Talking Protest and Revolution with Chicago 7’s Lee Weiner
A protest leader and Chicago 7 trial codefendant has a new book, ‘Conspiracy to Riot’
Chicago 7/Conspiracy 8 activist, protester and codefendant Lee Weiner’s memoir Conspiracy to Riot came out last week. It barely made a splash in U.S. media, who seem more intent on building hype for movies such as the Aaron Sorkin and Sacha Baron Cohen drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” due next month, and “Judas and the Black Messiah,” due in 2021.
While I talked to him in February, before the pandemic and huge protests in the streets, Weiner’s book, and his take on the late 1960s protest movements, are highly relevant to a protest-heavy 2020.
The historic protest leader, Chicago 7/Conspiracy 8 codefendant, former Rutgers professor and Anti-Defamation League staffer is still sharp, a highly intelligent, highly political, Leftist Jewish grandfather vaguely reminiscent of a crankier, more-radical Bernie Sanders.
“I like [Bernie],” Weiner (pronounced WINE-er) told me. “I mean, what the fuck, he’s an old Jewish socialist. What’s there not to like about him? Fuck, for all I know he was in the fucking streets with me in Chicago. I wonder if anybody ever asked him.”
But whereas Sanders has spent a lifetime in Congress, Weiner was accused by federal officials of making incendiary devices during the Chicago 7 trial.
Weiner is among the lesser-known Chicago 7/Conspiracy 8 codefendants, who included Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis and John Froines. He jokes that in Sorkin’s new movie, he’ll be played by a “hairy scarecrow,” or “automaton-dummy.”
What Weiner knows is highly relevant right now, as protests and “riots” careen from my Portland to Weiner’s Chicago, as intertwined antifascist, #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements rivet the nation, a half-century after the nation was similarly upended.
Weiner’s book is worth interest for what it reveals about the nature of activism, protest, the complex process of creating political change, and, inevitably, state repression.
“Power doesn’t change,” Weiner told me. “They want to destroy, humiliate and denigrate — delegitimize — alternative solutions and different ways of living, being, that threaten the existing power…