By Kevin Burke, LSW
Writer and director Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing TV series, examines a tumultuous period in our nation’s history in his movie, “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”
The film, now streaming on Netflix, takes us back to the summer of 1968 and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Young anti-Vietnam war activists converged on Chicago to put pressure on the Democratic Party to end what they viewed as an unjust, and increasingly unpopular war, far from America’s shores.
Keep in mind, in 1968 there was still an active military draft. With the luck of the draw, young men could be sent thousands of miles away to fight on the other side of the globe. Many of the anti-war movement’s leaders such as Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), as well as the young protestors, had skin, and blood in the game.
Director Sorkin presents Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Chicago as a big city police state, with shock troops that were itching for a fight, and quick to unleash the tear gas and bully sticks.
Riots and bloodshed swept through the streets of the windy city in the summer of ’68. Some blamed the protestors for the violence. But Sorkin makes the case that Daley backed the protestors into a corner – and then proceeded to crush them.
Nixon defeated Humphrey in the 1968 election. Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell (John Doman), assigned prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to convict Hayden and six others, including Black Panther leader Bobby Seale on federal charges of conspiracy to incite the Chicago riots.
The judge for the case, Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) is portrayed as suffering from early dementia, and ridiculously biased on behalf of the federal government’s case. Attorney William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) defends the Chicago 7.
Director Sorkin, while clearly sympathetic to the goals of the antiwar movement and its leadership, for the most part avoids getting bogged down in partisan sentimentality.
There’s some interesting interplay between Hayden, Hoffman, and Black Panther leader Seale revealing that like today, there is often significant disagreement on strategy and end-game among activists, reflecting differences in class, race, and cultural perspectives.
The acting and production are very good, especially the editing of courtroom scenes, drama on the streets, and stand up commentary by Abbie Hoffman. Sorkin even works in some welcome humor and levity into this otherwise tense dramatic account. As you would expect, Sorkin takes liberty with historical accuracy at times to cast a vision of the villains and heroes in the story, and to entertain the audience.
[Slight spoiler alert.] A climactic moment in the trial and movie occurs as the jury is about to sentence the Chicago 7. Hayden is chosen among the defendants to share a closing statement to the court. The judge affirms Hayden’s more respectable demeanor and behavior in the court proceedings, and lets the young man know he would be inclined to consider a lesser sentence for Hayden – if he avoids political grandstanding in his closing remarks.
Hayden defies this temptation to compromise his witness, and proceeds to begin reading the names of the soldiers killed in Vietnam. It’s a powerful moment in the film.
“The Trial of the San Francisco 5”
As Hayden read the names of those young soldiers who died in Vietnam, the viewer experiences the righteousness of the protestors cause. More importantly, the litany of names breaks through the numbing effect of statistics, in a way that personalizes the sacrifice made by each of those young soldiers. You have to respect the willingness of the Chicago 7 to face incarceration for protesting what they viewed as an immoral and unjust war.
But this dramatic scene also brought to mind a trial that is happening today; another courtroom where human rights activists are facing prosecution due to the unjust abuse of government power.
Undercover journalist David Daleiden secretly recorded conversations with Planned Parenthood physicians and infiltrated abortion industry conferences. His videos revealed Planned Parenthood physicians and representatives discussing, sometimes over lunch, how to dismember a living baby in the womb in later term abortion procedures – in such a way as to preserve their organs and body parts for profitable medical sale.
These videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress put the nation’s largest abortion provider on the defensive, sparking a nationwide call to stop the flow of federal dollars to Planned Parenthood and to initiate congressional investigations.
But in November 2019, Planned Parenthood, with the support and assistance of Kamala Harris, won a major victory against journalist David Daleiden.
“On Nov. 15, a San Francisco jury in a federal civil trial found Daleiden and his four co-defendants liable of trespass and illegal recording of conversations with Planned Parenthood staff, among other violations of state and federal statutes, and ordered them to pay $2.2 million in damages to Planned Parenthood.” 
Imagine a movie, like The Chicago 7, about the Daleiden trial and the courageous work of the Center for Medical Progress to shine light on this dark and diabolical business of Planned Parenthood. At the close of the Daleiden trial, as the jury is about to convict the undercover journalist and his four co-defendants, David Daleiden, like Tom Hayden, is provided an opportunity to read a closing statement to the jury before sentencing.
Daleidan rises, and begins to read a litany of names he and other prolife activists assigned to the aborted children; tiny boys and girls that were dismembered alive in their mother’s womb, and sold off to some sterile, cold lab facility.
Because of the blind adherence to pro-abortion ideology by today’s liberal left, Hollywood will never create such a compelling and entertaining movie about The Trial of the Daleidan 5.
The moral descendants of the Chicago 7 can also be found among prolife activists like Joan Andrews Bell, and Mary Wagner. Women who spent time in prison for defending the right to life of children in the womb – and out of loving concern for the millions of our fellow citizens spiritually and emotionally wounded by participating in their death.
Consider how long it would take in a courtroom to read the names of over 60 million boys and girls that have lost their lives since abortion was legalized in 1973.
Like the streets of Chicago in 1968, we are a nation covered in the blood of the innocent.