The Vancouver Yippie Experience.

The Yippie! Legacy

The core people in Vancouver Yippie were about 60 to 70 people. Up to 500 others identified themselves with Yippie enough to take part in actions. These actions had a number of significant results. One was to create an international incident around the Cambodian invasion (Blaine) But perhaps of more lasting importance were the two events in Vancouver. All Seasons Park stopped a major development dead in its tracks. Up till this time the developers tended to get away with anything. People would grumble, then watch their houses being bulldozed for an expressway or a favorite grove of trees cut down for a shopping mall but not do anything. Yippie was one of the first attempts to stop the bullying developers using civil disobedience. From this time on, it became the norm for people to protest developments harmful to the community or environment and to engage in blockades and occupations.

Yippies understood the authoritarian personality. By systematically taunting, teasing and ridiculing the authorities, but never engaging in actual violence, we were able to drive the police and city government to over-react. The over-reaction of the authorities made them look as stupid and brutal as they actually were. Much public sympathy shifted toward the counter-culture. The end result was the demise of the traditional Vancouver civic right wing, a group noted for its uncultured cloddishness, racism, bigotry and dirty-minded puritanism.(1) Some years later, the right would re-design itself in a more sophisticated guise, but never again would they have complete domination of City Hall. Civic politics now alternated between left and right-wing governments.

Yippie thus helped to transform politics in Vancouver. It was able to help reform civic politics by revolutionary means. I should add that at the time, reform of civic politics was not our goal, what we wanted was to end the repression of youth, the actual outcome was an unforeseen result. Of course it would be wrong to take all the credit for these changes, and in retrospect the Ancien Regime was rotten and ready to fall. The Gastown Police Riot was Vancouver's equivalent of the storming of the Bastille. It should also be noted that the police did ease up a bit on the youth and pot possession charges were reduced to relatively small fines after Gastown.

What can contemporary anarchists and anti-authoritarian activists gain from the Yippie experience?

You wouldn't want to get the authorities to over-react today. Back then, over-reaction meant a beating. Today it could result in death. In 1970, protesters or radical leftists were a small and largely despised minority. Over-reaction was need to swing a section of the population in our direction. Today, as a result of the new left, feminist, Aboriginal and ecological movements, a very large segment of the population are open to progressive and liberatory ideas, and are quick to make their views known through protests and demonstrations. We need to find new, imaginative ways to weaken the hold the authorities have over the remainder of the population.

Humour remains the best means of doing this. Yes, people ought to point out the cruelty and brutality of the rulers, but more is needed than that. The reality is, the people in charge are a pathetic lot, most of them quite plainly mentally ill, and adhering to some of the most absurd beliefs that misguided humans have ever concocted. We must implant the idea in people's minds that anyone who seeks to have power over you is seriously nuts, with the long term goal that people will reject power-seekers and start acting autonomously.

There are literally endless possibilities for ridicule. All that is needed is a little imagination. As but one example, I have long thought that rather than protesting against a right-winger like Harper, we ought to “support” him instead. Imagine wherever he went, being met by hundreds of bogus “tin-foil hat” right-wing loonies carrying placards with ludicrous and offensive slogans, but done with enough sophistication to be seen as real by TV audiences. (2)

We need reforms. People can't wait out their lives for “The Revolution.” But there is a way that combines reform and revolution. That is direct action. If you ask for a reform, send around petitions, run for office, a generation later and you still won't have that reform. Yippie stopped All Seasons and helped change Vancouver politics in 18 months by direct action. When people see that direct action can be successful (not all the time, of course) they tend to adopt it. By doing things for themselves, in a self-managed way, people are engaged in a mini-revolution. When enough people adopt direct action, reject the authorities, and start self-governing themselves, that will be “The Revolution.”

Vancouver Yippie also showed you don't need a lot of people to make waves. Remember about 60-70 people inspired all this action. A small group of people, if connected with the sensibility of a larger group, whether that group is students, workers, or minorities, can give rise to mass action. This form of exemplary leadership – for we of the 70 "core" Yippies would have gone into the streets whether anyone else did - is not the same as authoritarian leadership. Yippies never bossed anyone, or told anybody what to do. Hence Yippie talked of "non-leaders" and "each member as a leader." Nor was Yippie internally structured in an authoritarian manner. Decisions were made at meetings to which everyone except obvious cops could attend and a rough consensus was arrived at. Yippies who disagreed with an action, simply didn't show up at that action, and no hard feelings ensued. This is not to imply that a structure and ideology as loose as Yippie is something to replicate. That is not my point. My point is, that contrary to Leninist ideology, hierarchy is not a necessary for an organization and authoritarianism is not intrinsic to true leadership.

Larry Gambone 24 July 2006

  1. An even better representative of this species than the boorish, semi-literate Mayor Tom Campbell, was Judge Les Bewley. This despicable excuse for a human being delighted in degrading the people brought before him and imposed the harshest punishment legally available. An inveterate racist who supported Ian Smith's white Rhodesia, later as a columnist for the Vancouver Sun, could be depended upon to take the most authoritarian and retrogressive position possible on every issue.

  2. The Rev. Phelps of, the Moonbat prince David Horowitz and his lugubrious mascot, Stephen Schwartz, do more damage to the right wing than a thousand angry liberals. Of course, Phelps, Horowitz, and Schwartz are for real, but they should be “aided” by hundreds of spurious right-wing nuts.

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