By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Judge Julius Hoffman made some unusual decisions . . . .
In retrospect, it seems almost too perfect that the judge was so repressive, such an extreme representative of conservative mentality.
I figured central casting must have played a role.
He was almost beyond central casting because he was kind of a weird person who wanted to argue with these young people in ways that I don't know if any other judge—then or now—would do. It was just the famous luck of the draw getting this judge, and he provided a news angle and a daily drama that the newspapers and TV couldn't resist and rightly emphasized.
What are your favorite colorful moments from the trial?
My favorite part is the testimony of Abbie Hoffman. The defense decided to present two of the defendants, and Abbie was just completely brilliant and delightful, but also politically incredibly sharp the way he describes his own political development, his political ideas. He's the one who, when asked if he participated in a conspiracy to cross state lines to incite state violence, answered, "Conspiracy? Hell, we couldn't even agree on lunch!" That's what Abbie was like.
The Allen Ginsberg testimony was also wonderful. Allen chanted "Oooommmmm" on the stand to demonstrate how he had tried to calm the confrontation between police and protesters, and the judge found it completely outrageous and tumult broke out in the courtroom, so Allen Ginsberg started chanting "Ooooommmm" all over again!
Unfortunately, many people in activist circles today don't know about Abbie Hoffman. What would you like people to know about Abbie Hoffman?
Abbie was quite an experienced longtime radical activist. He had worked with the civil rights movement in the South during the early '60s. But he pioneered this kind of political theater where he felt that anti-war protests needed to have more innovative and frankly more enjoyable forms than the traditional protest march where you march down the street chanting and waving signs.
Kind of like Emma Goldman's quip, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be a part of your revolution."
Yeah. And this should be not only the goal of the revolution, but part of the tactics should be fun and exciting and provoke people to think. Abbie was in on the planning for the march on the Pentagon where he said the purpose was to levitate the Pentagon. And they applied for a permit to raise the Pentagon 20 feet into the air, and he did so in a very straight-faced way. They wanted this to be legal. He also was very famous for going to the tourist gallery above the trading floor at the Wall Street Stock Exchange and throwing dollar bills into the air—showered the floor with dollar bills. And the traders all stopped trading and were jumping into the air trying to grab the money. It was a very dramatic demonstration of what capitalism was about. So Abbie tried to bring these tactics not only to the streets of the anti-war movement but also into the courtroom. He was a brilliant guy, and he knew what he was doing, and he was good at it.
This is a debate that hasn't really gone away—the question about how seriously to take ourselves as a peace movement.
You have to remember that the Yippie strategy was directed at young people. "Don't trust anyone over 30!" "Young people must together stand for freedom, liberation and need to confront the older generation, which has screwed up the world and is doing terrible things in Vietnam." Of course, I'm no longer under 30, so I'm more, let us say, interested in the other strategy. But I think the generation gap is nowhere near as broad today. If you look at who's been an active opponent of the war in Iraq, there are probably more people over 30 at the big demonstrations than people under 30. So it isn't quite as important a tactic to mobilize young people to rebel against their parents. The challenge today is to get everyone who's against the war to change the politics in Washington.
During the trial, Abbie Hoffman said, "To make demands upon the Democratic Party is an exercise in wasted wish fulfillment." In fact, the Democratic Party takes quite a beating in the court case. I think it's interesting that much of what's remembered about Chicago '68 isn't the protest or the riots or even the trial per se, but rather the failure of the Democratic Party to take advantage of a golden opportunity to adopt an anti-war platform. With the victory of Ned Lamont in Connecticut, and with the current political and cultural climate, how relevant is the lesson of Chicago '68 to the Democrats in 2008?
I think it's incredibly relevant. Of course, in '68 there was an incumbent Democratic president who was responsible for the massive escalation of the war in Vietnam. That made it harder for his hand-picked successor Hubert Humphrey to criticize the president for the previous four years, to turn against his mentor and the policies he'd been a part of. I mean, he could have done it and should have done it, but the Democrats today have a much easier time because it's Bush's war. And Humphrey almost won! Humphrey was within a few hundred thousand votes of winning! It seems quite clear that if Humphrey had taken a strong anti-war position he would have won. So I think the lesson is quite clear: in order to win in 2008 the Democrats need to pose a clear and strong alternative to the status quo.