Permission to “Take it to the Streets”

This is the first post in our new series on the Bill of RightsWe’re highlighting primary sources from our student workbook Putting the Bill of Rights to the Test, that helps students explore core concepts found within the Bill of Rights, and how they’ve impacted American history. This year marks the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. The National Archives is commemorating the occasion with exhibits, educational resources, and national conversations that examine the amendment process and struggles for rights in the United States. Today’s post comes from Kris Jarosik, former education specialist at the National Archives at Chicago.


The right of the people to peaceably assemble is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, in the first amendment to the Constitution. But what happens when a city requires a group to obtain a permit to do so?

A permit application from the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE) to march and assemble in the public way during the 1968 Democratic National Convention can be used to explore the American right to peaceably assemble with your students.

rennieparkapplication_a

The National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE) submitted this permit application, one of several, to the City of Chicago for approval to march on public streets during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. (Exhibit from criminal case 69CR180, United States v. Dellinger, et al., 7/25/1968. From the Records of District Courts of the United States. National Archives Identifier 6210764.)

Scenes of the violent clashes between anti-war protestors and the Chicago police officers are synonymous with the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Yet MOBE’s application for a permit highlights the protestors’ desire to abide by municipal regulations while exercising their first amendment rights. This document can not only help students gain additional understanding of Chicago in 1968, but also provide a means to explore the regulation of the right to peaceably assemble by local government.

Ask students to examine the application, carefully noting:

  • Who submitted the application?
  • When was it submitted?
  • How many participants were expected?
  • How many different departments needed to approve a permit application?

Then have your students head to a mapping site like Google Maps to see the proposed locations for staging, marching, and assembling in the application. Encourage students to view the route via StreetView as well. As a group, talk about what protestors in 1968 would see along the route. (Preview the route ahead of time to figure out which landmarks and buildings would have been built before 1968.)

Thousands of protestors gathered in Grant Park for the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE) rally on August 28, 1968

Thousands of protestors gathered in Grant Park for the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE) rally on August 28, 1968. National Archives Identifier: 6210766

You can also explore our 1968 Democratic National Convention tour on Historypin, that leads you from President Johnson’s announcement that he would not seek the Democratic nomination for President, to confrontation in the streets of Chicago, to Hubert H. Humphrey’s nomination. You’ll see not only changes in the landscape, but a progression of historic events culminating in violence involving the police and protestors.

Conclude with a discussion about municipalities and the granting of permits to assemble:

  • Why would the City of Chicago be opposed to granting a permit to MOBE for Wednesday, August 28, 1968?
  • If the City of Chicago denied MOBE a permit to assemble, what should MOBE Project Director Rennie Davis do?
  • Do you think obtaining a permit hinders one’s right to peaceably assemble?

Additional primary sources about this topic, including correspondence between MOBE and local officials in Chicago, can be found on DocsTeach.org.

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