Today is the anniversary of the death of Abbie Hoffman.
Abbott “Abbie” Hoffman was a social and political activist in the United States, and was co-founder of the Youth International Party (“Yippies“)
Hoffman was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. He graduated from Brandeis in 1959, then picked up a master’s degree at Berkeley. In the early 1960’s, he returned to Worcester to work as a psychologist in a state hospital. His career in political activism began with his work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (“SNCC“) in the South. Hoffman was still relatively straight until 1966 when he turned onto drugs and began the loosely organized Yippie movement.
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 dollar bills down to the traders below, who began to scramble frantically to grab money as fast as they could. Of course, Hoffman’s protest was pointing out that, metaphorically, that’s what NYSE traders were already doing.
Hoffman went underwent plastic surgery and assumed the underground alias of “Barry Freed” in 1974 to avoid trial on charges of possessing cocaine. He stayed underground in upper New York state until 1980, when he surrendered to authorities. He was sentenced to a work-release program in 1981-82, then resumed his life of political activism. In 1987, Hoffman was arrested for the forty-second time while protesting CIA recruitment at the University of Massachusetts with Amy Carter and thirteen others.
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 and Black Panthers co-founder Bobby Seale. 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 a 1988 reunion of the Chicago Seven, Hoffman described himself as “an American dissident. I don’t think my goals have changed since I was four and I fought schoolyard bullies.”
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, and his last book, published two years before his death, Steal This Urine Test.
On April 12, 1989, Hoffman was found dead at his home in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The death was later ruled a suicide.