Fifty years ago, on August 24, 1967, Abbie Hoffman and a group of friends invaded the heart of American capitalism, the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street. They threw money from the visitors’ gallery onto the floor, and the brokers and traders there leapt into the air to grab the dollar bills floating down. Trading was interrupted, briefly. News coverage was massive.
At the time, the Vietnam War was reaching a peak—486,000 Americans were fighting there by the end of that year. Lyndon Johnson was president, and Donald Trump was a 20-year-old student at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. He was getting a student deferment that kept him from being drafted and sent to Vietnam. That summer, he was working for his father’s New York City real estate firm, refusing to rent to black people.
Abbie Hoffman is gone—he died in 1989—but at least one member of his merry band is still with us: Bruce Dancis. He called the raid on the stock exchange “a nonviolent shot heard ’round the world in the battle against greed.” For a brief moment, he said, “it showed that there was more to life than the dogged accumulation of wealth and riches.” And it was part of a new tactic Abbie was experimenting with: deploying humor, drawing on guerilla theater, to use the media to reach many more people than a protest march would have.
Dancis, who wrote a book about that era, Resister: A Story of Protest and Prison during the Vietnam War, said that he had met Abbie that summer, when Dancis was organizing a draft-card burning. Abbie at the time had years of experience in the civil-rights and anti-war movements and was searching for new forms of protest, since the media were already cutting back on coverage of street demonstrations, no matter how big they were.
Dancis told Abbie he could join the action only if they did it during the lunch break for the criminal courts a few blocks away—because he was on trial that day, facing charges of resisting arrest, unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct, and “masquerading in public” at an anti-war protest a few weeks earlier, on Hiroshima Day. (“Masquerading in public” consisted of wearing the giant death’s heads of the Bread and Puppet Theater, a legendary anti-war street-theater group that was part of all the big protests in New York City.) Abbie agreed.
“When we arrived,” Dancis recalled, “Abbie, who looked like a long-haired hippie, got stopped by a guard, who said, ‘You can’t do a demonstration in here.’ Abbie said, “You’re not letting me in because I’m Jewish!’ The guard became flustered.” Meanwhile, Dancis, who was wearing a jacket and tie for his court appearance that day, walked straight in, along with several women in their group, who were wearing skirts and blouses. “We were dressed for success,” he said.
In the confusion, Abbie and others ran in, bringing the total to around 20. Abbie had something like $100 in dollar bills. “Never having thrown money before,” Dancis recalled, “I was amazed at how long it took for the bills to waft down to the trading floor, one floor below us.”At first, there was “stunned silence from the floor. Then some people started cheering. Others scrambled around trying to grab or pick up all the money they could. Others started cursing us and yelling at us, telling us to get the hell out of there. The whole thing took about a couple of minutes. We rushed out, and back on the sidewalk we discovered that nobody got arrested.”
Abbie had called a lot of reporter friends, Dancis said, so “we got fantastic coverage”: local TV news, The New York Times, the Daily News, the New York Post, and of course the alternative press. “We were on the cover of the New York Post that afternoon,” Dancis recalled. “The whole notion of the ‘Hippie Invasion of the New York Stock Exchange’ was too much for people in the media to pass up.”
Two months later, the stock exchange put up a bulletproof glass barrier at the visitors’ gallery. Nobody else would be able to throw money down on the stock brokers.
Dancis conceded that the action failed to bring about Abbie’s proclaimed goal, “the death of money.” But the event did mark the emergence of Abbie Hoffman as the media maven of the anti-war movement. A few months later, he organized a march on Washington to, as he put it, “exorcise” or perhaps “levitate” the Pentagon. Tens of thousands showed up for that, on October 21, 1967. The next year he and his friends organized a protest at the Democratic National Convention, in August 1968, where they promised to nominate a pig for president. Things took a dark turn there—massive police violence, and then the indictment and trial of eight organizers, including Abbie, on federal conspiracy charges. Protests after that became more angry and less hopeful; some dissidents, like the Weather Underground, turned to bombing, and others, like Bruce Dancis, went to prison for draft resistance. That next year marked the end of the cheerful, irreverent, and brilliantly radical protests that Abbie Hoffman pioneered—50 years ago today.