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Wednesday, January 28, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Overcast
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Year of living dangerously

1968 was a hell of a year. The flower-power ethos of '67 had become frayed at the edges, and the forces of conservatism were in full backlash. In Eastern Europe, Soviet tanks rolled into Prague to put down an exuberant popular uprising known as the Prague Spring. In Western Europe, especially France, Italy and Germany, student groups with definite leftist tendencies gave the authorities fits with "street actions" and liberal use of the word "red," as in Danny the Red and the Red Brigade.

In this country, the tension over the growing war in Vietnam was wrenching the social fabric. A little-known U.S. senator from Minnesota challenged orthodoxy and declared an antiwar candidacy for president against the sitting incumbent of his own party. Democrat Eugene McCarthy inspired antiwar youth to "get clean for Gene." Martin Luther King became a critic of the war. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had been elected by historic margins in 1964, stunned the nation with a speech in March 1968 stating he "would not seek" nor would he accept his party's nomination for another term. And then proceeded to escalate the war in a further effort to win it.

August. Chicago. 1968. The Windy City convention of the Democratic Party was a series of street battles between Mayor Richard Daley's police department and antiwar demonstrators in the thousands who wanted to march on the convention arena. This was back when party conventions actually did something. There was plenty of contention within the arena also, all of it televised. Truly, the whole world was watching.

By the end of the year, King and Kennedy were dead by assassins' bullets, Richard Nixon had been elected to the presidency, and the Age of Aquarius was over practically before it had begun.

Plenty of that foment visited Madison in 1968, but the bucolic city of four lakes had its own dynamic going that momentous year. To tell us about it we have engaged contributor Stu Levitan, local author and historian. Levitan began writing for The Capital Times in 1975 from Washington, D.C., and moved to Madison for good in 1979. To take us back to Madison's 1968, he read the entire year's worth of the Cap Times and the Wisconsin State Journal. He acknowledges a debt to the Madison Public Library for its efficient research system. Aside from his day job as a mediator/arbitrator for the state Employment Relations Commission ("Spreading labor peace and imposing industrial justice"), he is launching into his next book project - Madison: The Illustrated Sixties.

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