“It's all conceived as a total theater with everyone becoming an actor.”
—Abbie Hoffman on the Yippies and the 1968 Democratic Convention
Officially founded by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin in January 1968, the Youth International Party, or Yippies, were a countercultural group that briefly gained fame as a part of American activism. The group’s trademark was their theatrical style; the Yippies parlayed anti-authoritative dissent and subversion into surrealism, spontaneity, mischief, and performance. The very public and prank-based display of the Yippies’ political actions led them to become a media favorite—in fact, Yippie leaders often used their stunt-oriented protests to successfully attract press coverage—but the group was also criticized for focusing on large-scale public disobedience and ignoring traditional forms of community organizing and direct protest. The Yippies themselves, however, believed that culture and politics were inexorably intertwined.
The group was borne out of the anti-war movement of the late 1960s, which in turn was rooted in the civil rights-oriented movement prevalent in the earlier half of the decade. Hoffman and Rubin, both long-time members of other New Left activist organizations, stressed Yippie-style politics in their anti-war and anti-capitalist work. The group’s high-profile members, who were mostly white radicals, also included writers like Allen Ginsberg and musicians like Country Joe and the Fish, further emphasizing its artistic connections.
“[Hoffman] said that politics had become theater and magic, basically, that it was the manipulation of imagery through the mass media that was confusing and hypnotizing the people in the United States, making them accept a war which they really didn't believe in.”
Famed Yippie actions included an “exorcism” and attempted levitation of the Pentagon during the anti-war March on the Pentagon in October 1967, which Jerry Rubin later said was the linchpin for Yippie politics. That same year, Abbie Hoffman and other Yippies, in a form of guerilla theater, dropped hundreds of dollar bills into the New York Stock Exchange, effectively closing the floor as stockbrokers fought for the money.
The 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention served as a moment in the sun for the Yippies, who staged their own theatrical protest in the midst of numerous other activist groups’ planned demonstrations and increasing factionalism. Using media attention to spread rumors, such as the assertion that Chicago’s water was being laced with LSD, the Yippies enacted the carnivalesque Festival of Life in Lincoln Park, nominating a pig named Pigasus as their presidential nominee. Police forces were called in to break up the event, which spiraled into violence, riots and the eventual arrest and trial of Hoffman, Rubin, and members of other groups including the Black Panther Party, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (known as the MOBE).
Following the trial, Hoffman and Rubin became worldwide personalities, countercultural icons and best-selling authors. The Yippies as an organization ceased to be a widespread movement, although the group’s name and spirit lives on. So-called “second-wave” Yippies have continued to publish protest newspapers, stage marijuana smoke-ins and plan other political protests, including actions at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The Yippies have even established a Yippie Museum in New York City.