Judy Gumbo is the author of “Yippie Girl: Exploits in Protest and Defeating the FBI.” (Photo/Gary Goldberg)
Judy Gumbo is the author of “Yippie Girl: Exploits in Protest and Defeating the FBI.” (Photo/Gary Goldberg)

‘Yippie Girl’: In memoir, Judy Gumbo writes about 1960s Jewish activists, the Chicago 7 and defeating the FBI

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

J.’s coverage of books is supported by a generous grant from The Milton and Sophie Meyer Fund

On Aug. 25, 1968, thousands of young anti–Vietnam War activists gathered in Chicago’s Lincoln Park for a festival organized by the Youth International Party, or Yippies. Around 11 p.m., the police began enforcing a curfew and, using tear gas and nightsticks, pushed the activists out of the park and surrounding area. Dozens were injured.

Among those present were Yippie leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. They would be put on trial a year later as part of the Chicago Seven for conspiracy and other charges related to their activities in the city, which was hosting the Democratic National Convention. Also there was a 25-year-old Canadian Jewish woman named Judy Gumbo who was relatively new to protesting.

“They looked to me like robots marching in lockstep, illuminated by globules of white light like landing lights on an alien spacecraft,” Gumbo writes about the police — or “pigs,” as she and her compatriots referred to them then — in her newly published memoir. “I did not feel afraid. Just the opposite, I reveled at the thrill of being in a live action anti-war documentary. A sense of power surged through me, to deliver to me that moral courage I needed to do my part. My hatred of injustice had triumphed over fear.”

For Gumbo, one of the first female members of the Yippies, the Lincoln Park melee was a pivotal moment in her development as a social justice activist. In “Yippie Girl: Exploits in Protest and Defeating the FBI,” the longtime Berkeley resident looks back on her involvement in the 1960s anti-war movement and her relationship with Yippies co-founder Stew Albert. She also reveals just how Jewish the Youth International Party was, both in terms of its membership and tactics.

RELATED: Abbie Hoffman’s Bay Area son, activists recall real ‘Chicago 7’ trial

“All the inner core of the Yippies were Jewish,” Gumbo, 79, told J. in a recent interview, referring to Abbie and Anita Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Nancy Kurshan, Paul Krassner, Phil Ochs, Albert and herself. “That’s why I really hope that Jews, especially young Jews, can read the book, because it’s kind of a guide on how to survive in a non-Jewish world.”

Inspired by Groucho Marx, Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl, the Yippies pioneered a satirical approach to political activism. Two days before the festival and police crackdown in Lincoln Park, for example, they held a press conference outside the Democratic National Convention to announce a Yippie candidate for president: a 150-pound pink and black hog named Pigasus. Several Yippies were arrested at the press conference and charged with disorderly conduct; Gumbo, who feared being deported back to Canada, stayed on the periphery but raised the $300 needed to bail the Yippies out.

As a child in Toronto, Gumbo watched the Soviet propaganda films her father covertly imported and revered the Jewish spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. She met Albert at an anti-war meeting shortly after moving to California in late 1967 to teach sociology at UC Berkeley. Within weeks, they were living together in a house on Keith Avenue in the Berkeley Hills that would become a hippie hotspot. They married in 1977 and had one daughter together.

Through Albert, Gumbo met and befriended Bobby Seale and Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver of the Oakland-based Black Panther Party. It was Cleaver, the party’s minister of information, who gave Gumbo (née Clavir) her nom de guerre after she chastised him for repeatedly referring to her as Mrs. Stew. “He was an amazing, charismatic, well-spoken extremist,” Gumbo said of Cleaver, who died in 1998. “Kathleen is still a good friend of mine.”

Judy Gumbo (center) at a 1972 anti-war protest in Miami. (Photo/Judy Gumbo Photo Archive)
Judy Gumbo (center) at a 1972 anti-war protest in Miami. (Photo/Judy Gumbo Photo Archive)

During the Chicago Seven trial, Gumbo answered phones for the defense team and typed up transcripts of the court proceedings. She writes that she was “crushed” at not being named a co-conspirator, as Albert was. By the early 1970s, however, she was on the FBI’s radar as a potential security threat.

In her FBI file, from which she quotes throughout the book, she is identified as “the most vicious, the most anti-American, the most anti-establishment, and the most dangerous to the internal security of the United States” among anti-war protestors at a 1972 Miami Beach rally. “I celebrated when I read this,” she writes. “I’d won my personal Academy Award of Protest.” (She and Albert later sued the FBI for illegal wiretapping and won $20,000 in damages.)

One element of her experience with the Yippies that she recalls with bitterness was the sexism of the male leadership. In October 1968, the Berkeley Barb, an underground newspaper for which Gumbo worked selling sex ads, published a “Yippie/Panther Pact” promoting an alliance between Black and white activists. Although Gumbo had helped to draft the pact, her name was not among the signers at the bottom. “Abbie’s name appeared and he wasn’t even present when we wrote it!” she writes. “I had been marginalized.”

“Women were left out of the decision-making processes in the early Yippies,” she told J. “You could speak out as a woman, but the guys simply didn’t listen. This wasn’t just the Yippies. This was all the social justice protests.” That is why, she noted, she became so involved in the women’s liberation movement as a member of the feminist group Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell.

I really hope that Jews, especially young Jews, can read the book, because it’s kind of a guide on how to survive in a non-Jewish world.

Outside of her activism, Gumbo taught sociology at various institutions, including UC Berkeley and Mills College, and served as a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood in Oregon.

She started writing “Yippie Girl” following Albert’s 2006 death. “It began as a way to process my grief,” she said. “But then the more I wrote, the more I realized I had a story to tell.” Today, she lives in a co-housing community in Berkeley with her fourth husband, Arthur Eckstein. “A friend of mine calls me the Liz Taylor of the Yippies,” she said with a laugh.

Asked about the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down Roe v. Wade, she replied, “I have not for a bit let go of my anger” and then referenced her own abortion, which she also writes about in the book.

Would Yippie-like tactics be effective today against the Supreme Court?

“Yes, but it would require a creative understanding of the repressive era that we live in now in order to make a difference,” she said. “I haven’t figured out yet how you hold these expletive deleted a-holes up to ridicule and satire. Let’s be Yippie about it: Suggestions welcome!”

“Yippie Girl: Exploits in Protest and Defeating the FBI” by Judy Gumbo (Three Rooms Press, 360 pages). Available to order from Afikomen Judaica in Berkeley and online retailers.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.