The Trial of the Chicago 7 ascertains that democracy is a wonderful thing unless inhabited by terrible people. So who decides that the government was actually for, by and of the people. Well, it’s that one dissent that brings about a change for the generations to come. It calls out the people who wanted to transfigure the wooden seat into something as luxurious as a throne and were ready to go to any extent to devour the aims and ambitions of a democratic regime. It might not be evident to the individuals present at that time, but history always casts a generous gaze on such people who had the foresight and were mad enough to tread on a road not often taken.
What happens to a democracy when the judiciary becomes a puppet in the hands of the power yielders? When the agenda of the legislature is to conquer rather than to liberate, in which pothole does the democracy hide. Who shall come to your rescue when the apostle of democracy fails you. Or are you naive enough to think that the three branches in a democracy function independently of each other? Well if you think so I must tell you that it is an ideal world that we are referring to. It’s a world governed by the powerful where justice is bought and mouthpieces are created to put the authoritative approach into good light. Our source of knowledge is tampered and the freedom of speech restrained. How do you curb your irritation and still keep up with the ideals you set up for yourself. How do you keep fighting even when everything pushes you on the brim of insanity. There are a few who, in situations like these find out certain things about themselves. They find out that their bodies might be reduced to mere dust in the years to come but their thoughts possess the power of immorality.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. He is a master who weaves his thoughts into a narrative that has an astute intelligence of it’s own. It’s self-explanatory. He makes the lives of the performers easy to a very large extent. The power of Sorkin’s narrative is that the characters who are there even for a moment or two leave a lasting impact. Nothing is there without a reason. Everything contributes to the intricate web created by sub conflicts of the narrative.
“There are civil trials, and there are criminal trials. There is no such thing as a Political Trial.”
The film talks about the infamous trials of the 7 individuals involved in the protest against the Vietnam War during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in the year 1968.
Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) and Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), the leaders of the Students Democratic Society join hands with Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) and Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), the leaders of the Youth International Party. They are accompanied by the likes of David Dellinger (John Caroll Lynch) who is the leader of a mobilization which aims at ending the war in Vietnam. Bobby Seal (Yahya Abdul Mateen), who is the Chairman of the Black Panther party is also deemed to be the part of the “conspiracy” but he denies that he was part of anything. He feels that his inclusion is merely to trigger the anti-black sentiments in the reactionary groups.
The group was charged with conspiracy for inciting riots on the streets of Chicago. They possessed an anti Vietnam war stand. It was against what the government was doing at that time. The altruistic approach of these influential leaders was bringing about a cultural revolution. The government got scared, as most of the times it does, and tried to suppress their revolution by calling it a tepid yet dangerous attempt. It wanted to lead by setting an example and so it brought forth a theory by which several baseless allegations were made against the leaders.
The whole machinery, including the judiciary, augmented it’s efforts to fabricate instances in a way that brings out the violent motive of the conspirators.
But their spirits didn’t whither. They faced the storm while keeping their heads held high. Their voices personified into that one dissent that is needed to cause a tremor in the existing system.
“When the people shall grow weary of their constitutional right to amend their government, they shall exert their revolutionary right to dismember and overthrow the government.” – Abraham Lincoln
It sure is a powerful statement but over a period of time people forget to exercise this power vested in them. They learn the ruthless and unforgiving art of overlooking the issues, if it doesn’t effect them directly. The various institutions aid the ill intention of the law making bodies in ways that has the power and ability to break the human spirit.
The Chicago case was not the first or the last time that departure from the rule of law was seen. History keeps repeating itself whenever an unrestrained power is given to a leader in democratic country. It can swiftly take the form of a dictatorship or an unbridled monarchy.
When the case reaches the court room of Justice Hoffman (Frank Langella), every measure is taken to suppress the voice of the seven. Important facts are not taken into consideration, jurors who seem to favour the defendants are removed by fraudulent means, right to equality is moulded as per convenience and freedom of speech is mocked at.
Everybody knows at the start of The Trial of the Chicago 7 that this is a state sponsored attempt to sabotage the voice of dissent. But our allegiance has always been governed by materialistic gains and by that position of power and social importance. When everybody is acting as per their own vested interests then who would guard the collective conscience of the entire country. Well, there always have been those have good men who are ready to climb the scaffold to just let the world know that all hope is not lost.
“Nothing is more dangerous than a crowd of people moving.”
The Lenins and the Gandhis
The leaders who orchestrated the protest were not allowed to speak or express their thoughts in the trial. Gross violation of the due procedures was seen evidently enough. It was obvious that the police started the violence and the former Attorney General Ramsey Clerk (Michael Keaton) confirms it. When the protector of justice himself is adamant to adhere to the whims and fancies of the head of the Federal Republic, then you are not left with many options.
As Abbie Hoffman rightly says
“I have never been on trial for my thoughts before.”
A democracy looses it’s essence when constructive criticism and the right to protest is seen as a peril to the position of the authoritarian chief. What is left is a flimsy skeleton that might resemble democracy but encapsulates no features that make it habitable.
A Dark Room
What does one do when they enter a dark room? They switch on the electricity. Well in this case it’s a big room. One light bulb won’t suffice.
People have to bear the torch if light has to be found again. You can’t operate from the outside. You have to be in the system, look at the atrocities with naked eyes and then bring about a change from within. The ultimate power has been vested in the hands of individuals i.e the power to vote, to bring about a change.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is an important film with some remarkable performances. A film like this never looses it’s relevance. Somewhere, someplace, it is bound to inspire a free thinker, in ways and means that the autocratic regime never imagined.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is streaming on Netflix.
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