THE BACKGROUND AND HISTORY OF THE COUNTER-CULTURAL YIPPIES
On December 31, 1967 a counter-cultural group called the Yippies were created to mobilize a new nation in America, a new imagined community, not rooted in political ideology, but rather rooted in revolution. By promoting sexual liberation, the anti-war movement, and a society not bound by the stigmatized use of drugs, the Yippies’ goal was a unified, rebellious, and unpoliticized nation group designed to combat the ever increasing governmental influence and conservative ideals of the time within America (Krassner 156). To put in the words of Abbie Hoffman, one of the founders of the Yippie movement, she states
“We shall not defeat America by organizing a political party. We shall do it by building a new nation—a nation as rugged as the Marijuana leaf” (Abbie).
To symbolically illustrate this, the Yippies created a flag—a marijuana leaf juxtaposed against a black background and a red five pointed start.
In addition to the flag, as a means to promote their increasing growth in 1968, Abbie Hoffman decided to host a “Yip In” (sit-in) to gain an increasing amount of media attention at Grand Central Station (Gitlin 237).
THE “GRAND CENTRAL MASSACRE”
Originally, Paul Krassner, another founding father of the Yippie movement, suggested that the “Yip In” be held on the Ides of March when Julius Caesar was assassinated. However, Abbie Hoffman contested the idea of using the Ides of March because the “Yip In” was supposed to symbolically emphasize life, not death—in her words, to celebrate the “spring equinox” and encourage “spring mating” (Raskin 134). As a result, the Grand Central Station, which metaphorically represents the bustling of life within the US, was the place chosen to represent the life of the Yippie movement—a living representation of the site of memory (Gitlin 237). Below you’ll see the flyer the “Yippies” used to capture their joy, excitement, and overall enthusiasm for life while prommoting the event at that Grand Central Station.
However, the intent to cement the “Yip In” at Grand Central Station as a symbol for the joy of life was soon overshadowed by the impact of what actually occurred at the event. On March 23, 1968 soon after 12:00 am, 50 police officers unleashed cherry bombs on the crowd and beat the Yippies with bats after a sporadic encounter. Over the course of the next couple hours, 61 people were arrested, multiple individuals were hospitalized, and the place became remembered as a place of tragedy (Time). Below I’ve highlighted some pictures that highlight the incident.
NARRATIVIZATION AND THE VARYING PERSPECTIVES OF THE “YIP IN”
After analyzing various news articles from primary sources, I found that within just a few days different individuals captured varying perspectives, memories, and contesting views of the significance of the “Yip In.”
For some, the “Yip-In” became a symbolic representation and memory of the anti-war demonstrations happening in the US. In an article written in the New York Times just a day after the event, a reporter named Michael Stern through his narrativization reveals this as he describes the event as a “militant anti-war demonstration”, “an invasion”, and a gathering that became an “anti-war rally” (Stern).
However, in contrast to that select and partial memory, others remembered the site as a place in which minorities, the Yippies, courageously faced opposition in light of police brutality. In an article from the Time written on April 5, 1968, the first thing recalled about the “Yip In” was the tenacity and the vivacity of the Yippies. In the first sentence, the article describes the Yippies as “pouring into the vast main concourse of Manhattan’s Grand Central Park, 3000 strong” (Time). In addition, the article describes them as “celebrants” that were “battered but unbowed” (Time). As a result, Time magazine paints a picture, a working memory, of the event at Grand Central Station that invokes triumph rather than defeat in light of injustice and police brutality.
For others, The “Yip In” became remembered as a site that signified opposition to free speech in light of counter-cultural movements. Below is a short snippet between Steve Rutt, a reporter for the “Radio Unnameable” broadcasting station, and a witness at the Grand Central “Yip In.” In this segment, the witness states this event highlighted “brutalization to control opposition, to control freedom of thought” (“Radio Unnameable”).
HOW THE “YIP IN” IS REMEMBERED NEARLY 50 YEARS LATER
Nearly five decades later, the “Yip In” is predominantly remembered not as a counter-cultural revolution or a movement seeking to evoke life, but a symbolic representation of police brutality amidst minorities. Because memory can be partial and usable, one can clearly see why today, in light of the police brutality within the US, the memory of the “Yip In” would resurface.
An article published in 2017 in a news source called the Timeline captures this select and usable memory of the “Yip In.” Photo after photo the Timeline focuses on police brutality. In one picture, Don McNeill, another news reporter from The Village Voice, is seen with blood running down his face.
However, in resurfacing the memory of the “Yip In” in light of police brutality, these sources tend to forget the underlying cause of the Yip In—the joy and excitement of life—a memory in direct contrast to tragedy and brutality. Further, they tend to forget the contesting ways the “Yip In” was originally remembered (i.e. to promote the anti-war agenda, counterculture, etc.). However, as seen in both the memory just days after the “Yip In” as well as the memories nearly 50 years later, in both cases memory becomes partial, selective, and usable.
By Louis Allen
Abbie Hoffman, Woodstock Nation, back cover. Vintage Books, 1969.
Dave Martucci. Yippie Flag. 30 Oct. 1996. https://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/us%7Dyip.html
Dundon, Rian. “These photos of the radical Left riot in Grand Central show Yippies and cops squaring off.” Timeline, 28 Aug. 2017. https://timeline.com/yippies-grand-central-riot-e589f4f739df.
Gitlin, Todd. The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. New York, Bantam Book, 1987, pp. 237.
Ortega, Tony. “Yip In Turns into Bloody Mess as Police Riot at Grand Central Station.” The Village Voice, Village Voice, LLC. 19 Apr. 2010. https://www.villagevoice.com/2010/04/20/yip-in-turns-into-bloody-mess-as-police-riot-at-grand-central/.
Paul Krassner, Confessions of a raving, unconfined nut: misadventures in the counter-culture, Page 156, Simon & Schuster, 1993.
“‘Radio Unnameable’: March 22, 1968 – Grand Central ‘Yip In.'” Youtube, uploaded by Columbia, 3 Nov. 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZMgo6HAENw.
Raskin, Jonah. For The Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman. Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1996, pp. 134.
Stern, Michael. “Political Activism New Hippie ‘Thing.’” The New York Times, 24 Mar. 1968, pp. 72.
“Youth. The Politics of YIP.” Time, 5 Apr. 1968. http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,900067,00.html