[Note: An edited version of this article was published in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, January 28. It was trimmed down purely because of space limitations.]
In 1967, Abbie Hoffman, his wife Anita and I took a work-vacation in Florida, renting a little house on stilts in Ramrod Key. We had planned to see The Professionals. "That's my favorite movie," Abbie said. "Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin develop this tight bond while they're both fighting in the Mexican revolution, then they drift apart." But it was playing too far away, and a hurricane was brewing, so instead we saw the Dino Di Laurentiis version of The Bible. Driving home in the rain and wind, we debated the implications of Abraham being prepared to slay his son because God told him to. I dismissed this as blind obedience. Abbie praised it as revolutionary trust.
This was the week before Christmas. We had bought a small tree and spray-painted it with canned snow. Now, we were tripping on LSD as the hurricane reached full force. "Hey," Abbie yelled over the roar, "this is powerful [bleepin'] acid!" We watched Lyndon Johnson on a black-and-white TV set, although LBJ was purple-and-orange. His huge head was sculpted into Mount Rushmore. "I am not going to be so pudding-headed as to stop our half of the war," he was saying, and the heads of the other presidents were all snickering and covering their mouths with their hands so they wouldn't laugh out loud. This was the precise moment we acknowledged that we'd be going to the Democratic convention in August to protest the Vietnam war. I called Jerry Rubin in New York to arrange for a meeting when we returned. The conspiracy was beginning.
On the afternoon of December 31, several activist friends gathered at the Hoffmans' Lower East Side apartment, smoking Colombian marijuana and planning for Chicago. Our fantasy was to counter the convention of death with a festival of life. While the Democrats would present politicians giving speeches at the convention center, we would present rock bands playing in the park. There would be booths with information about drugs and alternatives to the draft.
We sought to utilize the media as an organizing tool, but we needed a name so that journalists could have a "who" for their "who-what-when-where-and-why" lead paragraph. An appropriate word to signify the radicalization of hippies. I came up with Yippie to describe a phenomenon that already existed, an organic coalition of psychedelic hippies and political activists. In the process of cross-fertilization at antiwar demonstrations, we had come to share an awareness that there was a linear connection between putting kids in prison for smoking pot in this country and burning them to death with napalm on the other side of the planet. It was the ultimate extension of dehumanization.
And so we held a press conference. A reporter asked me, "What happens to the Yippies when the Vietnam war ends?" I replied, "We'll do what the March of Dimes did when a cure for polio was discovered; we'll just switch to birth defects." But our nefarious scheme worked. The headline in the Chicago Sun-Times read, "Yipes! The Yippies Are Coming!" What would later happen at the convention led to the infamous trial for conspiring to cross state lines to foment riot. As an unindicted co-conspirator, I felt like a disc jockey who hadn't been offered payola.
Flash ahead to 2005, and the chain of events that led me to this year's Sundance Film Festival. I got a letter from Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, and then a call from Brett Morgen, director of The Kid Stays in the Picture. They were co-producing a documentary about the 1960s antiwar movement. It would have no narrator and no talking heads, only archival footage and animated re-enactments based on actual events and transcriptions of trial testimony. However, Allen Ginsberg floating in the air while he meditates can be construed as cartoonic license.
Brett invited me to write four specific animated scenes:
1. "Birth of the Yippies": This would include the hurricane, the meeting and the press conference. Excerpt: "[The house is shaking mightily on its stilts. ABBIE, ANITA and PAUL are looking out the window through wildly waving curtains as the house feels like it will be swept away. Books are falling off the shelf. Newspapers are swirling around the room.] ABBIE [screaming]: This whole house is gonna blow straight out to Cuba! [lightning strikes] We're coming, Fidel! [sound of thunder] Sock it to us, God!'
2. "Got Permit?": We meet with Chicago deputy mayor David Stahl, attempting to get a permit for the revolution...oops, I mean permits to sleep in the park, set up a sound system and march to the convention center. Excerpt: "STAHL: C'mon, tell me, what do you guys REALLY plan to do in Chicago? PAUL: Did you ever see that movie, "Wild in the Streets"? [A thought balloon shows the image of a group of teenagers dumping LSD into the water supply.] STAHL: "Wild in the Streets"? We've seen "Battle of Algiers." [A thought balloon shows the image of a guerrilla woman, fully covered except for her eyes, planting a bomb in a cafe.]" What would occur in Chicago that summer, then, is a clash between our mythology and their mythology.
(The Chicago Tribune later reported that Bob Pierson--a police provocateur disguised as a biker and acting as Jerry's bodyguard--was "in the group which lowered an American flag" in Grant Park, the incident which set off what "The Walker Report: Rights in Conflct" would offically label as "a police riot." Pierson wrote in Official Detective magazine, "I joined in the chants and taunts against the police and provoked them into hitting me with their clubs. They didn't know who I was, but they did know that I had called them names and struck them with one or more weapons.")
3. "Acid Testimony": I decide to take a tab of LSD at lunch before testifying--call me a sentimental fool--but why? "PAUL: To enhance the experience. No, actually, because I wanna throw up in court. I've learned that if I drop acid with a big meal, it always makes me vomit. That way, I don't have to memorize all those dates and places. And it'll be my theatrical statement on the injustice of the trial." Abbie was furious and stopped speaking to me. Ten months later, I mailed him a movie ad--"The Professionals" was playing in our neighborhood--resulting in a reconciliation.
4. "Women's Liberation": The purpose of this scene, taking place at the feminist protest of the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, is summed up by former Yippie Robin Morgan: "ROBIN: And so we say goodbye to the male-dominated peace movement. Women will no longer serve as their second-class comrades. No more working hard behind the scenes while the male superstars do all the grandstanding and get all the credit and achieve all the notoriety. No more playing a critical role in building a movement but then being denied access to the policy-making process."
(The plan was to toss tangible items of male oppression--a bridal gown, a safety razor, a girdle, high-heeled shoes, panty-hose, Playboy magazine, a pink brassiere--and burn them in a "Freedom Crash Can," but an ordinance forbidding anything to be burned on the boardwalk was enforced. Nevertheless, a burning bra has become the symbol of women's liberation. Sometimes a metaphor can serve to reveal the truth more vividly than the actual facts.)
Although Brett "loved, loved, loved" the scenes I wrote, the backers objected to the use of LSD, fearful of diverting attention from the main focus of the film. I was disappointed, if only for the sake of countercultural history. The CIA originally envisioned employing LSD as a means of control; instead, for millions of young people, LSD served as a vehicle to explore their own inner space, deprogramming themselves from mainstream culture and living their alternative. The CIA's scenario had backfired. Anyway, my suggestion--instead of referring to it as acid, Abbie could yell, "Hey, this is powerful [bleepin'] aspirin"--was rejected.
Thus, the hurricane segment of the "Birth of Yippie" scene, which was originally going to open the film, has been omitted, but of course it'll be on the DVD. Moreover, my implied "threat" in the "Got Permit?" scene that the Yippies would pour LSD into the reservoir, and the entire "Acid Testimony" scene, are also out. And, unfortunately, the "Women's Liberation" scene isn't included because of time restraints.
I was supposed to do the voice for my own animated character, but Abbie's son, Andrew, had auditioned to do his father's voice, and though he sounds eerily like him, he couldn't act, so it was decided to have actors--including Hank Azaria, Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber--do all the voices. What a reIief--I had thought it was because I didn't sound enough like myself.
In an interview with Videofreex during the trial, Abbie said, "We don't wanna be martyrs. We wanna live to see the overthrow of the government. Be a great [bleepin'] movie." Brett's goal isn't quite as ambitious as overthrowing the government. When he called to tell me that "Chicago 10" had been selected to open the Sundance Film Festival, he asked, "Wouldn't it be great if Abbie's legacy turns out to be that he helped to end the war in Iraq?"
I hadn't seen any of the rough cuts and didn't know what to expect at the festival screening. Well, I loved, loved, loved it. Brett got a standing ovation. Although he was born two months after the protests in Chicago, he has managed--with the determination of a salmon swimming upstream to spawn, aided by 180 hours of film, 50 hours of video, 500 hours of audio and 23,000 pages of trial transcripts--to reveal in this neodoc the horror and the humor, the rhetoric and the reality of those events and their aftermath, in a style and rhythm calculated to resonate with--and inspire--contemporary youth.
Yippie organizer Jim Fouratt said it "excites the imagination." Nick Nolte, who does the voice of prosecutor Thomas Foran, asked defendant Tom Hayden for his reaction. "I think that Brett authentically and brilliantly captured the experiences and the feelings of what we were going through," Hayden replied. Then, turning to Brett, he added, "So thank you for the next generation from our generation." Participant Productions is negotiating for a distributor and hopes to release the film this summer.
Structurally, the film alternates between the action in the streets and the progress of the trial, with the utterly shocking imagery of defendant Bobby Seale--the national chairman of the Black Panther Party, voiced by Jeffrey Wright--being bound, gagged and shackled to his courtroom chair for insisting on his constitutional right to represent himself after being turned down by the Elmer-Fudd-like Judge Julius Hoffman, voiced by Roy Scheider.
I would've liked to see Dick Gregory's fervent recitation of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence at an unbirthday party for LBJ, but I'm grateful for the inclusion of defendant David Dellinger saying "The power of the people is our permit" at the start of the march from the bandstand to the Amphitheater. And I would've liked to hear Phil Ochs' song, "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore," as the background music for that march, but I appreciate the use of Eminem's rap, "Mosh," as accompaniment instead.
In fact, Brett had wanted to call the film Mosh, but Chicago 10 encompasses the eight defendants plus attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass. Whatever the title, although Sundance may be a long way from Ramrod Key, the spirit of Yippie lingers on.
Paul Krassner is the author of "One Hand Jerking: Reports From an Investigative Satirist" and publisher of the Disneyland Memorial Orgy poster, both available at paulkrassner.com.