It’s that major motion picture Abbie Hoffman lusted after.
- This article was first published at Judy Gumbo’s site, yippiegirl.com, and was cross-posted to The Rag Blog by the author.
I attended and worked at the Trial of the Chicago 7. I think Sorkin’s movie is terrific. Here’s why: It’s a blockbuster Hollywood movie in which the Yippies and the anti-war movement come off as heroes.
Sorkin’s narrative focuses on conflict — between those who protest for a righteous cause and cops, Attorney General John Mitchell, and the Nixon administration. Sorkin raises the racist treatment of my friend, the defendant Bobby Seale, so boldly his audience is forced to pay attention. I heard that Sorkin consulted with my late friend, the defendant Tom Hayden. Which explains Tom’s movie character and the movie’s focus on nonviolence vs. violence. As a Yippie I am especially delighted that Yippie characters and history are so prominent. It’s about time.
Yes, Sorkin does play fast and loose with facts.
Yes, Sorkin does play fast and loose with facts, personalities, timeline, you name it. But movies define history. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is not a documentary; it’s that major motion picture Abbie Hoffman lusted after — and a gift to all resistors.
Here’s what I want to add:
THE YIPPIES: Movie Jerry Rubin bears little to no resemblance to the Jerry I knew. Jerry was much more fearful than Jerry as portrayed; he never advocated use of explosives. Nor did he have a relationship with a blond female police agent. But he did take a male agent as his bodyguard; Robert Pierson testified against Jerry at the trial. Jerry was a gifted grassroots organizer who became a national celebrity; he was never an actual stockbroker as the movie claims but did become a publicist for socially responsible investing.
Abbie Hoffman was a performance artist who pulled pranks and gave stirring speeches. He was far less serious than the way Sasha Baron Cohen portrays him. As Sorkin makes clear, Abbie did get into conflicts — as much with Jerry as with Tom. For me a primary Abbie/Jerry conflict occurred over who got to decide the size of Pigasus, our Yippie candidate for president. Which of these two guys, Abbie or Jerry, could claim to swing a bigger Pigasus dick?
Speaking of height: it was weird to see attorney Len Weinglass portrayed as so much taller than Bill Kunstler and Abbie so much taller than Jerry. In reality, these four men all were Jewish guys of average height.
Abbie once told me I should have been indicted.
HOW WOMEN ARE PORTRAYED: Abbie once told me I should have been indicted. No women were. In Sorkin’s conspiracy trial office, a tall blond woman named Bernardine answers phones and hands out mail. Which I did. She looks like Gloria Steinem. I do not. Nor was I the Weatherwoman Bernardine Dohrn. Ah well. I was in fact the “manager” of an unmanageable trial office for a few weeks, only to be replaced by a man. I then snail-mailed daily transcripts of the trial’s dramatics to underground and mainstream media across America and in Europe — which made it clear to me that she who disseminates history can rule worlds.
A character based on Anita Hoffman does not appear in Sorkin’s movie. In real life Anita faced the traditional, patriarchal bind of a woman married to a charismatic man. Anita and I kept a cool but friendly distance when we first met that summer of 1968, but at the trial, I began to hear rumors: Abbie, to use the vernacular of our time, “took advantage” of women. Frowns occupied Anita’s face. Only after the rise of the women’s liberation movement did Anita and I become close. I visited Anita’s bedside shortly before she died.
Beyond Sorkin’s image of a woman with an American flag (which was in fact an NLF flag to show our solidarity with South Vietnam’s liberation forces), being carried in a demo and subsequently brutalized by cops, the majority of women protesters I knew — myself included — were helpmates who supported men. No bras were burned — either in Chicago or, as myth has it, one week later at the 1968 Miss America Pageant protests.
But Chicago and the trial did give women like me a key experience of self-empowerment: I learned to stand my ground, to run from gas, to fight back, and to resist. All of which I needed to become a free woman. At the end of the trial, Jerry’s partner Nancy, Anita Hoffman, and Dave Dellinger’s daughter Tasha, dressed as witches, burned judge’s robes to denounce the verdict.
Sorkin collapses the trial’s culture wars into a single conflict: Tom vs Abbie.
CULTURE WARS : Sorkin collapses the trial’s culture wars into a single conflict: Tom vs Abbie. In reality, my partner the late Stew Albert, Dave Dellinger, and Rennie Davis acted as go-betweens to create a politico-cultural defense. Tom, John Froines, and Len Weinglass took the mainstream side; Abbie, Jerry and Bill Kunstler identified with the Yippies.
In addition to testimony from prosecution witnesses, Abbie, Rennie, and defense witnesses also took the stand — from counterculturalists like Allen Ginsberg and Joni Mitchell to sympathetic lawyers and peace movement stalwarts. Ultimately both sides won that culture war: more than 100 people testified for the defense. The Chicago defendants were acquitted of conspiracy but convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot and of contempt of court. All charges were later dropped.
JUDGE AND COURTROOM : I figured the actor Frank Langella was perfectly cast as Judge Julius Hoffman since he played Dracula in movies. Jerry and Abbie’s name for Judge Julius was not Dracula but Mr. Magoo, a Yippie sendup of the short, grumpy-old-man cartoon character who Julius Hoffman physically resembled, his bald head shaped like an egg poking over his judge’s podium. But Julius Hoffman was no Yippie; he possessed an affect and a temperament more severe and racist than any late 1960s cartoon. Frank Langella’s Hoffman wasn’t evil enough for me.
Hippies, Yippies, and friends of the defendants
piled in behind me.
Sorkin gets Judge Hoffman’s courtroom right — and wrong. The movie shows spectators mixed together but in reality, as if a hippie bride was marrying a Republican groom, marshals escorted me and other spectators to our separate sides of the courtroom. I’d be seated on the right, in the second row behind the press. Hippies, Yippies, and friends of the defendants piled in behind me, with defendants and lawyers seated in front of us at a messy table. On my left, men in suits and women in red wool dresses and high heels, supporters of the prosecution, sat closest to an elevated jury box while the two prosecution attorneys, one gray-haired, the other younger, both dressed in bespoke suits, sat at their separate table; no mess in sight.
BOBBY SEALE AND FRED HAMPTON : I well remember those portraits of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, slave-owners all, who glowered down from the courtroom’s walls. Before his case was severed, which turned the Chicago 8 into the Chicago 7, Bobby had pointed to these oil paintings and declared:
What can happen to me more than what Benjamin Franklin and George Washington did to Black people in slavery? What can happen to me more than that?
In Sorkin’s movie, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays Bobby Seale, Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays Fred Hampton. I do not know if Fred Hampton advised Bobby as the movie portrays, but I cannot forget Hampton’s death. On Stew’s 30th birthday, December 4, 1969, Jerry, white faced and breathless, barged into Stew’s and my bedroom, bellowing that we must get up immediately,
Fred Hampton’s dead! Mark Clark too! Chicago cops shot them!
At Hampton’s memorial I heard Bobby Rush, Deputy Minister of Defense of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party, later to become a Congressman from Illinois, declare
Black people will be free or we will level the earth in our attempts to be free. We want liberty or death. There is no other way out.
Sorkin’s movie offers us a portrait that is as timely and as relevant today as when I experienced these events in actuality 50 years ago. I am so grateful that he did.
[Judy Gumbo was a founding member of the Youth International Party (Yippie!), along with Abbie and Anita Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Nancy Kurshan, Paul Krassner, and Judy’s late husband Stew Albert. Judy has a Ph.D. in sociology and spent the majority of her professional career as an award-winning fundraiser for Planned Parenthood. She lives in Berkeley, California, and is currently writing her memoir, Yippie Girl, which is also the name of her website.]