Democrats Fear Unrest At Convention As Protests Intensify Over Gaza

The clashes between police and anti-war protestors on college campuses are spreading worry among Democratic senators who are concerned that anger over President Biden's handling of the war in Gaza will engulf their party's presidential nominating convention in August. Senators are concerned that the war will eclipse discussions about the party's political agenda and harm Biden's reelection campaign, similar to the aftermath of the anti-Vietnam war protests at the 1968 Democratic Convention.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has stated that the city will be prepared for the protests, but Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) acknowledged his concern about managing the events.Protest organizers expect up to 30,000 people to demonstrate against Israel's military action in Gaza, nearly triple the number of protesters who gathered in Grant Park in August 1968. Some officials, however, are skeptical that such a large number of people will show up this year.

The 1968 convention was overshadowed by clashes between police and demonstrators, with hundreds of demonstrators and dozens of police officers injured, leaving Democratic lawmakers concerned about a repeat of history. Despite concerns, Chicago police department superintendent Larry Snelling assured that the police will be prepared to keep the city orderly, emphasizing training in constitutional policing with public safety as the top priority.

The protests have put Senate Democrats in a difficult position, as they are aware that many younger voters, crucial to the party's control of the White House and Senate, are disillusioned by Biden's handling of the war. The New York Times/Siena College poll of registered voters nationwide taken in April found that 45% of voters under 30 sympathize more with Palestinians than Israelis in the conflict, while only 15% side more with Israel.

The package Biden signed into law last week included $9.15 billion for humanitarian assistance to Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, and other vulnerable populations worldwide. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) stated that the president is working hard to ensure a humanitarian response from the Netanyahu government that reflects the concern expressed by the Biden administration and people across the country.

Experts believe that the divisions within the Democratic Party over the war could hurt Biden's reelection bid, just as the anti-war movement divided the party in the 1968 presidential campaign, when Vice President Hubert Humphrey lost to President Nixon in the general election.

Professor Ross K. Baker of Rutgers University warned that huge crowds of protesters in Chicago could pose a significant threat to the convention itself. He emphasized that Democrats should be concerned about the outbreak of violence at the convention.

The growing tension comes as protesters pressure Democratic lawmakers at political events, dinners, and town halls, as well as at their homes. Approximately 200 protesters were arrested for blocking traffic during a protest near Sen. Chuck Schumer's home in Brooklyn.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) predicted that there would be "robust protests" at the Chicago convention, while Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who attended the 1968 convention as a protester against the Vietnam War, expressed concern about protests overshadowing the official proceedings.

Despite the tension, Chicago Police Department Superintendent Larry Snelling assured that the police would be prepared to keep the city orderly, emphasizing training in constitutional policing with public safety as the top priority, which is the same approach that Mayor Richard J. Daley took in 1968.

While Democrats are concerned about the protests, some are also using them as a tool to pressure the Biden administration to change its policies. Experts warn that the divisions within the Democratic Party over the war could hurt Biden's reelection bid, just as the anti-war movement divided the party in the 1968 presidential campaign, when Vice President Hubert Humphrey lost to President Nixon in the general election.

The growing unrest comes as protesters pressure Democratic lawmakers at political events, dinners, town halls, and even at their homes. Approximately 200 protesters were arrested for blocking traffic during a protest near Sen. Chuck Schumer's home in Brooklyn.