Dubbing her the “Queen of the Yippies,” the UK’s Economist (not exactly a radical publication) had this to say of Anita Hoffman and her husband Abbie: “Perhaps the most famous song of the 1960s was Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A’Changin”, in which ‘senators, congressmen’ and others stuck in the past were warned of the ‘battle outside raging.’ No one fought the battle with more enthusiasm than the Hoffmans, Abbie and Anita.”
The Hoffmans became the symbols of an era of resistance against racism, capitalism and war.
She was born Anita Kushner in New York, to middle-class Jewish parents. Abbie had a similar background. Both had taken courses in psychology. They met at a party and took to each other immediately. Anita was writing a report on police brutality. Abbie was working in a shop selling goods made by blacks. Of their compatibility, Abbie said, “If I had been born a woman I would have been Anita. Sometimes couples take 50 years of living together to look and act alike; we began right off. She was a born rascal.” They married in 1967 and later bore a son named america.
Alongside Tom Hayden and Jerry Rubin, Anita and Abbie formed the core of the Yippies or Youth International Party—combining the marijuana and rock-n-roll drop-out culture of the hippies with a zeal for revolution inspired by Che Guevara, The Weathermen and the Black Panther Party. The Yippies didn’t just want to sit around and smoke pot. They sought to pull Uncle Sam’s pants down in public, to show that revolution could be conducted in a spirit of festive nonviolence.
Anita brought an intellectual strength to her husband’s pranks. In one prank the Yippies disrupted the New York Stock Exchange by dumping piles of dollar bills on to the trading floor from the balcony. Anita began burning money outside on Wall Street and it was the pictures of the immolation of ones and fivers that graced the front pages the following day.
When Abbie proposed to encircle the Pentagon with anti-war protesters, Anita suggested they attempt to make the building levitate, then let it crash to the ground. Unfortunately, the Pentagon managed to survive the mass chants of “om,” but it was worth a try.
Outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Yippies ran a pig, called Pigasus, for president of the United States. His platform, naturally, was garbage. They also held a Festival of Life to counter the corporate government’s Festival of Death being conducted in Vietnam and in the ghettos of America. There were performances by Phil Ochs and the MC5. However, the Festival of Life turned violent when the Chicago Police began brutalizing protesters and reporters alike while live news cameras rolled and the crowds chanted “The whole world is watching!” Abbie was tried and acquitted in the “Chicago Seven Conspiracy Trial” alongside Rubin, Hayden and Black Panther leader Bobby Seale, who was bound and gagged in the courtroom by order of the judge.
In 1970, Anita and Abbie joined Grace Slick and Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane in an attempt to infiltrate a Nixon tea party at the White House and douse the punch bowl with LSD. They were turned away because of Grace’s see-through dress. Abbie tried to scale the fence and was apprehended by White House security. Again, it never hurts to try.
While Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver was in exile in Algeria, Anita traveled to that country to meet with him to forge an alliance between the Panthers, the Yippies (and, by extension, John Sinclair’s White Panther Party). However, none of these connections materialized as these and other organizations were targeted and systematically destroyed by the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program or COINTELPRO. Sinclair was given 10 years in prison for buying 2 joints from an undercover officer. Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated by Chicago Police while in California Geronimo Pratt was framed by the Feds for a murder he didn’t commit (27 years later, he was finally released from prison when it was proved that the FBI knew all along that Geronimo was hundreds of miles away from the crime scene, attending a meeting—under FBI surveillance).
Abbie Hoffman was nabbed on a drug charge during those years and, determined not to let them take him alive, he went underground, changing his name and face in the process. This was something he may not have accomplished so successfully had it not been for Anita, who kept the FBI at bay until 1980, when Abbie reappeared and served a short term in prison. Anita wrote to him regularly, and later published her “letters from the underground.” She subsequently wrote a novel, based on his life, called Trashing (after a section in Abbie’s Steal This Book devoted to guerrilla warfare tactics).
According to Abbie, they had an open relationship which was more open on his side than on hers. He married another woman (his third wife), but this didn’t alienate Anita, who was a dedicated friend. She also befriended the new Mrs. Hoffman and helped Abbie to get treatment for depression. In 1989, Abbie took his own life. He had spent his later years fighting nuclear power, pollution, the dawning Reagan/Bush Drug War (materializing in the book Steal This Urine Test) and the CIA’s recruiting on college campuses (for which he was arrested with none other than former First Daughter Amy Carter).
Later in her life, Anita ran a book shop, worked for a Hollywood studio (reading scripts) and was involved in the making of Steal This Movie, which was released last summer, starring Janeane Garofalo as Anita.
Anita wasn’t here to see it. She was claimed by cancer on December 27th, 1998. A month earlier, her friend Cindy Palmer Horowitz (Winona Ryder’s mom) moved Anita out of her home in Petaluma, CA to Cindy’s more comfortable and scenic home in San Francisco. Her chauffeur on the trip to SF was journalist/activist Paul Krassner. The following paragraphs are his account of Anita’s last days:
Anita was surrounded by visiting friends and family this last month, many who traveled far just to say goodbye.
Here’s a small, incomplete list:
- Leah and Trusje Kushner
- Paul Krassner
- Janeane Garofalo
- Wavy Gravy
- Robin Williams
- America Hoffman
Of course there were many, many more. Anita was well loved.
Three people deserve special mention.
Robin Williams did not know Anita personally but in a conversation with actor Matt Damon found out Anita was ill. He took the time out Christmas day, left his family for a while and spent a magical hour with her. She was deeply touched. But that’s the kind of guy Robin is. A real “Patch Adams.”
Rosemary Woodruff Leary gave over a month of her life and moved into the house to take care of Anita. They had met over thirty years ago in New York and were both “guests” of Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria…that is until Anita climbed out of the window to escape.
Cindy Horowitz was stirred to action when Anita, now immobile, mentioned she could no longer even see the sky from her Petaluma bedroom. Cindy moved out of her own room and moved Anita in. Anita was gifted with a magnificent view of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge.
Anita also firmly decided the time of her own “deliverance” would be December 27.
It is said that everyone dies but not everyone lives. Anita surely did.
We’ll meet again dear friend…