Abbie Hoffman

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Abbie Hoffman, New York City, 1970. Photography by Fred W. McDarrah

Abbott "Abbie" Hoffman (November 30, 1936April 12, 1989) was a social and political activist in the United States, co-founder of the Youth International Party ("Yippies") and, later, a fugitive from the law who lived under an alias following a conviction for allegedly dealing cocaine. He came to prominence in the 1960s, but practiced most of his activism in the 1970s and has remained a symbol of the youth rebellion of that decade.

Hoffman grew up in Worcester, Massachussetts and was a 1959 graduate of Brandeis University where he studied under Herbert Marcuse, a leading (post-Marxist) Critical Theorist associated with the Frankfurt School. Prior to his days as a Yippie, Hoffman was involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and organized "Liberty House", which sold items to support the Civil Rights Movement in the southern United States.

During the Vietnam War, he was an anti-war activist who used deliberately comical and theatrical tactics, such as a mass demonstration in which over 50,000 people attempted to levitate The Pentagon using psychic energy. Hoffman was also successful at turning many flower children into political activists.

One of his most clever protests was on August 24, 1967, when he led a group opposed to capitalism (and other things, including the Vietnam War) in the gallery of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). They threw fistfuls of (mostly fake) dollar bills down to the traders below, who began to scramble frantically to grab the money as fast as they could. Of course, Hoffman's protest was pointing out that, metaphorically, that's what NYSE traders were already doing. The NYSE installed barriers in the gallery to prevent this kind of protest from interfering with trading again.

Hoffman was arrested for conspiracy and inciting to riot as a result of his role in protests that led to violent confrontations with police during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He was among the group that came to be known as the Chicago Seven, which also included fellow Yippie Jerry Rubin, and several other radical activists, including future California state senator Tom Hayden. Abbie Hoffman's courtroom antics frequently grabbed the headlines; one day, defendants Hoffman and Rubin appeared in court dressed in judicial robes, while on another day, Hoffman was sworn in as a witness with his hand giving the finger. At sentencing (the convictions were ultimately overturned), Hoffman suggested the judge try LSD, and offered to set him up with a dealer he knew in Florida.

At Woodstock in 1969, Hoffman interrupted The Who's performance, trying to make a protest speech against the jailing of John Sinclair of the White Panther Party. He grabbed a microphone and said, "I think this is a pile of shit, while John Sinclair rots in prison!" Who guitarist Pete Townshend, not happy about the interruption, yelled "Fuck off! Get the fuck off my fucking stage!" and stuck Hoffman with his guitar, sending him tumbling offstage. Townshend later said he actually agreed with Hoffman on Sinclair's imprisonment, but the incident lives on in infamy.

Hoffman continued to be an influential radical journalist. His Playboy Magazine article (October 1988) outlining the connections that constitute the "October Surprise" brought that alleged conspiracy to the attention of a wide-ranging American readership for the first time.

Abbie Hoffman is the author of Steal this Book, a commercially successful guide to living outside of the established system. Other titles include Fuck the System, Revolution for the Hell of It, Woodstock Nation, his 1980 autobiography Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture, and his last book, published two years before his death, Steal This Urine Test. His life was dramatized in the film Steal This Movie.

Hoffman suffered from bipolar disorder and was found dead on April 12, 1989. His death was recorded as a suicide.

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