The Pixilated, Protest-Powered, Great American Déjà Vu Machine

This is like deja vu all over again.

– Yogi Berra

The Los Angeles police successfully cleared out the Occupy L.A. camp from the park around City Hall last night. The cops gathered at Dodger Stadium and then boarded over 30 buses, proceeded to downtown LA and, after some hours, eventually moved the protesters from their encampment, while managing to avoid the violent fierce confrontations that marked sweeps in Oakland and New York. Today the streets around City Hall will remain closed to traffic while they dismantle and clean up the Occupy LA camp.

As I’ve mentioned before, for me, there is a déjà vu quality to the Occupy movement. In particular, I am reminded of Chicago 1968 when police rioted against protesters who had taken to the streets as the Democratic National Convention was convening. On  the night of August 28th, police assaulted protesters in front of the Hilton Hotel while the crowd shouted a line from a Bob Dylan song, “The Whole World is Watching.” Well, most of America was, because the event was broadcast live for 17 minutes on national television.

It was the Walker Commission, appointed to investigate the events, that deemed the reaction by loaw enforcement a “police riot.” The commission’s findings were soon published in a book called “Rights in Conflict.” It was a fascinating read and the book is probably still available here and there in used books stores, Amazon, or EBay.

Eight protest leaders were put on trial for conspiracy for their part in the Chicago protests. One of the defendants was Bobby Seal whose treatment at the beginning of the trial is the basis for the line in CSN&Y’s song Chicago, “So your brother’s bound and gagged/And they’ve chained him to a chair.” Seal was later separated from the others, making the Chicago 8 the Chicago 7, and the whole thing was chronicled in a great book, “The Tales of Hoffman” (referring to Julius Hoffman the crazy right-wing judge who ran the trial), which consists mainly (if I remember correctly) of the trial transcripts.

Another one of the defendants was Abbie Hoffman, who was born on this day (November 30) in 1936. Hoffman was a political and social activist who co-founded the Youth International Party (“Yippies”). After the Chicago protests, the Yippies ran a pig, Pegasus, for President.

Looking back on it now, some the statements that Hoffman and his “partner-in-crime” Jerry Rubin made come off as pretty juvenile, but then, it was their intention to be as outrageous as possible. Hoffman once penned a book entitled, “Steal this Book.” I think I actually purchased my copy.

Here, for your edification, and entertainment pleasure, is a portion of Abbie Hoffman’s testimony at the Chicago Conspiracy trial. Mr. Weinglass, by the way, is the defendant’ attorney, while Mr. Schultz is a government attorney, and The Court is the aforementioned, Judge Hoffman.


MR. WEINGLASS: Will you please identify yourself for the record?

THE WITNESS: My name is Abbie.  I am an orphan of America.

MR. SCHULTZ: Your Honor, may the record show it is the defendant Hoffman who has taken the stand?

THE COURT: Oh, yes.  It may so indicate. . . .

MR. WEINGLASS: Where do you reside?

THE WITNESS: I live in Woodstock Nation.

MR. WEINGLASS: Will you tell the Court and jury where it is?

THE WITNESS: Yes.  It is a nation of alienated young people.  We carry it around with us as a state of mind in the same way as the Sioux Indians carried the Sioux nation around with them.  It is a nation dedicated to cooperation versus competition, to the idea that people should have better means of exchange than property or money, that there should be some other basis for human interaction.  It is a nation dedicated to–

THE COURT: Just where it is, that is all.

THE WITNESS: It is in my mind and in the minds of my brothers and sisters.  It does not consist of property or material but, rather, of ideas and certain values.  We believe in a society–

THE COURT: No, we want the place of residence, if he has one, place of doing business, if you have a business.  Nothing about philosophy or India, sir.  Just where you live, if you have a place to live.  Now you said Woodstock.  In what state is Woodstock?

THE WITNESS: It is in the state of mind, in the mind of myself and my brothers and sisters.  It is a conspiracy.  Presently, the nation is held captive, in the penitentiaries of the institutions of a decaying system.

MR. WEINGLASS: Can you tell the Court and jury your present age?

THE WITNESS: My age is 33. 1 am a child of the 60s.

MR. WEINGLASS: When were you born?

THE WITNESS: Psychologically, 1960.

MR. SCHULTZ: Objection, if the Court please.  I move to strike the answer.

MR. WEINGLASS: What is the actual date of your birth?

THE WITNESS: November 30,1936.

MR. WEINGLASS: Between the date of your birth, November 30, 1936, and May 1, 1960, what if anything occurred in your life?

THE WITNESS: Nothing.  I believe it is called an American education.

MR. SCHULTZ: Objection.

THE COURT: I sustain the objection.


MR. WEINGLASS: Abbie, could you tell the Court and jury–

MR. SCHULTZ: His name isn’t Abbie.  I object to this informality.

MR. WEINGLASS: Can you tell the Court and jury what is your present occupation?

THE WITNESS: I am a cultural revolutionary.  Well, I am really a defendant—full-time.

MR. WEINGLASS: What do you mean by the phrase “cultural revolutionary?”

THE WITNESS: Well, I suppose it is a person who tries to shape and participate in the values, and the mores, the customs and the style of living of new people who eventually become inhabitants of a new nation and a new society through art and poetry, theater, and music.

Lemme tell ya, that trial was a laff riot, which is always much preferable to a police riot or any other kind. At the same time, it painted a portrait of the shape of things in the United States at the time, and it wasn’t pretty. Nor is it now.

So, what, you may ask, is The Pixilated, Protest-Powered, Great American Déjà Vu Machine? Well, I’m not at liberty to tell you that. All I’m allowed to say is that it’s similar to Mister Peabody’s “Way Back Machine.”

“Oh, Mister Peabody!!”