Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Community Anarchists

Judging by yesterday’s photo from the riots in Greece, Glenn Beck gave his news source website the correct name: “The Blaze.” Although it’s certainly not what he meant when he first introduced the site, that is certainly what is happening in the world today and no better photo illustrates these events.

These rioters, these communists, these socialists, along with the Islamic terrorists. These are the people who are going to bring peace and justice to the world, are they? The union hooligans using their students as human shields in Madison? The mobs in Tahrir Square, sexually assaulting CBS Reporter Lara Logan? The throngs in the streets of Tripoli setting fire to cars and buildings? This is the hope of the world, is it? This is the way they intend to “change” things, to transform the world,” by reducing it to ashes?

They’ve said so, time and again, in books like “The Coming Insurrection.” They’ve been planning this agony for many years. Glenn titled a segment called “Party Like It’s 1968,” which I didn’t have the opportunity to see. However, I saw the black and white photo on The Blaze.

The only thing missing was the pot smoke. A friend of mine was inveigled to attend one of these “parties” in Greenwich Village in the late Sixties. He said the pot smoke was so thick that you practically choked on it. Some anarchist leader was ranting – he doesn’t remember who and probably couldn’t see him – but it was some Abbie Hoffman-type leader. When you talk about Bill Ayers, don’t forget Hoffman.

Abbot Howard “Abbie” Hoffman died in April 1989, so he hasn’t been at the forefront of the movement. But he’s certainly at the back of their minds. He’s portrayed in the movie, Forrest Gump, in the anti-war protest on The Mall in Washington, D.C., the one at the microphone who uses the “F-Word” – a lot. He was an American social and political activist who co-founded the Youth International Party (The “Yippies”). Hoffman was arrested and tried for conspiracy and inciting to riot as a result of his role in protests that led to violent confrontations with police during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, along with Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner and Bobby Seale.

The group was known collectively as the “Chicago Eight.” Seale's prosecution was separated from the others, so they became known as the “Chicago Seven.” Indicted on charges of intent to incite a riot, the verdicts were overturned on appeal. Hoffman came to prominence in the 1960s, and continued practicing his activism in the 1970s, and has remained a symbol of the youth rebellion and radical activism of that era.

Hoffman was born in Worcester, Mass. to John Hoffman and Florence Schamberg, who were of Jewish descent. Hoffman was raised in a middle class household, and was the oldest of three children. In, 1954, the 17-year-old Hoffman was arrested for the first time, for driving without a license. In his sophomore year, Hoffman was expelled from Classical High School, a now-closed public high school in Worcester, after a disagreement with an English teacher. He attended Worcester Academy, graduating in 1955. He then enrolled in Brandeis University, completing his B.A. in psychology in 1959. At Brandeis, he studied under noted psychologist Abraham Maslow, often considered the father of humanistic psychology. Hoffman later enrolled at University of California, Berkeley to earn a Master's Degree in psychology, but dropped out to marry his girlfriend, Sheila Karklin, who was pregnant.

Prior to his days as a leading member of the Yippie movement, Hoffman was involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and organized “Liberty House,” which sold items to support the Civil Rights Movement. During the Vietnam War, Hoffman was an anti-war activist, who used theatrical tactics to deliver his message.

In October 1967, David Dellinger of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam asked Jerry Rubin to help mobilize and direct a March on the Pentagon. The protesters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial as Dellinger and Dr. Benjamin Spock gave speeches to the mass of people. From there, the group marched towards the Pentagon. As the protesters neared the Pentagon, they were met by soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division, who formed a human barricade blocking the Pentagon steps.

Not to be dissuaded, Hoffman vowed to levitate the Pentagon claiming he would attempt to use psychic energy to levitate the Pentagon until it would turn orange and begin to vibrate, at which time the war in Vietnam would end. Beat poet Allen Ginsberg led Tibetan chants to assist Hoffman.

Hoffman's symbolic theatrics were successful at convincing many young people to become more active in the politics of the time. Another one of Hoffman's well-known protests was on Aug. 24, 1967, when he led members of the movement to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) gallery. The protesters threw fistfuls of dollars down to the traders below, some of whom booed, while scrambled frantically to grab the money.

Accounts of the amount of money that Hoffman and the group tossed was said to be as little as $30 to $300. Hoffman claimed to be pointing out that, metaphorically, that's what NYSE traders “were already doing.” “We didn't call the press,” wrote Hoffman, “at that time, we really had no notion of anything called a media event.” All the same, the press was quick to respond and by evening the event was reported around the world. Since that incident, the stock exchange has spent $20,000 to enclose the gallery with bulletproof glass.

In late 1966, Hoffman met with a radical community-action group called The Diggers, a radical community-action group of community activists and improv actors operating from 1966–68, based in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. Founded by Emmett Grogan, actor Peter Coyote, Peter Berg (later director of Planet Drum), and other members of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a guerilla theater group which included Billy Murcott, Roberto La Morticella, and Butcher Brooks, their politics were described as somewhere between “left-wing” and “community anarchists,” who blended a desire for freedom with a consciousness of the community in which they lived.

The Diggers took their name from the original English Diggers (1649–50) who promulgated a vision of society free from private property and all forms of buying and selling. During the mid- and late 1960s, the San Francisco Diggers opened stores which simply gave away their stock. They provided free food, medical care, transport and temporary housing, and organized free music concerts and works of political art. Some of their “happenings” (that’s what they called their publicity stunts in the Sixties, which found its way into the common lingo) included the Death of Money Parade, Intersection Game, Invisible Circus, and Death of Hippie/Birth of Free.

Among their more “charitable” activities, The Diggers provided a free food service in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park in Haight-Ashbury every day at 4 p.m., generally feeding over 200 people who had no other source of food. They served a stew made from donated and stolen meat and vegetables behind a giant yellow picture frame, called the Free Frame of Reference. They threw free parties with music provided by the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and other bands.

They also staged street theater events, such as driving a truck of semi-naked belly dancers through the Financial District, inviting brokers to climb on board and forget their work. In October 1967, they staged The Death of Hippie, a parade in the Haight-Ashbury, where masked participants carried a coffin with the words “Hippie--Son of Media” on the side. The event was staged in such a way so that any media that simply described it would be transmitting the Digger message that Hippies were a media invention. This was called “creating the condition you describe” and was used skillfully by the Diggers to control the media. Their own publications, notably the Digger Papers, are the origin of such phrases as “Do your own thing” and “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” The Diggers fostered and inspired later groups like the Yippies.

At Hoffman’s 1970 sentencing after the Chicago Seven Trial, he suggested the judge try LSD and offered to set him up with “a dealer he knew in Florida” (the judge was known to be headed to Florida for a post-trial vacation). Each of the five was sentenced to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. However, all convictions were subsequently overturned by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The Kerner Commission declared that the incident had been a “police riot.”

During Woodstock, Hoffman interrupted a performance of The Who to protest the imprisonment of poet John Sinclair. Furious at him for violating the “sanctity of the stage,” guitarist Pete Townsend whacked Hoffman over the head with his guitar and defied anyone else to come onto the stage and interrupt their concert. Hoffman later apologized for the incident, declaring that he’d been on a bad LSD trip and didn’t realize what he was doing. Townshend accepted his apology.

In 1971, Hoffman published Steal This Book, which advised readers on how to live basically for free. Many of his readers followed Hoffman's advice and stole the book, leading many bookstores to refuse to carry it. He was also the author of several other books, including Vote!, co-written with Rubin and Ed Sanders. Hoffman was arrested Aug. 28, 1973 on drug charges for intent to sell and distribute cocaine. He always maintained that undercover police agents entrapped him into a drug deal and planted suitcases of cocaine in his office. Hoffman was the original “conspiracy theorist.” In the spring of 1974, Hoffman skipped bail, underwent cosmetic surgery to alter his appearance, and hid from authorities for several years.

Hoffman committed suicide on April 12, 1989, by swallowing 150 Phenobarbital tablets. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1980. He had recently changed treatment medications and claimed to have been upset about his elderly mother's cancer diagnosis. Hoffman's body was found in his apartment in a converted turkey coop on Sugan Road in Solebury Township, near New Hope, Pa. At the time of his death, he was surrounded by about 200 pages of his own handwritten notes, many about his own moods.

Hoffman was one of the many anarchists of those times to scream “Pig!” at police officers trying to restore order and arrest those who threatened order and peace. He’s gone now. But his influence on the communist/progressive movement and on the youth of America should never be forgotten. Or forgiven.


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