If a protest happens in the woods, and there are no television cameras to film it—did it really happen? That’s the koan that activists in the modern era face: how to deal with a corporate-media oligarchy that’s indifferent at best, and often hostile to the concerns of the masses. One approach is to use the new tools available (Weblogs, independent-media collectives, digital video, low-power FM) to make your own programming and compete directly, but that’s just one battle in the war. Like any guerrilla movement, those opposed to the conglomerates controlling our airwaves must be prepared to confront power directly, and to subvert it to their own ends.
If Abbie Hoffman were alive today, he wouldn’t be complaining about the slant of Fox News, he’d be appearing in disguise as head of a fictitious right-wing organization. The Yippies (Youth International Party) were founded in Hoffman’s New York apartment on New Year’s Eve 1967, and were among the first to understand that the media’s perverse desires (for iconic images, for spectacle, for drama and for humor) can be easily exploited. Here are three of their best pranks:
PIGASUS FOR PRESIDENT
One of the Yippies’ first major policy decisions was to run a protest candidate for president in 1968—a pig named Pigasus, who was nominated at the Festival of Life in Chicago to coincide with that year’s Democratic National Convention. One police riot later, he didn’t win.
WALL STREET MONEY DROP
Several Yippies, including Hoffman, arrived at the New York Stock Exchange on Aug. 24, 1967, armed with a few thousand dollars in small bills. After accusing the guards who confronted them of being “Jew-haters,” they pushed their way to the balcony overlooking the trading floor and threw fistfuls of money over the edge. As the cash gently cascaded down on the traders below, the press (tipped off in advance) got fed their story: the respected men of Wall Street, scrambling frantically on the floor for a few dollars more.
LEVITATE THE PENTAGON
Attempting to exorcise the Pentagon of its evil spirits, the Yippies led 50,000 anti-war protesters to Washington, D.C., with the goal of levitating the pentagonal building with psychic energy. Whether or not they succeeded (accounts following the incident were contradictory), one thing’s for sure: They had a damn good time trying.