Jerry Rubin

views updated

Jerry Rubin

Jerry Rubin (1938—1994), activist, writer, lecturer, and businessman, was best known as a leader of the counter-culture in the 1960s.

Jerry Rubin was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on July 14, 1938. He was educated at the University of Cincinnati (B.A., 1961), Hebrew University, and the University of California at Berkeley. A journalist during his student years, Rubin became a full-time agitator in response to the Vietnam War. He was an organizer of Berkeley's Vietnam Day Committee (VDC) in 1965 which held the world's largest teach-in against the war. During a march on the Oakland Army Terminal, the VDC was attacked by both police and Hell's Angels (outlaw bikers who were extreme patriots and regarded the anti-war movement as a "mob of traitors").

In 1967, with Abbie Hoffman, he founded the Youth International Party. The party mixed political activism and the unbuttoned bohemianism of the period. The "yippies," as they were known, staged theatrical events and stunts that were intended to discredit authority and by means of cultural insurgency to bring on the social revolution. They failed in this, but succeeded in reaping a harvest of publicity that maddened and enraged the power structure. Rubin did much to further this process when he was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities to explain his subversive ways. He was advised to rely upon his First Amendment right of free speech but explained that was not enough as the movement had to be "as exciting as the Mets." In that spirit Rubin attended the hearings dressed as a Revolutionary War soldier, subsequently appearing before committees as a bare-chested guerrilla and as Santa Claus.

Rubin showed himself to be a master organizer and publicist capable of transforming conventional protests into media happenings. In 1967 he was made project director of a flagging effort to demonstrate against the military in Washington. The novelist Norman Mailer later wrote that, "to call on Rubin was in effect to call upon the most militant, unpredictable, creative—therefore dangerous—hippie-oriented leader available to the New Left." What resulted was the celebrated March on the Pentagon, when some 75,000 protesters including Mailer, the poet Robert Lowell, critic Dwight Macdonald, Dr. Spock, Noam Chomsky, and many others rallied and railed against the war.

In 1968 Rubin and Hoffman, in connection with various peace groups, led what proved to be a far more violent anti-war protest. They planned to hold a yippie "Festival of Life" in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. Crying out that "the streets belong to the people," yippie demonstrators made the streets unusable by setting fires, building barricades, and carrying out other acts of vandalism. This inspired the police (whom Rubin called "Czechago pigs") to beat and arrest them. It was a source of particular satisfaction to Rubin that bystanders and members of the press also fell victim to police enthusiasm. Whether the resulting publicity did the anti-war movement more harm than good is debatable. But Chicago authorities, led by the peerless Mayor Richard Daley, were not content with what they had accomplished, and Rubin and six others (including Hoffman and Tom Hayden of the Students for a Democratic Society), who came to be called the "Chicago Seven," plus Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers were tried for conspiracy to incite riot. The trial was scandalous in the extreme. The defendants vilified Judge Julius Hoffman, who at one point had Seale bound and gagged, finally separating his case from the others. Ultimately all eight—plus their lawyers—were found to be in contempt of court. Though convicted on lesser counts by a jury, none of the defendants went to jail as the trial had been a farce and the verdicts did not stand up on appeal.

Like most movement activists Rubin was "forcibly retired," as one interviewer put it, in the 1970s. Rubin differed from his colleagues by embarking on a relentless campaign of self-improvement, few therapies escaping his notice. Among the cults and techniques he sampled were EST, Esalen, meditation, massage, acupuncture, hypnotism, health foods, tantric yoga, and rolfing. He established, perhaps, a new record and certainly gave the phrase "open to experience" a new meaning. Never an intellectual, Rubin gave up reading anything that did not concern self-help. Even in his wildest days he had never been as radical or crazy as he used to seem, Rubin said over and over again, which anyone seeing the new, clean-cut, boyishly earnest Rubin of the post-revolutionary era could well believe. This was confirmed when he took up a new career as a stockbroker in 1980 with the brokerage firm of John Muir & Co., having discovered that capitalism was nicer than he had previously supposed.

Rubin continued his capitalistic pursuit with the creation of Business Networking Salons, Inc., a business in which Rubin and his wife, Mimi, would host weekly "parties" at New York's Studio 54 for the business crowd. For $8, patrons would receive a venue for swapping business cards, discussing deals, and socializing. In 1992 Rubin, living in California, joined a multilevel sales company called Omnitrition International, which sold powdered drink mixes. This company and Rubin were hit in 1992 with a class action suit claiming the company was involved with an illegal pyramid scheme.

In November, 1994, Rubin was hit by a car while jaywalking in Hollywood. He died 14 days later in a UCLA hospital bed. In a biography printed in the Los Angeles Times after Rubin's death, fellow Chicago Seven member and friend Tom Hayden stated: "Rubin was a great life force, full of spunk, courage, and wit. I think his willingness to defy authority for constructive purposes will be missed. Up to the end, he was defying authority."

Further Reading

With Abbie Hoffman and Ed Sanders, Rubin was the author of We Are Everywhere (1970). His Doing It! (1969) is autobiographical and liberally ornamented with nudes and four letter words, the tools of his trade at that time. Growing (Up) at 37 (1976) is a more conventional memoir. He wrote The War Between the Sheets with Mimi Leonard in 1980. There is no biography of Rubin, but he has been the subject of numerous magazine and newspaper articles. An especially good one is John Leonard, "A New Jerry Rubin: Grown Up, Reflective," New York Times (February 11, 1976). □