Looking Back On The Chicago Conspiracy Trial

Allen Ginsberg – Drawing by David Levine from The New York Review of Books, Feb 12 1970

The death last week of Leonard Weinglass, “perhaps the nation’s pre-eminent progressive defense lawyer”, calls up memories of 1968 and the subsequent Chicago Conspiracy trial (or Chicago Seven – or Chicago Eight – trial) . Weinglass alongside William Kunstler were the two heroic defense attorneys; Allen was a memorable, spirited, witness for the defense. Jason Epstein’s definitive article, in the February 12 1970 edition of The New York Review of Books, about Allen’s participation  The Chicago Conspiracy Trial: Allen Ginsberg On The Stand is pretty much essential reading. The article includes a full transcript of Weinglass’s direct examination

LW: Will you please state your full name?
AG: Allen Ginsberg
LW: What is your occupation?
AG: Poet.
LW: Have you ever studied abroad?
AG: Yes..In India and Japan.
LW: Could you indicate for the Court and jury..what your studies consisted of?
AG: Mantra yoga. Meditation exercises, chanting, and sitting quietly stilling the mind and breathing exercises to calm the body and to calm the mind, but mainly a branch called Mantra Yoga, which is a yoga which involves prayer and chanting…

“Weinglass’s aim”, as Epstein points out, “was to qualify Ginsberg as a witness who not only spoke out of deep religious convictions but whose spiritual specialty was the pacification of turbulent souls (his actions at the Democratic Convention in 1968)

Brett Morgan’s 2007 film, Chicago 10 (which, like the recent Howl film, mixes animation with archival footage) is an interesting examination of the legendary trial.

We also draw your attention to Frank Condon and Ron Sossi’s dramatic distillation of transcripts of the trial (available as Voices of the Chicago Eight: A Generation on Trial, from City Lights).

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