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The Chicago Conspiracy Trial: Allen Ginsberg on the Stand

The present dilemma has arisen not because otherwise sane people have found it natural in these times to act out certain violent literary or moral ideas, for people have always behaved violently, with or without the help of moral ideas. What seems more likely than Professor Trilling’s notion is that the present political and biological crisis, in which many people feel that life itself is at stake—or as Ginsberg says in his testimony, that the planet is endangered—has stimulated some of these people, including many writers, to adopt a rhetoric of resistance (sometimes desperate and violent but often not) since they feel it is a matter of saving lives and they are naturally alarmed.

An extreme case in point is the testimony of Linda Morse, a young revolutionary, who followed Ginsberg to the witness stand. She explained that she had attended a Quaker school, had won a Kiwanis award for decency in her native Philadelphia, and had come to the Chicago Convention a convinced pacifist. After what she saw of the police in Chicago, however, she decided that “we had to defend ourselves or be wiped out.” What she meant by self-defense emerged under cross-examination by Mr. Schultz, the dogged assistant prosecutor. Schultz managed to elicit from the tall witness, whose neat blond hair fell to her shoulders and who, unlike Ginsberg, didn’t look like a radical at all, that she practiced at her new home in Berkeley with an M-1 rifle and a carbine, that she was ready to kill and die for the revolution, that she hoped to destroy the American educational system, and that, in Schultz’s own phrase, she was ready “to tear the country from limb to limb.”

By contrast with Ginsberg’s lively testimony, Miss Morse’s was flat and, despite her fixed smile and small, cheerful voice, rather sullen; flattened not only by Schultz’s literal-minded cross-examination which attempted to show that Miss Morse’s rifle proved the existence of a revolutionary conspiracy of which the defendants were the central committee, but also by Miss Morse’s own failure to grasp the fanciful aspect of her revolutionary posture, a failure which may have confirmed for some of the jurors the prosecutor’s theory that Miss Morse and her friends would find it quite natural to act out their moral fantasies, a theory with which Miss Morse would, it appeared from her testimony, most likely agree.

One wished at this moment that Linda Morse and Allen Ginsberg could, in disregard of the rules of evidence, have taken the stand together in contrapuntal testimony, for what has so far emerged from the Chicago Conspiracy trial is a riddle whose obscure answer lies somewhere between the truly revolutionary advice of Blake’s dying hermit—“But vain the Sword and vain the Bow”—advice to which all the defendants, despite their present militancy, have at one time or another subscribed, and Miss Morse’s melodramatic response—with its echoes of Lenin and Fanon—to her own defeated pacifism.

The testimony by Allen Ginsberg which is reprinted here is abridged by about a half. Repetitive passages have been deleted and so have most of the objections and the arguments concerning them made by Mr. Foran.


The Transcript



Q: Will you please state your full name?

A: Allen Ginsberg.

Q: What is your occupation?

A: Poet….

Q: Have you ever studied abroad?

A: Yes…. In India and Japan.

Q: Could you indicate for the Court and jury what…your studies consisted of?

A: Mantra Yoga, Meditation exercises, chanting, and sitting quietly stilling the mind, and breathing exercises to calm the body and to calm the mind, but mainly a branch called Mantra Yoga, which is a yoga which involves prayer and chanting.

Q: How long did you study?

A: I was in India for a year and a third, and then in Japan…at Daitokuji Monastery…. I sat there for the zazen sitting exercises for centering the body and quieting the mind.

Q: Are you still studying under any of your former teachers?

A: Yes, Swami Bahktivedanta… I have seen him and chanted with him the last few years in different cities, and he has asked me to continue chanting especially on public occasions.

Q: Have you received any special permission with request to the chanting from the persons under whom you have studied?

A: Yes, from Zen Master Roshi Sazuki, San Francisco Zen Buddhist Temple, who gave approval to my chanting of the Highest Perfect Wisdom Sutra, Prajna Paramita…

And also from Swami Bahktivedanta and Swami Satchitananda of New York, also from the school of Dr. Rammurti Mishra,…a yogi who was the adviser of the New York Yoga Society, by whose disciples I have been initiated as a Shivite…

All of these involve chanting and praying, praying out loud and in community.

Q: In the course of Mantra chant, is there any particular position that the person doing that assumes?

A: Any position which will let the stomach relax and be easy, fall out, so that inspiration can be deep into the body, to relax the body completely and calm the mind, based as crosslegged.

Q: And is…the chanting to be done privately or…in public?

MR. FORAN: Oh, your Honor, I object. I think we have gone far enough now to have established—

THE COURT: I think I have a vague idea of the witness’s profession. It is vague.

MR. FORAN: I might indicate also that he is an excellent speller. [To simplify matters for the court stenographer Ginsberg had spelled out the names of his Indian teachers.]

THE COURT: I sustain the objection, but I notice that he has said first he was a poet, and I will give him credit for all of the other things, too, whatever they are….

Q: Mr. Ginsberg, do you know the defendant Jerry Rubin?

A: Yes, I do.

Q: Could you identify him seated here in this courtroom?

A: Yes, the gentleman with the Indian headband….

Q: Do you recall where it was that you first met him?

A: In Berkeley and San Francisco in 1965 during the time of the anti-Vietnam war marches in Berkeley….

Q: Did you have any further occasion in the year of 1967 to be associated with Mr. Rubin?

A: Yes. I saw him again at the human be-in in San Francisco. We shared the stage with many other people.

Q: Would you describe for the Court and jury what the be-in in San Francisco was?

A: A large assembly of younger people who came together to—

MR. FORAN: Objection, your Honor.

THE COURT: Just a minute. I am not sure how you spell be-in.

MR. WEINGLASS: Be-in, I believe. Be-in.

THE WITNESS: Human be-in.

THE COURT: I really can’t pass on the validity of the objection because I don’t understand the question.

MR. WEINGLASS: I asked him to explain what a be-in was. I thought the question was directed to that possible confusion. He was interrupted in the course of the examination.

MR. FORAN: I would love to know also but I don’t think it has anything to do with this lawsuit….

THE COURT: I will let him, over the objection of the government, tell what a be-in is.

A: A gathering together of younger people aware of the planetary fate that we are all sitting in the middle of, imbued with a new consciousness and desiring a new kind of society involving prayer, music and spiritual life together rather than competition, acquisition and war…. There was what was called a gathering of the tribes of all of the different affinity groups—political groups, spiritual groups, Yoga groups, music groups and poetry groups that all felt the same crisis of identity and crisis of the planet and political crisis in America, who all came together in the largest assembiage of such younger people that had taken place since the war in the presence of the Zen Master Sazuki [whom] I mentioned before, in the presence of a number of Tibetan Buddhists and Japanese Zen Buddhists and in the presence of the rock bands and the presence of Timothy Leary and Mr. Rubin.

THE COURT: [To Mr. Foran] Now having it explained to me, I will hear from you.

MR. FORAN: I object, your Honor.

THE COURT: I sustain your objection….

Q: Now do you know the defendant Abbie Hoffman?…Would you identify him for the jury?

A: At the corner of the table on your right with the wine-colored jacket….

Q: Now calling your attention to the month of February, 1968, did you have occasion in that month to meet with Abbie Hoffman?

A: Ye[s]….

Q: Could you relate to the jury what was discussed between you and Mr. Hoffman at that meeting?

A: We talked about the possibility of extending the feeling of humanity and compassion of the human be-in in San Francisco to the City of Chicago during the time of the political convention, the possibility of inviting the same kind of younger people and the same kind of teachers who had been at the San Francisco human be-in to Chicago at the time of the convention in order to show some different new planetary life style than was going to be shown to the younger people by the politicians who were assembling….

Q: Do you recall what Mr. Hoffman said in the course of that conversation?

A: Yippie!—among other things. He said that politics had become theater and magic; that…the manipulation of imagery through mass media…was confusing and hypnotizing the people in the United States and making them accept a war which they did not really believe in; that people were involved in a life style which was intolerable to the younger folk, which involved brutality and police violence as well as a larger violence in Viet Nam, and that [we] ourselves might be able to get together in Chicago and invite teachers to present different ideas of what is wrong with the planet, what we can do to solve the pollution crisis, what we can do to solve the Viet Nam war, to present different ideas for making the society more sacred and less commercial, less materialistic, what we could do to…improve the whole tone of the trap that we all felt ourselves in as the population grew and as politics became more and more violent and chaotic….

Q: Do you recall him mentioning anything about any rock and roll bands?….

A: Well, he said that he was in contact with John Sinclair who was the leader of the MC5 rock and roll band, and John Sinclair and Ed Sanders of the Fugs would collaborate together and invite a lot of rock and roll people, popular music such as Arlo Guthrie [and] Phil Ochs…Mr. Hoffman asked me if I could contact the Beatles or Bob Dylan and tell them what was afoot and ask them if they could join us so that we could actually put on a really beautiful thing that would turn everybody on…uplift everybody’s spirit and show…actually what we were actually feeling…delight instead of the horror that was surrounding us.

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