By Scott A. Grant
From flappers to hippies to the angry TikTokers of today, youth culture has always tried to redefine society in its own image. It turns out that changing the social order is harder than it sounds. Change happens slowly and never at the pace that youth demands.
On Aug. 24, 1967, Abbie Hoffman and other disgruntled youth invaded the New York Stock Exchange. They came in through the visitor’s entrance and headed toward the visitor’s gallery overlooking the floor of the Exchange. They planned an act of “Guerrilla Theater” to protest capitalism and the Vietnam War.
Most of the group was dressed conservatively and entered without issue. Hoffman looked like a hippie and was stopped by a guard who told him protests were not allowed. Abbie accused the guard of being antisemitic and snuck past with the rest of the crowd. Once inside, the protestors proceeded to rain dollar bills from the open gallery down onto the trading floor below.
Initially, traders cheered and scrambled to pick up the dollars. Then, as the reality of what was happening became clear, cheers turned to boos and demands the protestors leave. Word of the event spread fast, and the protestors were greeted by a swarm of media as they exited. Hoffman delighted the reporters by burning a five-dollar bill symbolizing his rejection of capitalism. Two months later, the stock exchange put up a bulletproof glass barrier around the visitor’s gallery.
Three months later, Hoffman and his gang were at it again. They assembled in Washington to exorcise the Pentagon. As part of the exorcism, they announced they would levitate the Pentagon 300 feet into the air. For most it was just theater, but some of the leaders believed they could actually do it. Fifty thousand hippies surrounded the building shouting “Out Demons, Out!” Paratroopers were called in to provide protection. In what became an iconic photo, protestors placed flowers in the barrels of their guns.
By the following summer, Hoffman had joined forces with Jerry Rubin and Tom Hayden, who would later marry Jane Fonda. Together the pair founded the Youth International Party or “Yippies.” In August 1968, they arrived outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago with a pig they named Pigasus, a play on the word Pegasus. They demanded the pig be treated as a legitimate candidate, afforded Secret Service protection, and foreign policy briefings. The police arrived and arrested the pig and the leaders, just as Hoffman was reading his acceptance speech.
Hoffman, Rubin, and others were released after paying a $25 fine. Two days later, the Yippies gathered at Chicago’s Lincoln Park. The anti-war protest turned violent. Mayor Daly sent in police with billy clubs and riot gear to disperse the angry youths. A day later the violence spilled over into Grant Park. The National Guard was called in to restore law and order. Blood flowed. The leaders were arrested and tried for conspiracy to cross state lines to incite a riot. The trial of the Chicago Seven garnered national headlines. Eventually, each of the defendants was sentenced to five years in prison.
Scott A. Grant is a local historian and author. He hopes to use history to show that the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us. By day he is the Chief Investment Officer at Standfast Asset Management and may be contacted at email@example.com