Still Agitating (Never Mind the Arthritis)
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
here is Aron Kay, alias Yippie Pieman, who infamously flung pies at political and public figures during the 70's and 80's - including Abe Beame, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Andy Warhol - but retired after smearing Randall Terry, the anti-abortion activist, with a creamy pineapple cheese in 1992.
There is Jerry Wade, better known as Jerry the Peddler, who said he would "bring the medical marijuana."
Joanie Freedom, a veteran protester of park and camping rules in the city and in national forests, would be in charge of infrastructure. Penny Arcade, the performance artist known for erotically avant-garde shows, would handle theatrical entertainment.
And providing legal aid is Lynne Stewart, a lawyer known for representing people accused of terrorism against the United States and who is awaiting trial in May on charges of providing material support to a man accused of plotting to blow up New York City landmarks.
They are a band of yippies and hipsters, a half-dozen or so, mostly in their 50's and agitating for action. Like so many on the left, they looked upon the coming Republican National Convention in the New York this summer and saw an opportunity.
With thousands of people expected in New York to protest the convention, but hotels and hostels booking fast, why not organize a campout, from, say, Aug. 27 to Sept. 12, for 20,000 people in East River Park, with a "welcoming center" in Tompkins Square Park? Why not call it the Abbie Hoffman-John Lennon Camporee? Why not have bongos, yoga, massages, weddings (gay and otherwise), street theater and the like?
"Reliably active people want to come to the convention, and we want to help them," said Mr. Kay, 54, a chief organizer of the campout, who swears he comes in peace. He admits he was angry, though, when the Parks Department rejected the group's application, which was filed in his name late last month.
Ms. Stewart said they were exploring taking their case to federal court, believing the city is motivated more by stifling free speech during the convention than maintaining the parks.
If the convention, which runs from Aug. 29 to Sept. 2 at Madison Square Garden, is predicted to be a financial and promotional boon to New York City and the Republican Party, it also seems poised to breathe life into all manner of groups seizing on what they see as a toxic combination: Republicans playing on a traditionally left-wing playground.
For groups like the Yippies - the Youth International Party founded by Abbie Hoffman and other radical liberals in the 1960's - the convention offers a way to reclaim the past, Mr. Kay and others said, noting that Yippies have demonstrated, held sleep-ins or made some form of appearance at nearly every national political convention since their violent confrontation with Chicago police at the 1968 Democratic Convention.
That debacle had begun, too, over the Yippies' desire to sleep in a large public park and ended with scores injured in a riot among police and demonstrators in full view of television cameras.
A spokeswoman for the New York City Parks Department said the rejection of the Yippies, however, had nothing to do with the convention.
"Our neighborhood parks are not campgrounds," said Megan Sheekey, a spokeswoman for the department, noting that most city parks close at 1 a.m., like East River, or earlier, like Tompkins Square, which closes at midnight and has been the scene of its share of mayhem over the years. She said the parks were ill equipped to accommodate campers, especially hordes of them, though the Parks and Police Departments are reviewing permits for other events in parks during the convention.
The Police Department is reviewing 13 applications for marches and rallies during the convention, and so far none have been approved or rejected.
City officials are negotiating with groups to have the largest such demonstrations on the weekend before the convention, an aide to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said.
The Yippies say the city is failing to take into account that many of the protesters expected in New York will lack affordable places to stay, possibly leading to people spending nights in Central Park and other places, which they say was commonplace during the 1980 and 1992 Democratic conventions in New York.
Internet chat groups and Web sites devoted to protest organizing are full of queries like this one from a protest organizer in Western New York: " I have lived in NYC before but would like to find shelter for others approx. 50-75 people. Any ideas would be stellar."
The rejection of the permit would seem to end the matter. But these are Yippies, so there must be a colorful retort.
John Penley, a camporee organizer, said last week that to protest the Parks Department rejection, the group now plans to stage a demonstration Aug. 22 in front of Mr. Bloomberg's East Side town house, conspiring with a street theater group, Billionaires for Bush, and drawing people from the annual Howl Festival of Arts taking place at the same time in the East Village.
Ms. Stewart said the group's application was intended as much to serve notice to the city to pay attention to the needs of protesters as actually winning permission for the event.
"They would love in the best possible world to do this and think it should be accomplished," she said. "But I don't think they are unrealistic politically in what they can accomplish."
Paul Krassner, who originated the term Yippie and was a key player in the 1968 demonstrations, described this group as "second-generation" Yippies; only a few of the camporee's half-dozen or so major organizers were at the 1968 convention. Though he endorsed their idea, Mr. Krassner said he is planning to spend the convention performing at the Knitting Factory.
He said the Yippie heyday has clearly passed, as the draft ended, members aged and the country seemed to move on. These days, he said, radicals get more bang organizing with Web sites and e-mail messages than holding prankish demonstrations.
"The Yippies were kind of tied to that particular time because we had to use guerrilla theater as a way of organizing, getting free publicity, because we had no advertising budget," Mr. Krassner, 71, said by telephone from his home in Desert Hot Springs, Calif. He added, "because of communication on the web and all the different causes, you don't have to resort to street theater to get the word out."
When they do protest, it is usually for legalizing marijuana and lately against the Iraq war. But they have not lost their sense of humor, a vital ingredient in Yippie appearances.
Mr. Kay, for one, always appreciated the value of stunts. He always made sure a photographer captured his pie antics.
He is evasive on why he gave up throwing pies or how he supports himself. He would only say he needed to tend to family and personal concerns.
But he said he could not tolerate the Republicans coming to town, though he insists public figures need not fear confectionary assaults, at least from him.
"Enough of the pieing," he said, adding, "We want to go in with the city in the spirit of keeping the peace. Nobody wants to see violence."