A pioneer of a street-theater approach to activism, Abbie Hoffman played a key role in the Chicago police riot of 1968 and the ensuing court case known as the trial of the Chicago 7. Johanna Hoffman Lawrenson discussed their shared life together, both in the spotlight and on the run. Robert Abzug and Thorne Dreyer speak to the importance of counterculture, underground press movements, and Hoffman’s cultural significance.
This episode of American Rhapsody was mixed and mastered by Morgan Honaker.
[0:00:06 Speaker 0] This is American Rhapsody, a podcast of the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Each episode we interview those who witnessed American history first and who have since donated their archives to the Briscoe Center. We also talked to historians, journalists and others who research in those collections. We’re all asking the same question. What actually happened? I’m
[0:00:38 Speaker 1] Johanna Lawrenson, and I’m Abbie Hoffman’s wife, companion and co organizer and running mate. As he used to call me on DWI spent seven amazing romantic years underground on. There were many fascinating stories from those years still to be told
[0:00:56 Speaker 0] the money had been collected, the people gathered and the journalists tipped off in order to pass is a tour group. They had no placards or megaphones. Some had dressed in their Sunday best and shave their beers. The security guards bought it, and they were allowed onto the viewing balcony that overlooked the New York Stock Exchange. Once in place, whispers and winks were exchanged, and then the show is on the group, led by the activists, Abbie Hoffman, tossed $301 bills onto the floor of the stock exchange from the gallery above. The brokers stopped working. Some cheered, some cursed and several scrambles for the money. The security guards quickly escorted the group out of the building where the reporters were already waiting. It was August 24th, 1967 and the prank launched its protagonists into the realm of protest celebrity. It was a sort of stunt that Abbie Hoffman pioneered in the late 19 sixties and early 19 seventies. Today, the combination of celebrity spectacle, comedy, cynicism and political protests seems normal. But at the time it was deemed radical and subversive, a threat to the fabric of post World War two American society. I’m Don Carlton, and this is American Rhapsody, a podcast of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Today we’re discussing the life and legacy of Abbie Hoffman, who’s papers. All 300 linear feet of thumb now reside at the Briscoe Center. Abbie Hoffman was born in 1936 in Massachusetts to a middle class Jewish family. He graduated from BRANDEIS University in 1955 and went on to study psychology at Berkley. In the early sixties, he worked in voter registration efforts for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the founder of the Youth International Party, are the Yippies, as they were better known, Hoffman was renowned for his acerbic theatrical innovations and carrying out public protest. During the zenith of his celebrity, Hoffman was an avid writer and speaker, tearing college campuses and publishing books, including Revolution for the Hell of It and still this book. In 1968 Hoffman was among the leaders of the anti Vietnam War protest at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which was broken up by police riot Ah, year later, Hoffman was arrested along with seven other anti war leaders, including Jerry Rubin and Tom Hayden and Black Panther co founder Bobby Seale, on a federal charge of engaging in a conspiracy to cross state lines to incite a riot. Among other charges. They were tried in federal court, with five of the accused, including Abby Hoffman, convicted of the main conspiracy charge. In 1972 the seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed their convictions. That same year, Hoffman was arrested and charged with drug trafficking in New York to avoid a mandatory life sentence. He skipped bail, underwent plastic surgery and lived as a fugitive until 1980 after serving a short sentence, he became active in the environmental movement. He died in 1989. In my opinion, Abbie Hoffman has not gotten his proper do as an important figure in the history of American protest movements. Often dismissed as a clown and a buffoon by the news media, Hoffman was actually an intellectual who took his social and economic justice and anti Vietnam War activism very seriously. He was a pioneer of a new street theater approach to activism, believing that it would gain more attention for the causes he advocated than traditional speechmaking and march organizing. He also played a key role in two of his era’s most important flashpoints over the First Amendment, the Chicago Police ride of 1968 and the ensuing court case known as the Trial of the Chicago Seven Ring any Bells. That may be because of the movie trial of the Chicago Seven, directed by Aaron Sorkin and starring the British comedian Sasha Baron Cohen, who plays Hoffman, a notorious prankster himself. There’s poetic irony to Cohen playing that role. Whether or not it’s a good movie, I’ll leave to you. But is it accurate? What does it get right or wrong. Today’s guest is Joanna Hoffman. Lawrenson, Abby’s widow, who will discuss their shared life together both in the spotlight and on the run, will also discuss her decision to bring Abby’s papers as well as her own, to the Briscoe Center, and we’ll see what she thinks of the movie. Joanna is interviewed by doctor Sarah Sonner, the centre’s associate director for Curation, who last year produced an exhibit at the Briscoe Center on the Abbey Hoffman papers. Afterward, you’ll hear me interviewing Bob Abzug and Thorne Dryer. Bob is an author and a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, who speaks about Abby’s early influences and his cultural significance. And Thorne is a veteran political activist and editor of Underground Newspapers in the sixties and seventies, most famously the Rag in Austin and Space City News in Houston. But first, let’s hear from Joanna for over Thank
[0:07:15 Speaker 2] you so much for joining us.
[0:07:16 Speaker 1] You’re welcome way
[0:07:18 Speaker 2] should start. You all lived underground. Well, he was a fugitive from the law. And so what was it like living that way? And you mentioned a few places that you traveled?
[0:07:28 Speaker 1] Yes, Well, it it waas Extremely exciting and sometimes dangerous, but most of it was very good. And we lived in Mexico for a lot of the time. And we also lived in Europe on did in the 1000 islands in upstate New York.
[0:07:45 Speaker 2] You mentioned it was scary sometimes. So how was it just living under aliases?
[0:07:51 Speaker 1] Well, yes, we lived under aliases, and that wasn’t Skerry. What was scary was when we thought perhaps we might to be caught or somebody was going to betray us. But that didn’t happen very often, so we were lucky.
[0:08:08 Speaker 2] I remember when I was going through his archive, I came across a pamphlet that was called 100 Ways to disappear and live free. There was no author or publication date on that, but I was really interested to see that among his papers.
[0:08:21 Speaker 1] Uh huh. Well, I haven’t read it myself house, but I’ve lived it.
[0:08:26 Speaker 2] So how did you cope? Having to move often? I mean, I’m wonder how often you had to move or if you mentioned the 1000 islands. So that sounds like it was a really home base for you. All
[0:08:38 Speaker 1] it waas when I brought him up there in 1976. It was in a cottage that my great grandmother built uninsulated, getting our water from the river. And Barry freed Andi. I lived there for both 68 months out of the year. He did a lot. He learned how to be a carpenter. He built a doc. He was a great cook. So he was my cook and gardener and I was his landlady’s. So it was very, very good time. And at that time was the second year we were there. The Army Corps of Engineers came to destroy the ST Lawrence River. They wanted to make the big ships to be able to come through in in the winter time, which meant breaking up the ice and the ice breaking up would would ruin the shoreline. And, of course, the river has to sleep in the winter, and it would keep it from doing that. So it was a long battle. It was eight years the U. S. And Canada involved in five states and four provinces, and we had to take it to Washington and to Ottawa, and we won. It took a long time. It took eight years, but we won and there’s no winter navigation Now they have to stop in the fall in the late you know, November, December and not start up again till March, when the ice is broken up.
[0:10:04 Speaker 2] So even while you and Abby were in hiding, you still kept up the activist work and you know, internationally as well. That sounds like quite an endeavor.
[0:10:14 Speaker 1] Yeah, well, but I mean, people complemented Barry freed on his good organizing work without knowing who he waas. But his activism never wavered, and he did important political and environmental organizing, right up to his death in 1989. Many of the next generation activists that have you worked with in his later years remain organizer’s and leaders in a wide range of environmentalists peace, health care and social justice movements. So, even locally, the Children of our neighbors became environmental lawyers. Save the river, which we started in 1978 when the Army Corps of Engineers was coming to tell us how they were going to destroy the river. We defeated them there at the meeting. The first meeting. We got 800 people out in August 78 for the Army Corps, and they came with the generals with all their medals and very free, went upto one of them and said, Listen, you haven’t won a war since World War Two. What makes you think you’re gonna win this one way? Set them. You know you have tow set them off guard to start with. But it took a long time.
[0:11:26 Speaker 2] It’s such a testament Thio urine, Abby’s work. And also it sounds like a testament thio, his mentor ship of other generations of activists.
[0:11:35 Speaker 1] Oh, yes, absolutely. I I mean, I think of extinction. Rebellion? Yeah, although many of them don’t even know whoever he is, but they certainly are carrying on his tradition. And of course, we we did. You know, after we became above ground, we did all sorts of organizing. We took tours to Nicaragua to see the revolution. We fought nuclear waste trucks being transported from Canada into the U. S. And one. And I think practically every organization have you ever started from when it was in Worcester, Massachusetts still exists. That’s how good you his
[0:12:17 Speaker 2] archive is such a testament to that as well Through from the sixties, all through the eighties is Well, I was gonna ask you if you could talk a little bit about after he came out of hiding and served a short sentence. He seems to have been a little more quiet and more contemplative then, maybe the firebrand we can see from film footage in the sixties. I wondered what you thought of that. And if he was different in the eighties,
[0:12:44 Speaker 1] well as any good organizer would do, they changed with the times, you know, in the movie they stick tonight, his 19 sixties organizing. But he always said, You have to have 1 ft in the system and 1 ft in the streets. So he urged young people to develop Democratic organizational structures and to use majority decision making rather than consensus when complex questions arise almost because he felt it was more Democratic and because it could be difficult to reach consensus when there were FBI agents in the room with you. So it wasn’t that he changed. He just developed more
[0:13:29 Speaker 2] and going to the movie. It does make that point that there there’s FBI infiltration of the organizing group. What did you think of the movie
[0:13:39 Speaker 1] itself? Well, I think it’s a very good movie. Mm Capital. M Cap Little Old Capital v. Capital, I Capital Eat Through the I thought Sasha Baron Cohen did a good job. I never say what Abby would like, but I think I can safely say that he would have liked such a performance. But basically there were some fundamental clause, and it seems that the people that were there, the women that Sorkin excluded from the movie have legitimate complaints. And the people who weren’t there are two young loved. The movie, which is a aside from the one in particular, is having Dave Dillinger hit a court person was just unconscionable because he was a passive resistance in World War Two and all his life, right? So that was inexcusable drama. The other one, which was not so inexcusable but wasn’t, you know, really true is the burning of the bras. You know, maybe one woman burned their bra, but burning your bras was it’s more a myth than actually happened. What happened was the women just took their bras off. That was it didn’t wear them anymore. So that’s one thing. The other thing is, he left the women out. Well. Nancy Kherson Waas, Jerry Rubin’s girlfriend, and Anita was Abby’s wife, and Nancy Kherson was with Jerry all the time. I mean, I know there were infiltrating at FBI agents undercover, but it wasn’t Jerry who they made look like teaching Chong or whatever that the duo is. I mean, she wasn’t with him. It was Nancy Kirsten that was with him and Nancy and Anita. They both burned judge’s robes in front of the courthouse. I mean, they had a very dramatic part in this on day were left out.
[0:15:42 Speaker 2] So they traveled to Chicago is well for the trial.
[0:15:46 Speaker 1] Well, the trial was very long. I don’t know exactly how long I was in the country during them that time, but they were traveling back and forth. And, of course, Abby was going around speaking on campuses during the trial.
[0:16:01 Speaker 2] So I know he was a charismatic and popular speaker on those campuses, and I know that he also did college tours in the eighties as well.
[0:16:10 Speaker 1] That’s right. We’ve been it together.
[0:16:12 Speaker 2] So tell me a little bit about how he would prepare for those visits and what was attractive about those speaking tourist to campuses?
[0:16:20 Speaker 1] Well, during the trial, it was you know mainly for support and fundraising, I imagined. And then in the eighties, it waas to tell people, you know, we led delegations to Nicaragua to oppose government interventions in Central America. They supported students, supposing CIA recruitment on campuses, which led to another historically important CIA off campus. Try Elin Massachusetts, which we won, and he was the main advisor to students creating the National Student Convention in 1988. So I think it would be fascinating Thio if he was still with us today. If how he would have included the phone, Internet, social media and his organizing, I always thought that if he if he had been reincarnated, he would have been born with a phone on his ear. He always had to be near one. But that’s mainly what we did. And we always had saved the river, because when you have a river, you always have somebody wanted toe mess with it and scientists still going
[0:17:24 Speaker 0] Well,
[0:17:24 Speaker 2] it’s it’s wonderful that you all succeeded with that effort, and he was congratulated publicly by Senator Moynihan, you know, under Abby’s aliases. Well,
[0:17:35 Speaker 1] yeah, that was at the meeting. I told you about where he told the Army. You haven’t won a war since World War two. You’re not gonna
[0:17:42 Speaker 2] win this
[0:17:42 Speaker 1] one. And I took that photo of heaven going ahead. And in fact, at that meeting, it was in a in oratory, um, of the local high school in the 1000 Islands. And I was sitting in the front row. 800 people showed up a t end of Barry Freed’s testimony. Moynihan said, Well, now I know where the sixties has gone. Well, have been looked at me in the front row and he gave me that look. Does he know? Does he know? And I gave him a little signal note. No, he doesn’t know. He’s saying it, so, you know, that was, like, for example, a close call kind of moment. But But he didn’t know. I guess he must have been mad afterwards, he found out, but yeah, In the 19 eighties, he began to rely more heavily on reasoned discourse and long range organizational work. He urged young people to develop Democratic organizational structures on duh I think they have. I think they got it.
[0:18:47 Speaker 0] He
[0:18:48 Speaker 2] maintained these strong connections with other people and with people in the community and with some quite famous people, a swell. And I wanted to talk a little bit about those since the archive includes notes from David Bowie and John Lennon, Norman Mailer, Jimmy Carter really ride range of people, and I know some might characterized or think of. Abby is a contentious person, but he had lots of thes different types of connections and friends.
[0:19:18 Speaker 1] Well, they didn’t think he was contentious. Okay? He organized with humor, and he kept it all the way through all this whole life. I think that’s what made it endearing to people because they made them laugh because he always said so. The humor isn’t the opposite of being serious.
[0:19:40 Speaker 2] So you mentioned your own archives. I wondered if we could talk a little bit about your archives. You’ve got the letters in there that really show that it sounds like they carry on Abby’s work.
[0:19:51 Speaker 1] Oh, yes, Oh, yes, I’ve been organizing with people who worked with Abby and I since, well, we started in 2000 and three against the war in Afghanistan. It was nonstop. Hopefully, that’s going to end soon. That’s the kind of work I did organizing people to go on marches, write letters, go on television and the radio, and hopefully it’s going toe reap something.
[0:20:22 Speaker 2] That kind of organizing it takes an immense amount of coordination and communication and strategizing. And having access to these archives is so valuable to see how people go about that and how they succeed at it. And we’re so grateful to you for working with us to bring your papers and Hoffman papers to the Briscoe Center, and I understand that Abby’s papers were 75 boxes full.
[0:20:51 Speaker 1] Well, Howard’s guesstimating around that range,
[0:20:55 Speaker 2] and you lived with these boxes in your Manhattan apartment for over 30 years.
[0:21:00 Speaker 1] Well, I moved a couple
[0:21:02 Speaker 3] of e
[0:21:04 Speaker 1] fine goes, you know, constantly working with people kept giving me mawr archives. More films. In fact, I just got an email today, and I believe you have them. Are the all the outtakes from a movie called Revolution for the hell of it that were done in the hotel room during the trial? Definitely. This woman has a script I told her to stand, have decided to you if she didn’t know what to do with it.
[0:21:31 Speaker 2] Thank you.
[0:21:33 Speaker 1] And I really hope that his archives will keep his stare and radical legacy live, and it will serve. Both is a great resource for scholars studying 20 century activism and also as a teaching tool. You know, for all the great young organizer’s, we’re working to create a better world commending social and economic injustices to preventing a climate crisis catastrophe, right? E mean, he dedicated his life to social change to creating a more democratic and egalitarian compassionate world, especially compared to the one that we find today, with so many far right ringleaders rising internationally. But I’m optimistic, You know, I think the squad is gonna have some some additions, so there’s gonna be more than four, so that could be good.
[0:22:25 Speaker 2] So you’ve spoken really well about Abby’s legacy and the value of his papers as a teaching tool. And I wonder for students or other people who may have never heard of Abby and heard about what he believed in and his approach to political activism. What do you want them to know?
[0:22:46 Speaker 1] What does it come and look at the archive? E want them to be, You know, the books. I want them to be inspired by by this movie to know that they can organize, strategize against a government that is bad. And when that’s what I want them to know. And I think that I think people are encouraged and it’s it’s a different time. Now you know there’s room for them to organize. There’s room for them to do things. I think they’re doing so many good things. So many of the groups.
[0:23:22 Speaker 2] So I want Thio go back a bit. Thio the women who were left out of the trial of the Chicago seven movie I’d like Thio here, Maura, about them. I’ve read some of Abby’s letters to Anita that he wrote during the trial, just from looking through his archives, and I wondered if you could say a little bit more about their role. And I know that women were left out a lot in portrayals of the Black Panthers as well.
[0:23:49 Speaker 1] Yes, well, neither was a co conspirator with Abby, very smart woman and supported him. And throughout the trial on then his underground life too. So I mean support, you know, emotionally, I don’t mean financially. As a matter of fact, I had did not include my FBI files in my archives. I have them. Still. I told Don I still have another boxer to send you guys away. Well, it turns out that I was one of the 10 most harassed people between 69 72. They followed me everywhere. Andi, I had to quit my job. I was a model at the time that it was a bartender. I had to quit that they also went to the mother of my boyfriend at the time in Oregon She didn’t know existed. I mean, it was just horrible. So I finally got on a motorcycle and left New York State and went to Mexico, where I met Abby on. So I always like to say the FBI pushed me in tow, harboring fugitives.
[0:24:55 Speaker 2] Fantastic. I was gonna ask how you met him.
[0:24:58 Speaker 1] Yeah, well, way, you know, being in the same circles in New York. But I was living in Mexico. I’ve been there a year, and he came down and we had a mutual friend in common in Mexico. And that’s when we got together. And we stayed 15 years together with very little separation. It was great. It was great. Protecting him and covering for him and making sure his slip wasn’t showing. You know,
[0:25:28 Speaker 2] the metaphorical slip.
[0:25:31 Speaker 1] Yeah. And, uh, you know, I had been a fashion model, so I was good at disguises.
[0:25:36 Speaker 2] Of course, I hadn’t occurred to me, but yeah, that would makes total sense, right?
[0:25:43 Speaker 1] Have we traveled all across the United States? And we, you know, we make phone booth to phone booth telephone calls because, you know, we get these credit card numbers of large corporations on. Then if we wanted to talk to somebody, we just quickly say gold. Take your puppy for a walk on. They go to the local phone booths, which we don’t have any now. Florida. And that’s how we would communicate with people who would help us out. And everybody had a code name. You know, there was Lafayette there for a French person. I was James Shapiro. Abby was smart. Samuels. Barry free Don Friedlander. Well, we had all these ideas. Surely Rocio was one of mine, but we were pretty good. We were careful. We got stopped once or twice. We’re driving to Texas at night, and he’s speeding. Oh, my God. So the cop wants to write a ticket or take us to the courthouse, so I just started screaming at him. You mean I’m gonna have to drive the rest of the way? The Los Angeles. You stupid front of it. So the officer got so riled with me screaming it, Barry, he said Okay, okay. I’ll take you the post office. You could pay the fine. There it was at night. So we went, and we did that. And then we got out of Texas. But there were a few examples like that once in the south of France to, but we got out of them.
[0:27:12 Speaker 2] That makes me think about Abby’s use of theater as a political tool and how that could affect things on a large and a small scale to
[0:27:23 Speaker 1] Yeah, he was dramatic about it.
[0:27:26 Speaker 2] Do you think Abby felt an affinity for thinking of Lenin and Bowie and people that he knew pop culture figures that he knew? Do you think that he felt an affinity with that kind of theatricality and experimentation?
[0:27:41 Speaker 1] Perhaps. Or perhaps you just like the music. I know. We say that Paul Cantor’s house underground for a couple of months in San Francisco. I mean, people who were very helpful tow us. Lenin, Of course, we didn’t see underground, but he had met him in the sixties. Boy way met when he played the Elephant Man. We took Abby starter Ilia to the see the play. And then we went to boys lost afterwards. And they also they recognized each other a Z equal participants in the social change of the world. Hopefully.
[0:28:16 Speaker 2] So
[0:28:17 Speaker 1] what are
[0:28:17 Speaker 2] your hopes for thes archives? You mentioned students having access to them and activists learning from them. I wondered if you could say a bit more about how you hope people will look at these archives.
[0:28:29 Speaker 1] Well, yeah. Oh, absolutely. I mean, yeah, I haven’t seen how you’ve organized them yet. I only saw the show, but I’m assuming that if a student comes to you and wants to see some of the writings of his organizing, you know, the yellow legal pads with his very ledge a ble handwriting that they will be able to browse through them and that they will be helpful to teach them that how important strategy is Onda planning rather than just running out on the street. But to know what you’re doing when you go there,
[0:29:05 Speaker 2] I have to say from a research perspective, It’s really great when I can work with an archive with legible handwriting
[0:29:11 Speaker 1] e used to tied for him and correct his syntax and stuff. Eh? So I know it was really It was a pleasure to meet his hands. Right?
[0:29:23 Speaker 2] I noticed that there were successive drafts of pieces that he would be working on. So you could really see the different changes made to word choice or phrasing and pacing and things like that.
[0:29:36 Speaker 1] Oh, yeah. Even once his books were published, he’d read them and change thing e heavy. You can’t. What are you doing that for him? He had to change it, you know? But it was already published, so hey, did a lot of corrective work. He was constant. He didn’t hang out. You know, he always always working or organizing something. He didn’t just sit around and hang out. But I’m glad you enjoyed reading them.
[0:30:04 Speaker 2] Yeah, absolutely. There was one in particular that I came across that it was called proud to be an Earth man ashamed to be an American. And it was written from the perspective of having watched the moon landing just the night before.
[0:30:20 Speaker 1] Oh, I didn’t read that. That’s funny, because that was the night I first met him. My friend brought me over to his house and they were all in the dark with a big screen to watch the moon landing. My friend and I didn’t stay long, but I think they were all on LSD that evening watching the moon. But I didn’t know what he wrote about it afterwards.
[0:30:39 Speaker 2] I think we have that scanned. I included part of it in the exhibit, so I’ll see if we have a scan that I can send you. It was just written from the heart in a way that really appealed to me. And he had gone back and changed a few of the words like I mentioned before and his view of the United States. His empathy for other people and his love of and criticism of this country at the same time seemed to be bound up in this this piece. So it really appealed to me.
[0:31:12 Speaker 1] Oh, that’s good. Yeah, he was the first real American. I everyone out with eso. For me, that was amazing. I didn’t know that life. I was raised in new York and Paris. So I didn’t really know American men like that. And that was very intriguing to me to meet him toe hang out within Thio, drive them around the country and in France, England on. Do you know I would lead the way it would always be. This is Jane and her boyfriend, but Obama. But you’re not really saying the name to clear. So I was the distraction. So we say to keep people from focusing on him, that they might recognize him off course. His hair was different. Nose was different. He had a beard, you know, so and they weren’t expecting him. So we did get away with it quite a bit.
[0:32:10 Speaker 2] Just Thio wrap up. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about, Abby that you want to make sure we know about?
[0:32:18 Speaker 1] I want people to go and look at the archives because I have been filing them and organizing them for 30 years on. I want young organizer’s to go and, you know, learn how to create a better world by reading them and to realize then I think the movie helps a little bit, but seeing the archives would really help.
[0:32:41 Speaker 2] I agree, I think from reading through them myself, I got a sense of hope and optimism, thinking about what he had achieved.
[0:32:50 Speaker 1] Oh, yes, he did always have optimism. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been ableto do what he did.
[0:32:57 Speaker 2] Thank you so much for speaking with us
[0:32:59 Speaker 1] with no problem.
[0:33:00 Speaker 0] Anytime. E wanna welcome Bob Abzug and Thorne Dryer to this American Rhapsody podcast. Bob’s been a friend in a professional colleague of mine at the University of Texas for more than 40 years. If you can believe that, Bob,
[0:33:23 Speaker 3] I can’t believe
[0:33:24 Speaker 0] it. And Foreign is a donor to the center of the Briscoe Center. Aziz, well is also being a friend. So thanks to you both for being with us today. I appreciate it, Bob. You know, you’ve looked through some of the Abbey Hoffman papers and an introduction, and I explained how extensive that collection is. So our listeners who have hopefully some feel this isn’t some little bitty, you know, a few folders. This is a pretty big collection. But you you are able to go through some of the papers and and after you looked at the papers, you you mentioned to me that you felt that. You know, it’s sort of reinforce your thoughts about Abby turning out to be one of them or enduring personalities of the and I say enduring, not enduring necessarily depending upon your point of view but enduring personalities of really one of the most tumultuous eras of recent American history. And you won’t elaborate on that
[0:34:24 Speaker 3] Z to clarify for the audience. I looked at the early boxes, there were two boxes of material, and as I was told, they were sort of all It was like a grab bag, which in a way was very good because they hadn’t gotten ordered. And if Abby Hoffman was anything, he just wasn’t ordered. He didn’t fit into a Manila folder, so
[0:34:48 Speaker 0] that’s a good point. That’s a very good point.
[0:34:51 Speaker 3] And the thing that impressed me was the importance of his experience at BRANDEIS. But even before that of growing up in a middle class Jewish family less than a decade after the end of World War Two and the Holocaust. But we still haven’t added up all the traumatic impact all that had on the American Jews who are safe, but he got a taste of that and a connection to that at BRANDEIS, especially through one of his professors, Herbert Bar Kousa, who was a refugee. This guy had a audacious externalized. I’m here kind of personality. You would know when Abby was in town or in the dorm room or wherever. And if you combine that with a radicalization, both cultural and political, that happened to him at BRANDEIS, you’ve got a pretty powerful prelude to the 19 sixties now. He didn’t create the sixties, but he certainly fit in rather well and made his mark. So on a political level, that’s one Abby, but the other And it’s very mixed with the political is the cultural level that is walking through all the stoplights of American culture of the fifties, whether it was sexual or racial or whatever, what have you and following a kind of authenticity, well, Abby realized himself. I think it’s fair to say, and he was at BRANDEIS at the right time. He is ready to become the personification of a certain part of the late sixties and through the seventies of youth culture, and it didn’t necessarily have to turn out that way. I am sure there were people like Abby, who grew up in the forties and found that they weren’t in the kind of atmosphere that would breed a kind of recognition, although there were the beats and others. But nonetheless, it was a not a collision. It was really a coming together of, ah, historical moment and a very willing, very outgoing, a little bit crazy personality and very bright, very intelligent and very creative. I am sure he could have been a non artist, a writer, more than he wrote, but he turned to politics and utilize those skills in incredibly visible way.
[0:37:23 Speaker 0] You know, we think about Hoffman. His strategy is an activist was focused largely on performance activism, like some people would call it Political Street Theater. Do you think it’s accurate? I mean, from what you’re talking about? Is that related?
[0:37:38 Speaker 3] Well, I think so, Yeah, I don’t think he again. He had a perfect personality for that. In addition, Street theater Waas part of radical movements, at least where I was at u C. Berkeley. There were the Berkeley Bind Troop and various other experimental theaters in town.
[0:37:56 Speaker 0] What was the motivation for? Do you think for people like Abby to go to that kind of strategy because, you know, you had people that just were aerators and would get up. And, you know, Bobby Seale would get up and just give a straightforward, great oration, but I’d be took a different tack with a street theater. What were they trying to do with street theater?
[0:38:17 Speaker 3] Well, people are made for certain roles, and I think, yes, Bobby Seale could get up in front. I heard him in several times because he was at Oakland. He could get up and just mesmerized crowd. And Abby wasn’t like that. Abby was Mawr of a satirist. He was more of a showman. He wasn’t particularly radical in his notions. He was for freedom. He was for liberty. I don’t even think the word civil rights. I may be wrong. Entered that oration. But it wasn’t street theater. It was straight. Oh, the rabbi has asked me to give a sermon. So this is what he gave? I’m sure. Don. You remember, Thorn? You remember this idea of radicalization? Yes. You head over the head by a cop all of a sudden, you see the world in a different way. Exactly. And for a nice white liberal kid with a lot of energy All around him, people were being radicalizing. He himself
[0:39:17 Speaker 0] Very interesting. Bob, how effective do you think he looking at it from Big picture Waas? How effective do you think he was in the the anti war movement, for example?
[0:39:29 Speaker 3] Well, I think one way he was effective, although it the way he wasn’t always covered this way and probably in thorns paper he waas covered quite positively. But he kept a richness of reporting about the anti war movement, whether it was levitating, the Pentagon or in Chicago. I mean, what would the Chicago convention have been like without the give and take of Mayor Daley and the hippies? It wouldn’t be remembered. He was a big part of that. That showman Lee attitude knew how toe sort of put that show together. And Mayor Daley was hardly, you know, he wasn’t a student of to see what what the hippies were doing, but nonetheless, in those sorts of ways, in other words, in bringing a kind of showman’s color to the consciousness of the anti war movement, I think also later on the environmental movement. Although as we talked about at the opening under an assumed name. But nonetheless, there was Abby and it was a new veneer. It was it was he created for the press, the outer shell of cultural radicalism in some ways, much of the way that communes did and Woodstock did. And all these kind of things that if you watched early cable and you watch VH one or some show like that when they do a thing on the sixties, what did you see? You didn’t see the more conservative students leaving for ski vacation when their college closed down because a you know, uh, so what they covered were, you know, the exciting clashes of cultures. And he was part of that and a very colorful, extraordinary part that
[0:41:21 Speaker 0] someone told me that they thought that one of the reasons that he did this sort of performance, activism or street theater or, you know, his whole style was, you know, there may have been multiple reasons, like so many things, but one of his goals was to try and attract more young people. I mean, way think of the movement is being a young person’s movement. But well, obviously I think if you look at the polling figures and so forth, even those people involved in the anti war movement and some of the other cultural revolutionary things were still probably a minority. We’re talking about the totality of American youth and that he thought that again, this may be totally incorrect. It was someone’s perception that he thought that this would do a better job of attracting people, young people to the issues as opposed to just stern lectures. Let’s say,
[0:42:16 Speaker 3] Yeah, we got plenty of stern lectures at the time, and it was kind of refreshing to see people.
[0:42:24 Speaker 0] Does that sound right, though? I mean, does that sound?
[0:42:27 Speaker 3] It’s a reasonable cause and effect. I think that is, I think his presence attracted younger people who didn’t want to hear yet another lecture about how terrible the country waas and all that. But I’m not sure it was a conscious decision. I’m not sure he said to himself or said to a group of people, you know, I’m gonna become a radical comedian because that’s the way we get younger adherents, but I don’t see him doing that. I just see him being him.
[0:42:59 Speaker 0] Yeah, yeah, exactly what you were saying earlier? He was just being himself, and we could read back in that. Let’s have some sort of conscious goal or something. Strategy? Okay, this big question. Does Abby have a legacy today?
[0:43:14 Speaker 3] I think so. You know, I was looking at steal this book Thea other day after Ben had invited me. And I think if there hadn’t been somebody like Abby and a few other people to make light of the period, even as they were being very serious, it would be very hard to well, for historians or popular historians or documentarians to not have this endlessly somber vision of those times. And the beauty of Abby was that with all the showmanship, he was also very serious about the Cultural Revolution. Very serious about the political revolution. And so you can dig through him into some of the rial issues at hand and the way they were acted out.
[0:44:07 Speaker 0] Elaborate. A little as a as a historian of ideas, Bob. And you’ve touched on this little bit, but a little bit more directly. You know what research and teaching value do Papers like this have
[0:44:19 Speaker 3] well, both research and teaching and one of The things that an archive does is once you delve deeply into someone’s life, you understand and know that every historical actor has this deep, complicated life out of which he or she is acting, and putting them together is part of the task of a biographer or a sensitive historian. Is that and they could only do it with archives. They could only do it when they have access to letters, papers, Orel interviews, all sorts of sources that get below the mentioned in a book. And all of a sudden you see the development of a particular personality that was attracted to and participated in this cultural and political movement, and you might not change your mind about his politics. But you might sort of modify your sense of the use of the term buffoon because you all of a sudden see Abby or any person you research if you have enough material as a full fledged human being, with all the sorts of conflicts at all, the sorts of creating within all the sorts of changes of consciousness that perhaps any one of us has experienced over even half a lifetime
[0:45:47 Speaker 0] well, in this business, I’ve learned that sometimes people think you should only collect the papers of people they like. You know, it’s like a Hall of Fame or something like that. But you your statement is beautifully and well stated Bob. It’s great commentary on really why we do what we do, as in terms of the Briscoe Center, but is it also is a fellow historian. Why we do what we do is historians Thorn. First of all, Thorn. Before we get going, I just want to say the Briscoe Center was very pleased and be the archival home for your work is hosting, uh, commentator for the radio program Rag Radio, which gets its title from the name of the legendary 19 sixties Austin Underground newspaper, The Rag for which you served as an editor? Well,
[0:46:40 Speaker 4] I came to Austin in 63 I got involved in the movement. It’s that kind of thing that you were talking about. It’s just this overwhelming change that we all felt. I mean, it was like something was in the air. My family were artists and writers, and my father was sort of a liberal humanist, and my mother was a crazy artist and civil rights. She was. She
[0:47:02 Speaker 0] was a very good artist.
[0:47:03 Speaker 4] She was, Oh, she was a terrific artist, but And so I was already primed when I came to Austin to get involved and when I got involved with STS when I first got upto Austin. And then we started the rag in 1966 and The Rag was one of the first and one of the most influential of the sixties underground newspapers and there ended up being close to 1000 of them. And then I was. So I was in Austin from 63 until 60. I guess it was seven because then I went to I went to Houston and I went to New York and I worked with Liberation News Service, which is one of the places I used to run into Abby. Let’s
[0:47:44 Speaker 0] talk about Abby a second. About when you first any recollection you have of him when you were in New York City and and something a little bit about, Why would he be there?
[0:47:53 Speaker 4] Well, he was everywhere. Hey was all over the place. I mean, I ran into him it to Chicago convention. We were both inside the convention and in the streets with the police riot. I ran into him at the Pentagon when the levitated the Pentagon. It was funny because Head Sanders, who started the Fugs and is a sort of beatnik man of letters, I was on my radio show and he said, and I said, I was sorry. I was sorry that we didn’t actually levitate the Pentagon and he said, Well, we raised it, but we forgot to rotate it way needed to rotate it. And so that’s why it was came back, like it the same way. So and so I always I ran into him in lots of places. I ran into him. He came to Austin. Then I got to know him a little better later when, after he was underground.
[0:48:39 Speaker 0] Well, yeah. I mean, I was gonna ask you that. I mean, you’re one of the more memorable and notorious. I guess Chapters and Abby’s career is an activist was, you know, his decision to disappear into the political underground for, gosh, several years to escape criminal prosecution. How did you run into him in Houston During that period,
[0:48:59 Speaker 4] we invited Abby to come to Houston, and when I say we, I mean the space city, which was the newspaper I was working with then It was at a time when the Klan was very active in Houston and he was going to speak it Miller Theater, which he did the sort of hippie hill of Houston and it Rice University. And then at the Continental Club there was gonna be an event afterwards. Well, actually, Leonard Weinglass was supposed to come to Chicago seven. Attorney. So this was during the time that the Chicago seven conviction was being appealed. So, like I said, the Q Klux Klan had become very active in Houston, and we arranged for some black belts, friends of ours, to service Abby’s body guards accompanying him. Everywhere he went, the Ku Klux Klan had bombed Pacifica Radio off the air, twice had attacked various progressive groups, and our little underground newspaper, Space City, had really received much of their wrath. They’ve been bombed. A night writer shot bullets through the windows, and even my mother’s art gallery was shot up. The Klan labeled us the infamous dryer rats on dedicated an issue in their publication, the rag sheet to my family s. Oh,
[0:50:13 Speaker 0] oh, my Gosh, what an honor. Eso.
[0:50:15 Speaker 4] While Abby was in Houston, one of our staffers saw a car pull up in front of the office. There were two police cars, one on each end of the street, and they rolled down the driver’s side window, shot an arrow from a crossbow into the front door of the Space City office, and it had a sticker on it that said, The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is watching you. So we, in fact, when Abby left town, we gave him that arrow way between 2500 and 5000, depending upon who was counting. Saw Abby at Hermann Park.
[0:50:49 Speaker 0] Let me say, also, people are listening to this. It’s actually an amphitheater, outdoor amphitheater and Houston’s Hermann Park, which was that in Memorial Park, where the two largest parks in the city go ahead,
[0:51:02 Speaker 4] Right? That’s true, And Herman Park was also sort of a gathering for hippies. They called it Hippy Hill or and that’s where he spoke. But there was a lot of reaction. Then there were a lot of plant. A lot of right wingers who came to that and Rice University canceled his appearance, called it an unapproved event. There was a fire in the dean of students office, and students occupied a campus building, which they immediately labeled the Abbey Hoffman Free Speech center. So anyway, this was a wonderful thing, this description of that of the gathering in the evening, which was at the Continental Showcase, which is a music club. This was an FBI memo, and it said during a later rally at the Continental Showcase, numerous individuals were observed smoking marijuana utilizing pipes rather than cigarettes. And the marijuana smoke became so thick that one of the waitresses became ill. The rally ended with a speech by Abbie Hoffman, which was highly critical of the government and was liberally laced with obscenities. Oh,
[0:52:05 Speaker 0] well, we know that couldn’t be true, Rob. Okay,
[0:52:07 Speaker 4] so anyway, the bodyguards, Abby’s body guards ended up starting a free karate class for the for movement people. So that was something that came out of that.
[0:52:16 Speaker 0] Let’s back up. Did you actually talk to him or be around him other than what you just described while he was there in Houston during that particular
[0:52:24 Speaker 4] Yeah, Yeah, we visited. We were going with him to the freest places that he spoke and stuff. And, uh, and I had some time to visit with him. Yeah,
[0:52:33 Speaker 0] so he goes underground, and you play a tiny little part in that.
[0:52:36 Speaker 4] Well, the funny thing that happened was I told you I mentioned Jeff Night Bird. Jeff Shiro is his name. When he was the Ragin and STS in Austin, Jeff Night Bird called me up one day and said that he had a couple of friends that he wanted me to meet. And I was at my house with my friend Joan. So he says, Can we come by? And just in a few minutes there’s a knock on the door and he comes in and there’s this nice Jewish guy and this very, very striking tall striking woman was with him, and he’s introduced him Is Barry and Johanna, and we sat and talked for quite a while, and it was very interesting discussion. And so after a while they left. And then I got a call back from Jeff and he said, You know who that waas and I said no. And he said that was Abby. And so anyway, they returned. Might we had dinner with him?
[0:53:26 Speaker 0] What kind of guy. Was he in that kind of setting, you know, dinner and all that sort of
[0:53:30 Speaker 4] very laid back in this case, he wasn’t on stage. I mean, he was always on stage a little bit. E mean, you never got the stage out of him entirely. But then they also they were going to Mexico. This is when they were underground and they were going to Mexico. And so they spend a little We spent some time together because I was sharing some contacts that I had with people in Mexico that they might want to visit and that kind of thing. So that was fascinating and probably was the most time I ever in one situation spent with with Abby.
[0:54:01 Speaker 0] Well, let me interject one thing here you were talking about that striking tall, good looking woman, Joanna Hoffman became Hoffman. I don’t know if they were married at that point or not, but they were eventually. And Joanna is the person who really I worked with to get the papers into the archives into the Briscoe Center. She has her own fascinating career. By the way, before she met Happy, she was a internationally known Fashion model magazine model, and her mother, Helen Lawrenson, was the first woman writer that Esquire magazine ever hired back in the early 19 thirties on, she was quite a part of the literary scene there in Manhattan during the thirties and forties. So when we worked out the deal to get Abby’s papers, we also added Johann a Zone extensive collection of papers about her career and is her mother’s and s. So it was really a three, for we got Abbeys. And then we got these papers of these two important personages. Thorn in your capacity is the, you know is the host of rag radio. You’ve interviewed amazing number of activists and journalists and politicians who, uh, pretty much on the left side of the political spectrum. And they range from Texas, his own Ronnie Dugger to Tom Hayden and even Bernie Sanders. So that’s an interesting group of people. Do you have any way of saying how Abby hop and fits in that spectrum?
[0:55:38 Speaker 4] I think Abby, Abby and and in fact, I think Abby was extremely important, an extremely important figure on the left and in the Cultural Revolution. I have ah, friend who’s a historian who’s who wrote a history of the hippies in the sixties. But who’s right now writing a book about Austin and the political transformation of Austin and basically part of his thesis is that that Austin had the hippest politicos and the most political hippies, and that he thinks that was part of what worked in changing Austin. But he wrote a note and asked if what I thought about Abby Hoffman, because he said that a lot of state old new lefties and academics and whatever didn’t like him thought he was a show off thought that he didn’t use his actions to try to build an organization or to build a movement. I said that I didn’t see any inherent contradiction between being a serious revolutionary, and he had used the term media prankster. I didn’t see any inherent contradiction there. They didn’t organizing the community, but they certainly set off a whole lot of activity as a result of what they did. And they certainly got a lot of attention for the anti war movement for new left issues, and what they did was very much in the tradition of the spectacle. The large scale surrealistic agit prop theater, you know, in ways that I thought were sometimes rather genius, like the Provo’s. The data is the living theater. All of that stuff, I thought, was very, very significant. And it was in a grand tradition.
[0:57:13 Speaker 0] Well, I think it’s important inside. I mean, it makes me think about the time that he went down to all street to the stock market through dollar bills on the floor of the stock market and caused a huge scene.
[0:57:26 Speaker 4] Right? The brokers were scrambling around on the floor, grabbing money exactly on widely
[0:57:34 Speaker 0] covered by the press. I should say,
[0:57:36 Speaker 4] Yeah, and and and my whole thing is that’s a picture worth 1000 words, you know. Ah lot of this running pick ASUs for president. Those kind of things and those photos of those images of that stuff just traveled everywhere. And so I always thought that that stuff was very important. Well,
[0:57:53 Speaker 0] I knew it was brilliant. If your goal is to get, you know, attention to an issue and it’s harmless, it’s harmless. Also, people are making fools of themselves a little bit, I guess. But
[0:58:03 Speaker 4] there were clowns, their radical clowns. Well, I met the stock. Yeah. I don’t think Abby was making you. Yeah, yeah, but But,
[0:58:16 Speaker 3] you know, there were
[0:58:16 Speaker 4] other groups that did similar things, like the well, of course I said the Provo’s. But in this country, the diggers and the San Francisco maimed Troop and a number of other groups. Well,
[0:58:27 Speaker 0] let me ask you, what kind of sort of a final question here We’re gonna have you back, by the way, Thorn, Because I talked about your own collection in another podcast. But we’ve been actively. The Briscoe Center has been actively collecting papers and archives, documenting the history of political activism, social activism, anti war movement and so forth in the sixties and seventies. And why do you think that’s important for us to do?
[0:58:52 Speaker 4] Oh, well, I think it’s critically important. Otherwise, that stuff just gets lost. And it’s also, I think, that what you’re putting together at UT at risk. Oh, you’re also its thematic. You’re pulling together a lot of really important stuff that’s accessible to the public. It’s accessible to academics and getting people something like Abbie Hoffman’s papers. I think it’s just is extremely valuable. I’m so proud to be a part of
[0:59:18 Speaker 0] it. The Briscoe Center preserves the raw materials of the past. Today’s episode was made possible by the Abbey Hoffman papers. The collection includes manuscript drafts of his speech is his FBI foul photographs, drawings, posters, ephemera, records from the Chicago seven trial and extensive fouls of correspondence with a wide variety of individuals, including President Jimmy Carter, John Lennon, David Boy, Norman Mailer, Walter Cronkite Got Allen Ginsberg and Studs Terkel. The Abbey Hoffman papers air among thousands housed at the center. People across America have entrusted this evidence to us and used by people from across America. In addition to inspiring their work that inspires our own books, documentaries, exhibits, online repositories and digital humanities projects by collecting, preserving and making available these materials, we help keep the debates and arguments about who we are rooted in evidence, and we keep the American Rhapsody