Yippie! put the “International” in the Youth
Besides turning the Canadian city upside down in the early 1970s, this Yippie group would have an enduring impact on the international anarchist movement. Vancouver Yippies combined a witty, imaginative protest style with creative day-to-day organizing, while producing flashy, ground-breaking publications. And along the way, they did everything from invade America, to bring down a right-wing mayor, to build a people’s park, to play a considerable role in politicizing the counter-culture and punk rock.
How It All Began
In the spring of 1970, a number of students from Simon Fraser University Industrial Workers of the World branch met with a group of hippie radicals from the East Vancouver and Kitsilano neighborhoods. Their shared perspective was a rejection of the rigid, old-style Marxism that had dominated the left for decades, and an openness to the new anti-authoritarian, mind-expanding possibilities spawned by the Sixties. From this meeting came Vancouver Yippie! (also known as the Northern Lunatic Fringe of the Youth International Party or NLF/YIP).
Yippies were organized in about half a dozen autonomous communes with humorous names like The Dog House or the Charley Mansion. The activist core of Yippie! was about 60 to 70 people, but the group had about 300-500 supporters who would come out to actions. The first action was a mock smoke-in. After that came the levitation of Vancouver police headquarters. But these actions were minor compared to what would follow.(1)
Bay Sip-In (May
Vancouver YIP staged its first major event — “The Bay Sip-In" to protest the discrimination against hippies by The Bay department store. The Bay Sip-In turned into a riot when demonstrators moved from the store and took to the street. The American consulate was attacked, entered and trashed in the process. Someone even stole the Great Seal of the United States and the U.S. flag was taken outside and burned. There were several arrests. One of the Yippies, convicted of freeing a prisoner and assaulting a cop, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years by a judge who denounced rioters as “modern savages.” The judge told him: “Your offenses, in light of other similar recent disturbances, pose a grave threat to the whole community.”(2)
The Blaine Invasion (May 9, 1970)
The day after the Bay Sip-In, Vancouver Yippie! invaded the United States. The Yippies were protesting Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and the shooting of unarmed students at Kent State. Yippie!, the May 4th Movement or M4M, and the Vancouver Liberation Front (a more self-consciously Marxist-Leninist faction) marched across the Canada-U.S. border, crossing at the town of Blaine, Wash.(3) Neo-Nazis attacked the demonstration at one point, but were soundly thrashed. “The Blaine Invasion” involved some 600 people and created an international incident as the town suffered some minor damage and a trainload of new automobiles was stoned causing $50,000 damage (1970 dollars).(4) Blaine’s newspaper, The Journal, called the invasion “one of the saddest and most degrading incidents suffered by the people of this country since the Alamo.” As with other YIP-initiated actions, Yippie organizers didn’t specifically call for property damage or violence, but participants took the opportunity of the actions to vent their anger at the system.
Yippie! Is Everywhere
Another highlight among the many YIP actions that summer was an anti-prison “Be-Out,” where Yippies tore down a 100-yard section of wire fence during a protest at Oakalla Prison and invaded the prison grounds before being pushed back by the riot squad.(5) Yippie activity both inspired and reflected a concurrent revolt of hippie street youth (as throughout the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Vancouver was host to a huge transient youth population) and there were a number of youth riots that summer unconnected with the group, but based on the anger generated by police harassment and the insane pot law.(6) Vancouver was one of the capitals of the hippie world. Besides the transient hippies, the city had a large home-grown counter-culture (mostly in the Kitsilano neighbourhood), providing a sizable base for Yippie organizing, which had a two-point program: turn straights into hippies; turn hippies into revolutionaries.
Militant action was not the only Yippie tactic. There was a spirit of theatricality and fun, with props ranging from gorilla suits to toy machine guns to giant marijuana joints. An irreverent, colorful Yippie newspaper, “The Yellow Journal,” published nine issues. The Yippie! People's Defense Fund provided lawyers and other legal help to the city's often-harassed counter-culture community. Zaria, a young single mother, ran as Yippie candidate for mayor, vowing to repeal the law of gravity, and received a surprising 848 votes.(7) The Kommie Kids collective showed movies for a small donation. A food co-op was set up and another collective put on a very popular series of Yippie dances with Vancouver bands such as Uncle Slug and The Burner Boys.
There was also an autonomous Yippie group at Vancouver City College (also known as the Vancouver Silly College Youth International Party), which gained a majority on student council and editorial control of the student newspaper The Tower.(8) Two members of this campus YIP group were expelled for their political activity in 1971.(9) The college dean told them: “All you’re doing here is tearing apart this institution.” Meanwhile, a group calling themselves the White-Collar Yippies, all of them reporters for the mainstream Vancouver Sun newspaper, obtained a quantity of rubella vaccine from sympathetic doctors, and staged a guerrilla clinic for the public, immunizing the health minster in effigy for his refusal to provide the vaccine to pregnant women. (He finally relented.)
The Gastown Smoke-In (August 7, 1971)
In 1971 came the “Gastown Smoke-in” (also known as the Grasstown Smoke-In), a Yippie street party to promote marijuana legalization that quickly turned into a police riot. The smoke-in was a response (“Operation Whirlwind”) to a sustained campaign of police harassment (known as “Operation Dustpan”) of hippies in the city’s Gastown area. Riot police, including some on horseback, charged the smoke-in crowd of about 2,000 people, knocking over a baby carriage and beating up tourists. The confrontation between police and demonstrators lasted more than two hours, with 79 people arrested, many of them pummeled with riot sticks. (10) With the aid of a Yippie media campaign afterwards, this brutality became a national scandal and was the beginning of the end for the far-right city government, with the mayor leaving office in disgrace the following year. At a heavily publicized public inquiry into the riot, police charged it was the result of a “conspiracy” among members of the Youth International Party who, they suggested, “are bound and determined to overthrow all recognized authority.”(11) (The presiding judge denounced two of the Yippie organizers as “intelligent and dangerous young men.”) Yippies, and most everyone else, charged it was a police riot.
All Seasons Park (May 29, 1971)
Yippie! organized an occupation of the proposed site of the Four Seasons Hotel next to Stanley Park.(12) “It’s a sad weekend in Vancouver’s history,” the mayor said when the park/tent city went up. “This is a breakdown of society.”(13) Dubbed All Season’s Park (also known as People's Park in honour of a similar action in Berkeley, Calif.), it attracted overwhelming community support, with hundreds of people coming to the site each day to help build the park.(14) All Seasons Park persisted for over a year until the government relented and scrapped the hotel development.
How It All Continued
Spent by this frenzy of activity, Vancouver Yippie! finally arrived at the end of its (anti-)organizational life after a couple of years. The broadening anti-authoritarian movement in Vancouver offered numerous paths for involvement, and individuals were absorbed into environmental, women’s, community and other activities. The process was hastened by political differences typical of an era marked by conflicting political tendencies ranging from Joan Baez-type pacifism to the armed struggle of the Weather Underground.
After this, many Yippies became ideological anarchists. In the late 1970s, this produced two innovative publishing projects. One was B.C. Blackout (the last Vancouver project started under the YIP name), which became a template for anti-authoritarian community zines across North America.(15) The other was The Open Road, the internationally respected journal, founded by a core of Vancouver Yippies, that reported news of indigenous struggles and anarchist history and theory in the pop-culture packaging of commercial youth magazines such as Rolling Stone.(16) (Vancouver Yippies had enough of a fraternal relationship with their U.S. counterparts that the New York-based Yipster Times provided its mailing list to Open Road, an invaluable act of solidarity that ensured the first issue's wide distribution.)
Vancouver Yippies were active in new anti-authoritarian groups that formed in the city in the 1970s, most notably the Anarchist Party of Canada (Groucho Marxist). In the late ‘70s, Groucho Marxists pied several notables, were involved in street protests and organized cultural events, including the legendary "Anarchy in Canada" punk-rock concert on July 1, 1978 in Stanley Park. Canada's two most notorious political punk bands, Vancouver's DOA and The Subhumans, were managed by onetime Vancouver Yippies.(17)
One legacy of Vancouver Yippie! is the ongoing Vancouver anarchist movement. The wider anti-authoritarian movement in the new millennium can also trace some of its key attitudes and methods to those first Vancouver Yippies.
1 Robert Sarti, “Yippies behind rash of street actions here,” The Vancouver Sun, June 27, 1970
2 “Judge reads the ‘riot’ act,” The Vancouver Province, Aug. 5, 1970
3 David Spaner, “Invade Amerika!” in Blacklisted News: Secret Histories from Chicago to 1984, by the New Yippie Book Collective, 1983
4 “Canadian mob invades Blaine,” Vancouver Express, May 12, 1970
5 Paul Manning, “Yippies tear down fence at Oakalla,” The Vancouver Province, July 13, 1970
6 Paul Musgrove, “Third street clash erupts in West End,” The Vancouver Sun, July 15, 1970
7 John Griffiths, “Lippy Yippies irk mayor,” The Vancouver Province, Dec. 2, 1970
8 Lorne & Betsy, “Yippies Burn School,” The Georgia Straight, Oct. 29, 1971
9 “Students Expelled and Beaten,” The Georgia Straight, Dec. 16, 1971
10 “Campbell orders Gastown probe,” The Vancouver Province, Aug. 9, 1971
11 Jes Odam, “Police charge yippie plot,” The Vancouver Sun, Oct. 1, 1971
12 “4 Seasons protested,” The Vancouver Sun, May 29, 1971
13 “Fence-builders go to work at 4 Seasons instant park,” The Vancouver Sun, May 31, 1971
14 “All Seasons Park Lives On!” The Tower, Dec. 5, 1971
15 “B.O. (the smell of freedom) is produced by the Youth International Party,” B.C. Blackout, June 23, 1978
16 Bob Sarti, “Open Road,” in Only A Beginning, edited by Allan Antliff, 2004
17 Neal Hall, “Punk’s Alive (and spitting),” The Vancouver Sun, Nov. 20, 1981
"Sixties History; Days of Rage and English Bay Riots and Vancouver Anarchist Invasion of the United States" at http://www.geocities.com/emithsilas/sixtieshistory.html
"Cannabis Culture: Grasstown"
This article was written and produced by the New Old Yippie Collective August 8 2006