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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Abbie Hoffman — national provocateur, political activist, founding member of the Yippies, defendant in the trial of the Chicago Seven, and author of Steal This Book, Revolution for the Hell of It, and Fuck the System — died on April 12, 1989. He was 52.

To celebrate his memory, we are proud to share the late Paul Krassner's foreword to the book Run Run Run: The Lives of Abbie Hoffman, written by Abbie's brother, Jack Hoffman, and Seven Stories Press publisher Dan Simon. Krassner's foreword, written a few weeks before his death in July 2019, perfectly conveys the contradiction of Abbie Hoffman — his unbridled silliness combined with a fiery political activism and passion for justice, creating a figure that simultaneously antagonized, amused, and terrified the highly conservative leaders of the era.

Dan Simon wrote of this contradiction, so pivotal to the living memory of Abbie Hoffman, in October 2020, soon after seeing the film The Trial of the Chicago Seven:

Maybe the most important idea in Run Run Run: The Lives of Abbie Hoffman, the biography of Abbie that I wrote with his brother Jack, appears in the very first paragraph of chapter 1. It’s the idea that a sense of futility was the source of Abbie’s remarkable energy and optimism, and that in the end his deep optimism held the same tragic seed as our despair. What prompted Jack and me to go there was the derailed life of his brilliant aunt Rose, a diagnosed schizophrenic who spent most of her adult life institutionalized. So in that opening paragraph it wasn’t our despair but his aunt Rose’s. No matter.

After I watched [The Trail of the Chicago Seven], I found myself thinking about Abbie and his aunt Rose, and the relationship between despair and optimism. Despair and optimism may share the same seed, and this may lead in the direction of optimism, a kind of optimism that doesn’t hide its kinship with despair, or maybe, to name it more accurately, a kind of faith in people. After Abbie died, we published the book that he and I had worked on together. He had envisioned it to be like the “Best of” albums that the musical artists of his era made—Dylan, the Stones, the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, the Dead—and gave it the title The Best of Abbie Hoffman—his three ’60s and early ’70s books in one volume. We had buttons made: “Abbie Lives.” I still have a few. And he does.


FOREWORD

by Paul Krassner

I think it was 1967.

“What is this, we’re huddled together like in a fuckin’ ghetto, afraid to watch a fuckin’ parade,” Abbie Hoffman was saying.

We’d decided to confront the Armed Forces Day Parade coming down Fifth Avenue. There were a lot of us.

But then a police captain approached someone in our group and said, “I’m gonna have to give you a summons for holding a meeting without a permit.”

“We’re merely having a conversation, Officer. And why are you singling me out?”

“You seem to be leading the meeting,” the captain replied.

Although I was there as a reporter covering this action for the Realist, at that moment I crossed the line that separated observer from participant: “Excuse me, Officer, we’re both leading the meeting. You’d better give me a summons too.”

Right away, Abbie looked around and spoke up: “Who else is leading this meeting?”

Hands went up.

“I am.”

More hands.

“I am.”

“I am.”

“I am.”

It turned out that about fifty people were leading the meeting.

“Okay, I’m not gonna give you a summons, but the next time you hold a meeting—”

“You mean,” I interjected, “the next time we don’t hold a meeting—”

“—you better have a permit.”

“I’m sorry, Officer, we can’t continue this meeting any longer without a permit.”

The Armed Forces Day Parade began making its way down Fifth Avenue. The marines marched by and we chanted, “Get a girl, not a gun.”

The navy marched by and we sang “Yellow Submarine.”

Green Berets marched by and we shouted, “Thou shalt not kill!”

The Red Cross marched by and we applauded.

A missile rolled by and we called out, “Shame!”

Military cadets rode by on horseback and we advised, “Drop out now!”

The Department of Sanitation swept past and we cheered.

Then this horde of pacifists and hippies left the area and entered Central Park, followed by what seemed like a whole division of police. We romped past the statue of Alice and her friends playing around a giant mushroom; some lingered to present flowers to the Mad Hatter. The cops ordered them off the statue, surrounding Alice as if they were guarding a fortress.

When it was all over, I left with Abbie. Our paths had crossed at various meetings and events, but we’d never really hung around together. Now, over soup, he was telling me about the time he had taken one of my “Fuck Communism” posters to a symposium on communism, and how influenced he was by the Realist, the satirical magazine I had founded.

I asked, “Do you think it’s an ego trip for me to be concerned about whether the readers of the Realist think I’m on an ego trip?”

He laughed and said, “You only ask a question like that because you’re Jewish.”

“But I don’t think of myself as Jewish. I’m an atheist. I mean, Christ was Jewish.”

“When I was at Brandeis,” Abbie said thoughtfully, “I asked this professor, ‘How come in one part of the Bible Jesus says to God, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” But in another part of the Bible, Jesus says to God, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do”?’ And the professor says, ‘You gotta remember, the Bible was written by a lot of different guys.’” 

Abbie tempered his fearlessness with a gift for humor that was sharp and spontaneous. 

On a particularly tense night on the Lower East Side, we were standing on a street corner when a patrol car with four police in it cruised by. Abbie called out, “Hey, fellas, you goin’ out on a double date?” These were some of the same cops from the Ninth Precinct that he liked to beat at pool at what I call the “laughing pool table” because of how Abbie made the cops laugh. 

Run Run Run: The Lives of Abbie Hoffman does a meticulous job of capturing the marvel that was Abbie Hoffman as I knew him. It’s an indispensable book about an indispensable hero of the sixties’ near-revolution in America that Abbie helped lead with such incredible imagination. Dan caught the tale end of the movement as a red-diaper baby growing up in Boston: his mom taught with Howard Zinn at BU, and his dad once joined a mission to deliver medical equipment to Bach Mai Hospital after it was bombed during the Vietnam War. With Abbie as one of his heroes, Dan worked with the Attica Brothers Legal Defense while in high school. Later, he edited and published The Best of Abbie Hoffman, Abbie’s last book. Jack of course was Abbie’s little brother and sidekick through the years, more a businessman than an activist, but he loved his older brother and lived in his shadow. 

Back on that first day of our long friendship, I told Abbie, “You’re the first one who’s really made me laugh since Lenny Bruce died.” Lenny Bruce had been in many ways my closest friend, and I had written his autobiography with him. 

“Really?” Abbie replied, genuinely impressed. “Lenny Bruce was my god.” 

— DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA, JULY 2019


PAUL KRASSNER (1932–2019) was co-founder with Abbie of the Yippies and one of Abbie’s longest standing friends and collaborators. The founder and longtime editor of the Realist and the author of many books, including The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race, One Hand Jerking, and Impolite Interviews, he lived with his partner, Nancy Cain, in the desert in Southern California. Paul Krassner died on Sunday, July 21, 2019, in Desert Hot Springs, California. 

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