1968 and 2024 aren't as similar as you think, some historians say There are clear similarities between 1968 and 2024, from presidential elections and anti-war protests to new Planet of the Apes movies. But historians tell NPR there are some key differences too.

Anti-war protests, a Chicago DNC: Is it 1968 all over again? Some historians say no

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Anti-war protests are sweeping the country in a presidential election year. Democrats are planning their convention for Chicago, which sort of sounds like 1968. But as NPR's Rachel Treisman reports, history is not exactly repeating itself.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #1: (Chanting) Israel bombs. Columbia pays. How many kids did you kill today?

RACHEL TREISMAN, BYLINE: As Keith Orejel watched the pro-Palestinian protests unfolding at Columbia and other college campuses, he had a realization.

KEITH OREJEL: I was like, oh, we're just - we just full on returned to the late 1960s, like we're in, like, a time warp.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #2: (Chanting) Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?

TREISMAN: The Wilmington College history professor says, it's not just the demonstrations that gave him deja vu. There's also the presidential election underway and the Democratic National Convention coming up in Chicago.

OREJEL: Somehow, there is someone named Robert F. Kennedy running for president again. There's talk about going back to the moon. There's a new "Planet Of The Apes" movie. That movie came out in 1968.

TREISMAN: He's not alone in wondering, is it 1968 all over again?

MARSHA BARRETT: When you have anti-war protests and, you know, this growing discontent - right? - in the Democratic Party, it makes sense to automatically make comparisons to 1968.

TREISMAN: That's Marsha Barrett, a history professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She warns that the comparisons can only go so far.

BARRETT: There's too many factors that have changed between now and 1968 that we could really look to 1968 to help us understand what's going to happen next.

TREISMAN: Take the wars involved. By 1968, U.S. troops had been on the ground in Vietnam for three years with hundreds of thousands more on the way. While the U.S. is giving military aid to Israel for its war against Hamas, it's not sending troops into Gaza. Here's Orejel again.

OREJEL: What the U.S. was experiencing in '68 over Vietnam seems to be on a much different scale than its level of involvement in, you know, what is currently going on.

TREISMAN: 1968 was a uniquely turbulent year in U.S. politics and society. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated months apart. The New Deal Coalition that had powered Democrats for decades was crumbling. And activists felt the party wasn't listening to them or being transparent about its nominating process. Those tensions reached a boiling point in Chicago in August, as Orejel explains.

OREJEL: The Democratic National Convention just completely erupted into this chaos of conflict between police officers and protesters. And then it, like, makes its way up to the convention hall.

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DONALD PETERSON: Mr. Chairman, most delegates to this convention do not know that thousands of young people are being beaten in the streets of Chicago.

(BOOING)

TREISMAN: The convention ended with hundreds of protesters arrested and Vice President Hubert Humphrey as the nominee of a deeply divided party. He later lost the general election to Richard Nixon. All that turmoil led to a series of reforms within the Democratic Party ahead of 1972. Barrett says it's much more diverse these days, and its conventions are a lot more predictable.

BARRETT: I think considering - right? - how the party functions today, who is involved, it's unlikely to see that chaos on the convention floor.

TREISMAN: Of course, what protests will look like and how authorities will respond remains an open question. Historians like Barrett and Orejel will be watching.

OREJEL: We'll just see what more bizarre similarities history can unravel for us in the next six months or so.

TREISMAN: And with the summer's conventions fast approaching, there will be plenty to look for Rachel Treisman, NPR News.

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