Old People-Young People Unite to Free Martha Mitchell!

If my calculations are correct, today is a special day in Yippie history. Fifty years ago yesterday (stay with me), Martha Mitchell, the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell, declared herself a political prisoner.

I was in Miami Beach at the time, one of thousands of Yippies and other antiwar youth who had come to town to protest the Democrats and Republicans, both of whom held their presidential nominating conventions there that summer.

We Overcome Ugly Smear Campaign and Find Shelter

An issue in the early days of the summer revolved around the attempts of us young people to convince the city council to grant us park space to sleep and eat while we were there. Local right-wingers opposed our efforts and recalled images of dirty hippies rioting in the streets of Chicago in 1968 to instill fear in the hearts of the local citizens, many of whom were Jewish and whose average age was 63. The city council threatened us with more police and more weapons.

Old people began to avoid us. More than once, a senior citizen walking toward me on the sidewalk crossed the street so she could avoid passing me. We were shocked and humbled. Our youthful arrogance had prevented us from seeing old people in Miami Beach—especially Jews, whose stereotype had them all being rich—as an oppressed minority.

We realized that most of these old people had probably never met a hippie other than through the media, let alone touched one, so we visited the parks where they spent their afternoons and the free lunch programs where many of them ate their only meal of the day. We sang songs, spoke, and passed out leaflets telling who we were and why we were there.

Meanwhile, we petitioned them for signatures to demand that city council give us a campsite. We won and were given Flamingo Park, one of the senior citizen hangouts. During the days that followed, they offered their homes to us as refuge from the teargas that filled the streets and they fed us chicken soup to replenish our energy. They visited us every evening.

Uniting to Free Martha Mitchell

And we organized a march to protest the militarization of Saigon and Miami Beach.

I was Yippie media coordinator at the time. My job was to alert the media every time the Yippies had an action, which meant any act of political theatre that might be considered newsworthy.

This day, I went down the entire extensive list of I don’t remember how many names but it seemed like a hundred at least; and I repeated, “Hi, this is Ken from the Yippies. We’re having an action to protest the militarization of Saigon and Miami Beach.” I gave them the time and place and told them to join us.

Then that night, Martha Mitchell called reporter Helen Thomas and declared she was being held a political prisoner by the FBI. We immediately changed the theme to the much-easier-to-recite “Free Martha Mitchell March.”

It was held fifty years ago today.

Two Generations Put a Ring on It

Through it all, an old people-young people coalition emerged. We voluntarily changed the slogan of credibility to “Don’t trust anyone over 35 and under 60.”

The culmination of our symbolic alliance between young and old took place at Lummus Park on the Sunday before the Democratic Convention began. There, Yippie sponsored a “Wedding of the Generations.” Abbie Hoffman delivered a Yiddish poem, “Nixon Genug,” that only he and the senior citizens understood. Then, Jewish poet Allen Ginsberg, acting as “rabbi,” married us.

The night before the conventions began, we got high together at Flamingo Park and Om’d in a huge circle with Allen Ginsberg.

As I look back at it with the eyes now of a senior citizen, I see that thread as a high point of the summer.

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Ken Wachsberger is an author, editor, book coach, speaker, and organizer. He is the editor of the landmark Voices from the Underground Series. He may be reached for speaking or coaching at ken@kenthebookcoach.com or https://kenthebookcoach.com.