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The Chicago Conspiracy Trial: Allen Ginsberg on the Stand

Q: Now did he ascribe any particular name to that project?

A: Festival of Life….

Q: After he spoke to you, what, if anything, was your response to his suggestion?

A: I was worried…whether or not the whole scene would get violent. I was worried whether we would be allowed to put on such a situation. I was worried whether…the Government would let us do something that was funnier or prettier or more charming than what was going to be going on in the convention hall.

MR. FORAN: I object and ask that it be stricken. It was not responsive.

THE COURT: Yes. I sustain the objection.

THE WITNESS: [To Judge Hoffman] Sir, that was our conversation.

THE COURT: I direct the jury to disregard the last answer of the witness….

MR. WEINGLASS: Your Honor, I would like to be informed by the Court how that answer was not responsive to that question. It seemed to me to be directly responsive.

MR. FORAN: Your Honor, he asked him what he said and he answered by saying what he was wondering.


THE WITNESS: Oh, I am sorry, then. I said to Jerry that I was worried about violence—

THE COURT: I have ruled on the objection. Ask another question if you like. [Judge Hoffman almost invariably sustains objections made by the government, even though, as in this case, he occasionally misunderstands the basis on which the prosecutor has objected.]


Q: Now during that same month, February of 1968, did you have occasion to meet with Jerry Rubin?

A: I spoke to Jerry Rubin on the phone, I believe….

Q: Will you relate to the Court and jury what Jerry Rubin said to you.

A: Jerry told me that he and others were going to Chicago to apply for permission from the city government for a permit to hold a Festival of Life and that he was talking with John Sinclair about getting rock and roll bands together, and other musicians, and that he would report back to me and try to find a good place near where we could either meet delegates and influence delegates or where we could have…some kind of central location in the city where people could sleep overnight so we could actually invite younger people to come or come ourselves with knapsacks and sleeping bags, somewhat as turned out at the Woodstock Festival of this year….

Q: Mr. Ginsberg, do you recall anything else that Mr. Rubin said to you in the course of that telephone conversation?

A: He said that he thought it would be interesting if we could set up tents and areas within the park where kids could come and sleep, and set up little schools like ecology schools, music schools, political schools, schools about the Viet Nam war,…history schools, [schools] with yogis.

He suggested that I contact whatever professional breathing-exercise Yogi teachers I could find and invite them to Chicago and asked if I could contact [William] Burroughs and ask Burroughs to come also to teach non-verbal, non-conceptual feeling states.

Q: Now you indicated a school of ecology. Could you explain to the Court and jury what that is?

A: Ecology is the interrelation of all the living forms on the surface of the planet involving the food chain—that is to say, whales eat plankton, little organisms in the ocean, tiny microscopic organisms called plankton, larger fish eat the smaller fish, octopus or squid eat shell fish which eat plankton, human beings eat the octopus or squid or smaller fish which eat the smaller tiny micro-organisms….

MR. FORAN: I think that the question is now responsive. I think that—

THE COURT: Yes. We all have a clear [idea] now of what ecology is.

THE WITNESS: Well,…what would have been taught…is how [this ecological process] is being destroyed by human intervention and messing it up with pollution.


Q: Now you also indicated that Mr. Rubin mentioned non-verbal education. Will you explain what that is to the Court and the jury.

A: Most of our consciousness, since we are continually looking at images on television and listening to words, reading newspapers, talking in courts [like] this, most of our consciousness is filled with language, with a kind of matterbabble behind the ear, a continuous yackety-yack that actually prevents us from breathing deeply in our bodies and sensing more subtly and sweetly the feelings that we actually do have as persons to each other rather than as to talking machines.

Q: Now, Mr. Ginsberg, on March 17, 1968, where were you?

A: I took part in a press conference at the Hotel Americana…[in] New York City.

Q: Who else was present at this press conference?

A: Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were there as well as Phil Ochs, the folk singer, Arlo Guthrie, some members of the USA Band, Bob Fass, who was a sort of Hip psychedelic radio announcer on the FM station and a leader of the intellectual culture in New York was there; some members of the Digger groups….

Q: Did you yourself participate in that press conference?

A: Yes. I stepped to the microphone also….

Q: Would you explain what your statement was.

A: My statement was that the planet Earth at the present moment was endangered by violence, over-population, pollution, ecological destruction brought about by our own greed; that the younger children in America and other countries of the world might not survive the next 30 years, that it was a planetary crisis that had not been recognized by any government of the world and had not been recognized by our own government, nor the politicians who were preparing for the elections; that the younger people of America were aware of that and that precisely was what was called psychedelic consciousness; that we were going to gather together as we had before in the San Francisco Human Be-in to manifest our presence over and above the presence of the more selfish elder politicians who were not thinking in terms of what their children would need in future generations or even in the generation immediately coming or even for themselves in their own lifetime and were continuing to threaten the planet with violence, with war, with mass murder, with germ warfare, and since the younger people knew that in the United States, we were going to invite them there: and that the central motive would be a presentation of a desire for the preservation of the planet. The desire for preservation of the planet and the planet’s form, that we do continue to be, to exist on this planet instead of destroy the planet, was manifested to my mind by the great Mantra from India to the preserver God Vishnu whose Mantra is Hare Krishna, and then I chanted the Hare Krishna Mantra for ten minutes to the television cameras and it goes:

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

[At this point Ginsberg began to chant in a loud, musical voice. The spectators were startled. A marshal leaped to his feet and flung his jacket open as if to reach for his gun.]

Q: Now in chanting that did you have an accompaniment of any particular instrument?

MR. FORAN: Objection as immaterial. He wants to know if there was accompaniment of an instrument.

THE COURT: By an instrument do you mean—

MR. KUNSTLER: [Mr. Kunstler is also a lawyer for the defense] Your Honor, I object to the laughter of the Court on this. I think this is a serious presentation of a religious concept.

THE COURT: I don’t understand it. I don’t understand it because…the language of the United States District Court is English.

MR. KUNSTLER: I know, but you don’t laugh at all languages….

THE COURT: I didn’t laugh. I didn’t laugh.

[The Judge had, in fact, been laughing.]

THE WITNESS: I would be happy to explain it.

THE COURT: I didn’t laugh at all. I wish I could tell you how I feel. Laugh, I didn’t even smile.

MR. KUNSTLER: Well, I thought—

THE COURT: All I could tell you is that I didn’t understand it because whatever language the witness used—

THE WITNESS: Sanskrit, sir….

THE COURT: Sanskrit?


THE COURT: Well, that is one I don’t know. That is the reason I didn’t understand it….

Q: Mr. Ginsberg, I show you an object marked 150 for identification, and I ask you to examine that object….

[Weinglass hands the witness a wooden object shaped like a shoe box and painted red. This proves to be a kind of harmonium which Ginsberg begins to play.]

MR. FORAN: All right. Your Honor, that is enough. I object to it, your Honor. I think that it is outrageous for counsel to—

THE COURT: You asked him to examine it and instead of that he played a tune on it….

MR. FORAN: …things that have no conceivable materiality to this case, and it is improper, your Honor.

THE WITNESS: It adds spirituality to the case, sir….

[Shortly thereafter Court was adjourned for the day. Ginsberg resumed his testimony the following morning and continued throughout the day.]

Q: Now in the early part of August, 1968, did you have occasion to talk with the defendant Abbie Hoffman?

A: Yes….

Q: Now will you relate to the jury what Abbie Hoffman said to you in the course of that telephone conversation?…

A: He said literally, “The city officials are not granting us a permit and are hanging us up and dangling it in front of us and trying to discourage us from having a public assembly in Chicago during the time of the convention,” that he would continue applying to City Hall for permission and that possibly they might even call off the festival if they absolutely could not get permission, but would continue to the last day applying and try to get cooperation from the city.

Q: Now does that exhaust your recollection as to what Abbie Hoffman told you on the telephone that day?

A: No. He told me that if I were coming east, could I stop in Chicago and…visit City Hall and talk with Mr. Stahl.

[Stahl is the Deputy Mayor with whom Hoffman and Rubin had been negotiating for a permit to stage the Festival of Life in Lincoln Park.]

Q: And what did you say in reply to that?

A: I said I wasn’t sure but I would try. If I could get a plane ticket from San Francisco to New York that would stop over in Chicago, I would stop over for a day and visit everybody I could…. I told him I was scared so I wanted to look out, gaze out over the scene, because I hadn’t been in Chicago in a long time. I wanted to see what it was like, what the streets were like, what the people were like, and also if I could make a date with the Mayor’s office and talk with him….

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