Updated: Apr 15
The Youth International Party (aka the Yippies) were a radical leftist group founded in the late 1960s that used absurd, satirical stunts to call attention to hippie causes like legalizing marijuana.
One of the contenders for this year’s Best Picture award at the Oscars is The Trial of the Chicago 7—a drama about a group of activists who allegedly instigated a riot outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The most well-known of those activists were Abbie Hoffman (played by Sasha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong)—founders of the anti-authoritarian leftist movement known as the Youth International Party, aka the Yippies.
Occasionally referred to as “Groucho Marxists,” The Yippies were basically radicalized hippies who advocated for the creation of an anarchistic counterculture society divorced from the socio-economic systems of the United States. Inspired in part by the Dutch Provo and San Francisco Digger movements, the Yippies employed absurdist pranks and guerrilla street theater as a means to embarrass the establishment and call attention to causes such as ending the Vietnam War and legalizing marijuana.
Among the many counterculture luminaries involved with the Yippies over the years is a man who was personally recruited by Hoffman and ended up succeeding him as the groups’ leader, Dana Beal.
AN ACTIVIST IS BORN
Growing up in Lansing, Michigan, Beal displayed a passion for social justice from an early age. In August 1963, at the age of 16, he hitchhiked to Washington D.C. to attend Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I have a dream” speech. Two months later he organized his first demonstration back in Lansing—against the Ku Klux Klan, after their bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.
Beal smoked his first joint with fellow activist A.J. Weberman at Michigan State University in 1964—beginning a life-long devotion to the herb. Vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War, Beal managed to avoid the draft by getting himself committed to a state mental ward at age 17. Shortly after being declared 4F, however, he went AWOL from the hospital and took off to meet up with Weberman in New York City.
Once there, the pair wasted no time in establishing themselves in the Lower East Side activist scene. On May 30, 1967, the NYPD had beaten and arrested dozens of peaceful hippies sitting on the grass playing music in Tompkins Square Park (an incident that became known as the “Memorial Day Riot”). Two days later, The Grateful Dead showed up to play their first-ever New York show at the Tompkins Square bandshell drawing some 3,000 people to the park. It was against the backdrop of this historic concert that Beal held the first of what would become many weekly “smoke-ins.”
“There had been a sort of mini-riot thing, and we decided that what we wanted to do to mellow things out was hand out free weed,” he says. “And it worked!”
Beal continued hosting pro-pot protests every weekend throughout the Summer of Love—handing out and smoking copious amounts of cannabis at many of the park’s events. Remarkably, he was never arrested—that is, until August 22, when he inadvertently sold nine hits of LSD to a narc. By this time, Beal was already so well-liked in the community that his arrest sparked a series of protest marches: around 200-500 hippies marched from Tompkins Square Park to the local police station, then to the Federal House of Detention, then to the Federal Courthouse, then back to the park where a benefit concert was held (raising $1700), then back