Life Is A Trial: We Are All Lawyers

The revolution will not be televised.

Gil Scott-Heron was prophetic.

No it will not be allowed on TV. Number one because it will render the commentators mute with shock, awe, confusion and complexity. Think of Roger Ailes ordering his engineers to play the world trade center bombing in a loop for a day.

It is possible to pick the scab off the decayed body of a rebellion and put it under a microscope with a lens that leaves the whole thing blurry and barely recognizable.This is what Aaron Sorkin did in the made for television Netflix movie. Of course his parents would have preferred for him to be a lawyer, INSTEAD HE GETS TO put words in their mouths, KINDA LIKE BEING A LAWYER. For that power most want his job.

Sorkin reduces the verdict on the guilt i.e. impact of the 60s to a few speeches by assorted legal operatives on both sides of the case (or as they say history) maneuvering to prove whether the rebels really intended to plan and execute a revolt or stumbled into it by sheer force of numbers. The State gives the Movement way more credit than they give themselves. Ha ha ha. This is the biggest joke of all. Bobby Seale denied that he was part of a conspiracy to overthrow the government that the Black Panthers insisted needed to be overthrown. Tom Hayden wished that Bobby Kennedy had been the democratic candidate because he could have worked for him and been inside the convention he desperately wanted to be a part of. Abbey Hoffman with his Lenny Bruce syndrome of persecution and Jerry Rubin wanted to get off one liners while having a party and wearing costumes.

In the end Ramsey Clarke representing the enlightened State had the last word. He agreed with the radicals, they had no strategy to overthrow the state and therefore did not need to be taken seriously. Concluding the war would reduce them to obscurity. Clarke’s ilk is still in power. The Chicago 8 might as well be called the Chicago 0.

So why bother to create a film about such an ultimately tame and digestible protest movement? Romantics such as Carlos The Jackal and the Baader Meinhoff make much better thriller material. Power could not ask for a more cooperative storyteller than Sorkin. His goal was to help position the current movement as part of a tradition of noble, realistic social protest with the emphasis on realistic. The constant refrain that this film reminds us of the similarities between the Anti War Movement and, say, Black Lives Matter does make sense. Both propose major concessions by Power that actually serve its long term survival interests.

For those of us in Berkeley in the Fall of 1964 we saw Mario Savio’s explicit critique of our future as obedient civil servants, defense engineers and middle managers and the deadening conformism of suburban consumer culture replaced with a call to self sacrifice for the super exploited of Vietnam and other colonized minorities. By the spring of 1965 with the teach-ins and draft resistance movement the path to Chicago was already set. Ending the war replaced ending the system as the central focus of the Movement.

Another irony at the end of The Chicago 8 is that in a calculated PR gesture the final statement of the defendants was to read the names of several thousand US servicemen (out of a total of 58,208) who had died during the five months of their trial. They had nothing to say about their motives and goals. At least they could have read from among the names of the millions of South East Asians, many of them “collateral damage” who died in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.