A few months ago, I read an oral biography of Abbie Hoffman, Steal this Dream. Hoffman's story is a sad one. After his deliriously creative period in the sixties, Hoffman's life fell apart. He moved into drug dealing, a career he had little talent for, resulting in a bust. He spent several years on the run, where his bipolar condition worsened. By the end of his life, Hoffman was a sad, broken figure.
But during the sixties, Abbie Hoffman was incandescent. He was central figure in the Yippies, and one of the 'leaders' of the 1968 Chicago protests. He brought a manic freshness to protest, including an attempt to levitate the Pentagon. Hoffman was able to use the media, producing spectacles such as throwing dollar bills onto the floor of the stock exchange. These protests also demonstrated publicly that there were other ways of looking at things to the conventional. The attempt to levitate the Pentagon was absurd, but part of its success was that it was taken seriously in some quarters:
"Sal Gianetta: The two meetings I knew of, one in New York, and one in Washington, were probably the best examples of Abbie's brilliance. There were some Washington representatives and there were two military representatives. It started out that no way in the world was there going to be any activity anywhere around the Pentagon, which was the fucking Basilica of the United States, no fucking way. Right away, Abs says "Fuck you, we'll levitate the fucking thing high enough you won't be able to get in. Then what're you going to do with your fucking Pentagon?" They actually responded. That was the first inkling he had that he might be able to suck them into this…
At the other meeting I was at Ab threw the levitation on the table, right for openers. Ab was adamant that the building was going to go up twenty-two feet- because someone had told him except for fire-ladders, you can't get a ladder that's twenty-two feet. So he was willing to negotiate. If the fucking building went up twenty-two feet the foundations were going to crack, so there was discussion about foundations and cracks, it was fucking unbelievable. That meeting was two and a half hours or so and probably 20 per cent of that meeting was devoted to this fucking serious talk about levitating the Pentagon. This is our military, right? I swear to you, Ab came down from twenty-two feet to three feet, the military agreed to three feet and they sealed it with a handshake. That's how Ab was, he could capture you in that fucking bizarreness. Oh, it was joyful!
Looking back, the Sixties seem like a crazy time, when things could have changed forever. Imagine the scene at the Pentagon: American Indians, shamans and people burning yarrow, all gathered to exorcise demons from the building (with Kenneth Anger sneaking into the building to lay curses). I wish that same craziness and possibility was around today.If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list