No such thing as political trial
There are civil trials, and there are criminal trials. There’s no such thing as a political trial said William Kunsltler, one of the lawyers of Chicago Seven. Oh, how wrong he was! 2020 is a bizarre year and with everything that’s going on, The trial of Chicago 7 means a lot of things and could be treated as a universal metaphor. And it feels more “real” than ever.
Do you know why you’re on trial here?
I had a very vague idea about this trial before I watched the film and maybe it’s good – my mind was pure of prejudice. At first glance, it is an easy and obvious choice, who to support. Bunch of citizens, who executed their most basic, human right – to speak up. But as the story unfolds, we learn that nobody’s perfect and each side will use different means to achieve their end. So, why were they put on trial after all? We carried certain ideas across state lines. Not machine guns or drugs or little girls. Ideas. When we crossed from New York to New Jersey to Pennsylvania to Ohio to Illinois, we had certain ideas. And for that, we were gassed, beaten, arrested, and put on trial – that is Abbie’s answer from the movie. Now, how did it look like 52 years ago?
The in(famous) group were seven defendants: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner. Charged by the US government with conspiracy, inciting riots in the anti-Vietnam War movement and counter-cultural protests that took place in Chicago. All during 1968 the Democratic National Convention. Bobby Seale, the eighth man charged initially, had his trial severed during the proceedings, dropping the number of defendants from eight to seven (so yes, I was confused in the beginning).
I’ve been keeping a list every day. Americans who’ve been killed since the day we were arrested.
War is pointless and terrible and the Vietnam war (1 November 1955 – 30 April 1975) was no different. It resulted in North Vietnamese and Viet Cong/PRG victory, withdrawal of U.S. coalition’s forces from the territory of Vietnam. Communist forces took power in South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. It started the boat people and refugee crises as well as the Cambodian genocide and the Third Indochina War.
In 1917 film review I’ve said enough about my feelings of war. There is no point in telling them again – war is not right. No matter where or who is involved.
But this trial was different and it felt like Franz Kafka’s The Trial to me. If you lot have not read it – do yourself a favor and give it a read, yeah? Anyway: from the very start, The Chicago 7 trial was political to the bone. Starting with biased prosecutor’s office, through “falsely” intimidated jury, all the way to the judge who was so obnoxious and infuriating! Nobody believed that this group of people had anything to do with the violent clash with Chicago Police. And in a way, this was true.
This is the Academy Awards of protests and as far as I’m concerned it’s an honor just to be nominated.
The trial began on September 24, 1969. The defense attorneys were William Kunstler, Leonard Weinglass of the Center for Constitutional Rights (originally, there were also other people involved, but in the movie, we got to know these two). And the Judge was Julius Hoffman, and the prosecutors were Richard Schultz and Tom Foran. Right in the beginning, when the names of the defendants were mentioned, Hoffman made a comment about defendant Abbie Hoffman, stating that he is not his son. Obviously, Abby (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) had a great use of that coincidence, exercising carefree banter.
What was the verdict? On February 18, 1970, each of the 7 defendants was acquitted of conspiracy. Two (Froines and Weiner) were acquitted completely, while the remaining five were convicted of crossing state lines with the intent to incite a riot. On February 20, they were sentenced to five years in prison and fined $5,000 each.
That’s right, we’re not goin' to jail because of what we did, we’re goin' to jail because of who we are!
About the movie – in my opinion, it’s peak of Sorkin’s craftsmanship. Legal drama with amazing script and genius cast, handpicked for roles that were tailored for them. What’s very distinctive about The Trial… is the fact that Sorkin doesn’t clearly point out who the real villain is. And it might be both strength and weakness – because there are a whole bunch of likable heroes. The film establishes the trial as a merciless act – no doubt about that. What’s actually concerning is the way Richard Schulz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), federal prosecutor is presented: as an honorable man who attempts to discharge his duties somewhat ethically. Which is a GIGANTIC contrast to frustration-inducing judge Hoffman (Frank Langella).
Another thing that raised a flag for me (after doing my research of course – don’t get me wrong, once I saw that on screen and once I compared it to the historical events, I could not shake the anger) was the “softening” of Bobby Seale case. Seale requested that the trial be postponed so that his attorney Charles Garry could represent him. The Judge denied the postponement, and refused to allow Seale to represent himself.
For his words: “This racist administration government with its Superman notions and comic book politics. We’re hip to the fact that Superman saved no black people. You got that?… You have did everything you could with those jive lying witnesses up there presented by these pig agents of the government to lie and say and condone some rotten racists, fascist crap by racist cops and pigs that beat people’s heads in-and I demand my constitutional rights!” he was beaten repeatedly, just to be brought back to the courtroom gagged. That we only saw once, in the climax of the film.
I think the institutions of our democracy are wonderful things, that right now are populated by some terrible people.
How far is any government willing to go, to stifle down citizens, that dare to criticize? How far, to shut the fire in their hearts. Just few days ago, Poland’s constitutional tribunal has ruled that abortion due to fetal defects is unconstitutional. Rejected the most common of the few legal grounds for pregnancy termination. Angry protests started in all big cities across the country. And let me tell you this: there is nothing more persistent, then a bunch of furious women. For all those who ruled in favor of this: go fuck yourself.
But where I am going with this: if The Trial… taught us something is that no matter how powerful the repression forces are, collective actions bring results. Demonstrations and protests continued despite police abuses and selective prosecutions depicted in Sorkin’s film, were instrumental in ending the Vietnam War. Secondly, democracy, in all her glory, will and cannot tolerate repressive regiment. Thirdly, elections matter. Sorkin showed us the way it looked in America in the 1960s but like I mentioned – it’s universal law. This is why it’s so important to vote and to vote smart.
We’ve dealt with jury tampering, wiretapping, a defendant that was literally gagged, and a judge who’s been handing down rulings from the bench that would be considered wrong in Honduras, so I’m a little less interested in the law than I was when this trial began.
Except for the superb script and very “Sorkin way” of showing the story, cast is absolutely amazing. Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hoffman – the only one who showed (well, until the end) no contempt to court. Tried his best to “make it go away”, turned out to be the source of people vs. police clash. Sacha Baron Cohen, brilliantly once again! Mark Rylance who played William Kunstler carried his performance in an extraordinary manner. But the biggest round of applause goes to Frank Langella, for Judge Hoffman. There was no second in this film that I didn’t want to slap this man in the face.
Overall – stellar performance in a story about social and personal injustices, political means to an end. All shown in a frustratingly infuriating manner. Peaceful demonstration and vocal protests turned into most violent riots and fights with Chicago Police. All that opened the door to the courtroom of shame, racism and indifference – a judicial precedent, a political trial.
Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.
Few days ago, I finished reading “A clockwork orange”. Book is part of my „BANNED BOOKS” cycle and last night I could not stop thinking about this quote. And this wild, scary thought came to my mind: what if all the villains are right? What if, justice should be handed back to the people. Like the Scarecrow court in The Dark Knight Rises? On the other hand, that would be madness…I don’t know, Lot. I feel empty and walking the streets with all those women on Friday night made me feel numb. If I can’t decide about my own body anymore… What is the point of living?
WATCH THE TRIAL OF CHICAGO 7 ON NETFLIX. And if you are curious enough, read the full story here.