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Who Were the Yippies?

Michael Pollick
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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The counterculture movement of the 1960s did not always present a united front politically. Many who embraced the peaceful elements of the hippie lifestyle were not especially anxious to confront the 'system' head on. Other factions, such as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), were often all too ready to use physical force and the power of the masses to achieve political goals. Between these two camps were members of the Youth International Party, more commonly known as the Yippies. Founding members of the Yippies included Abbie Hoffman, his wife Anita and Jerry Rubin.

The Yippies were more likely to use guerrilla theater or public pranks to bring attention to their causes. Although the Yippies were more radicalized than the hippies, most members and associates drew the line at organized protests and sit-ins. Inspired by the humor-filled rants of Abbie Hoffman, Yippies created absurdist political manifestos suggesting incredible acts of civil disobedience. Suggestions of placing LSD in a city's water supply or having a circle of Yippies levitate the Pentagon were typical. Most literature produced by the Yippies consisted of obscenity-laced diatribes against mainstream society, but made few serious calls to militant action.

By 1968, the Yippies were ready to push for a radical change in the American political machinery. The Yippies planned to hold a "Festival of Life" in the park outside of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In an attempt to present a united front, prominent members of the Yippies, such as Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, agreed to meet with leaders of other counterculture groups, including the militant SDS and the National Mobilization Committee (MOBE), a grassroots protest movement. These meetings, which rarely ended with any sort of consensus among factions, were also attended by undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents.

The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago proved to be a mixed bag for the Yippies. They managed to nominate a pig named Pigasus for president, and several Democratic leaders appeared briefly at the demonstration sites. However, the mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, also called for increased security forces, including riot police and the National Guard.

The clashes between protesters and policemen became extremely violent. A number of Yippies were injured or arrested, including Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Months after the convention, a federal grand jury indicted Hoffman, Rubin and six other protest leaders for conspiracy to incite a riot. The legal proceedings became known as the trial of the Chicago Seven.

The Yippies became increasingly fragmented throughout the 1970s, although several underground magazines published in New York City managed to keep the Yippies' storied past alive. A new generation of Yippies still maintains a presence on Bleecker Street, but their impact on American politics has been muted in recent years. Founding member Abbie Hoffman, perhaps disillusioned by the apathy of 1980s American youth, committed suicide in 1989.

Jerry Rubin disavowed much of his actions as a radicalized youth, choosing instead to embrace capitalism as a legitimate businessman in the 1980s. Rubin died in 1994 after being struck by a car. Many surviving Yippies still espouse the same values they held during the 1960s, but now work for change from within the system.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to PublicPeople, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By amypollick — On Oct 11, 2013

@anon351200: Putting forth a concrete reason for suicide is always speculation, so almost any claim is as valid as any other. I've heard he was sick of taking care of his elderly mother, but that may not be true, either.

However, taking 150 phenobarbitol tablets is definitely suicide. He was also bipolar, and in 1989, medications to help control it were not as effective as they are now, so that may also have been a contributing factor.

By anon351200 — On Oct 11, 2013

"Founding member Abbie Hoffman, perhaps disillusioned by the apathy of 1980s American youth, committed suicide in 1989." That's one heck of a claim to make.

I like the guerrilla theater approach, very creative and fun. Too bad they screwed up and got violent in Chicago. That and the media reporting that Charles Manson was a hippie killed their public identity.

By anon183898 — On Jun 06, 2011

I would say a difference between hippies and yippies is the fact that "hippies" was primarily a term applied to a subculture, while "yippies" was a self-identification based on Youth International Party membership. Most yippies were also hippies, but not all hippies were yippies.

The idea of dropping out of mainstream society and forming a viable counterculture was an appealing thought for many adolescents and young adults in the mid to late 1960s, but joining an organized political movement like SNCC or Youth International Party was an individual decision. Many hippies were perfectly satisfied with the trappings of drugs, sexual liberation and rock music and had little to no desire to take political or social action against the government, other than to view it as oppressive or outmoded.

By discographer — On Apr 22, 2011

Just reading about some of the Yippie protests, like their nomination of a pig as a presidential candidate, is funny and a little insulting but it's also out of the ordinary, don't you think?

I don't agree with violent protests and definitely think that the Yippies should have stayed far away from violence. But I also think that their protests ignited passion and curiosity in some Americans.

If any generalization can be made about politics and politicians in America, it's probably that it's very traditional, or it has been until now. Our generation as a whole, including the Hippies and Yippies, wanted a fresh outlook on American politics and definitely used unusual ways to protest the system.

By ysmina — On Apr 20, 2011

The article mentioned that the Yippies were more radicalized than the Hippies. But Yippie demonstrations were also mainly against President Johnson and the Vietnam war right?

I always thought that Yippies were the same as the Hippies or at the most, a sub-group of the Hippies. Am I wrong?

By fify — On Apr 19, 2011

We have discussed the Hippies in school but I don't remember learning about the Yippies. They seem like a really interesting group.

Most activists take to the street to demonstrate and get across their views. But what the Yippies have done is really unique because they used art and culture as a method. All activism takes courage, but I like that they incorporated something like theater into activism. They must have done it mostly for the attention it would bring to their cause but I think it was quite an intelligent act on their part. How successful they were at reaching their goal is another matter.

By malena — On Feb 03, 2008

Ohhhhhh! Somehow after all these years, I didn't realize that there was a difference between yuppies and yippies! After reading this article though, I looked up yuppies to find out they are "young upward professionals" or "young upwardly mobile professionals" -- well-paid professionals in the middle class who live luxurious lives. Quite a bit different than yippies!!!

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to PublicPeople, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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