Friday, June 06, 2008 6/6/08-Yippies

In today's excerpt--in the 1960s, sheer demographics--the baby boom--made the young a percentage of the population that has not been reached since in America. That, combined with profound dissatisfaction with Vietnam, created a flammable context for the events of 1968:

"The protestors of the early 1960s, admirers of Martin Luther King and Gandhi, had believed almost religiously in non-violence. ... By the mid-1960s, however, that tactic was reaching the end of its shelf life. It had not ended the war in Vietnam, nor had it liberated blacks, nor had it won many victories on campus. ...

"By 1968, hardcore activists, tired of talk and bored with marching, put their faith in violence. The ringleaders of the 1968 riots at Columbia University called themselves the Action Faction, and styled themselves on the East Village Motherf**kers, a nihilistic group who asserted their intention to 'defy law and order with ... bricks, bottles, garbage, long hair, filth, obscenity, drugs, games, guns, bikes, fire, fun, and f**king.' ...

"The 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago provided radicals with the perfect sequel to Columbia. Leading the chaos this time were the Yippies (so-called after the Youth International Party they had founded the year before), Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. Their plans called for a continuous street party--more circus than demonstration. The main goal was to create a spectacle. 'Like typical Americans,' one organizer proclaimed, 'we got our biggest kicks from contemplating our image in the media.' In the week before the convention, Yippies boasted to local newsmen that they would put LSD in the Chicago water supply, rape the wives of convention delegates, and have a mass copulation in Lincoln Park. Rubin told his admirers: 'Thousands of us will burn draft cards at the same time ... and the paranoia and guilt of the government will force them to bring thousands of troops ... Our long hair alone will freak them out ... and remember--the more troops, the better the theater.' ...

"The few earnest protesters who did go to the Convention to make a point about the war or civil rights were disappointed at the way violence had hijacked politics, depriving it of meaning. ... The Yippies should have been nothing more than mere nuisance. But television has a way of magnifying images. On successive nights in Lincoln Park thousands of police, backed by the National Guard, did battle with the miniscule army of Yippies while the whole world watched. The apocalyptic fantasies of Rubin and Hoffman combined with the paranoia of Mayor Richard Daley to create one of the most shameful episodes in American political history. 'We wanted to f**k up their image on TV,' Hoffman later explained. ... In that sense, at least, they succeeded."

Gerard DeGroot, "Street Fighting Men," History Today, May 2008, 28-31.


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