Abbie Hoffman was an activist who co-founded the Youth International Party (better known as the Yippies) and helped organize Washington, D.C.’s first major antiwar demonstration, where Ed Sanders and others attempted to levitate the Pentagon.
During an August 24, 1967 action that targeted the New York Stock Exchange, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin dropped a few hundred-dollar bills from the viewing area above. The goal was to create a mass-media spectacle in order to highlight the connection between the military-industrial complex and corporate war-related profits. Fellow activist Jim Fouratt hatched the idea, and Hoffman executed it with Jerry Rubin. “At first, they didn’t want to let them in because they were a bunch of hippies,” Paul Krassner recalled. “Then Hoffman said, ‘We’re a group of Jews and you don’t want to be accused in the media of being anti-Semitic, do you?’ So they got in, and the trading ticker-tape stopped.” Then, on New Year’s Eve 1967, Hoffman, Rubin, Fouratt, Ed Sanders, Paul Krassner, and other activists cofounded a political “organization” called the Youth International Party, aka the Yippies, while they were planning a protest of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Krassner coined the group’s name. “Y was for Youth,” he explained, “because there was a generation gap, and the I was International, because this kind of revolutionary consciousness was around the world, and P was for Party, in both senses of the term. Yippie! The moment I said it, I felt it would work. It was a form of marketing an attitude.” These prankish tactics provided free publicity for the demonstrations, but, unfortunately, the riots that ensued in Chicago resulted in conspiracy charges against the organizers, known as the “Chicago Eight.”
From Chapter 15 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Soon after Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg formed the Fugs, the Holy Modal Rounders teamed up with them to create the first incarnation of the Fugs. “Someone told me Sanders and Tuli had written a bunch of songs like ‘Coca-Cola Douche’ and ‘Bull Tongue Clit,’ ” Peter Stampfel recalled. “So I went to listen at the Peace Eye Bookstore, and I saw that the only instrument was Ken Weaver playing a hand drum. So I said, ‘Hey, you can use a backup band.’ It was an obvious thing to put together, so that’s how Steve Weber and I started playing with them.” After signing a deal with Folkways Records, the band recorded their first album in April 1965. Along with several original songs, the Fugs included two Blake poem adaptations on their Harry Smith–produced debut, The Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary Protest, Point of Views, and General Dissatisfaction. In addition to live gigs and vinyl records, the group could also be heard on free-form radio shows. Their performance of “Carpe Diem” at a Judson Church memorial service for comedian Lenny Bruce, for example, was recorded by Bob Fass and aired on WBAI (Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, and many other musicians, poets, and political activists also made appearances on Fass’s show over the years).
The attempted levitation of the Pentagon was a famous protest/prank that brought together the politicized wing of the counterculture and the hippies who were more invested in cultural revolution. The levitation stunt was a joke, but one with serious undertones that helped publicize their antiwar protest, the first of its kind in Washington, DC. “If you don’t like the news, why not go out and make your own?” Abbie Hoffman wrote in Steal This Book. “Guerrilla theater events are always good news items and if done right, people will remember them forever.” Even Pentagon officials joined in on the levity when the organizers sought a permit to levitate the building. “Well, don’t raise it higher than twenty-two feet, because that’s the height of our ladders,” they were told by a bemused official, who finally bargained them down to three feet. “So then we were able to go out and tell the newspapers that the Pentagon said that we could ‘only’ raise it three feet off the ground,” Paul Krassner said. “It was a great quote. It was funny, and it served as an organizational tool of media manipulation—in order to inform people about the demonstrations that were going to take place that October at the Pentagon.” The proto-Yippies staged two different media events filled with humorous hooks that they dangled in front of journalists, who took the bait. One was held at Abbie and Anita Hoffman’s apartment across from The Dom, and the other press conference featured a demonstration of the levitation at the Village Theater, complete with wires used to raise a small model of the Pentagon. While Sanders and others chanted, it rose high above the stage like a cheap magic trick.
By the time the Kitchen opened its doors in the Mercer Arts Center, the Videofreex were preparing to leave New York. When their CBS funding ran out, the group reassessed their options. “We didn’t have any income,” Mary Curtis Ratcliff said, “and all of us were trying to live in Manhattan, but there was no real market for this stuff we were doing.” So the ’freex did what many in the counterculture did at the time: moved to the country and lived communally. They found a huge twenty-seven-room boarding house called Maple Tree Farm located in Lanesville, New York, about a three-hour drive north of the city. After moving there in 1970, the Videofreex also set up America’s first pirate television station, thanks to Abbie Hoffman. He had known Videofreex member David Cort from their college days, and the activist met the rest of the Videofreex during their time downtown. When Hoffman wrote Steal This Book, his subversive how-to guide published in 1971, he paid the ’freex to build a transmitter to test out for the chapter on pirate broadcasting. “We realize becoming TV guerrillas is not everyone’s trip,” he wrote, “but a small band with a few grand can indeed pull it off.” Ratcliff said, “Abbie had tried to get us to broadcast guerrilla television all over Manhattan, but you couldn’t broadcast from a VW bus, and you couldn’t get a signal with all those huge buildings all around.” In Lanesville, this wasn’t a problem, so the Videofreex used the equipment to build a little broadcast tower atop their farmhouse. “We turned on this little transmitter that Abbie had given us,” Videofreex member Nancy Cain said. “We took a TV set down to a bar about half a mile down the road, Doyle’s Tavern, and we turned on the TV set and the signal was there!”
From Chapter 28 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore