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50th Anniversary of Abbie Hoffman's Intro to Steal This Book

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cover of Steal This Book (1970)
cover of Steal This Book (1970)
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By John Kendall Hawkins

YIPPIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

- Abbie Hoffman, his war cry from f*ck the System (1967)

The System Is the Solution

- AT&T ad, circa the 70s

One of the funniest bits I can remember reading about Abbie Hoffman was the time he tried to get himself arrested at a police station and the cops wouldn't bite. His friend, and fellow Yippee, Paul Krassner said, "We went to the 9th precinct. Abbie wanted to get busted to show solidarity between the hippies and the ethnic groups. But they wouldn't arrest him." The Yippies had a sit-in outside the police station, where Abbie carried on, telling cops: "I want to be arrested because I'm a n-word. You're arresting my black brothers. Arrest me." He was invited inside the police station to talk.

Inside the station house he jumped from desk to desk, and demanded to be arrested. They laughed at him. So he leapt off the desk, "going, 'Na, Na!'" and kicked out the glass from a trophy case and ran. One cop yelled, "You goddamn bastard, now you've had it." They chased, but he got away. He called days later to arrange his arrest. About 40 cops were waiting for him at the rendezvous point, when a van pulled up "and about seven guys come running out who look exactly like Abbie Hoffman with the big Afro and they run into the crowd and the goddamn cops are chasing all of them!" Then Hoffman called to them, "Yoo Hoo! You Hoo! Here I am!" And disappeared.

Vintage Abbie. Seven cops holding up seven Afro wigs -- like they scalped 'em.

In Steal This Book, his street-survival manual, Abbie had advised the reader to keep on hand a few costumes for street theater and escapades. You never knew when a 'nice' suit bought at Salvation Army might come in handy to score a free meal at a decent restaurant (bring your own cockroach or broken glass). Costumes had played their role in spoofing justice at the Chicago 7 trial in 1969, when Abbie and Jerry Rubin had come to court one day wearing judges' robes -- and, when told to take them off NOW!, they revealed cops' uniforms underneath. The judge was a Hoffman and Abbie had even called him Dad and offered to set him up with some Hofmann (LSD). The whole trial was a trip, including the outrageous bounding and gagging of a black man.

But serious contemplation was also at work behind Abbie's modus o; it wasn't all hippie razzmatazz. This week we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the sentencing of the Chicago 7 and for Abbie's later writing of his introduction to his timeless paean to freedom, Steal This Book, which Abbie called "a manual of survival in the prison that is Amerika." With all the proliferating criminal breaches of privacy and freedom by the System since 9/11, as described in copious detail by Edward Snowden's revelations in "Permanent Record", Abbie's description of Amerika has never been truer. On February 19, the Chicago 7 were found guilty of inciting a riot during the DNC convention of 1968, as well as, for their courtroom antics, 175 counts of contempt of court. The convictions were later overturned on appeal.

In his introduction, Abbie simplifies his Yippie war cry with a three-part approach to take in the counterculture revolution against the System -- i.e., the Military-Industrial (MIC) system that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about in his farewell speech. First, we must Survive. Abbie writes, "Revolution is not about suicide, it is about life." And that really is the serious thread of practical philosophy that informs Steal This Book. There are ways of surviving, essentially off the grid, if you're willing to live the lifestyle -- and a lot hippies did. Free food, free clothes, free communications, free books, free accommodation all there to be had.

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist and poet currently residing in Australia. His poetry, commentary, and reviews have appeared in publications in Oceania, Europe and the USA, such as Cordite, Morning Star, Hanging (more...)
 

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