Chicago 7

(updated March, 2021)

To some, the Chicago 7 were a symbol of the activists wing of the flower children, our generation. No matter what you think of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner, this eclectic group made a major impact on political landscape of their time.  The residue remains today. Most of the Chicago 7 were jailed for crossing state lines with the intent to provoke riots. They were also convicted of disrupting the court of Judge Julius Hoffman. That was 1968. The Chicago 7 were not alone in bucking the status quo and suffering the results of it. Many of us had our own scuffles with the powers that be, whether it was the law or our parents.

That was then. What about now? What happened to the Chicago 7? How much do their life changes mirror ours?

Abbie Hoffman – Yippies

“Revolution is not something fixed in ideology, nor is it something fashioned to a particular decade. It is a perpetual process embedded in the human spirit”, said Abbie Hoffman probably the most remembered and recognizable of the group. Hoffman was the co-founder and leader of the Yippies, and continued his counter-culture activities until his death on the 12th of April 1989. I invite you to view full length movie Steal This Movie to remind you of his activities. Like musicians of the turbulent 60s such as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, Abbie’s death was attributed to an overdose of drugs (phenobarbital). Our generation lost many of our friends and relatives to drugs, during those psychedelic times and the years following.

Jerry Rubin

Abbie’s fellow ‘conspirator’ and co-founder of the Yippies was Jerry Rubin. Rubin emerged from prison and continued to speak out against the establishment for a few years, but was soon reinvented himself. In the early 1980s Rubin toured with Hoffman debating “Yippie versus Yuppie.” See the YouTube video of his transition from “Yippie to Yuppie.” On July 30, 1980, Rubin penned an article in The New York Times titled “Guess Who’s Coming to Wall Street,” supporting his decision to take a position as financial advisor at the investment firm John Muir and Company. He characterized the the past two decades as “Politics and rebellion distinguished the ’60s. The search for self characterized the ’70s. Money and financial interest will capture the passion of the ’80s.” His life seemed more conformist to those thrusts than what many would have though a nonconformist beginning. On November 14th, 1994 he plowed down by a car while jaywalking across Wilshire Boulevard near UCLA. Many of us fumed against the status quo in the 1960s, but now find ourselves in our sixties and very much a part of it.

David Dellinger

David Dellinger, considerably older than most of the Chicago 7, was a life long pacifist. He rejected his wealthy family lifestyle in his early years, intentionally aligning himself with the poor during the Depression. Continuing his counter culture activities into his later years. In 1996, at eighty years of age, he was arrested (along with his grandson and Abbie Hoffman’s son, Andrew) at the first Democratic Convention held in Chicago since 1968. He died eight years later from pneumonia in a Montpelier, Vermont., retirement home where he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. It is not uncommon for us to have enjoyed long active careers in the spotlight and now find ourselves in less than prime health.

Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden, one of the most vocal of the Chicago 7, though not considered the radical that he was in the sixties, still at at 70 speaks out on social change causes. For a short time, he was married to radical starlet, Jane Fonda for seventeen years. It seems a bit of a trip to me that even though it was the Democratic convention that Chicago 7 disrupted, in 1976 Hayden made one of several sorties into status quo politics coming from well behind to almost defeat his fellow Democrat John Tunney for the Senate seat of the state of California. In 1982 he finally found a seat in sanctioned politics in the California State Assembly. A position he kept for ten years. In recent years Hayden has been an adjunct professor of contemporary social movements at Pitzer College and Occidental College, both in southern California. Like many of us, even though few being paid for it, we have attempted to relate to other generations what it was like to be alive and active during the 60s.

John Froines

John R. Froines who holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Yale, was orginally charged with interstate travel for purposes of inciting a riot like the rest of the Chicago 7, but he had the additional count of making incendiary devices with the intention to blow up the underground garage at Grand Park, Chicago. He and Lee Weiner were the only two defendants to receive an acquittal from the jury on both of the counts. Ironically, Froines later served as the Director of Toxic Substances at the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He has been teaching at the UCLA School of Public Health since 1981. Many of us, after some turbulent years of rebellion have found ourselves, like Froines, working from within the system in roles working toward the betterment and preservation of humankind.

Rennie Davis

Rennie Davis, the son of economist John C. Davis, became a follower of Guru Maharaj Ji (Prem Rawat) after the trial of the Chicago 7. Later Davis maintained seemingly cross-purposed roles as a venture capitalist and lecturer on meditation and self-awareness. He is the founder of Foundation for a New Humanity, a technology development and venture capital company commercializing breakthrough technologies. Davis has be styled the “Spokesman for the Lord of the Universe.” Many of us find have espoused philosophies and teachings that seem to others to be in opposition to each other.

Lee Weiner

Lee Weiner is viewed as the “forgotten defendant.” At the time of the 1968 Democratic Convention Weiner lived in Chicago as a student at Northwestern University. He held only very loose connection to the other defendants and was so detached during the trial that according to Tom Hayden, he spent much of his time in court reading the I Ching. How many of us found ourselves the 1960s and now, much deeper than we intended in counter-culture or non-conformist activities?

Bobby Seale

Bobby Seale is the eighth member of the Chicago 7. Seal and Huey Newton were the co-founders of the Black Panther Party. Judge Hoffman separated Seale from rest of the defendants because of his constant outbursts during the proceedings. Much like Rennie Davis, Seal’s life since the 1960s has been a dichotomy of activities from authoring a cookbook called Barbequing with Bobby, being a spokesman for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and dedicating recent years to Reach!, a group focused educate the public on those issue that mean a lot to him in the past like the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panther Party as well as combating “community deterioration and juvenile delinquency, by sponsoring youth-based initiatives focused on job training, environmental issues, and other urban relief projects. on youth education programs.” Seal currently resides in Dallas, Texas. Many of us, in our 60s and beyond, are turning to community service after spending many years in our careers.

My Life

By no means do I want to compare myself to the Chicago 7 defendants, at least not in their impact on society. However, allow me to share of enough of my life to point to some circumstances that reflect a somewhat common life journey theirs.

8_6_70_Protest3I was in Disneyland on August 7th, 1970 when the Yippies closed down the Anaheim, California amusement park. I was living in Anaheim at the time and read of intentions of the Yippies to fly in from Chicago to liberate Tom Sawyer’s Island. Being fascinated, intrigued, or otherwise desiring to be a part of what might be a counter-culture milestone, I rose early that morning walked the three blocks to the gate of the park. It was one of those days that seemed so unreal, so psychedelic, in someways appropriate for the ‘magical kingdom.’ The Anaheim cops waited outside the main gate, in full riot gear. Their were the beefed up motorcycle bulls. They they looked larger than life – pads on their arms, legs and chests; long boots with taps that seemed to thunder as they marched; and a couple of these medieval looking warriors had taken flowers that the Yippies threw at them and tucked into the side of the visors that covered their faces. Soon after the gates opened I saw a couple of Yippies jump over the turnstiles to gain entrance into the park. A couple hours later they pronounced the liberation of Tom Sawyers Island and ran a Viet Cong Flag up a pole. In the afternoon, a group of them chanted, “Ho Chi Minh, Ho Chi Minh”, as they danced around the square just inside the main gate. After a couple of them attempted to lower the American flag, intending to raise a Yippie flag an Disneyland administrator confronted them. There was some pushing and then riot police, who had been poised to pounce, started pouring into the square from several directions. Eighteen Yippies were arrested and carried off ‘backstage.’ I was an innocent bystander, but inwardly I was cheering the Yippies. I walked all over the Park that day, seeing what they were doing, wanting to jump into it all.

humphrey me

Two years prior to that incident, while a student at Pepperdine University (then in Los Angeles not the current Malibu campus), a couple of classmates and myself attended the post election day gathering at Eugene McCarthy’s headquarters in Los Angeles when a comedian interrupted his routine as someone whispered in his ear, then he turned to the audience and said, “Bobby Kennedy has just been shot.” Many yelled, “that is not funny.” “Look at the monitors,” one of my classmates said. We all looked and our hearts sunk. Bobby was dead. My friends and I drove down the street to Bobby’s hotel and saw a couch being thrown out the window of an upper story room. We supposed some heart sick, frustrated supporter was releasing his anger.

That same year, Hubert Humphrey visited the Pepperdine and I was a member of a student security detachment for him (left).

Those were turbulent times, but somehow most of us not only weathered them without many wounds, but were subtly transformed by them and later formed into part of the establishment, or at least acceptable, players in our world.

In 1982 I was on campus of my alma mater, Pepperdine University in Malibu, California and saw the newly elected State Assemblyman Tom Hayden sitting by himself in the Galley (the campus coffee shop) looking out at the Pacific Ocean. I wondered at the time if he was daydreaming about how far his life had come from that August of 1968 in Chicago.

I knew my life was vastly different from what I could have imagined as I saw the Yippies invade Disneland 1970. I was on home leave after spending ten years as a missionary in Kenya. I stayed in that country six more years and another nine in Benin. Being a missionary is not quite establishment, but it was far from where I was headed in the 60s. Now in my 60s, I reminisce about the Age of Aquarius. Most of the time it brings a smile to my face, yet I still find myself unsatisfied with the world and wanting to change it.

By Chowning

Richard Chowning was a teenager during the 60s. Being a Southern California resident during those years, he experienced many of the events and trends that distinguished those times.

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