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November 28, 1968, Vol. XIV, No. 7
The Lower East Side: Radicalization of Hip
by Steve Lerner
The radicalization of hip, as it is known in Movement circles, is now complete. While only last year militants looked down on the hippie and Yippie communities as undisciplined and hedonistic, since Chicago the two factions seem to have come together: the hip community is looking more militant and the militants are looking more hip.
In the East Village the changes are most obvious. With the opening of the Common Ground coffee house (6th Street between First and Second Avenues) both factions now find themselves housed under the same roof. On opening night, two weeks ago, non-leaders and celebrities from both groups mingled together, eating, drinking, and planning the festivities and demonstrations for Inauguration Day.
The need for something like the Common Ground has been obvious for months. Recently, the Motherfuckers — self-acclaimed vanguard of the hip-militant coalition — hassled Bill Graham into giving the community free access to the Fillmore East on Wednesday nights. But everyone new that this was only a first step. The Common Ground emerged as the meeting place for the day-to-day organizing of the East Village community.
To talk vaguely about an “East Village community” has little meaning unless it’s defined. In fact, there really is no one community in the East Village — there are several. The large group of people who all live in the East Village area are often alternately amused or annoyed at the smaller, more articulate group, which has occasionally acted in the name of the whole community.
From Wednesday night debauches at the Fillmore and nightly debates at the Common Ground, one overriding generalization can be made: if there is such a thing as a revolutionary East Village community within the larger area, it is the least “together” community imaginable. This is not to say that its prospects are hopeless — after all it is in the Big Apple, and that’s a big obstacle for any group — rather that up until this point there seems to be no real understanding among the members of the revolutionary community about their relation to the larger East Village area or what they want to do as a minority group.
There are, however, a lot of slogans: “survival” being the password; “revolution,” the accepted response. Boiled down, what this means is that members of the revolutionary community see themselves persecuted by the police and know that only through some kind of collective defense will they be able to survive intact, and allowed to pursue their chosen life style. The individual longhair is helpless in the hands of the police; a solid community of longhairs might be able to bargain with the authorities, using its power to disrupt (or make a nuisance of itself) as its leverage.
The area between the Fillmore and the Gem’s Spa on Second Avenue near St. Mark’s is now established as the primary battleground. Everyone who hangs out there knows that he runs the risk of being busted. And of course that is part of the fun. Recently, almost every night, someone has been arrested in this area. A week ago last Wednesday, for example, two kids were fighting outside the Fillmore while the Fugs were giving a free performance inside. Some of their friends broke up the fight, but two patrolman saw fit to arrest one of them — a black kid with an impressive afro — in spite of the fact that the hassle had already been ironed out. When the boy who had been fighting with the black kid asked the police to release his sparring partner, he also was arrested. By this time someone had gotten up on the stage of the Fillmore and suggested to the fans that they go out and help their brothers. Some 200 people flooded out into the street. The TPF arrived promptly, scattered the crowd with an impressive display of club twirling, and the incident ended…
In one sense the East Village is ripe for any kind of revolutionary community organizing. The area is run down, dirty, and people are scared. If small groups of hip-revolutionaries could get themselves together an then offer some kind of service to the larger community, the whole atmosphere would change rapidly. Surely there is enough imagination among members of the radical community to find ways to feed, clothe, and house their own people. That should only be the beginning. From there they could offer something to the larger community — show the straight people, by example, that their way of life is better than nine-to-five routine. Day care centers, runaway homes, community clean-ups, and the like may sound finky when compared with Molotov cocktails, but at this stage of the game they would be more effective in radicalizing the community than weapons.
Already the foundation for a real community exists in microcosm in the East Village. Free meals are being served periodically, the communications telephone is manned fairly regularly, Newsreel occasionally shows a free movie, and the Common Ground is an ideal meeting place for community organizing. What seems to be lacking thus far is the positive mentality which says that something groovy can be built.
The radicalization of hip is now complete. Short-haired, militant New Leftists walk arm and arm with freaked-out Yippies. They have learned from their experience in Chicago that they are more powerful together than apart. Now that they have found a common ground they must decide where they are going. Until now the temptation has been to drift toward romantic self-destruction; but the challenge still remains to build something worth fighting for.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]