Abbie Hoffman Was Put On The Political Map Thanks To The New York Stock Exchange

Abbie Hoffman was born in Massachusetts in 1936 and earned his fame in American culture as a political activist during the height of the hippie movement (via Britannica). He was a theatrical agitator known for his role as an ardent opponent of the Vietnam War and a proponent of the civil rights movement and the Youth International Party — the latter of which he founded.

Hoffman didn't shy away from using humor with his activism, including threatening to levitate the pentagon and dump LSD in Chicago's waters (via Rolling Stone). He was probably singular in his levity, which was memorably displayed when he was photographed in a tee shirt that said: "My Country Invaded Nicaragua... & all I Got was This Lousy T Shirt". But this spoke to his nonconformist criticisms, which extended both to conventional culture and hippie culture. He defended his theatrics by saying (via Rolling Stone), "If you don't like the news, go out and make your own." This counterculture career took off in 1967, when Hoffman's stunt at the New York Stock Exchange transitioned him from an average hippie protester to a formidable prod in conventional America's side.

His Early Stints with Activism

Abbie Hoffman started out with a more prosaic background than one might expect. He was a psychology student who earned degrees at Berkeley and Brandeis University by 1960, as per Britannica. During that time, he had joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and even took part in community theater (via Smithsonian). He would soon take his counterculture lifestyle to a new level when he moved to New York and began using LSD, cocaine, and other drugs while joining anti-war protests.

The San Francisco-inspired demonstrations included Central Park "be-ins," which helped encourage solidarity and gave goods out to the homeless as a counter to American greed. The financial industry was stark on Hoffman's radar, as it was with other activists of the time. In 1965, Students for a Democratic Society organized a sit-in at the Chase Manhattan Bank to protest the bank's South African holdings while apartheid was in place (via Smithsonian). Hoffman, however, wasn't so specific in his goals when he set his sights on the New York Stock Exchange. For Hoffman, capitalism at large was the target.

Hoffman's Demonstration at the New York Stock Exchange

Gay-rights activist, Jim Fouratt, joined forces with Abbie Hoffman in 1967, and the duo assembled a team of protestors who would all meet outside the New York Stock Exchange. According to the Smithsonian, the group consisted of people from many walks of life and vocations, including journalists, veterans, and peace activists. On August 24, Hoffman led the group to the NYSE, getting past the guards by claiming their showy outfits were Jewish, not hippie. Once they managed to get inside, they headed to the gallery, where they proceeded to swarm the crowd of stockbrokers with bills — most of which were fake (via PBS).

Some say a scramble for the money ensued, and reporters besought Hoffman's group in an attempt to figure out who they were and what their purpose was. In their presence, Hoffman set alight a five-dollar bill, thus emphasizing the message of the demonstration. With no straight answers from Hoffman about the event, media lore and speculations flourished, solidifying Hoffman's name in relation to the hippie movement. In the months that followed, Hoffman formed the Youth International Party ("Yippies") and disrupted the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago (via Smithsonian). From then on, he was known for his "Guerilla Theater," which kept him in the public eye until his death in 1989. Along his audacious path, Hoffman followed through with his goal to galvanize the public into discussion and action.