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'60s live again, minus the LSD

The neodoc `Chicago 10' resurrects a turbulent era and gets a thumb's-up from an original Yippie.

January 28, 2007|Paul Krassner | Special to The Times

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 De 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. 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.

On the afternoon of Dec. 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.

We needed a name to signify the radicalization of hippies, and I came up with Yippie as a label for 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. Our nefarious scheme worked. After we held a press conference, 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 crossing 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 call from director Brett Morgen ("The Kid Stays in the Picture"), who was working on a documentary about the 1960s antiwar movement. It would have no narrator and no talking heads, only archival footage and animated reenactments based on actual events and transcriptions of trial testimony. However, Allen Ginsberg levitating during meditation 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: "[T]he 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. ..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: We've seen "Battle of Algiers."

(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 that set off what an official report would describe as "a police riot." He admitted striking police 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. Abbie was furious and stopped speaking to me. Ten months later, I mailed him a movie ad for "The Professionals," which resulted 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."

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