Posted by FoM on April 30, 2001 at 10:58:43 PT|
By Colin Moynihan
On a mild night in February, Dana Beal, a leader of the Yippies, gave a party in a three-story brick building in the East Village where the quirky anarchistic group has had its headquarters for nearly 30 years. Among the visitors were friends from the 60's and 70's, many known for their radical politics.
As several dozen guests chatted and sipped drinks in a long room on the ground floor of the structure, which is located at 9 Bleecker Street, Mr. Beal stood to the side. Dressed in his customary brown leather boots and well-worn corduroy jacket, he identified some of those in attendance.
There was Johanna Lawrenson, the companion of Abbie Hoffman, who, along with Jerry Rubin, was a co-founder of the Yippies in 1967. A. J. Weberman, a prominent Yippie and writer who helped pioneer "garbology" — rooting through the trash of public figures like Norman Mailer for journalistic clues — was there, too, and so was Aron Kay. Mr. Kay, known as the Pie Man, hurled hundreds of pies at politicians and others he disliked, including Jerry Brown, the former California governor, and James L. Buckley, the former New York senator.
As the visitors discussed the past, the talk grew animated. The party, Mr. Kay later said, stirred up fond memories of the mid-70's, when he lived in the basement of 9 Bleecker. "For years, we planned smoke-ins, protests at political conventions and antinuclear demonstrations in number 9," he said. "We had a lot of fun in those days taking on the establishment. Now we're older, but our hearts are in the same place, still fighting the beast."
Perhaps the longest-running Yippie political acts have been smoke-ins, which first appeared in New York in 1967 and evolved by the mid-70's into their current form, the annual pot parades. The event, which is scheduled this year for Saturday, promotes legalizing marijuana for medical use and other drug policies.
Mr. Beal and others — including his girlfriend Tracy Blevins, who dresses all in pink for these protests and calls herself Medical Marijuana Barbie — are hard at work for this year's pot parade. But as they prepare, they also have to face a dark cloud that hangs over another longstanding fact of Yippie life: their home at 9 Bleecker.
Last April, Albert Lorber, who owns the building, agreed to sell it to a developer. In July, he wrote a letter to Mr. Beal, who lives at 9 Bleecker along with another longtime Yippie named Alice Torbush, and told Mr. Beal he was ending his month-to-month rental. Then, in August, Mr. Beal and Ms. Torbush filed a lawsuit seeking to compel Mr. Lorber to sell the building to them instead. That case is in State Supreme Court in Manhattan and could be decided as early as this summer.
The stakes, financial and otherwise, are high for the Yippies. With the remaining members of the group scattered around the country, 9 Bleecker has become the group's spiritual center. Without it, Mr. Beal insists, the Yippies could never have accomplished what they have.
"I want to preserve this building," said Mr. Beal, a wiry 54-year-old who often wears his pants tucked into his signature boots. "I think I have a historical duty."
Those Fabulous 60's:
The countercultural history of 9 Bleecker, which is between the Bowery and Lafayette Street, extends back to the late 60's. Patrick Firpo, the inventor of Pablo's Lightshow, a fixture at rock concerts of the era, rented the building for a time, and it served briefly as the home for a chapter of the Diggers, a San Francisco group that provided free food and clothing to hippies and drifters.
Mr. Beal and other Yippies moved into the building in 1973. Mr. Hoffman had founded the group, formally known as the Youth International Party, only six years before, but Mr. Beal and the other young members sometimes call themselves Zippies, for Zeitgeist International Party, to distinguish themselves from the older crowd.
Over the last 28 years the Yippies, who once ran a pig for president, scattered dollar bills at the New York Stock Exchange in an anticapitalist snub and, in 1970, held the nation captivated at the Chicago Seven trial, have used 9 Bleecker to plan countless demonstrations. In 1976, they orchestrated at the site their protests at both the Democratic and Republican presidential conventions. Their target was government spying, and even today they rail against Cointelpro, the Nixon-era effort by the federal government to discredit various radical groups.
The 150-year-old tenement has also been a launching pad for pranks aimed at Yippie enemies. Crank telephone calls have long been a popular weapon in the Yippie arsenal, with several variations on the theme. There is the revolving crank, in which the phone is passed around a room, with Yippies taking turns jeering the target on the other end. Then there is the counter crank, used to tie up the line of someone trying to place crank calls to the Yippies. One crank battle, between the Yippies and a former member, lasted 16 years, from 1979 to 1995.
Painted across the facade of 9 Bleecker are faded letters spelling out "The Yipster Times" and "Bleecker Street Publishing." Those words bear witness to another role for the building, as the group's editorial offices from 1973 to 1989.
The Yipster Times, known after 1979 as Overthrow, was published more or less monthly and served as the Yippie house organ. The first issue had a cover drawing of Richard Nixon as a scarecrow being assailed by a mob brandishing swords and pitchforks.
Prominent radicals and their supporters often contributed to the paper. The March 1978 issue, for instance, included an article titled "Who Really Killed Malcolm X," by William M. Kunstler, and an essay on horticulture by Adam Purple, the creator of an elaborate community garden on Eldridge Street that was destroyed by the city in 1986.
The publication also offered how-to articles on activities ranging from the delinquent to the subversive. One column provided hitchhiking advice; another gave pointers on how to ride free in boxcars. An article in 1976 explained how to use bogus credit card numbers to make free phone calls, and listed on the same page numbers said to belong to the Justice Department. The same issue supplied phone numbers for people said to be associated with the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party, and encouraged readers to harass them with calls.
A Haven Amid the Gentry:
For many years, the Yippies have run 9 Bleecker as a portal into New York for wandering musicians and political firebrands, and as a temporary crash pad for residents of the East Village.
Indeed, even though boutiques, bars and restaurants now crowd a neighborhood once filled with men sleeping on sidewalk grates and storefronts rented by artists, 9 Bleecker endures as a countercultural haven and gathering place. Recent visitors include Dhoruba al-Mujahid bin Wahad, a former Black Panther, and Kenny Toglia, the director of the New York Medical Marijuana Patients' Cooperative. On warm days, guests discuss politics and public policy as they sit on a fire escape that runs along the front of the building.
The recent activity has focused on this Saturday's pot parade, which is now organized in part by Cures Not Wars, an advocacy group started by Mr. Beal and housed on the second floor. Volunteers stuff envelopes with promotional fliers and make tie-dyed shirts to identify the marshals for the parade, in which marchers in scores of cities worldwide will simultaneously demonstrate for legalizing marijuana for medical use and adopting other drug-related public- health measures, like needle exchanges.
"No. 9 is a meeting house and crossroads for people from all walks of life, who engage in an ongoing, rollicking debate without beginning or end," said Paul DeRienzo, the editor of Heads, a magazine about marijuana culture, and a morning news host at the freewheeling radio station WBAI (99.5 FM). Mr. DeRienzo said he had been hanging out at 9 Bleecker since 1981.
Although 9 Bleecker has sheltered as many as 10 people in the past, it has been occupied in recent years only by Mr. Beal and Ms. Torbush. She lives on the third floor while Mr. Beal sleeps in a loft on the second floor, which doubles as a library and meeting room.
The second floor also holds tall steel file cabinets stuffed with old newspapers and letters. Faded posters from Germany's Green Party dot the walls. Dusty shelves hold copies of books like "The Boys on the Bus," Timothy Crouse's account of news coverage of the 1972 presidential election.
The ground floor has an art studio, where visitors make banners, placards and posters. It also holds a grim reminder of more turbulent days. In March 1981 a bomb exploded in front of 9 Bleecker, damaging the front door and injuring two police detectives who had been examining the device. The detectives survived, but the maker of the bomb and his or her motive remain a mystery. Today that wooden door, scarred and gouged, leans against a wall in a dim corner.
Nine Bleecker continues to be home to unusual causes. Few topics have received as much of Mr. Beal's energy as ibogaine, a substance derived from a West African shrub, that he has championed as a tool to fight addiction to heroin and other drugs. In a ground-floor window, a written description of ibogaine hangs next to a surreal triptych that portrays a man ingesting ibogaine and then giving up the needle. Replicas of the artwork are placed in a wooden box outside the building, near a sign inviting passers-by to help themselves to the posters.
In 1962 a group of heroin users experimented with ibogaine, which is a hallucinogen, and said it made their withdrawal symptoms vanish. Based on that report and others, Mr. Beal, over the last 20 years, has financed research on the substance, lobbied drug companies and public agencies to push for its legalization for medical uses, and arranged to send addicts to the Netherlands, where ibogaine treatment is tolerated.
"We want to find a way to get rid of heroin addiction without replacing it with methadone, which is just another drug," Mr. Beal said. "Ibogaine appears to reverse addiction in some people and that's very significant."
Seeking to Buy Their Home:
Wherever the ibogaine crusade leads, the role of 9 Bleecker as a war room for countercultural causes may be in peril.
Mr. Beal, who has no paying job, has lived at 9 Bleecker since 1973. His monthly rent has ranged from $275 to the current $2,000, a bill that he usually pays with help from Yippie supporters.
In January 2000, Mr. Beal says in his legal complaint, he heard that Mr. Lorber was talking to potential buyers, and so he contacted an associate of the landlord and reached an agreement to buy the building for $905,000.
But that summer, Mr. Beal said, he learned that Mr. Lorber had signed a contract to sell the building to a developer named Harlan Berger. In response, Mr. Beal and Ms. Torbush filed their suit, objecting to their eviction and the planned sale and asking the court to compel Mr. Lorber, who still owns 9 Bleecker, to sell it to them based on the prior agreement.
In October, Mr. Lorber filed papers asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit, and his petition seeking possession of 9 Bleecker, filed in Civil Court, was joined to the case.
In an affidavit supporting Mr. Lorber's dismissal motion, Charlotte Lorber, a niece who handles his business affairs, said that there was no written agreement to sell 9 Bleecker to Mr. Beal and Ms. Torbush. Mitchell D. Goldberg, a Manhattan lawyer representing Mr. Lorber in the case, did not respond to many requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Mr. Beal is pursuing the money he needs to buy 9 Bleecker. During the last six months, he has called friends and others around the country and solicited contributions of $9,500 apiece. He said he has raised about $200,000 so far.
Mr. Beal has also solicited letters of support for a continued Yippie presence at 9 Bleecker from a variety of acquaintances, among them Paul Krassner, the satirist and founding editor of The Realist, the political magazine.
"No. 9 was a community center for humane projects ignored by the mainstream," said Mr. Krassner, an original Yippie who coined the name Youth International Party. "It's a psychedelic relic from a bygone era that proves that you can fight City Hall."
One day two weeks ago, Mr. Beal sat near a window in 9 Bleecker Street, sipping a cup of coffee. He said that he was dedicated to fighting for the right to buy the building and that if he was forced to move, his advocacy work would be impeded. "The people in the community know us and accept us," Mr. Beal said. "They'd rather have us here than some giant high rise."
`The Herb Must Be Free!'
Through the spring, as the stock market fell, Mr. Beal began hoping that the prospect of a recession would make investors like Mr. Berger less willing to buy 9 Bleecker Street. On a sunny morning in early April, Mr. Beal and four others left the building and took the subway to the Financial District.
"The stock market is built on mass expectations," Mr. Beal said. "I think if we can adjust those expectations, we can change the market." On the trip downtown, a young woman distributed cards advertising the marijuana march, telling subway riders, "The herb must be free!"
At the corner of Broad and Wall Streets, the group stood near a sidewalk vendor selling antique stock certificates and unfurled a white banner bearing the directive "Jump." As men peered over a balcony of the New York Stock Exchange building, a guard asked Mr. Beal if he had a permit to demonstrate. Mr. Beal tartly replied that he was protected by the First Amendment and that no permit was necessary.
A young man in a suit asked what was going on.
"We're here to warn Wall Street of an imminent crash," Mr. Beal told him. "We're doing our part for America."
Members of the group handed out leaflets bearing a picture of President Bush and blaming the faltering economy on his proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut. At the bottom of the fliers was printed the legend "Yippie!" with a phone number for 9 Bleecker Street. Tourists paused to have their pictures taken with Mr. Beal.
"Dump today or jump tomorrow!" he yelled loudly. A group of several dozen high school students from New Jersey crossed Wall Street and headed toward the banner.
"Come on, let's all chant," Mr. Beal called. Many of the youths did, raising fists in the air as they passed.
"See?" Mr. Beal asked, smiling. "It's a natural."
New York Today is a part of New York Times Digital.
Related Article & Web Sites:
Cures Not Wars
Pieman's Home Page
2001: The Space Odessey
Million Marijuana March 1999 & 2000 News
Barbie Stays Dolled-Up For Medical Pot