FILM | The Chicago 7 movie and me

It’s that major motion picture Abbie Hoffman lusted after.

The Trial of the Chicago 7.

By Judy Gumbo | The Rag Blog | October 22, 2020

  • 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.]

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9 Responses to JUDY GUMBO :
FILM | The Chicago 7 movie and me

  1. Allen Young says:

    I loved reading Judy’s article. I liked the movie very much and it brought back many memories. I don’t think I ever knew about that time during the trail when Tom Hayden read all those names of war dead. That final scene in the movie did bring on some tears to my eyes. Tom, Abbie ,Jerry and Dave D. are deceased, the others are still living (and you can find them all on Wikipedia),
    I want to share a couple of memories and thoughts with you:
    l. When I was active in the gay liberation movement, someone had a button made that said “Freaking Fag Revolutionary.” I wore that button for a while and it’s likely close friends saw me wearing it in 1970. The origin of the words on that button is a comment by U.S. Attorney Tom Foran whom you saw portrayed in the movie. In the film, you see Allen Ginsberg chanting “Om”, but you don’t see him testifying in the trial, which he did. Ginsberg was an effective witness, and when he left the witness stand, Foran was heard to say, “Goddam fag.” Later, in a speech to the Chicago Rotary Club, Foran said, “We’ve lost our kids to the freaking fag revolution.” Thus the words on the button just one year later!
    2. There are several scenes of the Conspiracy office where the defendants and the lawyers hung out and prepared their case and socialized. I spent quite a lot of time in that office when I was an LNS reporter covering the trial. I remember two key staff members were Liz Cook and Stu Ball. I think I have the names right. They may or may not have been a couple, but I do remember people joking about the sexism in a word play — Liz (the woman) would cook, and Stu (the man) would ball (fuck). Sounds pretty bad in 2001, doesn’t it?. I wonder if LNS photographer David Fenton remembers this. It was such an honor to be in that office during this historic trial,having a behind-the-scenes look and all the trust of the defendants because of LNS’s prestige in the anti-war movement.
    3. I know there were lots of differences in the political views of the defendants, but I don’t know if there were angry shouting and fisticuffs between Abbie and Jerry, on the one hand, and Tom and Rennie on the other. I don’t think I saw anything like that, and I wonder if the disagreements ever reached the level of anger you see in the movie.
    4. I know when I was there, not sure how many days, but it included late October and November, 1969.I remember because of this detail. When the defendants came into the courtroom on NOv. 1 or maybe Nov. 2, Jerry and Abbie were wearing black armbands. I went over to them and asked about the armbands, and they told me that Marshall Bloom had just died. He took his own life Nov. 1, 1969, the Day of the Dead, and I later wrote about this in an article in Fag Rag entitled “Marshall Bloom, Gay Brothers.” Even though Marshall and I had gone down very different roads with the LNS split in Aug. 1968, I did indeed think of him as my gay brother and wish he were alive today.
    5. While Rennie and Tom are identified in the movie as SDS officers, the fact is that they were FORMER officers. The leadership of SDS in 1968, at the time of the Democratic Convention in the movie, were other people and the SDS leadership DID NOT SUPPORT the Chicago demonstrations that were planned by the Yippies and perhaps the Mobilization (the entity led by Dave Dellinger). The Yippies definitely promoted the demonstration, led by Abbie and Jerry. Ray Mungo had definitely signed the original Yippie statement, and maybe Marshall, too. So it’s possible that LNS covered both the promotion of the demonstration as well as the opposition stance of SDS. SDS leaders, as I recall, felt that it would be dangerous to bring innocent young anti-war demonstrators to Mayor Daley’s Chicago — and they were right, weren’t they? I think Tom and Rennie thought they could play a role in keeping things from going too crazy (in the Abbie-Jerry style).
    6. I have no recollection of any LNS staff member intentionally going to Chicago in the summer of 1968 to cover the Democratic convention and the protests. I cannot remember how we covered those events in our packets.
    7. I wish the actor portraying Judge Hoffman had more of the mannerisms and speech style of the real Judge Hoffman, who was somewhat like Mr. Magoo. Also, Abbie once said, in front of Judge Hoffman, that he was “a shanda for the goyim.” A “shonda for the goyim” means to do something shameful, publicly witnessed by non-Jews, thus bringing shame upon Jews in general . I was not present when Abbie said this, but it was pure Abbie genius!
    8. The movie never reveals why Lee Weiner and John Froines were defendants, and it also fails to mention there was a bunch of “unindicted co-conspirators.” It must have come up in the trail, but not when I was there. I’d have to research it to find out, and right now i don’t want to take the time. Anyway, one of the unindicted co-conspirators was a woman I knew in SDS circles, but I cannot remember her name at the moment. In the official charges, she was charged with dressing up nicely and going to one of those classy hotel bars where delegates were gathering for social activity, and she dropped a “stink bomb” using some smelly acid that John Froines knew about, as he was a chemist and knew about such things. Perhaps both Froines and Weiner were involved in making one or more of these stink bombs.
    9. When I was in Chicago for this event, and for some others, I stayed with John Kifner, a NY Times reporter I met back in 1963 when I was a student at the Columbia journalism school. John covered the anti-war movement and I’m sure he liked me as a source. I thought he was also a real friend, but I changed my mind about that later. John and his wife Nona had hosted me in their Chicago apt., and I enjoyed their company. When I got involved in the gay liberation movement, John TOTALLY 100% broke off any communication with me and showed no interest in me whatsoever.
    Well, I think that’s enough. I welcome any comments from anyone reading this, which is essentially the same as an email I sent out a week ago to a bunch of friends.
    Allen Young

  2. Martin Murray says:

    Very good commentary by Judy Gumbo. As far as factual accuracy, was it not the case that Rennie Davis was with Dave Dellinger in the Mobilization and not SDS. Tom Hayden certainly was not in the leadership of SDS at the time. He has just left working in Newark, correct? Weiner and Froines certainly go left out in the film. At the actual trail, Rennie Davis made a great closing statement about who would remember in later years — he was correct. But his magnificent words were left out of the film. Pity.

    • Alice Embree says:

      Martin, Tom was the second president of SDS in 1962-1963. The Newark Economic Research and Action Project had been over for a few years. Tom was very active at the Columbia strike in May 1968. He became allied with the Bobby Kennedy campaign before Bobby was assassinated in the summer of 1968. There were lots of things wrong with this film, but I agree that Judy’s commentary is very insightful. We’ll have to hunt down Rennie’s testimony.

  3. This film is flipping the finger to Chump!!!
    Now the generation of my 16 year old granddaughter
    Can understand what happened in 1968 and 1969!!
    They can carry the fire of peace and justice against the
    Scummy Benito Trumpollini!!!
    Fight for peace and justice now

  4. SocraticGadfly says:

    The movie is actually in many ways, per actual left-liberal or leftist sites like Counterpunch, factually inaccurate in a number of ways.

    “(I)t played fast and loose with the facts. I ought to know. I was a yippie organizer for the ’68 protest and present every day at the trial, working on the defense side— in the beginning with Tom Hayden, tracking down witnesses.”


  5. Alice Embree says:

    Let’s just say the debate rages. Inaccuracies galore. Dave Dellinger never hit anyone. He had two girls, not a Boy Scout and a girl. They did not live in suburbia, but in an intentional community of resistance. The indicted were not the instigators of police violence. It was a police riot. End of story. Abbie was (as Abbie was) larger than life, but Tom, Rennie and Jerry were unrecognizable in this film. The antiwar movement was unrecognizable. Tom didn’t read a list of the U.S. dead and if he had he would have mentioned the Vietnamese dead as well. The Vietnamese call it the American War, you know.

    Fred Hampton was murdered while in bed, shot twice in the head, not the shoulder. The comparison with Breonna Taylor has been made.

    Is this a movie that makes people think? My first reaction is that at least they know that Bobby Seale was chained and gagged in the courtroom. And the world saw that. And will see it in this movie. At least they know Fred Hampton’s name. But not Mark Clark’s. He was killed as well. Do viewers learn anything about the massive resistance to the war? The GI resistance? The soldiers that refused to come to Chicago and went to jail? No. We have a responsibility if we were there to correct the record.

    I applaud Judy for making sure, as the film did not, that we know women were there. Always. You couldn’t really tell from Sorkin’s script.

    I’ve been asked if any dramatic narrative comes closer to truth and fact. I’m making a list: Milk, Born on the Fourth of July, Steal This Movie! I guess you had to be there inhaling the tear gas. Sorkin was not.

    As SDS friends have pointed out, as Tom Hayden knew better than almost anyone, as writer Viet Thanh Nguyen wrote: “All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.”

  6. Martin Murray says:

    Very good. Alice. The Tom Hayden character was portrayed as a liberal — he was not.
    Thw war was way too much in the background. The reasons for going to Chicago were minimalized.

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