Abbie Hoffman: Steal This Book
Abbot Howard "Abbie" Hoffman (November 30, 1936–April 12, 1989), was an American social activist of the 60s counterculture who first came to national attention in 1967 during the infamous New York Stock Exchange "money-burning" incident, which was followed by his arrest for conspiracy and inciting to riot during anti-Vietnam War protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
A member of the infamous Chicago Seven ([originally, Eight], which included Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and future California state senator Tom Hayden), and co-founded of the Youth International Party ("Yippies"), Abbie’s legendary disruptive exploits have come to characterize the clash between American politics and the 60's youth counterculture.
The oldest of three children, Abbie was born into a middle class household in Worcester, Massachusetts, and seemingly led a rather conventional life until his late teens. Arrested for the first time in June of 1954 for driving without a license, Abbie was then expelled from high school following a disagreement with an English teacher.
Abbie then attended Worcester Academy, in Massachusetts, before enrolling in Brandeis University. Studying under father of humanistic psychology, Abraham Maslow, Abbie completed his B.A. in Psychology in 1959. He would later enroll at University of California, Berkeley, to earn a Master's in Psychology, but dropped out to marry his girlfriend, Sheila Karklin, who had become pregnant. (In 1960 the two married, had two children, but then divorced in 1966.)
Prior to helping found the Yippie movement, Abbie was involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the principal organizations of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s that played a major role in organizing sit-ins and freedom rides.
In San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, Abbie became involved with a radical community-action group called the Diggers in 1966 (a group of actors-turned-social-activists co-founded by actor Peter Coyote ), and studied their ideology. He later moved to New York where he published a book called Free, based on this knowledge, which the Diggers saw as a betrayal just to garner publicity.
In October of 1967, David Dellinger of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam asked activist Jerry Rubin to help mobilize and direct a peace march on the Pentagon. As arranged, protesters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and then marched towards the Pentagon en masse. As the protesters neared the Pentagon, however, they were met by a line of soldiers who had formed a human barricade blocking Pentagon steps. In what would become Abbie’s trademark antics, he announced that he would levitate the Pentagon using psychic energy until it turned orange and began to vibrate, at which time the war in Vietnam would end. Beat poet and fellow activist Allen Ginsberg led Tibetan chants to assist Abbie. Abbie’s symbolic theatrics were successful at convincing many young people around America to become more active in the politics of the time.
Another of Abbie’s well-known protests occurred on August 24, 1967, when he led members of his movement to the gallery of the New York Stock Exchange. There, the protesters threw fistfuls of dollar bills down to the traders below, some of whom booed, while others scrambled to retrieve the money. Abbie explained that metaphorically, that's what NYSE traders "were already doing." By that evening, the event had made international news and Abbie was a celebrity.
This same year, Abbie married Anita Kushner. They had one son, america Hoffman (deliberately named using a lowercase "a"), but divorced in 1980--though they weren’t together later while Abbie was on the run.
Through his involvement with anti-Vietnam War protests and the Chicago Seven trial riots, Abbie became a counterculture icon and the face of American radical dissidence, subsequently mixing with many of the leading protesters of the time including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Tom Hayden, Timothy Leary, and G. Gordon Liddy, and became known for fusing poignant protest with ironic humor everywhere he made his presence known.
With John Lennon
On February 18, 1970, Abbie and four of the other defendants (Rubin, Dellinger, Davis, and Hayden) were found guilty of intent to incite a riot while crossing state lines regarding the Convention arrest. All seven, however, were found not guilty of conspiracy. At sentencing, Abbie suggested the judge try LSD and offered to set him up with "a dealer he knew in Florida." Each of the five was sentenced to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. (Though initially convicted, the verdicts were eventually overturned on appeal: The Kerner Commission later found that in fact it had been a "police riot," not civilian.)
In 1971, Abbie published one of the most famous books of the era, Steal This Book, which advised readers on how to live for free (based largely on what the Diggers had taught him). Many Hippies and other free-thinkers followed Abbie’s advice and, indeed, 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 Jerry Rubin and Ed Sanders.
Adopting an outlaw life-style, Abbie was arrested on August 28, 1973, on drug charges for intent to sell and distribute cocaine. Abbie vehemently maintained that undercover police agents entrapped him into a drug deal and planted suitcases of cocaine in his office--which many who know him believe to be the case. In the spring of 1974, Abbie skipped bail, (reportedly) underwent cosmetic surgery to alter his appearance, then lived underground for the next six years.
Despite being "in hiding" during this time, (living under the name "Barry Freed"), Abbie helped coordinate an environmental campaign to preserve the Saint Lawrence River (Save the River organization), and was the "travel" columnist for Crawdaddy! magazine. Finally, on September 4, 1980, he surrendered to authorities. On the same date, ABC-TV's 20/20 broadcast a pre-taped interview he’d done with Barbara Walters.
Sentenced to one-year in prison, Abbie was released after just four months. But as he soon came to realize, much had changed since his days in the counterculture movement. The rise of the Moral Majority as a political force had increased on-campus student conservatism, and Yuppie capitalism had begun to take hold of American youth. Many critics of the time claimed he had betrayed his earlier ideals and had therefore lost his public appeal.
In November of 1986, Abbie was arrested along with fourteen others including Amy Carter, (daughter of former President Jimmy Carter), for trespassing at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The charges stemmed from a protest against the Central Intelligence Agency's recruitment of students on the UMass campus. Since the university's policy limited campus recruitment to law-abiding organizations, Abbie, in his own defense, asserted the CIA's lawbreaking activities. And after hearing former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and a former CIA agent testify about the CIA's illegal Contra war against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, the jury found Abbie and the other defendants not guilty.
On April 12, 1989, at the age of 52, Abbie Hoffman died of an apparent drug overdose. Having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder nine years before, he had recently changed treatment medications and claimed to have been upset about his elderly mother's cancer diagnosis. After swallowing 150 Phenobarbital tablets, Abbie was found dead in his apartment in a “converted turkey coop” on Sugan Road in Solebury Township, near New Hope, Pennsylvania. Though his death was officially ruled a suicide, many of his friends and colleagues dispute that he wanted to die.
A week after Abbie’s death, a thousand friends and relatives gathered for a memorial in Worcester, Massachusetts at Temple Emanuel, the synagogue he attended as a child. Fellow Chicago Seven conspirators David Dellinger and Jerry Rubin were among the counterculture activists who attended. As The New York Times reported: "Indeed, most of the mourners who attended the formal memorial at Temple Emanuel here were more yuppie than yippie and there were more rep ties than ripped jeans among the crowd."
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