Re: Diggers & Yippies & Action Faction Antics

Michael Wm. Doyle (
Fri, 22 Mar 1996 13:42:09 -0500

On 2 Feb. 96 Jeffrey Apfel wrote [excerpts]:

>I'm wondering if you have any feel for the second question I posed, the
>connection if any between Diggier/Yippie pies and an Action Faction
>(pre-Weather) pie? The connection could be in terms of actual people
>or it could simply be an appropriation of the concept. Or it could
>just be an interesting metaphor. . . .or just coincidental. [...]

Collier & Horowitz in _Destructive Generation_ don't name names about who
was involved in this incident. (In early 1968, a splinter group of the
Columbia University SDS which called itself the Action Faction disrupted a
formal debate over on-campus military recruitment by throwing a pie in the
face of the Army colonel who was representing the government's side.) Such
tactics had become increasingly common in the northeast by the Fall of 1967.
Part of the cause was the San Francisco Mime Troupe's nationwide tour that
season which showcased their aggressive and irreverent form of guerrilla
theater on college campuses, often in conjunction with locally organized
protests against Dow Chemical recruiters. The Bay area SDS chapter helped
promote this tour through correspondence with other SDS groups across the
country. The ensuing riot at the University of Wisconsin prompted what was
supposedly the first use of tear gas by police against students on an
American campus. It coincided with the March on the Pentagon which also
showcased a kind of theater of the absurd mode of protest by politicized
hippies alongside the more conventional demonstration led by antiwar

My sense of the transmission of pie-throwing as a form of symbolic protest
runs from Buster Keaton to Soupy Sales to former_Mad Magazine_ gag-writer
Paul Krassner to Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, who in turn helped to
popularize this and similar humiliating stunts among the New Left broadly
conceived. The gimmick of money burning, for instance, goes from a line in
Allen Ginsberg's poem _Howl_ to Digger Emmett Grogan in the Free Frame of
Reference free store in early Jan. 1967, for the benefit of Krassner who was
impressed enough to report on it in the next issue of _The Realist_ and from
there to Hoffman and Rubin who stage it for the press outside the NY Stock
Exchange in Aug. 1967. This was the first joint action by the two "clown
princes of the counterculture"; Rubin had just arrived in New York from
Berkeley to help organize the Pentagon protest. Prior to this Rubin had
pulled off a related stunt by appearing in 1966 before HUAC in the uniform
of an American Revolutionary War soldier. He got the notion for doing it
from Ronnie Davis of the Mime Troupe.

>To me, the memory of the sixties that many repress is that of the
>irrational bursting out into public life. Not that some people don't
>recall it, just that it often seems handed down in a whitewashed form.
>The genius and tragedy of the era, it seems to me, lies in this
>embracing of the irrational which, even in the setting of the summer of
>love, could take a very manacing form. [...]

>You can see where I'm going here, maybe. Trying to draw a line
>connecting the heart of the summer of love with the crazed
>irrationality of early 1970'w Weather politics. Any thoughts?

By the late 1960s, it seemed that the legitimacy of the established
authority had effectively been undermined among those who were
self-identified as belonging to "the Movement." But as if on principle, all
competing sources of authority came to be suspected and resisted by many
activists on the left -- both political and cultural (by then the
distinction between these two modes of radicalism had blurred considerably).
Moving, doing, acting became an attractive alternative to rational political
discourse. Fighting, stopping, destroying became a dominant manner of
expressing rage and frustration against the war and endemic social injustice
at home. The growing emphasis on building alternative institutions that
became noticable in the early 1970s is almost as much a reaction to
self-destructive violent protest (much of it we now know stimulated by FBI
COINTELPRO agents-provocateurs) as it was to the perceived bankrupcy of
mainstream American society.

Michael Wm. Doyle Department of History
49 Penny Lane 451 McGraw Hall
Ithaca, NY 14850-6269 Cornell University
(607) 277-3243 Ithaca, NY 14853-4601
E-Mail: Fax: (607)255-0469
Kali Tal
Sixties Project & Viet Nam Generation, Inc.
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