Abbie Hoffman was the stand-up comedian of the Anti-War Movement, beloved by everyone who appreciated high jinks in their dogma, freedom of thought in their self-evident truths. He had the misfortune of being entirely correct about racism, sexism, homophobia, the war machine, environmental catastrophe and economic injustice. His wit made him prominent, and his prominence made him a target. The book includes advice on such topics as growing cannabis, starting a pirate radio station, living in a commune, stealing food, shoplifting, stealing credit cards, preparing a legal defense, making pipe bombs, and obtaining a free buffalo from the U.S. Department of the Interior. It discusses various tactics of fighting as well as giving a detailed list of affordable and easy ways to find weapons and armor that can be used in the event of a confrontation with law enforcement. The book advocates rebelling against authority in all forms, governmental and corporate.
In the book, Hoffman referred to the American Empire as the "Pig Empire", saying that it was not immoral to steal from the "Pig Empire"; in fact, Hoffman wrote, it was immoral not to do so. The term was picked up by the Yippies, and was widely used by what became known as the "Woodstock Nation" A driving force behind the social revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, Hoffman inspired a generation to challenge the status quo. Meant as a practical guide for the aspiring hippie, Steal This Book captures Hoffman's puckish tone and became a cult classic with over 200,000 copies sold. Outrageously illustrated by R. Crumb, it nevertheless conveys a serious message to all would-be revolutionaries: You don't have to take it anymore. "All Power to the Imagination was his credo. Abbie was the best."
In the introduction to Steal This Book, famous 1960s protest organizer Abbie Hoffman describes the work as ‘‘a manual for survival in the prison that is Amerika,’’ spelling the country’s name incorrectly to show disrespect for the law. First published in 1971, it was rejected by over thirty publishers and then went on to become a best-seller when Hoffman published it himself. The book is a compendium of methods that individuals can use to live freely, without participating in the social order. These tips range in levels of legality from addresses of free health clinics and inexpensive restaurants to ways of cheating pay phones and methods for making explosive devices.
Even in its day, Hoffman’s advice was of questionable practicality. Some of his tips, the more complicated ones, involve multiple identities and underworld connections; others, such as switching price labels while shopping, are so obvious that they seem hardly worth writing. As time has passed, most of the loopholes Hoffman exploits in this book have been closed, due in part to the attention this book brought to them. Still, Steal This Book is an important historical document, a lively example of a time when America’s youth felt at war with the status quo, and petty crime was considered a justifi- able way to stand up against the corruption of the system.
He is no longer with us, but part of his legacy is a hilarious blueprint of his ideas titled Steal This Book, published in 1971.
Abbie Hoffman couldn't get a anyone to publish Steal This Book -- thirty publishers turned it down. When the book was released, bookstores wouldn't carry it. Newspapers, TV and radio all refused to run advertisements. But despite these set backs, Steal This Book found its way on to the Best Seller list in 1971.
The book sold more than quarter of a million copies between April and November 1971. So where are all those copies? The Chicago Public Library doesn't have one. Although the New York Public Library has 9,993,000 books, it hasn't had a copy of Steal This Book for twenty years. The Library of Congress, the world's largest library with 20 million books, doesn't have one either.
After he published Fuck The System and Woodstock Nation, Abbie was kept informed of every sort of rip off scam. He saw that this collection of ways to beat the system could be made into a catalog for his Yippie movement "Sort of a tongue in cheek parody of the American 'How To' manuals that were so popular at the time," said Abbie. But Steal This Book is much more than just a manual of survival in the counter culture world -- a "Hip Boy Scout Handbook" as the New York Times called it. In between the chapters on "Free Food" and "First Aid for Streetfighters,"
Abbie's thoughts on freedom, liberty, responsibility, self reliance shine through. His idealism echoes the sentiments of Henry Thoreau and Thomas Paine. Abbie's former publisher, Random House, rejected the book, as did thirty other established publishers. Not to be so easily thwarted, he collected $15,000 from friends and set up Pirate Editions. Book distributors refused to distribute the work, so Abbie arranged with Grove Press to distribute Steal This Book provided Abbie assume all the liability for the book. Abbie tried unsuccessfully to place advertisements for the book in the media (with the lone exception of the San Francisco Chronicle). Although the book was on the New York Times Best Seller's list, they wouldn't carry his ads.
The first section of Steal This Book offers advice on how to live cheaply or freely in America. Doing so is explained as a political statement, a way of showing resistance to the exploitation that Hoffman says is inherent in a capitalist society. This section starts out with tips about ‘‘Free Food,’’ covering such diverse methods as crashing a bon voyage party on a steamship, putting a bug on a restaurant plate to avoid paying the meal, shoplifting, and inexpensive recipes. Other parts of this section include advice on ‘‘Free Clothing and Furniture,’’ ‘‘Free Housing,’’ ‘‘Free Education,’’ ‘‘Free Money,’’ and ‘‘Free Dope.’’
Some of the methods Hoffman suggests for obtaining free goods and services are presented in the form of lists of social organizations in the business of helping impoverished people, such as community health clinics and food pantries. Other advice comes in the form of suggestions for how to use commonly available objects around the house. Most of Hoffman’s tips reflect the book’s revolutionary spirit, showing readers techniques for using established services such as busses, phones, hotels, and electricity, without having to pay for them..
by Laura Bergells .............. In the 1960′s and 70′s, Abbie Hoffman was absolutely skilled in getting media attention. In his 1971 publication, Steal This Book, Mr. Hoffman devotes a chapter to getting free or cheap communications.
Today, of course, much of our social media is free or cheap: but many squander its social potential.
An iPhone, for example, is widely used by many young men in America. The iPhone can be used to spread critical messages, as well as organize and mobilize thousands of young people to fight social injustice. But today, one of the most popular iPhone apps is the iFart, a tool that makes noises of gastronomic distress.
Now that we have free media, how well are we using it to meet today’s valuable social objectives? If you know someone who’s doing little more than iFarting with their powerful communication tools, let’s take a paragraph from Steal This Book.
In one tiny paragraph, Hoffman outlines how to use the press conference for effective publicity. The paragraph, in its entirety, is in italics below. I broke up the paragraph with free images from Flickr, for your viewing enjoyment. The information is as valid today as it was over thirty-six years ago. Read on:
Everything about a successful press conference must be dramatic, from the announcements and phone calls to the statements themselves. Nothing creates a worse image than four or five men in business suits sitting behind a table and talking in a calm manner at a fashionable hotel. Constantly seek to have every detail of the press conference differ in style as well as content from the conferences of people in power.
Make use of music and visual effects.
Don’t stiffen up before the press. Make the statement as short and to the point as possible. Don’t read from notes, look directly into the camera.
The usual television spot is one minute and twenty seconds. The cameras start buzzing on your opening statement and often run out of film before you finish. So make it brief and action packed.
The question period should be even more dramatic. Use the questioner’s first name when answering a question. This adds an air of informality and networks are more apt to use an answer directed personally to one of their newsmen.
Express your emotional feelings. Be funny, get angry, be sad or ecstatic. If you cannot convey that you are deeply excited or troubled or outraged about what you are saying, how do you expect it of others who are watching a little image box in their living room?
Remember, you are advertising a new way of life to people. Watch TV commercials. See how they are able to convey everything they need to be effective in such a short time and limited space.
At the same tune you’re mocking the shit they are pushing, steal their techniques.
In 2009, you will appreciate learning stealthy ways to get free and cheap stuff in America. And in the age of social media, you can definitely use free tips from an undisputed publicity master.