From 'The Trial Of The Chicago 7,' Lessons On Speaking Out — No Matter What

Photo: IMDB
scene from "The Trial Of The Chicago 7"

The horror of Bobby Seale’s gagging by Judge Julius Hoffman in Aaron Sorkin’s timely and Oscar-nominated film, The Trial of the Chicago 7, is an image of what Black Lives Matter is fighting against.

It’s an image of how being silenced provokes rage. The history and trial speak for themselves.

As a psychoanalyst, I can talk about how personal historical forces in your mind sometimes create violent opposition to speaking out, thinking for yourself, and being who you are.

You — anyone, really — can feel like you're "on trial" for your thoughts if you go against what you've been taught that you "should" — or "should not" — think and believe.

So, how do you ensure that you can speak out?

Beware of spoilers below.

RELATED: How To Find Your Voice When You’re Scared To Speak For Yourself

You can learn a lot from the defendants in The Trial of the Chicago 7 about what it takes to stand up against forces that want to shut you down.

Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp); Dave Dellinger (John Carrol Lynch), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin’s (Jeremy Strong); and Jon Froines (Danny Flaherty), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) along with Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) of the Black Panthers might have disagreed on a number of things.

But, they were united in standing up against being silent about the wrongs of the Vietnam War.

And, in 1968, they all crossed state borders with ideas of "not machine guns," as anti-war protesters during the Chicago Democratic Convention. They did not back down.

Do you need the courage to stand up against voices in your mind that tell you: "Be quiet! Stay in your box!"?

The Trial of the Chicago 7 has a lot to say about breaking free.

Old (internal) forces will try to gag you.

Your personal history can make speaking out or thinking for yourself difficult. Many things conspire to silence you — a parent, difficult social experiences, and fears.

After Fred Hampton, Chicago head of the Black Panthers, is executed, Bobby Seale asks Tom Hayden an interesting question about himself and the other white activists: "You all had the same father, right? ‘Cut your hair, respect authority, respect America, respect me.’ Your life is a ‘f*ck you' to your father, right? A little?"

Tom replies, “Maybe."

Bobby goes on, "And you can see how that’s different from a rope on a tree?"

It’s harder to stand up to hateful forces. Yet, standing up to parents when you need their love and are afraid of losing them isn’t easy, either.

When you grow up with certain "rules" or societal attitudes, they become insistent voices in your minds.

Those voices can gag you, even though you’re angry and need to speak up.

The audience sees what happens when Bobby Seale screams in the courtroom after the Judge "strongly cautions" him to be silent.

"Fred Hampton was assassinated last night. It was premeditated murder."

Bobby’s beaten and chained by court Marshals, brought back into the courtroom with a large gag on his mouth: An example not to defy "authority."

We have judges in our heads, too, that gag us if we try to speak our minds.

Twisting truth stops you from speaking out.

Being gagged, threatened, scared, by the rules of those old internal "authorities" gives you two choices.

Shut up, don’t step out of line. Or, refuse to listen, like Bobby Seale. But there are many "methods" to intimidate you.

One is twisting the truth, using your own words against you, creating self-doubt.

The audience sees it when Tom Hayden is blamed for starting the Chicago riots, saying, "If there’s going to be blood, let them see blood all over the city."

But, he really meant, "Let them see our blood." He meant they’d face police violence not to stop speaking out.

Remember the letters sent to sympathetic jurors six and 11?

"We are watching you," signed The Panthers, a twist on, "The world is watching," the anti-war protestors’ own chant.

"Black Panthers don’t write letters any more than the mob does," William Kunstler (Mark Rylance), the Chicago 7’s defense attorney protests.

Manipulating truth is one way to try to stop you. You need people like Kunstler who see reality and back you up, so you don’t get scared and "club," judge, or berate yourself into silence.

RELATED: How To Be Honest — Even When It's Hard

Internal "guns" point at you — or clubs berate you.

It’s a rare person who grows up without "shoulds" or rules of life laid down before them. We all soak them in from parents, teachers, or friends we want to emulate.

"I should be like this or that …" is a running dialogue inside you. You want to be free to protest.

But, the fight in your mind can feel no different than landing in the kind of "police state" Walter Cronkite called Chicago in August 1968.

When you try to speak up, it’s as if you have walls of police standing in front of you with guns drawn, like the ones coming at the protestors — clubbing you, beating you back.

As Abbie says, "You know when shit happens? When you don’t give protesters a place to go."

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We all need "a place to go" and people to listen. If you don’t, it creates a war inside you.

If you have to "Be quiet, sit down!" as Judge Hoffman continually orders Kunstler and Seale, nothing can change.

Find some courage like Ramsey Clark.

Ramsey Clark (Michael Keaton) knows he’s the Chicago 7’s star witness. But it takes courage to speak out when there are threatening forces standing in front of you, like the Justice Department officials in his office: “It’s against the law to testify, Ramsey.”

Tom Hayden says: “You have to find some courage, now.” So, to the officials: “It’s General Clark — and arrest me or shut the f*ck up." He turns to Tom, "found some."

General Clark testifies to the truth: “An investigation came to the conclusion that the riots were started by the Chicago Police. There was no conspiracy by the defendants.” His testimony isn’t allowed on record by the Judge. Don’t let anyone silence you.

Don’t be quiet — your life depends on it.

It may feel like a revolution inside you, to speak out about what you believe. But remember what Abbie Hoffman said?

When asked his price to call off the revolution, he responded, "My life." Your voice is your life.

You have a right to your thoughts, beliefs, and ideas.

As Abbie also said, "We had certain ideas and for that, we were gassed, beaten, arrested, and put on trial."

Being on trial for your thoughts, as the Chicago 7 were or the color of your skin is enraging.

Use your rage well, like Tom Hayden at the end of The Trial of the Chicago 7. He defies the incompetent Judge Hoffman’s instructions to be "respectful, show remorse, and be brief."

Instead, Tom stands up and does it his way.

"Since this trial began, 4,752 troops have been killed in Vietnam and the following are their names."

The helpless Judge pounds his gavel.

Don’t listen to the Judge in your head who spouts old rules. Now’s the time to get some courage. Stand up for your truth. Take back your voice.

RELATED: 25 Inspirational Quotes To Live By That Remind You To Always Stand Up For The Truth

Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst. She specializes in treating childhood trauma, persistent depressive states, and all types of anxiety. For more information, visit her website.

This article was originally published at Sandra E. Cohen, Ph.D.'s blog, Characters On The Couch. Reprinted with permission from the author.