Today we commemorate everyone’s favourite Groucho Marxist – the radical activist, Abbie Hoffman. Co-founder of the Yippies and author of Steal This Book and Revolution for the Hell of It, Hoffman was one of the most colourful and iconic figures to emerge from the 1960s revolution and remains an enduring symbol of that era. His enigmatic mix of buffoonery, political theatre and media savvy marked him for the elite ranks of the New Left, whilst his high-profile protests – attempting to levitate the Pentagon, orchestrating a feeding frenzy at NYC’s Stock Exchange by hurling fistfuls of fake dollars onto the floor, the decade-defining Chicago Conspiracy Trial, and the infamous bust-up with Pete Townshend on stage at Woodstock – cast him as pied piper to millions of young people opposed to the Vietnam War and ensured an enduring revolutionary legacy.
But behind the theatrical guerrilla antics, Abbie Hoffman was a man of real and serious convictions who grew despondent as the idealism of the 1960s gave way to assimilation and ennui. Hounded relentlessly by the FBI’s sinister COINTELPRO and forced underground for six years, by the time Hoffman came out of hiding in 1980, the counter-culture was dead. Even his erstwhile comrade Jerry Rubin had defected from Yippie to Yuppie. But Hoffman’s own convictions were not zeitgeist reliant. He unwaveringly continued to fight for his principles, regularly writing and lecturing about the FBI and CIA’s covert and illegal activities, and hitting the university circuit to deliver his message to a new generation:
“It is always the young that make the change. You don’t get these ideas when you’re middle-aged. Young people have daring, creativity, imagination and personal computers. Above all, what you have as young people that’s vitally needed to make social change, is impatience. You want it to happen now. There have to be enough people that say, ‘We want it now, in our lifetime.’ This is your moment. This is your opportunity. Be adventurists in the sense of being bold and daring. Be opportunists and seize this opportunity, this moment in history, to go out and save our country. It’s your turn now.” – Abbie Hoffman, Speech to the First National Student Convention, Rutgers University, February 1988
The betrayal of his own generation was, however, a literal death-blow. For nearly a decade, Hoffman had suffered from manic depression and, twenty-three years ago today, he killed himself in his Pennsylvania apartment by swallowing 150 Phenobarbital tablets. It was a tragic end for a brave, visionary and ingenious warrior, whose indefatigable efforts in no small part helped secure non-segregation, equal rights for women, the public outing of COINTELPRO and the end of the Vietnam War. He enlightened a nation, called them into action and never never never gave up the good fight.
In memory and in the spirit of Abbie Hoffman – to all those who can sustain their convictions – Hasta la Victoria Siempre!
I set a Google notification for any mention of Abbie on this anniversary of his death. There haven’t been many and of those I am most touched by your tribute. I knew Abbie back in the sixties. Not well but enough to make a difference in my life. You had to see him to believe the energy. He was handsome and vibrant and authentic. Thank you for remembering him.
Just found some brilliant quotes (check my website link) from this chap:
“Become an internationalist and learn to respect all life. Make war on machines. And in particular the sterile machines of corporate death and the robots that guard them.” (We are ruled more and more by machines and I think some of us are now wondering if all these IT ‘geniuses’ are perhaps really evil guardians protecting and developing a new slave-system…)
“The ’60s are gone, dope will never be as cheap, sex never as free, and the rock and roll never as great. ”
“The first duty of a revolutionary is to get away with it.”
“The key to organizing an alternative society is to organize people around what they can do, and more importantly, what they want to do.”
“The only way to support a revolution is to make your own. “
I’ve been reading Abbie’s, “Soon to be a Hollywood Motion Picture”, his narrative tone and ideology is so lightening to read. I wish he would have hung in there, but I don’t know if I could last half as long fighting as he did for social justice.
There is one correction to the article above. From his book he cites he dropped $300 real dollars (not fake or monopoly money) onto the stock exchange floor.
It is unfortunate that the system seems to have won, as we all experienced the Bush administration, and now are caught in the Obama-machine. I wonder how Abbie would have seen 9/11 or the current state of the NSA or Homeland Security.
We could really use another Abbie Hoffman right about now.
Thank you Abbie for your life and efforts and suffering and wonderous joy; you’ve inspired hundreds of thousands of people. If only you could have known your impacts and that they are still occurring!
one of the best photos of one of the best humans,
“The ’60s are gone, dope will never be as cheap, sex never as free, and the rock and roll never as great.”
Apart from this piece of nostalgic crap it’s great to see him commemorated anywhere.
After hearing one of Abbie’s authentical speeches, the thought “If you can’t come out like Abbie, you can’t come out for breakfast!” arose. He was a friend who loved my favorite shirt so much, that I finally just gave it to him.
I went to Nicaragua with Abbie and other activists and concerned Americans in 1985 to meet the Sandinistas. He was the funniest activist I ever met. No matter how serious a thing was, he had a humorous way of looking at it and making others laugh. Abbie was an intense and committed person. He also was brilliant and courageous. The book has yet to be written that shows all the dimensions of this great man. Sure he made mistakes. Who didn’t? I’ll never stop believing that his suicide was the biggest mistake, and every time there is a crisis like a war or a dummy like Donald Trump, I find myself saying, “Dammit, Abbie, where the hell are you?”
Wow, yup Abbie said, “I made 2 trips down to Nicaragua and brought 70 people, opinion makers, elected officials, journalists, students, down to Nicaragua to see the campaign of misinformation that’s being carried out by the media to develop that sense of outrage that kenneled us during those long years of fighting the Vietnam war.”
I believe his death was set up to look like a suicide. I think someone slipped the phenobarbital tablets into the liquor that Abbie drank. David Dellinger explained that Abbie had numerous plans for the future and didn’t believe for one moment the suicide story.