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The 1972 Democratic and Republican Conventions (Video)

Rarely do you think of Miami Beach as the center of the American political process
November 02, 2007 By Matt Meltzer in Miami: Local News  | 15 Comments

Democratic Convention: Miami Beach, FL July 10 to 13, 1972

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When you think of Miami Beach as a center of something, that something usually involves fun. A party center, a tourism center, the media center for the super bowl, a drug-trafficking center. But rarely do you think of it as the center of the American political process.  After all, a casual stroll down Collins Ave. on a Saturday doesn’t exactly find you rubbing elbows with news junkies and political hounds. But during the summer of 1972, Miami Beach became the third and last city to host both the Democratic and Republican National conventions in the same year. In an otherwise unremarkable and predictable presidential election, the South Florida conventions at least gave campaign workers and journalists something to look forward to.

Except that they were held during the summer.

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Coming off the heels of successful hosting of the Republican convention in 1968, Miami was an easy choice for the Democrats. After the fiasco the party had experienced four years earlier in Chicago, they were hoping for a more uneventful, quiet gathering this time around. And since Nixon was the bad guy, the majority of protesting was reserved for his party’s visit in August.

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Then Police Chief Rocky Pomerance went through gigantic lengths to make sure the city was safe. His 25-man police force was backed up by FBI agents, secret service agents, FDLE agents and Army intelligence officers. Flamingo Park was designated a “free speech” area, hoping to contain all of the protestors, and a massive chain link fence was constructed across the street from the convention center to contain protestors. So when the Democrats came to town in early July, the Beach was well prepared.

LOOK, IT CAN’T BE ANY WORSE THAN IT WAS LAST TIME

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The Democrats chose to hold their convention in early July. Once again, the Miami Beach convention center would play host.  But, of course, this was the early seventies, so along with all of the delegates, press and associated politicians, the convention also played host to a good number of “non-delegates.” This, of course, was the polite term for protestors, hippies or anyone else without enough money to pay for a South Beach hotel room who wanted to be a part of the action. In order to avoid having massive amounts of transients lining their streets (or at least no more than usual) Miami Beach officials opened up Flamingo Park to their temporarily-homeless visitors.

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Only a short walk from the convention center, the park offered a nice place for visiting hippies to relax, unwind, and engage in whatever other hippie-type behavior they wanted. Yippie (this was how the group was known) leader Abbie Hoffman, who had a sort of pseudo-candidacy going at the time, got along fantastically with city officials, doing photo-ops at the Yippie office and mingling with the beach’s sizable Jewish population.  Aside from garnering itself the moniker of “Quaalude Alley,” the encampment at Flamingo Park was uneventful. At least compared to what had happened in Chicago four years earlier. The atmosphere was so pleasant, the Democrats even hired Tammy Wynette and George Jones to do some concerts in the park.

NOMINATING THE SACRIFICIAL LAMB

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The convention itself was a bit more interesting. George McGovern had surprised many by almost clinching the Democratic nomination, despite a disputed win in the winner-take-all California primary. He had bucked the traditional party leaders and was thought by many to be the guaranteed nominee heading into the Miami convention. Because he was so radical, though, many in the party leadership sought to undermine his nomination in order to have a better chance of beating Nixon in November. In his book on the 1972 campaign, “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72,” Hunter S. Thompson devotes the majority of his account of the Democratic convention to a very technical explanation of how McGovern’s team eventually usurped their would-be usurpers.  I read the section four times and still don’t quite understand it, but in a nutshell McGovern’s delegates purposefully lost a vote so they could win one later. Makes no sense to me either.

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McGovern, with his platform of Gay and abortion rights (unheard of for any national politician at the time) got the Democratic nomination on the first vote. While many in the party were none too thrilled with the outcome, the four day event saw few public displays of dissention among the Democrats. The South Dakota senator chose Thomas Eagleton as his running mate, who would leave the ticket shortly afterwards after stories of his hospitalization for mental illness and shock therapy were revealed. Nobody was overly concerned as a loss to Nixon was all but sealed with the nomination of such an intra-party polarizing figure such as McGovern. But at the time, at least, his staffers felt he may have really had a shot.

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In a sort of prophetic South Beach fashion, most of the sessions didn’t get started until early evening and some went to almost sunrise. Much like club-goes stumbling out of Mansion or Cameo decades later, delegates would often find themselves returning to their hotel rooms at 6 or 7 a.m., severely disturbing their sleep cycles and burning out many who worked on the campaigns. If Flamingo Park was Quaalude alley, the strip of hotels that housed the conventioneers was caffeine alley. Or maybe some other things.

While the Democrats were able to create some drama within the convention walls, the scene outside was relatively peaceful. After all, since most protestors didn’t want to be coming to Miami twice in six weeks, they opted to save their firepower for the real villain: Richard Nixon.

THE MIAMI CONVENTION THAT ALMOST WASN’T

Republican Convention: Miami Beach, FL August 21 to 23, 1972

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The 1972 Republican convention was not originally supposed to be held in Miami, but rather in more summer-friendly (and drivable from Nixon’s summer home) San Diego. But when the GOP could not effectively negotiate with the owner of the San Diego Sports Arena, and a scandal involving a telecommunications company investing in the infrastructure for the convention in exchange for settling an anti-trust suit was brought to light (imagine that, Nixon involved in a scandal) the party decided to move its convention East. And what better place than Miami Beach, who had already set themselves up for two conventions in the previous four years and had the hotel space and phone lines to accommodate them. Not to mention Nixon’s other summer home on Key Biscayne.

Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans came into Miami with no doubt as to who they would nominate. Nor did they have any dissention. This is almost always the case when you are nominating a sitting president.  But what the internal workings of the convention lacked in fireworks, the outside more than made up for.

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It probably would have been more convenient for Ron Kovic, of “Born of the Fourth of July” fame, and his band of Vietnam Veterans Against War if the GOP had considerately held its convention in California. It would have made for a much shorter trip. As it was, Kovic as well as thousands of others made the trek across the South to Miami Beach and, like at the Democratic convention, set themselves up in Flamingo Park. But this group was not nearly as peaceful.

A SINISTER REPUBLICAN PLOT OR JUST SOME BAD ACID?

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It did not help matters that some members of VVAW had been arrested prior to the convention for planning to blow up several buildings around Miami during the convention. This group, known as The Gainesville Eight (after the city in which they planned their attacks) were under the impression that the Republicans were planning to kill someone and blame it on anti-war protestors, then subsequently block all roads and bridges off of South Beach so the local police could inflict mayhem upon the peace-loving hippies in the street. The Gainesville Eight’s objective was to cause disturbances elsewhere, thus diverting law enforcement personnel away from the beach, and preventing the presumed hippie-slaughter that they had expected. Yes, kids, bad acid DOES make you paranoid.

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The VVAW group arrived in South Florida August 19th and the following morning marched south down Biscayne Boulevard and across the 79th street causeway to the Beach.  Their march was peaceful, as were most of the thousands of protestors that first day. Some barricaded the Fontainebleau, others protested outside the convention center, while still others demonstrated in the park. According to police records from that day, though, nothing out of the ordinary was going on.

The next day, the VVAW went to march on Miami Beach Senior High, which, since school was out, was now home to some 750 National Guard troops. Upon arriving at the school, the protestors mounted the roof and hung an American flag upside down. Fortunately, no Guardsmen were injured during this show of distress.

And what political event in Miami would be complete without a demonstration from our Cuban-American residents, demanding something be done about Castro. Yes, even during Vietnam this was the pressing issue of the day in Dade County. This time the Orange Bowl served as their rallying spot and busses brought the demonstrators from Little Havana to what was then Burdines on 17th Street. They marched, as well as the VVAW, some women’s liberation marchers and the ever-present Yippies. But despite the various group in attendance, still little violence persisted.

THE HEAT FINALLY GETS TO THE HIPPIES

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But South Florida August heat and angry people can only be contained for so long. On the morning of August 22nd, demonstrators began the morning by blocking the Fontainebleau, burning the American flag and blocking traffic. And if there is one thing no Miamian will tolerate, even in 1972, it is blocking traffic. Many anti-war protestors began trashing the area then known as Downtown Miami Beach, near 16th and Washington. They broke windows, tore down signs, and once again, blocked traffic. The Yippies began jumping on cars and turning over Dumpsters. And so, nice as the Beach cops had tried to be, they began arresting people.

By 2 p.m., police has amassed two busloads of arrestees, and requested more vehicles for the troublemaking protestors. As President Nixon arrived at MIA, protestors were trying to force the front gate at the convention center, and some began laying in the street in one of the more-popular Vietnam era protests. Demonstrators continued to harass delegates, even the late-night marchers led by Jane Fonda. Again, police were not amused. By the end of the day, they had made 212 arrests.

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By the last day of the convention, when Nixon was to accept his nomination and bring on Maryland’s Spiro Agnew as his running mate,  the demonstrators knew this was their last chance to make a statement, If trashing downtown Miami Beach had not been enough, the VVAW group began soaking paper in gasoline, preparing to light vehicles on fire. They had even brought their own gas masks with them, perhaps having learned their lesson from the 1968 fiasco. Demonstrators surrounded cars, busses, delegates or anyone else they found objectionable and began to hurl abuse their way. This abuse consisted of foul language, rocks, pipes, saliva or pretty much anything they could find to cause a general disturbance. By this time, Beach cops had had enough and let the gas loose.

GASSING ANDREA MITCHELL

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As all hell broke loose on South Beach, pepper gas began to fill the air. The media was not immune from the gassing, as Andrea Mitchell, now of MSNBC, got the full effect at her first convention and was sprayed in the eyes. Hunter S. Thompson was not immune from the gas either, as he spent the better part of the last day blinded by the effects. Thompson notes in his book that the Miami Beach police saw him staggering around searching for some water to wash out his eyes, and seemed grateful they had not taken that opportunity to beat him to a pulp. “That was the difference between Chicago and Miami,” he said. “If the cops in Chicago had found me crawling around in somebody’s front yard, wearing a ‘press’ tag and blind from too much gas, they’d have broken half my ribs and hauled me away in handcuffs for ‘resisting arrest.’” I’m not sure what Beach cops Hunter here is talking about, but it is apparent to me that he never made the mistake of getting smart with a bouncer at Opium.

But by the next day the gas had settled, the unruly protestors were either making their new residence at the friendly confines of DCJ or on their way back to California. The Beach, for the time being, was back to normal.

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And so it has been ever since. Perhaps it was the humidity, or the constant daily rainfall, or maybe other cities just put up better bids, but neither party has come back to Dade County ever since. We were the last city to host both conventions in one year, and perhaps that was out city’s last political hurrah. Considering the volatility at the time, and the size of tiny Miami Beach’s police force, the potential for disaster was a lot larger than it eventually was. And in an unremarkable 1972 campaign, that culminated in Nixon beating McGovern my a margin only smaller than Ronald Reagan’s second victory, a few days in South Beach may have been the highlight for many who participated.

1972 Democratic Convention Video

Silent super 8 camera footage of the 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami Beach, FL. Security was tight even then.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News,

About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer

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15 Comments on

"The 1972 Democratic and Republican Conventions (Video)"

ClassicLiberal says:

I was there during the RNC. I was 17 and was involved in an incident in front of the Fontainebleau Hotel. I had to be walked to the hospital.

Looking back there is only one thing I regret in my life and that is being conned by the Anti-American Left during my youth.

That’s the only way the left can survive…. Think Prolonged Adolescence in regards to the current leaders of the Democrat Party.

Posted on 04/10/2008 at 4:56 AM

truth seeker says:

Classicliberal… Why do you have to always lie to make a point. You were not there. There are plenty of real things for you to regret, so why fantasize!

Posted on 06/27/2008 at 3:11 PM

ClassicLiberal says:

truth seeker…. Were you there? I was in the park smoking pot with the Pot People’s Party. They made a 25 foot joint out of papier-mâché and we busted it like a piñata. If you were there and still believe in Socialism and Communism I feel sorry for you and I am very regretful of my participation in that event.

Here in Los Angeles like so many big cities the Democrats have been in charge of managing the city affairs.

We have bad Education and increasing Gang violence. We have race problems between the Hispanics and the Blacks. We have unbelievable Traffic problems and are 20 years behind on Pot Hole repairs.
Our police departments are being neglected because the Liberal leftist and Hispanic nationalist hate our men in uniform. Our City Budgets are looted by the mayor and city council for pet projects and huge travel expenses. The liberals in this town love Illegal Immigrants because they add to the displacement of Whity and bring in more federal money to fight street crime that of course gets looted. We have Rundown and out of date Electricity and Water systems that can’t keep up with the increase of illegal immigrant population. Not to mention the fees collected are looted by leftist liberal ex gang member Mexican nationalists.

Our 2nd Amendment is being attacked by the Liberal left just like it was by Stalin and Hitler. The leftist liberals have no value for the life of a baby in the womb. The leftist liberals love to raise Taxes and redistribute wealth while skimming off the top for themselves. The leftist liberals don’t want Victory in Iraq, they want America humbled and millions slaughtered just like their success in Vietnam. The leftist liberals can’t get their laws passed so they depend on Activist Judges to dismantle the institution of Marriage, prayer in schools etc etc etc. The only Support for our Troops that come from the leftist liberals are emasculating them by not letting them finish their jobs. The leftist liberals want to crash capitalism so 35 years ago they successfully stopped Domestic Oil Production and nuclear energy.
The leftist liberals want to crash capitalism so 35 years ago they came up with the welfare state and the entitlement mindset that is going to bankrupt this country within the next 10 years.

All this damage—millions of people dead, millions in poverty—all because of the Leftist cause in which you encourage. You are not an American… I will see you on the battlefield where I will win.

Posted on 06/27/2008 at 9:33 PM

truth seeker says:

Actually, I was too young to be there. I am an American, and a Veteran of the GULF WAR. Where you there? Obviously you missed NAM as well, unlike my father who served in that war.

For you to say I am not an American is outrageous,  and offensive!!!!! Did they have to walk you to the hospital because you were too high?  You still seem stoned.

Posted on 06/29/2008 at 1:03 PM

whitley says:

I was there at the Fontainebleau hotel. We were sandwiched between the hotel and a canal, not too mention the state trooper and police. Pat Nixon was hosting a tea that evening. As the guests arrived I noticed Strom Thrumond approaching and tore his name tag off his jacket. This is when the whistles started blowing and all hell broke out. The police brutality was rampent. I do believe the lady was injured in that riot. I am still a liberal and proud of it, and will fight in the streets to end this war. Just as American as you!

Posted on 11/15/2008 at 5:21 PM

Middle of the Road says:

I was there.  I support good hard working police officers doing their job of protect and serve, and long as it’s the public they’re protecting and serving.  That wasn’t the case that day.  I SAW 3 policemen hold a lady down and pour the gas/liquid on her, because she was walking through the park that the protesters were in.  They beat many people.  They also gassed the parks and (unintentionally, I’m sure) the old folks homes nearby.  I SAW the ambulances taking away the older folks, some of whom died as a result of their involuntary exposure.  I was there.  You weren’t.  The protesters did a third of what you’re saying they did and the police aggravated them every inch of the way.  I could site facts, but most people look for data to support their gut reaction, so I’m not sure it would be worth it.  The police made a mistake.  Innocent people died.  Period.

Posted on 09/28/2009 at 10:29 PM

ClassicLiberal says:

My right arm was broken and my left are was cracked during the malay at the Fontainebleau Hotel. I can tell you many more things that happened that defiantly weren’t cool. I apologize with all my heart to all the police, secret service, the president and all the Republicans that I offended. To the fools that still believe that communism/socialism/fascism is the way to go I will see you on the battlefield. For I will die for freedom, I will never lower my head to any government or man.

Truth Seeker, thank you and your father for service to defend freedom. I am sorry you changed your mind.  Are you a truther? A Birther? A Global Warmest? Do you worship Obama? Or all of the above?

Middle of the Road, You did not see 3 police officers pour gas on a woman. It may have been water to wash off the tear gas. Also, no one died… I was at the hospital right after that incident and was very inquisitive regarding any other casualties. When I left the hospital that night I went right to the park to be debriefed…. no one was killed.

Whitley, So that was you… I was in charge of the line at the south-gate. I remember the Secret Service, Senators and other celebs asking me if they could get through. I would only allow the press to break the line.

I wonder what my FBI records look like? I don’t want to know.

Posted on 10/01/2009 at 4:59 AM

Middle of the Road says:

No one is ever killed.  There was just a few more old folks passing away that week.  No conspiracy.  One wasn’t needed.  You think in that day and place a doctor would, in writing, connect the dots?  Cause of death: Pulmonary edema due to.. asthma.  Bad air quality that day.

There was not ONE hospital nor did these people have to die within your nights briefing time frame.  Things happen, over time, and you don’t have to be aware of them for that to be so.

Oh by the way, I saw the can.  I saw the fluid.  I saw her screaming.  I saw her being held.  So did the people with me.  Tell me I didn’t again.  I’ll never forget it.

Posted on 10/02/2009 at 12:36 AM

joe says:

i was there too watching the cops and guard(loyalists to the u.s. corporation demoralize all of us in protest to that illegal vietnam. war read up on history and you will see why its time for a revolution and it has started on wall street new york. us the 99% are speaking out against you!)

Posted on 10/20/2011 at 1:07 AM

KW says:

Just looking through my past and noticed this post. I was there in 72 and only 17 at the time. I stayed in Flamingo Park which was off limits to law enforcement for the conventions but they guarded the parimeter of the park 24/7. I stayed in the big tree next to the handball courts, we were known as the tree people. I was also at the Fountain Bleau when President Nixon arrived and I remember the tear gas, that was when we headed back to the park. Thanks for the memories.

Posted on 07/16/2012 at 9:13 PM

Short Round says:

I don’t think any of you where there. I was 16 and Camped out side St. Petersburg Fla. with V.V.A.W. members for 6 weeks before the Convention ! I marched in the Coffin march from Fort Lauderdale to Miami ! Camped in the park. Protested everyday,and got masted now and then , Hell a National guardsman when up along my head with a billy club. I am 56 and would do it all again if only to feel part of a greater Good.

Posted on 08/22/2012 at 3:19 AM

pat mccarthy says:

I was 16 driving back from Key-West when I picked up a hitchhiker he told me about a big party going on at Flamingo Park. When we got there we met two people at the entrance asking for money so that they could buy some pot and turn everybody on. I looked at my friend and said these guys are gona ripe everybody off, about 1hr. later these guys had a bullhorn and a 25ft or larger pineada joint, they were shouting-everybody lets get high at the big tree,they marched to the tree and broke the pineada which was full of rolled joints and thru them to the crowd. I never saw anything like that. We stayed for 2days and left before the trouble started. I also remember marching to the convention cnt and everyone was shouting the Pope smokes dope. It was crazy but fun!

Posted on 01/20/2013 at 1:35 PM

Mj garrison says:

I was a delegate to that convention it was 24/7 the entire time, an honor however whether for the winning candidates or not just being that close to the process was an experience never forgotten!!!

Posted on 02/24/2014 at 10:47 PM

dan frushour says:

The reason we were jumping on cars was that it was the quickest escape route from the tear gas. The front of the Fountainebleau was a tight squeeze and there was little room to maneuver. I had missed the ‘68 events in Chicago being only 12, but had no intention of missing out on this one. I was 16 and hitch-hiked down from Michigan, sleeping in Flamingo Park at night. I recall it as a dopefest with endless droning speeches from the makeshift stage that had been erected.  After a couple days of rain/heat/rain, we headed home. Not mentioned here was the presence of SCLC ‘guards’ who marshaled people around the outside of the convention site. While I do not regret my participation, I was clearly on the wrong side; fortunately and eventually I grew up. Socialism is a proven failure. Capitalism is responsible for our way of life and for the opportunities available to everyone who desires to improve their lot in life. Politicians love to talk about shiny objects (abortion, racism, income equality, gun control, etc.) that distract folks from the larger contextual issues of capitalism vs. socialism/statism and the proper role of government. Lean right and God bless the bourgeoisie.

Posted on 08/03/2014 at 6:14 AM

DUCKY says:

I was there!__I was a 14 yr. old runaway who lived in the park all week. Spent most of the time at the Pot Tree! Was in the huge demonstration march yelling ATTICA MEANS. FIGHT BACK !  Had no clue what ATTICA was about at the time.I was walking around with a giant American flag we tore down from the playboy club.That was how my parents found me,the flag! C.B.S. EVE.NEWS cameras following me walking off with that flag. The cops showed no mercy. If you had long hair they beat her brains out and gassed you!

Posted on 01/03/2016 at 8:10 PM

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