A farewell “Yippie!” from his friends.
Abbie Hoffman was one of a kind: an imp, the joker, the Shakespearian fool who sees and suffers, clothing truth with wit. While Abbie was most like Lenny Bruce in his biting humor, his personal demons and his driven relentlessness, he chose again and again to forgo the logic of a Hollywood or professional comedian’s career. He chose every time to hurl his brilliance into an indictment of injustice, hypocrisy and the powers that be.
Abbie was a friend as well as a thorn — a goad to do more and be better. I think he most loved the days on the Lower East Side, when he and like-minded anarchists, activists and dropouts staged theater by carrying thousands of bags of garbage on the subway from lower Manhattan to dump at the feet of the rich on the opening night of Lincoln Center, or when they dropped thousands of dollars from the gallery of the New York Stock Exchange. My own favorite was his announcement to the media that on Labor Day, 1969, several hundred Americans would kill themselves in their automobiles in protest against American bombing of Vietnam.
Abbie never gave up, never stopped risking himself in the interest of making a better world. He tirelessly educated a new generation of college students, nudging at their internalized sense of limits, challenging them to think that anything is possible. He fit himself into unlikely roles, living underground for several years, coping with jail, almost surviving the 1980s. He acted in concern with mass movements; he acted in the face of the void. Gentle man, existential man, knowing full well the reasons for despair, embodying imagination.
He insisted on calling me Bernie, which only my mother is allowed to do. He carried my kids on his shoulders at demonstrations. I knew him best at a low and uncertain time for us both, when I picked him up from a halfway house in Manhattan every morning and took him to his job at a drug treatment program in midtown. I too was newly back in public life. We were companions who made the unspoken assumption that there would be other waves to ride, new mornings. Abbie kept us all laughing, not with the cruel, divisive humor that is typically American — but joking about the banality of the powerful, the ludicrous nature of the human dilemma and the need to keep on pushing. Like all wise men, the child in Abbie kept the incongruities in focus; he used as his motor force the simple assumption that people want to be free.
New York City
I first met Abbie in the early 1960s when, after he had returned from a stint of voter registration work in Mississippi, he established Liberty House, a New York outlet for knitted and other handmade products by black women in that state. When I walked into the store on Greenwich Village’s Bleecker Street, fresh from representing Freedom Riders in Jackson, I was introduced by a friend to this highly frenetic man who quickly explained to me that he hoped to establish counterparts of his store throughout the North. He never succeeded in doing that, but for the three or four years of its existence Liberty House did manage to return a decent profit to the hundreds of Mississippi women who created its merchandise.