Sunday, August 09, 2009

Beatle People: Jerry Rubin

Jerry Rubin (July 14, 1938 – November 28, 1994) was a radical American social activist during the 1960s and 1970s. He befriended John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the early 1970s and was mentioned in the song "New York City" on Lennon and Ono's Some Time in New York City album. He became a successful businessman in the 1980s.

Early life

Rubin was born in Cincinnati, the son of a bread delivery man and union representative, and grew up in the then-upscale Avondale neighborhood.

Rubin's parents died within 10 months of each other, leaving Rubin the only person to take care of his younger brother, Gil, who was 13 at the time. Jerry wanted to teach Gil about the world and decided to take him to India. When relatives threatened to fight to obtain custody of Gil, based on his plans to go abroad with his brother, Jerry decided to take his brother to Tel-Aviv instead. Here Rubin studied sociology for 12 months whilst his brother, Gil, who had learned Hebrew, later decided to stay in Israel and moved to a kibbutz. Before returning to social and political activism, Rubin made a controversial visit to Cuba, despite the law forbidding Americans to travel to Communist run countries. However, the trip proved to be highly inspirational, after an encounter with activist Che Guevara and thus furthered Rubin's social ambitions.

Rubin attended Cincinnati's Walnut Hills High School, co-editing the school newspaper, The Chatterbox and graduating in 1956. While in high school Rubin began to write for The Cincinnati Post, compiling sports scores from high school games. He later went on to graduate from the University of Cincinnati, receiving a degree in sociology. Rubin attended the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964, but dropped out to focus on social activism.

Social activism

Rubin began to demonstrate on behalf of various left-wing causes after dropping out of Berkeley. Rubin also ran for Mayor of Berkeley, receiving over twenty per cent of the vote, but having been unsuccessful, Rubin turned all his attentions to political protest. Jerry's first protest was in Berkeley, protesting the refusal of a local grocer to hire African Americans. Soon Rubin was leading protests of his own.

Rubin organized the VDC (Vietnam Day Committee), led some of the first protests against the war in Vietnam, and was one of the founding members of the Youth International Party or Yippies, along with social and political activist Abbie Hoffman. He played an instrumental role in the disruption of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago by helping to organize the sit-in demonstration in Grant Park and a large anti-war march on August 28, 1968 that ended in a violent confrontation with police and the arrest of Rubin and seven others (Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, John Froines, David Dellinger, Lee Weiner, Tom Hayden, and Bobby Seale).

The defendants were commonly referred to as the "Chicago Eight." Seale, however, was later severed from the case for contempt of court and sentenced to four years imprisonment, making the Chicago Eight the Chicago Seven. Rubin was found not guilty on all charges. Five members of the Chicago Seven were eventually convicted of crossing state lines with the intention of inciting a riot, but these convictions were later overturned on appeal.

Post activism

After the Vietnam War ended, Rubin became an entrepreneur and businessman. He was an early investor in Apple Computer.

In the 1980s he embarked on a debating tour with Abbie Hoffman titled "Yippie versus Yuppie." Rubin's argument in the debates was that activism was hard work, that abuse of drugs, sex, and private property had made the counter-culture "a scary society in itself," and that "wealth creation is the real American revolution—what we need is an infusion of capital into the depressed areas of our country." A political cartoon of the time showed two sketches of Rubin—first as a hippie, wearing a button that said "Chicago 7" and then as a businessman in a suit, wearing a button that said "S&P 500."

Rubin's differences with Hoffman were on principle rather than personal. When Hoffman died in 1989, Rubin was one of two members of the Chicago Seven to attend his funeral, the other being David Dellinger.

Other appearances

Jerry Rubin appeared in the 2002 British documentary by Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self. He appears in episode part 3 of 4. This segment of the video discusses the Est Training in great detail, and includes interviews with New York Times columnist Jesse Kornbluth, Werner Erhard, and Est graduate John Denver. Jerry Rubin himself was a graduate of Erhard Seminars Training.

Rubin also appeared on Saturday Night Live's second episode of its first season (in one of the few comedic moments in a show almost entirely devoted to a Paul Simon musical performance). He was announced as "Jerry Rubin, Leader of the Yippie Movement." His sketch is a fake commercial for wallpaper featuring famous protest slogans from the 1960's and 1970's (i.e., "Make Love, Not War", "Off The Pig!", "Give Peace A Chance", "Hell, No, We Won't Go!", etc). He ends the sketch by parodying a famous radical slogan as "Up against the wall-paper, motherfuckers!" (with the last word bleeped out). The fake commercial was later played in a few other first season episodes.

In the motion picture about Abbie Hoffman, Steal This Movie, Rubin was portrayed by Kevin Corrigan. In the 2007 documentary "Chicago 10: The Convention Was Drama. The Trial Was Comedy" Rubin is featured both with film footage and with animation using Mark Ruffalo as his voice.


Jerry Rubin's anti-establishment beliefs were put down in writing in his book, DO IT!: Scenarios of the Revolution, (Simon and Schuster, 1970, ISBN 0-671-20601-X), with an introduction by Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver and unconventional design by Quentin Fiore. In 1971 his journal, written while incarcerated in the Cook County Jail, was published under the title We are Everywhere, (Harper & Row, ISBN 06-090245-0). The book includes an inside view of the trial of the Chicago Seven, but otherwise focuses on the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, LSD, women's liberation and his view of a coming revolution. In 1976, Rubin wrote another book entitled Growing (Up) at Thirty-Seven, which contained a chapter narrating his experience at an Erhard Seminars Training (EST) that was later included in the reader "American Spiritualities." "Growing (Up) at Thirty-Seven" is described as "tracing his personal odyssey from radical activist of the 60's to a practitioner in the growth potential movements of the 70's."

* Do It! was also the inspiration for a track of the same name on the 1972 Aphrodite's Child album 666. It was also the apparent inspiration for the titles of two other books: Eat It: A Cookbook by Dana Crumb and Grow It! The Beginner's Complete In-Harmony With Nature Small Farm Guide by Richard W. Langer.


On November 14, 1994, Rubin jaywalked on Wilshire Boulevard, near UCLA in Los Angeles, California. It was a weekday evening and, as usual, traffic was heavy, with three lanes in each direction. A car swerved to miss Rubin, and a second car (immediately behind the first) was unable to avoid him. He was taken to the UCLA Medical Center, where he died 14 days later. He is interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.


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