Panic in Flamingo Park

Echoing our current political climate, the late 1960s and early 70s were a time of dramatic cultural upheaval. The civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights movements fought for and gradually gained many of the freedoms we are again fighting to retain.

The Vietnam War hung heavily over the political conventions of 1968 and 1972, with protestors angrily demonstrating on all sides of the political fence. Both the Republican and Democratic conventions in 1972 took place in Miami; the GOP taking over the Miami Beach Convention Center from August 21st to 23rd to nominate President Richard Nixon and Vice-President Spiro Agnew for reelection.

Down the road from the convention site all of the protestors were allowed to set up in Flamingo Park (much like the event zone organized in Cleveland for this year’s Republican Convention):

The Vietnam Veterans Against the War, from their compound in one hedged-in area of Flamingo Park, had already begun some marching up to Miami Beach Senior High School near the convention center where a portion of the National Guardsmen placed on stand-by duty were bivouacked. ‘Join the people,’ one vet urged a group of guardsmen standing on the roof. ‘Join us.’ Some of the guardsmen gave him the finger. Even if they weren't winning raw new recruits everywhere, nearly everybody from Flamingo Park to the Fontainebleau agreed that the vets had it more together than anybody else among the 5000 or so non-delegates in Miami Beach. Flamingo Park itself was divided up like a county fair—Zippies here, Yippies there, SDS everywhere. One entire end was given over to Expose '72, a tent-contained multi-media display on Vietnam, Bangladesh, Latin America and America itself.

Bob Simpson described it at the time as “an uneasy and sometimes very difficult alliance” of hundreds of different groups, often with very differing views yet all united against the program of the Republican party. Fairly universally the protestors declared their intentions for non-violent demonstration—planning marches and sit-ins.

For the first two days, a semi-peace reigned over the opposing sides with YVPs expressing a joy and hopefulness about Nixon that was in stark contrast to the anger felt by the youths concentrated at Flamingo Park. A YVP told a Rolling Stone journalist:

I'll tell ya, It always surprises me that freaks and people align themselves with the Democrats instead of the Republicans, because it seems to me the Republican philosophy is one of individual freedom rather than being treated as a block or a quota. It's more important to me to be an individual than be some part of a mass group in front of the Fontainebleau. That's bullshit.

By the third day, when Nixon was to officially accept his re-nomination, protestors became more aggressive in their tactics—attempting to blockade buses of delegates from entering the convention center through a peaceful mass sit-in and the setting up of barricades. Immediately the hostile police took action:

It was as if the tension were finally relieved for the collection of cops that ranged from Miami Beach police to state patrolmen to quickly recruited reserves from the Game and Fish Department. They tossed baseball-sized tear gas grenades around with a certain delight in the popping sound they made, and often, as the night grew later, without any apparent provocation.

A sit-in was attempted at another location in front of the Doral Hotel, headquarters of most GOP bigwigs.

There, the sit-in began in front of a little two-foot dike built before the gaily sparkling fountain outside the hotel. The shadows of palm leaves high in the trees reflected on the street as the helicopter with its giant searchlight hovered overhead and the policeman in command announced that the five minutes was up and ‘you're all under arrest’… One by one the demonstrators were arrested, some with the aid of a riot baton choking their throats, cops huffing and grunting with the effort. The street was becoming littered with the waste shit from the polaroid camera being used to take a mug shot of each person arrested. Soon, the four orange police vans were filled, and, right on schedule, three moving-van-sized white trucks pulled up Collins Avenue, ‘Deatrick Rents Trucks,’ emblazoned on their sides. These trucks had no mesh openings, and when the big rear doors were shut, it was dark and stifling hot inside… At midnight, the last truckload of arrested demonstrators pulled away, rocking with pounding chants from inside— ‘Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh. The NLF Is Gonna Win.’ As it pulled away, someone began the new hit chant, ‘Attica means - Fight Back.’

By the end of the Republican Convention in 1972, Miami police had made 1,129 arrests.

-Laura McLaws Helms

All quotes from Tim Findlay’s lengthy article, “Outside the Convention: Cops and Confusion” for Rolling Stone, September 28, 1972. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/outside-the-convention-cops-and-confusion-19720928