Linking Woodstock to antiwar protest (Again)

Jeff A. Hale (
Fri, 28 Nov 1997 16:22:25 -0700 (MST)

Ted just wrote:

>Interesting stuff on Woodstock and Vietnam. Most posts confirm my own
>view which is that Woodstock was on the one hand, clearly linked to
>the war in the sense that virtually everyone attending was probably
>against the war, felt totally alienated from the violence of the war
>and the US culture, etc., but on the other hand, a kind of escape from
>the "heavy" "head politics" of the post-Chicago, militant New Left.
>That may explain, in a macro way, why Abbie Hoffman's politicizing was
>out of place; it wasn't an organizing event.

My research on the White Panthers seems to bear this out. Leni Sinclair in
particular was adamant that Woodstock was decidedly non-radical. In my
interviews with her, she spoke of her organizing at the festival, along with
Abbie and Genie and Pun Plamondon (Pun, Genie, and Leni were all busted in
NJ on the way back -- NJ State Troopers had been forewarned by
Detroit/Michigan "pigs").

When Woodstock happened the whole "Free John Sinclair" movement was just
getting off the ground (it would eventually become national with
spokespersons including Bill Kuntsler, Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Allen
Ginsberg -- and of course John and Yoko). One month prior to Woodstock,
Sinclair lost his freedom on a third offense weed bust dating to Xmas '66;
as many know, he got 9-10 years for possession of two joints. In any event,
the White Panther leadership came to Woodstock both to experience a huge
expression of youth unity (which they had been espousing, via the MC-5 and
their own politics since the days of the Artists Workshop, '64-66) AND to
seek movement support for "Free John" benefits and actions. According to
Leni, they were not received very well. From what I can recall from
five-year-old interviews, the basic feeling she had was that the movement
people were shunning the White Panthers, due to their alleged association
with violence. By this time, the White Panthers and their principal weapon,
the MC-5, were fairly well known, through a combination of "straight" and
underground press coverage (much of which they sought), as well as the
MC-5's notorious "Kick Out The Jams, Motherfuckers."

I believe the somewhat spotty record indicates that Abbie was attempting to
discuss the imprisonment of John Sinclair when Pete T. of the Who bashed him
over the head and cleared him off the stage. Supposedly, he got out a few
lines, to the effect of "The politics of this event is pot...dig it...John
Sinclair has been jailed for ten years...." BANG!

Now AFTER the event, the Woodstock image became something else all together.
Sinclair, from his prison cell in Michigan, studied and reflected on it for
months. By late, 1970, as the White Panthers debated changing their name,
the option "Woodstock People's Party" was a big favorite with Sinclair and a
few of the Panthers. But by this time, the whole mood had changed: Kent
State, Altamont, NixonNixonNixonTheDemonDemonDemon -- something one could
not recognize all that well from prison. John's brother David wrote to him
in the winter of 70-71: "We're not feeling very Woodstocky out here."
Ultimately, they settled upon Rainbow People's Party, and made the switch
spring '71.

Jeff Hale
Santa Fe