Sunday, May 20, 2007

Abbie Hoffman and thie Seige of Miami

Abbie Hoffman and the Seige of Miami

Abbie Hoffman was out on bail appealing his conviction as part of the Chicago 8. Word was that he was coming to Miami to do some fundraising to defray the costs of the appeal.

A phone call from the Miami Peace Center led to an introduction to a long haired young man who introduced himself as Abbie Hoffman’s advance man. He would handle press relations and fund-raising. We gave him a desk at the Center for Dialogue (a defrocked Lutheran church that was now used by several peace and civil rights organizations). Right off the bat he insisted on having the mailing lists of all the radical/liberal organizations we were in touch with. Alarm sirens sang out. We told him we were all capable of keeping our contacts informed and saw no reason why he should have access. Abbie Hoffman’s advance man was a cop. We called Abbie in Chicago to tell him our suspicions. Abbie’s response was that it was impossible. We all shook our heads. Abbie claimed his advance man could not be an agent…he had long hair!

Abbie arrived in Miami and was taken to the home of Thalia and Dr. Philip Stern. Thalia was the mover and shaker of the peace movement in Miami. Her husband, the dentist, was a sometimes less than thrilled supporter of his wife. They lived in a beautiful home on Biscayne Bay. It wasn’t overly large. It wasn’t particularly opulent. It was a very comfortable upper middle class home with a built in swimming pool and a small sailboat tied to their own dock. Thalia was my mentor and close friend. The affair to take place that evening was the main fundraising event to take place. The next night Abbie would speak at the University of Miami and that would be the place for the students, radicals and others to meet Abbie. However, Thalia agreed that a few friends could attend the shindig at her house. We were to stay out by the pool though and not enter the house. OK. Everything was going fine except one older woman stayed outside with us young ones. It was Abbie Hoffman’s mother. She refused to enter the house as long as anyone else was being excluded. I fell in love with Abbie’s mom.

In order to appreciate what happened the next night at the University of Miami it is necessary to have an understanding of the state of the student/radical movement at that time. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had split into 3 factions. The Progressive Labor Party was a 1950’s split off from the Communist Party USA. They thought that revolution would come through the working class and they swore off drugs and long hair. The Weatherman/Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM) 1 faction was based on drugs, long hair and the belief that young people would follow the lead of 3rd world nations and peoples and revolt against the empire. RYM 2 was somewhere in the middle. The three groupings all thought the other to be mortal enemies. At many campuses, physical confrontation between the three was the rule. The student movement at the University of Miami was unique in that all three factions still worked together. We knew we had differences but tried very hard to maintain cordial relationships. We would go out to the everglades once a week and shoot off our weaponry. Tom the leader of our Progressive Labor faction would supply ammunition and also offered Karate and self defense lessons to the RYM 2 and Weatherfolk.

It is also important to understand the conditions at the University of Miami. There were an awful lot of violently anti-communist Cuban exile students there. They were people who were eager to literally kill Communists and those who supported the Cuban Revolution.

We on the left knew that we were facing real dangers at Abbie’s speech and were serious about providing protection.

The three factions had a meeting where we split up responsibilities for Abbie’s protection. The Weathermen would be responsible for the perimeter. They would search suspicious looking people before they entered the area where Abbie was speaking. Progressive Labor would patrol where the audience was. RYM 2 would protect the stage where Abbie was speaking.

Outside of the Student Union Building was a large patio with chairs and tables. There was an elevated walkway from the Student Union to other classroom buildings nearby. The audience would be in that open patio area.

The crowd started arriving early. Our Weathermen went to work. They confiscated several weapons and kept others from entering the area. Progressive Labor staunchly carried out their responsibilities keeping a lookout for weapons and suspicious incidents.

The time came for Abbie to speak. Accompanied by the RYM 2 faction Abbie took the stage. All hell broke loose. Salt and pepper shakers which had been on the tables in the patio were being hurled at Abbie. Other less identifiable objects were being thrown and intercepted by the RYM2 guards. Fights broke out in the audience as the Progressive Labor contingent duked it out with the anti-Abbie Cubans. Above the din and ducking condiments, Abbie yells out, “What’s going on? Are you all in PL?” Hearing this Tom, the leader of the PL forces stood tall and raised his fist in the air and yelled back, “Long Live the Progressive Labor Party” and led his troops off the battle plain.

Our defensive strategy broken, RYM 1 and RYM 2 quickly agreed to get Abbie out of there.

We regrouped at a friendly professor’s house. Concerned that his bail would be revoked Abbie was concerned that the news would refer to the happenings as a riot. When they did not he relaxed. We all shared some dope. Abbie left with the professor’s wife. Abbie’s wife, Anita, and the rest of us smoked a few more joints then fell asleep.