Day in the Life:
photo: © Robert Altman
FROM HAL JACOBS:
When I think of Stew, I'm reminded of what a lifelong commitment to struggling to improve the world is all about. Stew had it and whether one spent time with him, as I did in Berkeley and New Paltz, or whether one lost touch, as I did for over twenty years while he was living in Portland, one always knew that Stew would keep at it with all he had. Stew, of course, is not alone in that respect but among those of us who became radicals in the sixties and remained fundamentally unreconstructed, it always helped to know that Stew was still with us and still doing it his way.
STEW LIVES! by Michael Simmons
Revolutionary for the Hell of It - The Good Life of Stew Albert by Jeffrey St. Clair
As one of the creative directors of the Yippies, Stew Albert helped to script the 60s. Stew's life is a joyous rebuttal to the slurs of mean-spirited bigots such as David Horowitz and Newt Gingrich that the 60s counterculture unleashed a moral rot at core of American society.
Of course, Stew was the true moralist. And the prime moral virtue was to live honestly. He had seen his own government spy on him and his family for no justifiable cause, politicians betray their constituents, cops beat and gas demonstrators on the streets of Chicago, university presidents summon National Guard troops onto campuses to abuse and kill students, and generals repeatedly lie about the war in Vietnam, where 54,000 young Americans and 2 million Vietnamese died.
The Yippies thrived on the exposure of moral hypocrisy. Their creative mischief made radical politics fun. The Yippies proved to be more effective than the dour pronouncements of Tom Hayden or the trustfund bombers in the Weather Underground. The Yippies didn't need George Lakoff to tell them how to "reframe" an issue. They learned from the Situationists as well as vaudeville acts and Borscht Belt comedy routines, from the Marx cousins, Karl and Groucho. And because of that their legacy lives in Earth First and Greenpeace. The chaotic carnival of protest that overswept the streets of Seattle during the WTO meetings owed much to the Yippie brain trust of Albert, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.
Stew outlived his colleagues in mayhem, Rubin and Hoffman, by 20 years, spending most of that time in Portland. But he didn't retreat from the world. Unlike the repulsive Gingrich, who divorced his wife while she was on a hospital bed being treated for cancer, Stew and his wife Judy lived together for 40 years. Their's was the fullest of unions, as lovers, political partners, parents of their beautiful and brilliant daughter Jessica, political partners and citizens in Tom Paine's full-fleshed sense of the word.
Stew was Jewish and his encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish history and holy texts rivaled any Talmudic scholar. But Stew was never soft on the Israeli government. He opposed its seizure of the Occupied Territories and savage treatment of the Palestinian people.
Although he and Judy had been treated cruelly by the US government, Stew genuinely loved America: its people, its landscapes, its zaniness. He viewed the nation as an ongoing work-in-progress, a work that social activists could helped to write.
Shortly after CounterPunch went online, Stew began sending us batches of poems every Friday. We were delighted to run them. The poems were topical, wry and wildly popular with the dedicated readers of our "Poets Basement". Most of Stew's poems were political, though towards the end he began writing more and more about the cruel twist of fate he was confronting with his medical treatment, where he was being pricked with needles and drugs every day in a battle to suppress a disease that is most often acquired through the use of needles and drugs. My favorites though were his casual observances of the mercurial weather here in Oregon, where the sky can display a thousand shades of gray. They are funny and vivid poems that remind me of Frank O'Hara's lunch poems.
You can catch a glimpse of Stew and Judy in the Hollywood film about Abbie Hoffman, Steal This Movie. But to get the real story of his life you need to pick up a copy (it would be hard to shoplift one since so few bookstores carry it) of his memoir Who the Hell is Stew Albert? The title is courtesy of Howard Stern, no less. It's more than an account of Stew's life, it's one of the best chronicles of the 60s and the ongoing cultural and political fallout from that strange, creative decade.
I don't think Stew ever told me how he contracted Hep C. I got a call from him a couple of years ago inviting me to a party at his house the week before he was going to start the cruel regimen of chemotherapy for a long run of months. Hep C is a nasty and remorseless disease that ungratefully targets the most altruistic among us. Nurses are particularly vulnerable to this neglected disease.
Then came good news. The disease had been beaten into remission. That spring he and Judy went on a roadtrip across the southwest to celebrate his triumph over the Reaper. Before they left, Stew asked me if there were any places they should visit. I jotted down some of my favorite desert haunts: Marble Canyon, the Vermilion Cliffs, Arches, Zion, the Coral Pink sand dunes.
He came back animated by the surreal landscape. We also talked about the places that he and Judy stopped to eat along the way. We discussed the secret pleasures of Basque cuisine that can only be sampled in dusty dives on the lonely backroads of Nevada and Idaho, places where a lot of liberals would never dare to venture. Stew loved food. Not just the taste, but the alchemy of the kitchen, the smells, textures and secret methods of making meals. I went to three or four parties as Stew and Judy's house. Each was a festival of food, with enough dishes to have sated Fellini. Of course, chemo kills the palate and Hep C often imposes a bland and restricted diet on its victims. Getting well meant being able to enjoy those simple but essential pleasures.
So 2005 was a good year. Then around Christmastime Stew told me that the disease had come roaring back, this time as Stage 4 liver cancer for which there was only palliative treatment and the comfort of family and friends. Stew described the excruciating pain he was in toward the end. But he never whined about it. Never sounded bitter, though he had every right to be. Never wished the fatal affliction on his enemies, as much as they have deserved his fate.
At 66, Stew wasn't about change the tenor of his life and let such thoughts eclipse his optimistic spirit, his utopian vision, his humaneness. A few hours before he died, Stew declared: "My politics haven't changed."
Stew Albert engaged the world head on, as if there was no other possible way to live.
__ Jeffrey St. Clair
Stew Albert by Elaine Woo, Times Staff Writer
Stew Albert, a co-founder of the Youth International Party, the mischievous countercultural organization whose members were known as the Yippies, died of liver cancer Monday in Portland, Ore. He was 66.
A Brooklyn native who wound up in Berkeley in the mad '60s, Albert helped launch the Yippies in 1967 with Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Paul Krassner and others. The group was best known for its highly theatrical pranks, such as running a pig for president in 1968.
Albert was clubbed by police in the mayhem surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and was named as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the Chicago 7 trial that charged Hoffman, Rubin, Tom Hayden and other antiwar movement leaders with conspiracy to incite a riot. He played a role in the creation of People's Park in Berkeley and helped found the Free University there.
He later ran for sheriff of Alameda County, where he challenged the incumbent to a duel; he lost everywhere but Berkeley. Since 1984, he lived in Portland, where he was a freelance writer active in radical circles.
"He was very funny," Hayden, the former California legislator who roomed with Albert in Berkeley, recalled in an interview Wednesday. "He had the ability to blend easily into any setting, from Yippie to Black Panther to New Left, partly because he had an infectious sense of humor, and partly because he was well-read and capable of understanding a lot of viewpoints simultaneously. He was very much a self-made intellectual."
Albert poked fun at his image as a sidekick to Hoffman and Rubin in a 2004 memoir, Who the Hell Is Stew Albert? Jeffrey St. Clair, co-editor of the political newsletter Counterpunch, called Albert's book "one of the best chronicles of the '60s and the ongoing cultural and political fallout from that strange, creative decade."
With his wife, Judy, Albert also co-edited The Sixties Papers, a document-based history of the era published in 1984 that is a widely used college text. They assembled the book on a computer bought with the help of a settlement from a successful lawsuit against the FBI, which had planted an illegal surveillance device under their car in the 1970s.
Born Dec. 4, 1939, to a working-class family, Albert was deeply moved by a visit to Cuba when he was 21. When he returned, he traveled around the country, eventually landing in Berkeley in 1964. There he joined the antiwar Vietnam Day Committee, met committee co-founder Rubin and plunged into counterculture politics.
He ran Rubin's 1967 campaign for Berkeley mayor, which emphasized social justice, ending the Vietnam War and legalizing marijuana. That same year, Rubin appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee dressed as a Revolutionary War soldier and set the mold for the brand of guerrilla political theater that would become the Yippies' chief tactic.
In 1967 Albert went to the New York Stock Exchange with Rubin, Hoffman and others to make a point about greed. From the visitors gallery they threw 500 $1 bills at stockbrokers. Trading stopped as everyone on the floor grabbed the money.
Other antics were just as zany, such as when Albert joined Rubin and Hoffman at the massive antiwar march on the Pentagon later that year, where they made headlines with an announcement that they would "exorcise" the military complex of evil spirits and levitate it.
Albert often served as a peacemaker between Hoffman and Rubin, Krassner said in an interview Wednesday. His mediation skills were crucial in what became one of the Yippies' most famous pranks: running the pig for president.
"There was a lot of competition between Jerry and Abbie. Abbie had gotten the pig," Krassner recalled. "Jerry complained that it was not big enough or ugly enough. To appease Jerry, Stew went with him and got a bigger and uglier pig." They called it Pigasus.
"Our big contribution was our theatrical approach," Albert told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2004. "We tried to be inventive and creative in developing tactics, and we had the belief that if we did we could change the world."
Years later, he said that the imagination of the Yippies eventually became their downfall. "After a while, our imperative tended to be developing stunts rather than counter-institutions," such as the Free University in Berkeley that he helped found in 1965, he told Salon.com in 2000.
Albert, an early supporter of the Black Panthers, often served as its liaison with the Yippies. In one of the '60s' stranger episodes, he helped smooth the way for Timothy Leary, the acid-dropping counterculture guru who escaped from a California prison on drug possession charges in 1970, to find haven in Algeria with Eldridge Cleaver, the Panther leader who was himself a fugitive.
Leary and his wife, Rosemary, were at first received as guests but later became prisoners under "revolutionary arrest" at Cleaver's villa. Albert served as go-between for a tense period during Leary's Algerian confinement; Cleaver eventually released Leary, who returned to prison in California.
"He was on the front lines of the counterculture," Krassner said of Albert.
Todd Gitlin, the 1960s historian who teaches at Columbia University and knew Albert in Berkeley, recalled Wednesday that Albert later became a private detective.
He helped Gitlin and others obtain government files kept on them through the Freedom of Information Act.
"This was an example of his sense of humor," Gitlin said. "It seemed marvelous that he had gone from yippie impresario to private eye."
After moving to Portland, he remained politically active in groups that battled racism and promoted Arab-Jewish dialogue. He ran an online site called the Yippie Reading Room and continued to blog until shortly before he died.
He is survived by his wife, Judy Gumbo Albert, and their daughter, Jessica. __Elaine Woo
Stew Albert, Activist 1939-2006 by Richard Brenneman (for: Berkeley Daily Planet)
Stew Albert, one of the creators of People's Park, a former editor of the Berkeley Barb and a founder of the Youth International Party-the Yippies-died Monday at his home in Portland, Ore. He was 66, and an unreconstructed radical to the end.
According to longtime friend and almost-codefendant Paul Krassner, Albert died of liver cancer. His passing was noted by newspapers across the country, and in scores of blogs.
Albert achieved his greatest notoriety during the Republican National Convention in 1968, when he and other members of the Yippies ran a counter-presidential campaign with Pigasus as their chosen standard-bearer.
Fellow Yippie Krassner, a satirist who now lives in Desert Hot Springs, said that he and Albert were originally slated to be prosecuted as defendants in what became known as the trial of the Chicago Seven, radicals charged with crossing state lines for the purpose of conspiring to incite protesters to riot at the convention.
Krassner said Albert may have been the first to have had his head smashed by a Chicago lawman during what was later characterized as a "police riot" by politicians and the media. He said William Kunstler, the famed defense attorney who represented the defendants in the conspiracy trial, told him that he and Albert weren't charged and had been listed as unindicted co-conspirators because prosecutors feared they would raise a First Amendment defense. Albert was covering the convention for the Berkeley Barb, while Krassner edited The Realist, a satirical newsletter.
"Stew served as a peacemaker in the Yippies," said Krassner. "Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin would have arguments about something and Stew would serve as a buffer." One such dispute involved whether or not the pig originally selected as the party's presidential hopeful was sufficiently ugly for the part. In the end, "Stew went with Jerry to buy a bigger and uglier pig," Krassner said. Krassner first met Albert when Krassner was invited to host the first Vietnam Day Teach-In at the UC Berkeley campus in 1965. "I was first turned on to marijuana by him then," Krassner recalled. "I'd tried it a few times, but nothing. He gave me some Thai stick and I said, 'Now I know why we're fighting in Southeast Asia-to protect the crop.'"
Albert described his involvement in the creation of People's Park in an interview for the April 20, 2004 edition of the Daily Planet. "I got invited to a meeting at the Red Square on April 13 . Michael Delacour presented the idea of building a park, and different people laid out the plans," said Albert. "I was given the assignment of writing a story for the Berkeley Barb, which appeared on April 18, 1969, as a call for one and all to one to bring building materials to the lot so they could build a community park. I signed it as Robin Hood's Park Commissioner," Albert said. "The Barb story appeared on April 19, and the next morning between 100 and 200 people showed up. The next weekend we had something like a thousand. It was all spontaneous, and there wasn't much of a central authority."
At Delacour's suggestion, he and landscaper John Reed had driven up to a sod farm in Vallejo, buying turf that volunteers laid on ground they had cleared and prepared. A few days later, UC Berkeley administrators announced their intent to turn the area into an intramural soccer field, setting the stage for the violent showdown that was to follow.
On May 14, the university sealed off the park with a fence, and the following day's demonstration turned bloody when Alameda County Sheriff's officers, clad in the jumpsuits that gave them the nickname of Blue Meanies, marched on the demonstrators. A Berkeley poet was blinded by a shotgun pellet, and a San Jose man who was visiting Berkeley was killed by another shotgun blast, both fired by deputies. Albert's involvement in the protests led to an arrest and a two-month stretch in the Alameda County Jail at Santa Rita.
The following year he decided to run for Alameda County Sheriff against incumbent John Madigan. He carried the city of Berkeley and captured 65,000 votes. Albert also served as the liaison between the Yippies and the Black Panther Party, Krassner said. Albert was in Algeria when LSD advocate Timothy Leary fled the country and sought refuge in that country, where Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver was also in exile, Krassner said. "Leary had some acid, and Albert asked if Cleaver was interested in trying some with Leary. Cleaver was afraid Leary was going to try to program him, so he said he'd do it only if he could hold on to his gun," Krassner said.
Krassner last saw his friend in August at the Portland Book Festival. "He had become very involved in his old religion, and he wrote a column for a local newspaper called `Jews in the News'. He had his website and his weblogs, and he was very accessible. A lot of young people who wanted to know about the 60s and the Yippies wrote him, and it made him feel good to see that the spirit of questioning authority was continuing," Krassner said.
Albert had moved to Portland in 1984 with his spouse, Judy Gumbo, who had been at his side since his Berkeley days and was a co-founder of the Yippies. His memoir Who the Hell is Stew Albert? appeared last year and is available from Red Hen Press. __ Richard Brenneman
* REMEMBRANCES IN STEW'S NAME may be sent to Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette, 3231 SE 5oth Ave, Portland OR 97206 or the Rosenberg Fund for Children, 116 Pleasant Street, Suite 3312, Easthampton, MA 01027