

"people and police . . .

"clubs . . .

"turned around . . .

"shot in the leg twice, in the upper thigh, while running away . . .

"realized I was wounded, called for help. . .

"must have been from the same bullet, same shotgun, same time . . .

"hospital-John was shot in the head with a 38 caliber bullet, there are others, many, not treated in hospitals . . ."

The press interrupts:

"What are the names of the people who were shot. Elizabeth, we can't report this as fact until we know who they are."

"I'm Nina Davis of SDS in New York City.

"Another of the brothers was shot tonight by the police.

"We used to call that repression. We call that war now.

"They strike. We strike back."

Three of the city reporters broke in, shouting:

"Give us names. We can't give any of this as fact unless you can give us names. identification. Where were they shot? How many?"

Nina Davis was hard as nails, a perfect match for most of the city reporters. Elizabeth Gardner was biting her lip and looking at the floor. She let her half-smoked cigarette flop in an ashtray and held her stomach, unnoticed.

"What is happening in Chicago is much heavier than the past on the white movement. But it's always been much heavier on the Panthers. 21 Panthers have been killed by the pigs. Bobby Hutton . . .

"What we, the Weathermen, are trying to do here should be clear. We are beginning a war of the white young people against the United States of America . . . for the repressed peoples of the world.

"Let me tell you people. the white people of this country have been living off the fruits of the labors of the black, brown, yellow oppressed lives of the world. But these oppressed people have risen up-in Peru, Venezuela, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, throughout the Third World, in the Black colonies, and now at home. In a world-wide revolution of peoples that have proven to be a majority in the world, although they happen to be a minority in this country. The majority is proving that technology can be beaten.

"We're fighting in support of a majority of the world's peoples.

"We cannot continue living from the fruits of their labors, we have given it all up to fight."

The newspapermen weren't listening. Mike Royko, a columnist for the Chicago Daily News. had the Weathermen pegged as aristocratic dilettantes. "They spoke a combination of Negro slang, greaser jargon, and Marxist slogans, which is a bit hard to do if you have a Ph.D. in Anthropology and your father is a stockbroker."

SDS continued, "The Chicago cops said before everything started that this was a war-kill or be killed."

"And like the Vietnamese, we are determined to fight. We are determined to win."

The newsmen wanted to accept the Weathermen at their word. They were waiting for the Weathermen to start shooting police from the rooftops, to blow up railroads, buildings . . . not something so symbolic as a statue of a policeman in Haymarket Square. Why didn't the Weathermen play their parts in ways that could be counted. measured; or assessed.?

To cover the end of the world would be the newsman's Nirvana. And he would be functioning at the peak of his enthusiasm right up to the very end-because the most important happening that would ever occur would be happening for him. If the promised 15.000 had showed up . . .

But the Weathermen had severely limited their choice of weapons. Their actions seemed curiously gentle compared to the logic and imagination of the press. To a rational world they were defenseless in more ways than one. Guns were not in their arsenal and neither could they muster a sense of humor.

The Weathermen had abandoned any appreciation of the absurdity of the way things were. They were ready to sacrifice their whole identities (behind such a laughable shield as the refrains the reporters picked up- "Piggy Wiggy, you better go now, Oink! Oink! Bang! Bang! Dead Pig!") their lives perhaps, for an idea. To newsmen, the very idea of Revolution, wiping away all the evils. is Romantic.

It is with this appreciation of absurdity that a newsman could "stand at the gate of God, drunk but unafraid." He could be confident in the continued existence of an everabsurd reality in which something is always happening and everything is essentially unchanging. He could take comfort in the fact that men would continue to stumble through with a combination of stupidity and evil intentions, and as a journalist he would always be able to write about the resulting villains and heroes. The Weathermen were absurd and would not admit it. They were inane.

Precisely because nothing happened at the press conference, because the reporters got nothing. it was the most violent confrontation of the week.

Cynthia Kaye of the Canadian Broadcasting Company asks a question. She has a cigarette holder. false eyelashes, a handbag, heels, red hair, and a beartrap mind.

"Ah, Miss Davis . . . Mr. Harrington of the Illinois Black Panther Party spoke at the Federal Building today and called your movement 'insanity' What is your comment?"

"No comment," says one of the SDS people. Nina Davis continues the statement.

"A brother was shot in the neck . . ."

"Who? What? Where? When?" roar the city reporters' chorus.

"We are not at liberty to reveal . . ." they reply.

Someone else asks. "How do you think the fighting of the Weathermen has measured up to advance build up? You haven't hurt many police, many of your people have been captured, the damage you have inflicted is rather minor . . ."

"You gotta dig say, life. like war, where's the middle ground? You dig, man? You paid $11 for a front row seat. and you want your money's worth. In a war there's only two sides, there aren't any spectators. If you don't like the way we're fighting. why don't you join us?"

Someone asks. "War? You've spoken of many grandiose plans this week and they've started to fall flat. Your plans are changing, so you tell us. What are your present plans?"

"Hide and watch.

"There's a revolution going on in the world, if you look, you can't miss it. There are 200 million people in the U.S.A. and they're only a tiny speck before the specter of world revolution. The NLF . . ."

"Why this press conference?" someone asks.

"More brothers and sisters were shot in the streets today. Some were wounded in the Loop. We couldn't take them to hospitals because the doctors are required by law to turn them in to the police."

"Who? When? Where?"

"One more question," SDS announces.

A woman asks, "SDS headquarters denies you had a press conference to night. Do you have any comment?"

The SDS people are already leaving. leaving

"Wait and hide." says one.

As the last Weatherman is passing the television cameras, one of the cameramen trips him.

"What a bunch of phonies!" he says.

He sticks his jaw in the Weatherman's face. catching his adversary wheeling around. off guard.

"I'll insult anytime I please. buddy boy. I wish you'd try to stop me," said the cameraman as he forces the Weatherman to back up to the stairs leading away from the room, matching him step for step.

The Weathermen retreat to the fresh air in the streets.

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