The Radical Art of the Yippies' White House Smoke-In
They ran a pig for President and threw fistfuls of cash on to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. They “levitated” the Pentagon, threw pies at politicians, and smoked weed in front of the White House every 4th of July. When I first heard of the Yippies, I fell in love. They were as ridiculous as they were radical, the perfect role models for a queer West Texas preachers kid coming to terms with his identity. I fell for Vincent D’Onofrio as Abbie Hoffman in the 2000 biopic Steal This Movie, and subsequently devoured Steal This Book, Hoffman’s now dated how-to on getting one over on the man.
Over time, I’d save less space for the Yippies in my mind. I’d eventually explore art, technology, and sexuality with the same excitement that I once held for politics. My role models would morph along with my interests.
It wasn’t until earlier this year, during an interview with Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo that the Yippies recaptured a piece of my imagination. He talked about how as a teenager, who’d grown up in DC in the 1970s, he’d dropped out of school to join The Youth International Party (as the Yippies were once called). He was there for the White House smoke-ins. He’d thrown free joints to crowds of protesters and smoked out of six foot bongs right in front of police. I could just imagine the scene.
A few months later I came across The Overthrow while researching Dennis Peron, the self-proclaimed “gay hippy outlaw who legalized marijuana in response to the AIDS crisis.” The Yippies started publishing The Overthrow in 1972, five years after Abbie Hoffman founded the Youth International Party. In the beginning, the paper, edited by Dana Beal, was called The Yipster Times. It was a mix of conspiracy theory, radical ideology, international politics, and satirical cartoons.
For an ex-Yippie fan boy, there’s so much to love about this radical quarterly newspaper, but my heart belongs to the centerfolds.
In 1979, The Yipster Times became The Overthrow. For an ex-Yippie fan boy, there’s so much to love about this radical quarterly newspaper, but my heart belongs to the centerfolds. To mark the occasion of the Yippie’s annual 4th of July smoke-ins, The Overthrow would publish multicolored psychedelic posters featuring caricatures of anti-drug politicians smoking enormous joints or Washington monuments awash in weed. I went deep down The Overthrow rabbit hole and emerged with two copies.
The first is from June / July 1979, the year the Yipster Times changed its name to The Overthrow. The poster, designed by Walter Keagan, features the Lincoln Memorial rising up behind the White House. Bushes of bright green weed dominate the foreground. The words White House Smoke-in are written in a script reminiscent of Ralph Steadman’s illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson.
The second, and by far my favorite, is from June / July 1982, the year I was born. Ronald Reagan was in his second year as the President of the United States and reigniting the war on drugs. It was the same year Nancy Reagan began her ‘Just Say No’ campaign, putting an innocent, grandmotherly face on an initiative that would see hundreds of thousands put behind bars for non-violent drug offenses. In any case, while the Reagan’s were saying ‘No’, the Yippies were saying ‘Yes’. The poster for the 1982 White House Smoke-in features Ron and Nancy enshrined in marijuana leaves, the words, “Pot is an herb, Reagan is a dope” create an arch over their heads. Reagan holds a giant joint in his right hand.
Today the Youth International Party is little more than a memory. The “party” was forced to vacate its NY headquarters at 9 Bleecker Street in 2014. The new tenant, a celebrity boxing gym that has served names like Usher and J Lo, still pays homage to the YIP. It’s called Overthrow.