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Abbie Hoffman: God-fool of Conscience

On behalf of political poet Abbie Hoffman reported ar­rested with friends and a group of Government men over three pounds of cocaine, I wish to share my thoughts:

First I bear witness to his special experience in the hon­orable cause of Peace Protest in the face of violent denial of human civil rights to citizens in America and out of it, especially during course of In­dochinese War activity foisted on this nation by Government. Abbie Hoffman has already been jailed many times for seeking, with peaceful fire and good humored street theatre and astonishing public drama, redress of grievances for the bad luck of the Vietnam War.

Reviled and insulted at first for articulating a now commonly held opinion of that war, he defended himself and others against defeated Gov­ernment accusations of con­spiracy, illegal speech, ges­ture, and public assembly in urging the War end. In this sit­uation he became a hero in a nation engulfed with moral catastrophe, and no man of any generation in right mind can be but grateful for Abbie Hoffman’s inventive national communication of the War’s madness and folly. I remain gratetul for his righteous indignation over the Vietnam War, the moral power of his deeply felt resistance to the injustice of it, and his demon­stration of free Imagination against mass complacency at the mass murder in which we were all involved.

Abbie Hoffman was one of the first souls in the nation to make consciousness sensitive to the Eichmann-like nature of our public War-guilt. Thus any legal case in which he is involved is a matter of deep political consideration, requiring special attention, straight heart judgment, and exquisite moral care that public resentment against him as god-fool of Conscience not crush him in present legal difficulty.

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We are now in midst of national scandal of Government misbehavior called Water­gate. High politicians preaching law and order were themselves habitually breaking Bill-of-Rights laws in the interests of the creation of some sort of police state. Patriotism was as usual the refuge of these scoundrels, who wrapped themselves in the language of the flag, in order to trash the Constitu­tion. This is an age-old pattern. Unauthorized wiretap­ping, spying, use of agents­-provocateurs and double agents, spooks, burglaries, police set-ups, official perju­ry, in-government conspiracy to deprive citizens of protection against excess government snooping and illegal infra-war activity, domestic surveillance of political en­emies — this pattern of Watergate crooked-heartedness was precisely the government pat­tern denounced prophetically by Abbie Hoffman.

Some of these same Watergate actors defamed and prosecuted Abbie Hoffman precisely for his vocal and theatrical resistance to their war machine. He too wrapped himself in the flag, threw free money off the balconies of the stock market, wrote forbidden words on his brow, woke the young to national disaster, and practiced exorcism of a black magic operating in the highest reaches of respectable government — illusory statistics, lying, public decep­tion, conspiracy mania even assassination in Vietnam, Operation Phoenix, confessed in public before Congress. Constriction by Government on his own liberty, such as wiretapping, has I believe been proven in court in the course of numerous trials by which the government tried to knock Abbie Hoffman and his peace friends out of action against War and growth of police state.

So I bear witness that Abbie Hoffman is not an ordinary citizen, member of a silent majority of Citizens compli­ant with 1984-style Bureau­cracy and acquiescent to remote-control war. Hoffman is a patriot who has fought the Good Fight to waken his fellow Americans to the cor­ruption of their own tradi­tional ideals. Like Tom Paine, he is a classic example of philosophic and poetic drama­tist of public Ideals, a pamph­leteer and book man, seeking liberty for his country and sanity on its government. His just causes were questions illegal war and police stale, not touched deeply by the courts, till late — they were touched deeply by Abbie Hoffman.

Thus his social position as a leader or theorist of new sur­vival society credits him with deliberation and reason. His present involvement with agents of Drug Bureaucracy over cocaine sale may be questionable, but so may be their involvement with Abbie Hoffman.

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In time of communal Apathy synchronous with Abbie Hoffman’s recent disil­lusioned withdrawal to pri­vate life (after crises of his public efforts to confound Government police bureau­cracy and war led him to be attacked left and right), Hoffman is now to be congrat­ulated on an arrest which by its very surprise, its simulta­neous whimsicality and seriousness, re-unites many of his fellow workers once again to resist the steamroller of police state Power crushing another live citizen’s body.

Hoffman’s arrest for co­caine dealing does not bear toward resolution of the real “hard drug” problem in America, in any way shape or form.

Government’s visioned sen­tence of life for Abbie Hoffman resolves no whit the real tormenting drug problem in America, but only adds more pain and hysteria to the scene.

What is the actual “hard drug” mess in America? Poli­ticians, police, drug bureau­crats, and criminal syn­dicates run wild over the public, and over sick junkies, against professional medical­-scientific advisement — greed and money is their addiction and violence and hypocrisy their works.

The real drug problem in America is that government narcotics bureaucracies and organized crime have had a status quo working relationship for decades. This ar­rangement denies legitimate opiate addicts reasonable access to their specific medi­cines. The black market for opiates consequently created serves to increase the number of addicts, not decrease it, serves only to increase the social disorientation of addiction, not cure it, serves to discredit helpless sick citizens, not minister to them. This arrangement increases the pain of addiction.

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This ar­rangement profits only Nar­cotics Control Agencies and Organized Crime Networks. Both depend on continued criminalization of addicts to maintain their comple­mentary parasitic existences. Both groups have grown with the growth of the black market they have created. In this situation the medically sick junkie is a victim, treated like a Jew under Hitler driv­en mad in the streets to seek relief from unendurable pain and social degradation im­posed on him by police bu­reaucracy and organized crime.

This moral and political running sore, uncured by self-­righteous anger at heroin addicts, further infected with hysteria by current draconian law, is opened afresh in an operation in which agents of the drug bureaucracy reveal themselves dramatically buying pounds of old Bohemi­an cocaine from Abbie Hoffman and friends. Cocaine in my experience is a drug neither hard nor soft, offering too short a flash for common use, too expensive for psy­chological habit generally, traditionally the sport of self­-indulgent millionaires more recently gaga rock stars.

The seriousness of punish­ment promised by vengeful prosecutors — one of whom characterized Abbie Hoffman’s hapless dabbling in cocaine as “insidious and treacherous as homicide”­ — opens up the great Drug Question — not so much of Hoffman’s legal or moral guilt, which notion is consider­able whimsical in fact. His ar­rest raises the publicly sup­pressed Drug Question: how can we endure longer the total insanity sadism incoherence and incomprehensibility of past and fresh present narcot­ics law politics? Hoffman’s arrest, by its own built-in heaviness of consequence, raises challenge to the entire fabric of law that confuses foolish sensational cocaine or serious philosophic psyche­delics as “hard drugs”, with the strong-habit-forming opiates and over-plentiful brain-cooking amphetamines. How dare Government bu­reaucracy impose penalties on use and sale of hard drugs for the last half-century without providing (as do other countries successfully) reasonably satisfactory easily ac­cessible medical services for the majority of addicts who now outnumber and for 150,000 reasons don’t fit into recent but limited scope of monolithic police-­bureaucracy-supervised methadone maintenance services?

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Beyond this colossal inflic­tion of pain on heroin-addicted citizens, present law perpetu­ates discomforting sanctions against marijuana use, contrary to the best counsel of reason and science codified into innumerable public re­ports, and contrary to vast community experience. By what unconstitutional pro­scription of liberty and pur­suit of happiness must the Drug Bureaucracy maintain its heavy criminal penalties for securing gardening and distributing sociable noncommercial quantities of help weed? What state violence is used to suppress herbal cigarette smokes? The soft drug situation remains undefined except by official presumption and violence, confused and complicated by law and crime where it might be simply free of law and crime but regulated as in other societies by common sense of situation.

This ken on Abbie Hoffman’s arrest doesn’t propose encouragement of co­caine spread — it does propose shock dismay and mental re­jection of the idea that life imprisonment for cocaine sale (with no eligibility for parole for 15 to 25 years, depending on pronouncement of the judge) to police is a sane response to the fact of cocaine and its elitist use in USA. Mandatory life for cocaine is neurotic, irrational, a hys­terical swipe at people’s souls, a Polyphemus body crusher punishment, a killer idea — it is not sober social response to cocaine usage and special problems, it is no help to old ladies in the street mugged by ignorant junkies conditioned to depravation violence and pain with police bureaucracy and mafia fattening on the illegality of addiction.

Life in Jail for anti-War Hero Abbie Hoffman and friends is National Folly. Threat of life behind bars for Hoffman over cocaine sale is not an image of Law and Order, it is an image of bu­reaucratic dictatorship and confusion, it is misrule and chaos, National Folly.

I pray with body speech and mind OM AH HUM for courts and government and public to recognize the strange delica­cy and historical charm of the situation in which they are placed together with peace poet Abbie Hoffman. ❖

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The Trial of the Chicago 7: ‘The Seditious Movie’

films in focus

“LOVING” gets so much better as it goes along that it emerges almost in retrospect as that rarity of rarities: an intelligent and compassionate treatment of the New York-Westport merry-go-round. Throughout his career in films, Irvin Kershner has shown an unusual interest in eccentric losers stranded in natural locations. “The Luck of Ginger Coffee,” “A Fine Madness,” and “The Flim Flam Man” never quite bridged the chasm between surreal characterizations and too real backgrounds, but, with “Loving,” Kershner has found material that fully conforms to the contradictions of his style. George Segal’s commuting commercial illustrator is a kind of Charlie Bubbles character drowning in Bromo Seltzer, and at first it does not seem clear why he has begun to malfunction as a marital mechanism dedicated to making money as efficiently as possible, but suddenly the why seems less important than the how. Don Devlin’s adaptation of J. M. Ryan’s novel is deceptively elliptical in its exposition, and Kershner’s distant lensing of cramped streets creates a dangerous degree of anguished alienation in the audience, dangerous, that is, because many spectators may turn off from the protagonist before he begins making psychological contact with his predicament. Then suddenly there is one unexpected scene, and another, and still another, and, for a climax, a voyeuristic orgy of childish adultery, combining the possibilities of Marshall McLuhan, Sigmund Freud, and Lewis Carroll. Ultimately, husband and wife (Eva Marie Saint) come together with convulsive violence through mutual shame and humiliation and a shared complicity in the sweet life of suburbia. Segal and Saint are ably supported by Sterling Hayden’s Old Testament plutocrat and vulgarian, and Keenan, Wynn’s grubby agent.

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Not the least of the merits of “Loving” is its acknowledgement that a man’s job is of more than passing importance in the living of his life. Indeed, making a living is often the largest part of making a life. Not that the movie should have been called “Living.” “Loving” is about loving, and the energy it requires to keep relationships in focus. George Segal’s tiredness should make many members of his generation extremely uncomfortable if not utterly uptight. “Loving” strikes too close to home.

I strongly recommend Robert Bresoon’s “MOUCHETTE” at the New Yorker. Also, Maurice Pialat’s “ME,” a stirring testament to the irremediable loneliness and alienation of a child. The film manages the difficult task of expressing feelings without fantasy, and of evoking tears without sentimentality.

1970 Village Voice article by Andrew Sarris about a possible Chicago 7 movie

FOR THE BENEFIT of readers who wish to be kept informed on where it’s at, the following press release dated March 3, 1970 is reprinted in its entirety: “Abbie Hoffman announced this morning (March 3) that he and other defendants in the Chicago conspiracy trial will attempt to offset legal expenses by making their own feature film of the trial.

“Speaking on Alex Bennett’s WMCA radio show, Hoffman said the film will be called ‘The Seditious Movie’ (‘because we’re not allowed to make seditious speeches’). It will star all seven defendants, their lawyers, and a number of ‘sympathetic’ celebrities including Dustin Hoffman (no relation), he said.

“The Yippie leader revealed that he sent a telegram to Judge Julius Hoffman (also no relation) yesterday afternoon offering the judge $100,000 to play himself in the film. The prosecutor and assistant prosecutor have also been offered money to appear.

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“The picture will be directed by Nick Ray (‘Rebel Without a Cause’), Hoffman (Abbie, that is), and Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman said. It will be filmed this spring in New York on a studio set that will be an exact replica of the Chicago courtroom where the trial took place.”

The implications of such a press release strain the resources of the most speculative mind. The idea of re-enacting a judicial spectacle full of violent outbursts, poisonous prejudices, and the most lurid lapses of decorum would seem to be consistent with Abbie Hoffman’s strategy of making political realities seems as grotesquely contrived and as predictably theatrical as a Punch-and-Judy show. And who is to say that he is ill-advised to treat his predicament with such levity? Sacco and Vanzetti were much more lovable than Abbie Hoffman, but they were judicially crucified just the same. The fact is that Abbie Hoffman and his co-defendants should never have been brought to trial at all on such flimsy evidence and on such nebulous charges. And that they should be denied bail as dangerous criminals at a time when the alleged murderers of the Mississippi civil rights workers were roaming around on their own recognizance indicates the rampant hypocrisy of the American judicial system. But what galls many otherwise sympathetic souls about Hoffman is that he seems determined to exploit every misfortune to the greater glory of his own showbiz personality. Dear Abbie just won’t behave like a professional victim with sad, mournful, hangdog expressions. There is no stoicism, no proletarian nobility, no heroic dignity in this clown of a thousand costumes. There will be no revolutionary songs about Abbie Hoffman, perhaps because Abbie knows enough about history to realize that the subjects of revolutionary songs seldom live long enough to sing them.

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There is a great deal of talk these days about the proper tactics for reform and revolution as if the unarmed and the outnumbered can ever prevail even with magical verbal potions from Havana or Hanoi. More likely, the white middle class radicals will indeed cash in their ideological images for the rich rewards of cultural one-upmanship while the blacks of all classes bear the full brunt of the backlash. It is hard to forget that Abbie Hoffman is at least partly responsible for making Nixon, Agnew, Mitchell, and Carswell such household words, and so long as Nixon is allowed to campaign against Abbie Hoffman, so long will the Great Silent Majority continue to swell into terrifyingly Hitlerian hordes. As I have said, Abbie Hoffman doesn’t belong in a courtroom or on the political stump. He is a creature of the theatre, the cinema, the media. He should not be tried by judges, but rather reviewed by the gentlemen of the Fourth Estate. And was it so long ago that Eugene McCarthy’s crusading children cut their hair before canvassing the New Hampshire voters? If anyone has found a better way to change conditions in America except by winning election then let that inspired innovator step forward and explain how. Somehow, I don’t see that the antics of Abbie Hoffman are improving things, but I am talking as a citizen rather than as a critic. As a critic, I am sorry that Abbie Hoffman was unable to get Groucho Marx for the role of Judge Hoffman. With Nicholas Ray at the helm, and Groucho Marx in his judge’s robes, “The Seditious Seven” might well have emerged as a mordant version of “Duck Soup.” But as for changing people’s minds and souls with a movie, forget it! Reliable observers tell me that Southern audiences give the murderous rednecks in “Easy Rider” standing ovations for blowing up the noncomformist bikers. ❖

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1970 Village Voice article by Andrew Sarris about a possible Chicago 7 movie

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The Grand Central Riot: Yippies Meet the Man

Inside A Yip-In

All the brass was watching. Chief Inspector Sanford Garelik, shielded by a cluster of Tactical Patrol Force heavies, leaned against the wall in the 42nd Street entrance to Grand Central Station, intently watching the churning sea of demonstrators. Sid Davidoff and Barry Gottehrer, Lindsay’s roving sensory apparatus, roamed around the terminal for hours. And a dozen privileged persons of some sort lined the balcony above the escalators leading to the Pan Am Building, observing the melee below like Romans digging the arena. 

All the brass were watching, and the cops were having a ball. “It was the most extraordinary display of unprovoked police brutality I’ve seen outside of Mississippi,” Alan Levine, staff counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said at a press conference on Saturday. “The police reacted enthusiastically to the prospect of being un­leashed.” Levine reported seeing several people forced to run a gauntlet of club-wielding cops while trying to flee from what has been characterized as a “police riot.” Spitting invective through clenched teeth, cops hit women and kicked demonstrators who had fallen while trying to escape the flailing nightsticks. It was like a fire in a theater. 

It was a Yip-In. “Its a spring mating service celebrating the equinox,” read a Yippie handbill, “a back-scratching party, a roller­-skating rink, a theater, with you, performer and audience.” The Yip-In was held for Yippies to get acquainted, and to promote the Yippies’ “Festival of Life,” which will coincide with the Democratic National Convention in Chicago this summer. 

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The promotion was as heavy as the planning was weak. The Yip-In was announced at a press conference at the Americana Hotel, and several thousand handbills were distributed urging Yippies to come to Grand Central Station at midnight on Friday. Why Grand Central Station? “It’s central, man,” said one Yippie. How many Yippies would come? Well, it was a good way to test the pull of the media. 

The media pulls, and a lot of people came. Most came by subway, coming up out of the bowels of the 42nd Street station to fill the mammoth terminal like a diverted river might fill a dry lake. Soon it was a sea of heads, and it was hard to move. Balloons bounced above the crowd, as an estimated 6,000 people were jammed together under the vaulted ceiling.

The crowd stirred and the balloons bounced for almost an hour, while the terminal continued to fill. Occasionally clusters of people took up chants, ranging from “Yippie!” to “Long Hot Summer!” to “Burn, Baby, Burn!” Shortly before one, kids began to climb to the roof of the information booth in the center of the terminal, where they began to lead the chants, and one militant climbed to the pinnacle of the information booth, striking a “Workers, Arise!” pose, his fist raised in the air, and unfurled a banner which read, vertically, “Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker!” Two cherry bombs exploded, and the sound was greatly amplified in the huge room. Now the balconies were packed, and the cops were quivering in formation in the 42nd Street entrance. 

There are four clocks on top of the information booth, and as the roof became more crowded the temptation to rape time apparently became irresistible. First kids turned the hands around, and then the hands suddenly disappeared. 

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I was standing close to the cops when they started to clear the entrance, shoving people into the terminal or out in the street, where more cops were waiting in formation. I ran around the corner to the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance, and came to the balcony that overlooked the terminal in time to see a wedge of blue slice into the crowd, nightsticks swinging, until they came to the information booth, where they paused. The kids slid off the roof and the crowd recoiled. The police surrounded the information booth and, in seconds, now rein­forced, charged the crowd again, forcing the demonstrators back into the huge corridor which led to the subway. The crowd simply made a U-turn in a connecting corridor and flowed back into the terminal, and the cops went wild. 

Now another formation of cops charged toward the stairs where I was standing, and I made for the street again, rounded the corner, and returned to the 42nd Street entrance, which was now entirely filled with police. I pinned on my press credentials and began to move through the police line. My credentials were checked twice, and I was allowed to pass. At that point, I was stopped a third time by two uniformed cops. They looked at my credentials, cursed the Voice, grabbed my arms behind my back, and, joined by two others, rushed me back toward the street, deliberately ramming my head into the closed glass doors, which cracked with the impact. They dropped me in the street and disappeared. My face, and my press card, were covered with blood. I went to the hospital to get five stitches in my forehead. 

So I missed the climax of the Yip-In, but I can pass on various accounts of witnesses. The police, it seems, continued to charge the crowd at random, first charging, always swinging the nightsticks, then pulling back, then charging again. Sometimes several formations of police charged simultaneously in different directions. The exits were jammed and the crowd was in a panic, desperately trying to avoid the nightsticks. The police kept charging.

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During all this time, arrests were being made. Within two hours, 57 persons were arrested, on charges ranging from felonious assault and criminal mischief to resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. At least 20 persons were taken to hospitals for treatment. 

The arrest procedure followed a brutal pattern. Most of the people arrested were automatically beaten with nightsticks. (The cops didn’t seem to want anyone to walk out after having been arrested.) “If you protected yourself, you were resisting arrest,” a witness said. “If you didn’t, you were knocked out.” A youth was arrested near the escalator leading into the Pan Am Building, and was dragged across the terminal, screaming with pain, while police kicked him in the groin. He finally collapsed, and police grabbed him by the back of the belt, and carried him out to the waiting paddy wagons. 

At another point, Voice columnist Howard Smith relates, the police made a charge toward the west side of the terminal, and a soda bottle came flying out of the crowd, striking a cop. Five cops grabbed a kid — ­the wrong one, Smith said — and shoved him into the door of Track 32, where they began beating him with nightsticks. While the kid, later identified as Jon Moore, 17, screamed “I didn’t do it” and “It wasn’t me,” the crowd shouted “Sieg Heil!” Still the beating continued. Some other cops approached and tried to stop the beating, Smith said, and then a police captain approached and made the guise of breaking it up. Moore, who was now hunched over protecting his head and groin, looked up, and the captain grabbed his head and cracked it against the iron grating of the door, cursing “you son of a bitch.” The captain then turned away, brushing his hands, and Moore was taken out of the station. He was later charged with felonious assault. 

These incidents were not exceptional. Ronald Shea, 22, was shoved by police through a plate-glass door. He raised his hands to protect his face, and the broken glass severed every essential tendon and nerve in his left hand. In six months, doctors at Roosevelt Hospital say, he may regain partial use of his hand. Shea was not arrested. 

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Witnesses charged that several plainclothesmen, who had infiltrated the crowd before the police charged, were even more brutal than the uniformed cops when the swinging started. They add that the plainclothesmen, who wore no badges, refused to identify themselves when questioned by accredited newsmen. Several instances were reported when cops struck or intimidated people seen writing down badge numbers. Witnesses emphasize that no warning or order to disperse was given at any time before or after the police charged the demonstrators, although a public address system was presumably available in the station. Ed Sanders of the Fugs contends that the people would have responded to a warning. “People who come to Yippie demonstrations are very reasonable,” he said. “There was no reason to rush in and crunch.” 

After the police first charged, Abbie Hoffman, YIP leader, report­edly approached Barry Gottehrer, assistant to the mayor, and asked to use the terminal’s public address system. Gottehrer replied that he thought Hoffman was “an hour and a half late,” and refused. Hoffman then asked that the police be pulled out, and Gottehrer presumably refused again. 

After an hour and a half, the cops calmed down, and the remaining demonstrators were allowed to remain in the terminal. Others went to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park, also staked out with police, where the organizers of the Yip-In had planned to meet to “yip up the sun.” By 4:15 A.M., Grand Central Station was empty. 

Saturday morning, the key leaders of the YIP, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Paul Krassner, and Bob Fass, left New York to fly to Chicago for a conference regarding the planning of activities during the Democratic National Convention. Later that morning, the 57 people arrested were arraigned in court. Most of the people were represented by Legal Aid. YIP had made no arrangements for lawyers or bail.

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There was a lot of garbage and buck-passing flying around during the following days. Gottehrer, at a YIP press conference Sunday night, placed considerable emphasis on the crowd on top of the information booth, the cherry bombs, and the damage to the clocks. He refused to concede any misconduct on the part of the police. YIP spokesmen complained about a breakdown of communications, insisting that they had never considered the possibility or violence. On Monday, the scuttlebutt at City Hall included rumors that some of the demonstrators were carrying dynamite Friday night, and privately city officials alleged that the police received two bomb threats at Grand Central Station. Now the rumors have gone even further, with representatives of both sides darkly referring to “provocateurs” who incited the police to riot. 

As I see it, the central issue — besides the astonishing brutality of the police — was a failure in planning on the part of both YIP and the city that borders on gross incompetence and irresponsibility. Although YIP had been in contact with the mayor’s office before the demonstra­tion, the city gave no indication as to what their response would be. The city urged YIP to consult with the New York Central Railroad, which owns Grand Central Station, which YIP did not do. The demonstration was allowed to form without interference or objection and, an hour later, without warning, the police viciously attacked the crowd. There was little direction or coordination evident in the cops’ attack; they seemed to be improvising. YIP did not even bring a megaphone so that they could address their own people; in the situation that developed, the leaders found themselves impotent. The cardinal insanity was the selection of Grand Central Station for an enormously publici­zed demonstration of totally indeterminate size. The Yip-In was the fourth and by far the largest demonstration to be held at the terminal. The first three all ran into cops. It was a pointless con­frontation in a box canyon, and somehow it seemed to be a pro­phecy of Chicago. ❖

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The Trial of the Chicago 7: Indictment and Protest

Spring’s Awakening 

It’s been a busy week. Thursday the Federal Grand Jury indicted eight “non-leaders” of the Chicago demonstration for conspiracy to break the law and incite a riot. Friday Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and Dave Dellinger held a press conference at the Hotel Diplomat welcoming the indictment as “the academy award of protest” and asking others to “join the conspiracy.” Saturday there was a demonstration at Foley Square while the conspirators surrendered themselves to the authorities. Saturday evening another protest sponsored by Alternate U. and a group called the Crazies ran from the New York Times to Grand Central to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park and then back again. And then late Sunday night Abbie Hoffman’s office on East 5th Street was busted for narcotics and guns.

Spring had come. After months of being restricted to indoor sports everything seemed to burst out into the streets. There was a great deal of excitement and agitation leading nowhere in particular. The events seemed to follow each other in no particular sequence. One after another they would capture one’s attention and then disappear as rapidly as they had arisen, leaving the impression that they were somehow tenuously strung together and yet tracing no discernible pattern.

The indictment came as something of a surprise. After having anticipated it momentarily, waited for it patiently, feared it endlessly, and finally dismissed it entirely, Rubin claims that he was really shocked when it finally descended from the higher courts. “I was into something new and now they bring this whole thing back to us,” he complained. “Will Chicago never end?”

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The evening of their indictment, Rubin and Hoffman met uptown in the plush offices of their defense attorneys. Everyone hugged everyone else, talked about how this trial would go all the way, how they’d push it to the Supreme Court, how it might take six months of trial and years of appeals, but how this was what they’d been waiting for.

Most of the speculation centered around why Bobby Seale, (one of the last Black Panther leaders who isn’t in jail or in exile) had been included in the list of those indicted. One of the theories was that the New Left had friends in high places who wanted to see all its various factions unified. Others claimed that whoever had been the architect of the indictment was just plain stupid and clearly had no idea what the consequences of this cross-cultural, cross-racial, cross-political indictment would be.

The lawyers seemed more jubilant about the indictment than the indicted. Here was the test case every liberal constitutional lawyer in the country had been waiting for. The 1968 Civil Disorders Bill had been pushed through Congress by Southern reactionaries who were convinced that there was a combined black power-communist conspiracy to burn down the American cities. The bill was passed in order to stop H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael from running around the country preaching revolution. Now, for the first time, it had actually been applied, and would probably face the test of constitutionality before the Supreme Court.

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Later that evening, back at Hoffman’s apartment, the grim reality of it all began to come down hard. At first, when his mother-in-law called to ask about the indictment, Hoffman said lightly, “It’s all right, it’s just in the line of work I do.” Then, sitting in front of a color television set, listening to various garbled accounts of the indictment by pink-faced newscasters, Hoffman chewed reflectively on a lamb chop and mentioned for the first time the possibility of jail. Abbie the clown was instantly replaced by a real person. Under the law he is eligible for a grand total of five years and a $10,000 fine.

Saturday morning I arrived at Foley Square in front of the courthouse where Rubin, Hoffman, and Dellinger were to surrender themselves. An impressive contingent of some 20 elite Black Panther troops were on hand to give evidence that the Panthers are not going to be quiet about Seale’s indictment. Standing in formation in the cold morning sun, their uniforms and discipline gave them a presence which the twice as numerous white protestors lacked.

Once the three indicted men disappeared into the courthouse, the Panthers moved up and faced off with the police who were jealously guarding the steps leading up to the halls of justice. Kafka must have been somewhere in the crowd. Each Panther stepped up nose to nose with a policeman, raised his crossed arms in front of him, and started chanting: “No more brothers in jail. Off the pigs.” Then they filed out.

Inside, Hoffman lit up a cigarette in front of the judge and was told to put it out.

Outside, Paul Krassner, editor of the Realist, complained bitterly about not having been included in the indictment.

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***

The demonstration Saturday evening in front of the New York Times came as comic relief when compared with the seriousness of the indictments. The police, however, did not take it as a joke and deployed such an arsenal of force in front of the truck loading platforms on 43rd Street that only an idiot would have made a move. The Tactical Patrol Force lined the barricades, paddy wagons were invitingly open at each end of the street, patrol cars were illegally parked all over Times Square, and there were more plainclothesmen than people.

The United States is probably the only place in the world where demonstrations have turned into a spectator sport. Sailors, prostitutes, newsmen, printers in four-cornered newspaper hats, passing motorists, theatre-goers, local bartenders, and the whole gang took time off to come out and watch the Crazies do their bit.

“What are they bitching about now,” a cross looking little old lady with a Macy’s shopping bag asked a plainclothesman.

“Are you in this demonstration or reporting on it?” a detective from the Red Squad questioned me as he examined my press card.

“What’s in the bag, kid?” a detective asked a long haired boy who was carrying a sign which read “The Saturday Load and the Sunday Bullshit.” The boy handed the officer the bag. Opening it he found to his eternal disappointment and minimal embarrassment that it was not a concealed weapon of infernal destruction but only a bologna sandwich.

“Move along, miss,” a young cop suggested politely to a beautiful blond girl who was standing on his corner watching the picket line. “I can’t,” she said, batting her eyelashes at him shyly. “l’m with them,” she continued, gesturing toward the demonstrators.

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Suddenly there was the very strong smell of puke at the Broadway end of 43rd Street. Apparently one of the stink bombs which the demonstrators had brought with them went off by mistake within their own ranks. It was not the only weapon which ran afoul that evening. Several plastic bags of yellow paint, intended for the windows of the trucks which were taking away the Sunday issue of the Times, fell on the ground and splattered several hapless demonstrators who stepped on them.

A pregnant woman who had been holding a toilet-paper-roll version of the New York Times was snatched out of the picket line and hustled away by detectives for no apparent reason. Attorneys who tried to accompany her were turned back. For a moment it looked as if something might happen. The demonstrators surged forward and the police pushed back, banging their clubs on the barricades in a manner which invoked no less than utter terror.

“Scotty Reston is a You Know What,” one poster teased, “All the News That’s Shit to Print,” someone else claimed, “The New York Times Disguises Bald Racism with a Liberal Toupee,” another whined.

But no one could really get it up for the Times. Everyone had their own little bitch, everyone read it with their own kind of skepticism, but the point was that the picketers knew in the back of their minds that after the demonstration was over they were going to slink off to their local newsstand and buy a copy of none other than the Sunday edition of the Times — the very one they hadn’t been able to stop from coming out. They would buy it Sunday and buy it again on Monday to see if their little display of annoyance had hit the Big Times.

By 9:30 p.m. things were beginning to peter out. The picket line was getting shorter and shorter between the rows of policemen and everyone was just about shouted hoarse. The general movement seemed to be toward Grand Central. There another group of Crazies promised to lay a wreath of flowers at the information booth where last year’s bloody riot had begun when someone had climbed up on top of the clock and ripped the hands off.

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At a meeting at the Crazies’ storefront in the East Village several days before, Hoffman had told the others who were planning the demonstration that he didn’t think it was a good idea to go back to Grand Central: “I was knocked unconscious there last year and I don’t plan to do it again. Let’s at least make it a different place next time. Once you’re inside the station the cops can block off all the entrances and you have to run the gauntlet in order to get out.”

“All I hear is fear, fear, fear,” a boy by the name of Danny who was sitting on the floor complained. “People are supposed to be afraid of us. Remember?” he reminded the others.

In the end it was decided that they would go ahead with the Grand Central demonstration in spite of its risks. As one bearded member of the group explained, the strategy of the Crazies is “to walk that thin line between getting your head bashed in and just managing to get away with it — that’s what it is to be a Crazy.”

But by the time the Crazies got to Grand Central on Saturday it was already effectively blocked off by the police who had locked most of the doors and asked for tickets at the few entrances they left open.

“Where’s your ticket, kid,” a policeman asked a Crazy who had decided to make a test of his constitutional right of free movement.

“I don’t have one, but if you let me go in I’ll buy one,” he promised.

“Uh uh, you got to have it with you.”

“But how can I have it if you won’t let me in to buy it?” he argued logically.

“Look kid, we don’t want your demonstration here.”

“I’m not going to demonstrate, I just want to go out to Long Island to visit my grandmother,” he lied.

“Try Penn Station,” the cop countered.

“Here we are at the Prague border, everyone take out their ticket, you can’t travel here without a passport, remember, you’re in Amerika,” the boy shouted at the other freaks who had been listening intently to the dialogue.

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According to Howard Smith, who arrived at Grand Central slightly later, the police were not the only ones who were guarding Grand Central against an invasion of crazies. A number of men wearing buttons which read “PFB” (Peter Factor Brigade?) were patrolling the area, promising demonstrators that if they got inside they’d be “only too happy to kick the shit out of you.”

“What does PFB stand for?” they were asked. “You’ll know when the time comes.”

“What time will that be?”

“When Lee gets ready to tell you.”

“All right, now I guess we have to ask who Lee is,” Krassner said.

The question remained unanswered. Lee will remain a mystery … “until the time comes.”

Meanwhile, outside, most of the demonstrators had grown tired of standing around and headed off uptown, some 150 to 200 strong, toward the park where they were scheduled to meet at midnight. Marching together up Madison Avenue they began to feel their strength and [the] disruptive possibilities of such a large mobile force. “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh,” they chanted over and over, as if the second verse (“The NLF is gonna win”) had been forgotten over the winter or had simply disappeared out of pessimism. A few marchers strayed out in the street dodging in and out of traffic, trash barrels were overturned, and then the police arrived. They drove alongside the march for several blocks and people began to think they were just giving them an escort uptown. No such luck. At 50th Street a gray car drove up onto the sidewalk, splitting the marchers in half. All four doors opened simultaneously and plainclothesmen poured out, grabbing whoever was nearest. Half the group was forced back downtown and the other half continued east. A few blocks later it happened again, only this time it became clear that there were police spotters in the ranks who pointed out the demonstrators they thought were ring leaders. Each time it was the same. The police would run toward the center of a group arresting one or two and leaving the rest to wander around wondering where the hell everyone else had gone to. By the time I arrived at the park I was with four other people.

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“This is all bullshit,” a boy next to me mumbled as we walked through the park toward the Sheep Meadow. “This isn’t a revolution, it isn’t even a decent demonstration. It’s an outing,” he explained as if he finally divined the truth, “a walking tour of New York City.”

“Maybe the revolutionary logic behind it all is to keep the troops physically fit,” I suggested, “like Mao leading everyone down to the river for a swim.”

“Yeah,” the boy agreed, “it could be listed in ‘100 Ways to Lose Weight,’ or whatever that bestseller is called.”

Sheep Meadow was a bummer. The cavalry had the high rocky ground to the south, plainclothesmen blocked off the east, scooter cops could be seen to the north, and patrol cars covered the west. “We’re surrounded,” someone observed in the dark.

“Let’s go home, the cops have made their point, they can have this place if they need it so desperately. The Viet Cong never try to hold a hopeless position when they’re out-gunned,” a dark-haired politico with a pointy goatee announced. “Go home, no one’s having any fun here anyways. This sure doesn’t look like any festival of life to me.”

After a huddle it was decided to take the young man’s advice. On the way out of the park, the wreath (which was supposed to have been planted in Grand Central) was placed in the hands of a lovely nude statue which stands in the plaza in front of the Plaza Hotel. Cheers went up and everybody got their thrill. Then we walked back down to Times Square again, where again the police insisted on intervening. A fairly large group then subwayed down to Sheridan Square and marched triumphantly over to St. Mark’s Place where they were greeted by those who had been too spaced out to make the trip. It had been a long walk and everyone was fagged out. No one except the most naive thought any of it had been worth it.

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***

The next night, Sunday night, Abbie Hoffman’s office on 5th Street — down the block from the police station — was raided and the police discovered a suitcase full of guns and blackjacks and a packet of heroin. It was all vaguely reminiscent of Rubin’s bust last year just before the Chicago convention when the police broke into his apartment, tore the posters off the walls, riffled his papers, and busted him for possession of pot.

While it’s still impossible to say whether the raid on Hoffman’s place was a frame-up or not (the young man who left the suitcase full of guns, for example, has mysteriously disappeared), we may never know for sure. However, Hoffman claims that “it is totally inconceivable that a person in my position would hide an arsenal of guns and dope a couple of houses away from a police station.”

To make matters even more mysterious, rumor has it that heroin was found planted in the Peace Eye Bookstore and at the Switchboard — both likely places for busts if there was to be a heavy crackdown on the Movement in the East Village. Nothing, however is revealed. ❖

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THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Trial of the Chicago 7: Birth of a Conspiracy

Courtroom in Chicago

CHICAGO — Conspiracy. See conspire. To join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or to use such means to accomplish a lawful end. To act in harmony.

A conspiracy is what they throw at you when mere causality is not enough, or when the absurd becomes too painful to bear. The great explanation.

Conspiracy. Bear that word in mind. You’re going to have it shoved down your throat before the year is out.

Jerry Rubin is in Chicago because of the Conspiracy. He is charged, with Rennard (Rennie) Davis, and Bobby G. Seale, and John R. Froines, and Lee Weiner, and David T. Dellinger, and Thomas Hayden, and Abbot H. (Abbie) Hoffman, with crossing state lines to foment disorder or to otherwise violate the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Or to use such means to accomplish a lawful end. To act in harmony.

“With my indictment,” he wrote in the underground press not long ago, “I join the list of outstanding world figures who have crossed state lines to create disturbance: the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the late Marilyn Monroe, rock bands, the President of the United States, and Joe Namath.”

Ever the Yippie. He wears a Jimmy Hoffa for President button over one nipple, a Jerry Rubin for Mayor over the other. On the plane to Chicago, he talks about Cincinnati (where he grew up, and where he plans to return for a visit in late April). He talks about television (both he and Hoffman own color sets and find the viewing experience essential — the watched watches). He expounds on why the assassinations must be viewed as positive events (they helped inch America toward a revolutionary context) and he speculates on the chance that he himself might some day be the object of someone’s insurrectionary ardor. He admits he is afraid of being killed, sometimes. I admit I am afraid to travel with him, sometimes.

In Chicago, we go to meet Bobby Seale’s plane. Three Panther bodyguards greet us in the lounge. The brother who is currently under indictment, charged with stealing 710 ice-cream bars, nods and whispers, “Power to yuh.” I lean forward and offer a bleached handshake.

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***

The lawyers meet their clients in a banquet hall on the fourth floor of a Y which stands in the shadow of the Conrad Hilton. From the window, you can see the hotel’s worn brick backside, and beyond that, Grant Park. You keep expecting to find a commemorative plaque along the walk, but the city fathers have done all they can to restore that strip of lake front to its former gentility. Freshly planted grass and newly sprouting flower beds face the hotel. The masquerade is reflected in the faces of pedestrians. They want very much to forget that the equestrian statue of General Logan, which guards the park, was ever aswarm with grimy, vulgar conspirators.

The attorneys sit around a long table, fortified with legal pads and iced tea. Even the veteran defenders seem like mavericks on this case. With good reason. To some on the left, the Chicago indictments represent the most brazen attempt since McCarthy to crush active dissent, and anything less than acquittal will signal the start of a massive governmental drive. Even those who are not about to read pogrom into the charges admit that a conviction would stunt the movement. “At the very least,” suggests one attorney, “it would have a chilling effect on those not really committed yet.”

This little scenario hangs over the proceedings as the defense begins to construct its case. It’s an awesome task, and the odds against aquittal seem formidable. Which could explain why the men sitting around that banquet table seemed so sober.

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***

Chicago’s Federal Building stands like a glass and steel truncheon. A skyscraper with style … polished gray stone lobby … the great seal embossed in black … the jails upstairs and outasight.

Ten marshals and 45 policemen keep the crowd outside the courtroom in order. I wait my turn, then file past the world’s spiffiest crewcut plainclothesman, who searches me for weapons and then lets me pass. The galleries are already filled with people — many black kids and a few unrepentant freaks.

“Take that hat off,” a marshal orders a brother in a purple beret.

The man points to a cop in uniform. “If he take his hat off, I take mine off.”

“Throw him out,” the marshal snarls, and the crowd begins to hoot.

The judge enters, Julius J. Hoffman, a balding, 74-year-old man who settles into his chair, casing out the surroundings. He stares hard at the press section, trying to fathom the presence of long hair. His eyes wash over the defendants, settling momentarily on Abbie Hoffman, who has come to court in a blue shirt with Chicago Police Department insignia affixed to the sleeve. Finally, he turns his attention to the attorneys, and even here, he is displeased to note the presence of facial hair around the earlobes.

“These men taking bread out of the mouths of our Chicago bar?”

William Kunstler, who defended Jerry Rubin at the recent HUAC hearings, stands and answers: “Your honor. It’s not bread. It’s only water.”

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And then the arraignments begin. This is a preliminary hearing, designed to set a date for trial. But there are crucial matters to be decided such as travel restrictions. The U.S. Attorney has requested that the defendants be confined to the district of Southern Illinois, and the defense intends to contest that motion, as an abridgement of free speech. The decision will serve as a fair indication of what the conspirators can expect from Judge Hoffman when their trial begins.

But now it is time to plead, and David Dellinger stands against the lectern. “Obviously not guilty,” he announces. “The guilty party has not yet been indicted.”

“Sir, you were asked to plead guilty or not guilty,” Judge Hoffman says. “There will be no speeches. How do you plead?”

“I said obviously not guilty.”

“Obviously has nothing to do with it,” the judge scowls, and then be instructs Dellinger’s lawyer to help his client out.

“Sir, he has pleaded.”

“No, he has not pleaded. There will be no speeches or embellishments.” Titters from the gallery. “If there is any further laughter or any other disturbance, I will have the courtroom cleared. Now, how do you plead?”

“Not guilty,” Dellinger mutters.

“Now that’s the way to do it.”

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The procession continues with Abbie Hoffman, who pleads not guilty in the softest voice I have ever heard him use in public. He has never been convicted in court. It’s a record he’s fiercely proud of. Now, charged with defacing the American flag by wearing a starred and striped shirt at HUAC, and charged with possessing guns and narcotics after a raid on an apartment registered in his name, he is not about to risk contempt of court.

Jerry Rubin grips the lectern and pleads with his fist raised. “Let the record show,” the judge intones, “that Mr. Rubin pleaded guilty with a fist raised in the air.”

“He pleaded not guilty, your honor,” Kunstler interrupts. “That was a Freudian slip.”

“I’m sorry, but that raised fist confused me. I didn’t know whether it was directed at me or not.”

“Sir, that is a symbol of defiance against certain things these defendants think is wrong.”

“Certainly they don’t think I’m wrong.”

Kunstler lets a quick sharp smile cross his lips. “I won’t even bother to answer that, sir.”

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***

It had been a small but energetic lunchtime rally. Four hundred people filled the courtyard of the Federal Building, and when the Conspiracy Eight (as they had already begun to call themselves) emerged from the arraignment, the shouts of “power to the people” managed to drown out the canned organ music which came from hidden speakers and was audible from blocks away.

First to speak was Bobby Seale, who denied that the Panthers were a racist organization, and buoyed his audience with the chant “Black power to black people; white power to white people.” Tom Hayden said the movement was expanding despite the indictments, and he offered as evidence a mutiny at Fort Carson, Colorado. He said 80 soldiers had gone over the wall with M-16s and ammunition, and had set up a camp somewhere in the Rockies. He said the Army knew about it, but was afraid of the publicity a confrontation might produce.

And Abbie called the hearing “the beginning of the spring offensive. We are joyful at this attempt to combine our forces,” he intoned, “and we thank these people for getting us together because these are the signs of a dying system and we shall dance on the graves of the empire.”

It was true. If the federal sweep had drained the movement of its jaunty brashness, it had solidified some unsteady alliances and created, in the eight men under indictment, a potential popular front for radical youth. The government itself had suggested, by its choice of conspirators, that the best defense lay in unity. And in the tradition of generational combat, the strongest response to a parental attack was to turn the oppressor’s weapons back on himself. Or as Jerry Rubin told the rally: “The only way to defend ourselves is offensively.”

So it looks as though the United States of America may actually succeed in creating a conspiracy in its midst.

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***

It had been a depressing morning and a grueling afternoon. They had to admit that Judge Hoffman had intimidated them. And it was true that the government had coerced the defense into negotiating, against its will, for the lifting of travel restrictions. Despite repeated appeals, the judge bhad refused to consider the defense motion on confinement, but he suggested rather broadly that the two sides work it out together. When the defense refused to engage in collective bargaining, the judge shelved the issue, and sustained a prosecution motion that the bonds for out-of-state defendants be transferred to Illinois. That seemed innocent enough, but when the actual transference was attempted, it became apparent that the law would require confinement anyway, as part of the process of re-establishing bond. With the futility of their resistance finally clear, the defense retired to the U. S. Attorney’s office, where it was agreed that the prosecution would drop its demand for travel restrictions if the defendants would keep the government informed of their whereabouts. This smacked of surrender, but the alternatives were exhausted, so the defense retired to a conference room to lick its wounds, when Tom Hayden and Gerald Lefcourt (an attorney) spotted a man with a transmitter outside the door. When they pursued him, a second man appeared and told him not to say anything. The prosecuting attorney identified the men — who were indeed FBI agents — and insisted that, while they had been relaying information on the defendants’ whereabouts, they carried no recording equipment.

But the incident set the mood for the rest of the day. By the time they left court, the charter members of the Conspiracy had achieved some measure of their own legitimacy. At least they knew when their trial would start (Judge Hoffman had set the date for September 24) and they knew what to expect from the court, the newspapers, and the government. And these were important discoveries, because a knowledge of your environment is the first step toward mastering it.

So they went off to have their picture taken in Grant Park, around the statue of General Logan. And as they got closer to the Hilton, each began to feel again something of the rush which was Chicago last August, and Jerry Rubin waved to the cars along Michigan Avenue, and Tom Hayden, in his new beard and his wrap-around shades with the purple lenses, looked at all the frowning faces on the pedestrians around him, and he hugged Abbie Hoffman and shouted: “It’s us. It’s us.” ❖

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From The Archives From The Archives Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Chicago 1968: Blood, Sweat, & Tears

A Visit to Chicago: Blood, Sweat, & Tears
September 5, 1968

CHICAGO — At half past midnight last Tuesday, the occupants of Lincoln Park were stormed by the Chicago police. It was not the first day, nor was it to be the last, that the Old City­ — the Lincoln Park area — had come under attack. During the previous two nights the Mayor’s ordinance to clear the park by 11 p.m. had been vigorously enforced with nightsticks and tear gas.

Around midnight on Tuesday, some 400 clergy, con­cerned local citizens, and other respectable gentry joined the Yippies, members of Students for a Democratic Society, and the National Mobilization Committee to fight for the privilege of remaining in the park. Sporting armbands decorated with a black cross and chanting pacifist hymns, the men of God exhorted their radical congregation to lay down their bricks and join in a non-violent vigil.

Having foreseen that they could only wage a symbolic war with “little caesar Daley,” several enterprising clergymen brought with them an enormous wooden cross, which they erected in the midst of the demonstrators under a street lamp. Three of them assumed heroic poses around the cross, more reminiscent of the Marines raising the flag over Iwo Jima than any Christ-like tableau they may have had in mind.

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During the half-hour interlude between the arrival of the clergy and the police attack, a fascinating debate over the relative merits of strict non-violence versus armed self-defense raged between the clergy and the militants. While the clergy was reminded that their members were “over 30, the opiate of the people, and totally irrelevant,” the younger generation was warned that “by calling the police ‘pigs’ and fighting with them you become as bad as they are.” Although the conflict was never resolved, everyone more or less decided to do his own thing. By then the demonstrators, some 800 strong, began to feel the phalanx of police which encircled the park moving in, even the most militant forgot his quibbles with “the liberal-religious sell-out” and began to huddle together around the cross.

When the police announced that the demonstrators had five minutes to move out before the park was cleared, everyone went into his individual kind of panic. One boy sitting near me unwrapped a cheese sandwich and began to stuff it into his face with­out bothering to chew. A girl standing at the periphery of the circle who had been alone all evening walked up to a helmeted boy with a mustache and ground herself into him. People all over the park were shyly introducing themselves to each other as if they didn’t want to die alone: “My name is Mike Stevenson from Detroit; what got you into this?” I heard someone asking behind me. Others became in­creasingly involved in the details of survival: rubbing Vaseline on their face to keep the Mace from burning their skin, buttoning their jackets, wetting their handkerchief and tying it over their nose and mouth. “If it’s gas, remember, breathe through your mouth, don’t run, don’t pant, and for Christsake don’t rub your eyes,” someone thoughtfully an­nounced over the speaker. A boy in the center of the circle got up, stepped over his seated friends, and made his way to­ward the woods. “Don’t leave now,” several voices called in a panic. The boy explained in embarrassed tone that he was just going to take a leak.

Sitting in a cluster near the main circle, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Genet, William Burroughs, and Terry Southern were taking in the scene. Ginsberg was in his element. As during all moments of tension during the week, he was chanting OM in a hoarse whisper, occasionally punctuat­ing the ritual with a tinkle from his finger cymbals. Burroughs, wearing a felt hat, stared va­cantly at the cross, his thin lips twitching in a half smile. Genet, small, stocky, bald-headed, with the mug of a saintly convict, rubbed his nose on the sleeve of his leather jacket. I asked him if he was afraid. “No. I know what this is,” he replied. But doesn’t knowing make you more afraid, I asked. He shook his head and started to speak when the sky fell on us.

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It happened all in an instant. The night which had been filled with darkness and whispers ex­ploded in a fiery scream. Huge tear gas canisters came crashing through the branches, snap­ping them and bursting in the center of the gathering. From where I lay, groveling in the grass, I could see ministers re­treating with the cross, carrying it like a fallen comrade. Another volley shook me to my feet. Gas was everywhere. People were running, screaming, tearing, through the trees. Something hit the tree next to me, I was on the ground again, someone was pulling me to my feet, two boys were lifting a big branch off a girl who lay squirming hyster­ically. I couldn’t see. Someone grabbed onto me and asked me to lead them out of the park. We walked along, hands out­stretched, bumping into people and trees, tears streaming from our eyes and mucus smeared a­cross our face. I flashed First World War doughboys caught in no man’s land during a mustard gas attack. I couldn’t breathe. I felt sure I was going to die. I heard others choking around me. And then everything cleared.

Standing on the sidewalk at the edge of the park I looked back at a dozen little fires which lit up the woods, still fogged with gas. The police were advancing in a picket line, swatting at the stragglers and crumpled figures; huge trucks, usually used for cleaning the streets, swept to­ward us spraying more gas. Kids began ripping up the pavement and hurling snowball-size chunks at the truck windows. Then they flooded out into the streets, blocking traffic, fighting with plainclothesmen who awaited our exodus from the park, and bom­barding hapless patrol cars which sped through the crowds.

The ragged army split up into a series of mobs which roamed through the streets breaking win­dows, setting trash cans on fire, and demolishing at least a dozen patrol cars which happened to cruise down the wrong street at the wrong time. Smoke billowed from a house several blocks from me and the fire engines began arriving. A policeman ran from an angry brick-throwing mob, lost his cap, hesitated, and ran away without it. At the inter­section of Clark and Division, four cop cars arrived simultan­eously and policemen leapt out shooting in the air. From all four sides the demonstrators let them have it; most of the missiles were overthrown and hit their com­rades or store windows on the other side of the street. Diving down into the subway, I found a large group of refugees who had escaped the same way. The tunnel looked like a busy bomb shelter; upstairs the shooting continued.

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***

Everyone knew that Wednesday was going to be the big one. Rumors circulated among the police that a cop had been killed in Tuesday’s “white-riot.” The demonstrators had their own beef: not only had they been gassed and beaten, not only had one of their leaders, Tom Hayden, been arrested twice on tramped-up charges of inciting to riot, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and letting the air out of the tires of a police vehicle, but the police had also broken into their community centers up near Lincoln Park.

Finally, the demonstrators were also set on marching to the Amphitheatre where what they called the Convention of Death was going through the motions of nominating Hubert. Crossing the bridge from the park in front of the Hilton to the bandshell in the middle of Grant Park, dem­onstrators filed into their seats listening to the prophetic words of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing.” The police had already surrounded the park, the National Guard held all the bridges leading across the railroad tracks to Chicago’s downtown Loop area, and helicopters filled the skies like hungry mosquitoes.

The Mayor had been good enough to circulate the announcement telling the demonstrators that they were wel­come to stay at the bandshell all day and enjoy themselves, but that no march on the convention would be tolerated. His instructions, however, were apparently too subtle for his henchmen who saw the demonstrators as the enemy and couldn’t wrestle the idea of a truce into their image. Accordingly, when a demonstrator replaced the American flag with revolutionary red, the police became incensed at the unpatriotic slur and moved in to restore decency and the American way of life. (Jerry Rubin, accused of “soliciting to mob action” and out of jail on $25,000, says that one of the demonstrators who claims to have taken part in the lowering of the American flag was his personal bodyguard, assigned to him by the Mobilization. The same young man later turned out to be an under cover agent who had been keeping Rubin under surveillance.)

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In the police charge which was ostensibly aimed at lowering the red banner, the police went con­siderably out of their way to crack the skull of Rennie Davis, spokesman and leader of the Mobe, along with four or five others who had been sitting on their benches in the open air au­ditorium listening to anti-war speeches by Vietnam veterans and the ever present Phil Ochs. Medics scrambled over broken benches (later used as ammuni­tion against the police) in a display of greater enthusiasm than efficiency. Within minutes the program continued as if nothing extraordinary had occurred.

“The merchants of death are try­ing to make themselves present in the delivery room of our movement,” Carl Oglesby, once chairman of SDS, screamed over the microphones as the police withdrew to the periphery of the crowd. Hayden, furious at the indifference with which people learned that Davis was “stretch­ed out,” exhorted the People’s Army to break up into small groups and invade the streets of the Loop, “to do what they have to do.” Some of the hard heads followed him, but the vast ma­jority of the demonstrators stay­ed with Ginsberg who was or­ganizing a non-violent march to the Amphitheatre.

Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden, trailed by Hayden’s “bodyguard”

While Genet, Burroughs, and Southern chose to stay with the marchers, Norman Mailer pro­vided brief comic relief when he made his excuses, saying that he would not march because he was writing a long piece about the convention and demonstration, and that he couldn’t write it from jail. “But you’ll all know what I’m full of if I don’t show up on the next one,” Mailer said with his characteristic hurumph for emphasis after the last word in the key sentence. Mailer ended by comparing the Chicago demonstrators favorably with those he had written about at the Pen­tagon march last October.

Once outside the bandshell and onto the sidewalk of a highway which runs through the park, the marchers were immediately halted by a line of Guardsmen who blocked the route. Seeing a confrontation emerging, hundreds of newsmen rushed to the front of the line to be in on the action. Instead they formed a protective barrier between the troops and the demonstrators, a pattern which was to be repeated frequently during the next two days. After hours of frustrating negotia­tions which led nowhere, the demonstrators moved in a block toward one of the bridges which lead back to the Hilton. It too was barricaded with troops as were the next four bridges, where tear gas was used to keep the demonstrators from try­ing to break through.

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Most of us got across the fifth bridge and joined the mule-drawn covered wagons of the Poor People’s Campaign which were headed for the Hilton. Michigan Avenue, for the first time in anyone’s memory, clearly belonged to the people. There was a sense of victory and momentum as the mob of some 8,000 to 10,000 people converged on the Hilton. Everyone was still sneezing and spitting from the gas, but they felt high at having out-foxed the police who had clearly meant to isolate them in the park or split them up before they got to the Hilton.

A police line across Michigan Avenue on the doorstep of the hotel finally halted the march and people began to mill around, undecided on the best strategy.

Finally the police solved the problem by taking the initiative. To put it neatly, they decided to clear the street. In the pro­cess of allowing for the circula­tion of vehicular traffic they sent some 300 demonstrators to the hospital with split skulls and broken banes. When the charge came there was a stampede toward the sidelines. People piled into each other, humped over each other’s bodies like coupling dogs. To fall down in the crush was just as terrifying as facing the police. Suddenly I realized my feet weren’t touching the ground as the crowd pushed up onto the sidewalk. I was grabbing at the army jacket of the boy in front of me; the girl behind had a strangle-hold on my neck and was screaming incoherently in my ear.

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Across the street, the other half of the crowd was being squashed against the walls of the Hilton. The pressure was so great that a plate glass window shattered. Terrified demon­strators were pulled through the window by a Life correspon­dent and a sympathetic waitress who gave them instructions as to where they could hide. Within minutes police piled into the hotel to protect the clientele by beating the protesters senseless in the plush conidors of the Hilton.

Outside, demonstrators were being peeled off the wall one at a time, sprayed with mace, beaten, and occasionally arrested. More forays by the police into the park across from the hotel sent people headlong into trees. During one of these maneuvers I watched a medic throw himself over the bloody head of a demonstrator — like a GI clutching a live grenade to his gut. When I saw him emerge from the fracas, the medic’s head was in a worse state than the patient’s.

By 10 p.m. the National Guard had pinned one group in the park in front of the Hilton and pushed the other two groups north and south down Michigan Avenue. A paddy wagon was caught in one of the mobs and demonstrators started rocking it back and forth in an attempt to overturn it. A busload of police got to them before they succeeded.

Down the side streets groups of 50 to 100 demonstrators broke off from the main action to disrupt the town. They moved quickly, leaving a trail of overturned garbage and shattered glass in their wake. Chased by police, they would split up and reform with other groups. One contingent, calling itself the Flower Cong, was particularly well organized and effective. I was following them up State Street when I caught sight of a blonde girl, a member of the Resistance, whom I’d talked to earlier in the day. I caught up with her just as the street filled up with cops. We turned to run in opposite directions and I lost sight of her until it was all over. Having seen that the police had blocked both ends of the street, I took refuge in a drugstore with several others. When I came out she was trying to sit up in the street, blood soaking through her hair, running down her chin and neck, and collecting in her collar. A car stopped and offered to take her to the hospital, so I carried her over and laid her out in the back seat. The car owner wanted to put news­paper under her head so she wouldn’t stain the seats.

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My hotel was nearby so I decided to go up and get rid of my shirt which was covered with her blood. At the main entrance I was stopped by a security guard who wouldn’t let me in. I showed him my key but he still refused. After two similar rebuttals I was finally allowed to sneak in the back entrance and up the service elevator. “We don’t want you walking around the lobby like that,” one of the hotel police­men advised me. Up in my room I turned on the tube just as Daley was being asked by an interviewer if there was any evidence of brutality. Outside my window I could hear screams. I opened the shades and leaned out as the police pinned a bunch of demonstrators against the wall of the hotel. From the window above me someone heaved a roll of toilet paper and screamed “Pigs.” When the street cleared, four bodies were lying in the gutter. Daley’s voice droned on about how he had received no indication of police brutality.

Later that evening the McCar­thy delegates, having lost the football game, as one Flower Cong put it, joined the demonstrators in a dramatic candle-light procession. It was irrational but I hated them. I hated them for having come to the blood fest late. I hated them as I hated every necktie in the Hilton. I hated them not because they had tried to win the football game, but because their very presence among the real demonstrators co­opted and made respectable the blood and snot that speckled the streets of Chicago. The earlier crowd, the scruffy-hippie-commie-beatnick-agitators, were the ones who had exposed the military backbone of the liberal system. It took blood to prove to the prime time viewers that Civil Rights, the right to dissent, the right to assemble, the right to pass freely in the streets, the right to be tried before being clubbed, were all okay as long as you didn’t actually try to use them.

The delegates were received with mixed feelings. Outwardly almost everyone welcomed them, even those who earlier had shout­ed “McCarthy is not enough.” They represented a kind of vin­dication of the demonstration. In addition they lent respectability and a certain amount of protec­tion to protestors who had been kicked around for five long days. But in spite of this there was a feeling among most of those who had been initiated by violence that the support of the delegates would only be tolerated as long as the movement in the streets remained the property of those who had grown and suffered with it.

***

Wednesday was the bloody catharsis, Thursday was farce. There is a certain credible na­ture about a policeman’s nightstick which inspires a kind of de­fiant respect. But a tank is hard to take seriously. I know a lot of people who cracked up when they saw the tank sitting in the middle of the street pawing at the pavement like a lost rhinoc­eros who has wandered out of the jungle into the city by mistake. Mortars, flame throwers, machine guns, and bazookas, who are they kidding?

Standing in line, waiting to be arrested in Thursday’s march to Dick Gregory’s house, I happen­ed to end up next to a very stoned young couple groping at each other and taunting the troops with their sexual freedom. “Fuck don’t fight,” the young man pleaded with the troops as he fondled his woman. A black army medic finally responded with a smile, “Is it true that all you people run around with­out any clothes on up in Lin­coln Park?” Then the jokes were over and they turned on the gas. Four times in all until they had pushed us back to the Hil­ton. Then another three times in front of the Hilton just in case the TV crews had missed any­ thing.

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The absurdity of the police and military over-reaction to the demonstrators had been driven home to me earlier in the day when I was stopped by five po­licemen under the tramway on Wabash Avenue. One of them grabbed me and looked at my press credentials, making some wise-assed remark about the hip­pie underground press from New York. His buddies laughed and I thought I was going to be let go. ”Let’s see your underarms, kid,” my interrogator said. Earlier in the week I had heard some Yips complaining about a similar request, but I never had figured out why anyone wanted to check their pits. Taking my jacket off I held my hands over my head thinking that maybe this was the new slang for “reach for the sky.” But that wasn’t it. They wanted me to take off my shirt, and when I refused they ripped it under both arms and by God they checked my armpits. Satisfied, I guess, that I wasn’t carrying either concealed weapons or drugs, they chased me away with a warning. After that nothing sounded too absurd.

Walking past a group of Guardsmen who were resting up for their next stint of duty, Ab­bie Hoffman, a Yip leader, was being razzed about his appear­ance. Finally, without a blink, Hoffman walked up to one of them and said, “Hey listen, I’ll lay a nickel bag that you guys could whip the cops any day of the week.” A pensive look came across the trooper’s face.

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Forrest Gump, the Movie Loved by Everyone’s Grandma

Forrest Gump was a fable without a moral, the key to its maddening success. At the end of the movie, the idiot-who-always-failed-up tried to make sense of the story himself.

Was his life a tribute to destiny or accidents, he wondered, in a moment of striving depth. Then he shrugged off the question: “Maybe it’s both.” But dumb ol’ Forrest was right. (Like always.) Both theories boil down to fate, and Forrest Gump may be the most curiously fated film in modern history.

Now rereleased in IMAX, this sweet-as-mass-produced-chocolate mega-hit is adored by everyone’s grandma but was based on a novel about a mentally challenged giant who lived with cannibals, blasted off into space, and was great in the sack. For every blessing that falls at movie Forrest’s feet like a feather from the sky, karma punishes his loved ones, not that he notices. (And the film can’t look them in the eye either.)

They live complicated lives we only glimpse in the margins beyond Forrest’s myopia. His jilted mom prostitutes herself to get her boy into a better school. His crush sleeps her way through the era where misogyny cloaked itself in peace and love, all while being stalked with Jason Voorhees relentlessness by her flat-topped childhood playmate.

At war, Forrest doesn’t kill anyone. He doesn’t get PTSD. He doesn’t even have a clue why he’s there. The film is so afraid to dredge up debate that when Abbie Hoffman hands Forrest the microphone at an anti-war rally, someone unplugs the speakers so we can’t hear him — fitting for a movie with nothing to say.

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LARGER THAN LIFE

Richard Avedon famously changed fashion photography in the 1950s by taking models out of the studio and placing them in unconventional settings—nightclubs, casinos, even the circus. But as America radically changed in the ’60s, Avedon’s portraits also shifted to record the cultural and political revolution. Richard Avedon: Murals and Portraits at Gagosian Gallery includes his legendary large-scale murals (between 20 to 35 feet wide) of Allen Ginsberg with his extended family; Andy Warhol and members of the Factory; Abbie Hoffman and the radicals of the Chicago Seven; and the Mission Council, the war administrators behind the Vietnam War. All of his portraits are done against his signature white background because, as he once remarked, “White backgrounds make it difficult not to let the subject take over.”

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. Starts: July 5. Continues through July 27, 2012

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Dressing Up RFK with Moon River and Me’s Andy Williams

If you remember Andy Williams at all, you remember “Moon River,” the easy smile, the colorful sweaters. He was among the last clean-cut crooners to hit before rock dirtied up the scene. His career was a stubborn refutation of ’60s Sturm und Drang—where hip singers were dazed and confused, Andy had a Happy Heart. (Small wonder his “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” was successfully covered by a ska band, whose peppy approach to romantic loss mirrored Andy’s.) Abbie Hoffman said, “Kill your parents”; Andy Williams did Christmas specials with his.

Have you ever wondered about the real man behind the theme from Love Story? Me neither, but the very existence of Moon River and Me, the autobiography Williams penned while overseeing his successful Branson theater and restaurant, made me want to see what Ol’ Yellow Sweaters brought to the celebrity bio game.

Andy’s book has a few racy tales, and some folks he encounters on his rise to fame don’t come off well (like Fred MacMurray, tight with a buck and, per his wife, “hung like a horse”). But the voice is Andy’s, which—predictably, but not at all disappointingly—is a little corny and a lot positive, even when he’s reflecting on his acid trips.

Acid trips? He took those under a doctor’s supervision in Canada. He experienced “heightened senses” and mood swings, and at the end he was . . . Andy. “I’m not sure if the LSD experience ultimately did me any real good overall,” he muses, “but . . . it was probably the first time in many years that I had taken even a few days away from my career.” That’s our boy—the only thing that keeps him from the workbench is hallucinations.

Hard work began early for Andy in Wall Lake, Iowa, where “very little disturbed the sleepy calm” except the Williams Brothers ceaselessly rehearsing. Their showbiz-mad father drives them relentlessly, moving house constantly in search of opportunities, and tells them, in his hard-but-loving way, that they’re just not good enough, and must ignore whatever other ambitions they have until they are.

Andy starts “taking a bottle of beer in my lunch box to school every day” at 14, has an affair with a 37-year-old at 17, and is deferred from a second stint of military service at 21 because of a stomach ulcer; by the time the Williams Brothers get to Vegas in 1947, Andy has taken commands to smile for the audience so to heart that he develops a “rictal grin” and “was still smiling when I fell asleep . . . my jaw muscles ached all day.” Hence the famous Andy charm. As he says later, “Being spontaneous takes an awful lot of rehearsal!” (And vomiting.)

The Williams Brothers score a hit in Vegas with Kay Thompson (“We all felt a certain ambivalence about the gangster for whom we worked,” Andy admits), and move on to Hollywood. There, Andy dubs the singing voice of Lauren Bacall and is kissed by a homosexual (“It was OK with me if you wanted to walk on that side of the street, but it wasn’t for me”). His brothers flee show business at their first chance, but Andy takes up with Thompson (19 years his senior) and tries to crack the New York club circuit as a solo. It doesn’t go well, leading to one of the book’s many classic lines: “Now I was apparently such a has-been that I’d been reduced to eating dog food.”

But Andy has an epiphany: He’d been trying to win the audience with Noël Coward numbers foisted on him by Thompson—now, he’ll go pop. But well-rehearsed pop! Before his big New York debut, “I sat down on the sofa, lay back, and closed my eyes for a few minutes . . . it did me good to shut out the world and retreat into my own thoughts.” If you expect here, or anywhere else in Moon River and Me, a moment of introspection, you’ll be disappointed: “I went over and over my act in my mind, running through the lyrics of each song . . .”

Andy knocks ’em dead, and from there, it’s blue skies: TV, hit records, celebrity anecdotes. (An accompanist for Marlene Dietrich tells Andy that the actress had a “special” LP made that contains nothing but his “Hawaiian Wedding Song” repeated over and over, tempting us to imagine Dietrich crooning, “Now that we are one/Clouds won’t hide the sun,” drunk and wearing a grass skirt.)

But what changes does this wring on Andy the man? Well, he switches from older women to younger—including, when he’s 49, a 20-year-old baton twirler—and develops outside interests, like collecting modern art. What Andy sees in Mark Rothko et al. is hard to say, or at least hard for him to say (“Steve [Martin] knows about art in an intellectual way. I don’t. I buy from the seat of my pants”). But he usually turns a profit on the paintings he sells and, perhaps encouraged by that, collects more until he’s “run out of wall space.”

Andy has one apparent hero: Robert Kennedy. He admires the senator’s way of “cutting through the bullshit” and “lighting up a room”—he has principles and charisma! The two grow close enough that Andy asks Bobby on the beach at Malibu whether, after Jack, “the fear of another assassin preyed on his mind.” (What sweater, I wonder, is appropriate for such a question?) When Bobby is cut down, Andy tearfully gives his own tie to be placed on the corpse as it is prepared for the funeral—a detail that will haunt my sleep forever.

What does Andy believe in now? Success, mostly. The existential questions that sometimes haunt him in the book (“Why wasn’t I happy? Why wasn’t I feeling well physically?”) are always solved by disciplined action: rehearsal, another marriage, getting off Pritikin. Andy’s always in for the big win. Even after RFK’s death, he finds, “one good thing came out of that bitter experience for me . . . as we passed the Richard Gray Gallery, I caught a glimpse of a painting . . .” And, do you know, that painting was a Hans Hofmann, “recently valued over $1 million.”

In short, Moon River and Me is Forrest Gump as outlined by Thomas Mann and written by Peggy Noonan, and it gave me more pleasure than any other book I’ve read this year. Get it soon from a remainder bin near you!

redroso@villagevoice.com

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WORLD OF MIRRORS

Starting tonight, Spiegelworld, the glitzy, pre-fab performance venue, sets up shop for another season on Pier 17, sousing the smelly seaport with Weimarian glamour in two vintage Belgian tents. The new acrobatic show running in repertory with the return of the flashy Absinthe is Desir, a backstage circus providing a flexed-out glimpse into an early-20th-century Parisian nightclub. In between the body-bending resident shows, Spiegelworld also plays host to a number of live musical acts and DJs. This season’s lineup is both dark and whimsical, including turns by Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls, a sultry cabaret with Meow Meow & Justin Bond, a musical tribute to Abbie Hoffman, Martha Wainwright singing Edith Piaf, and the premiere of New Orleans Bingo! Show, which is described as a “Brechtian cabaret funneled through New Orleans’ Ninth Ward via the noir surrealism of Twin Peaks.”

Aug. 6-Nov. 2, 2008