Sunday, 1 March 2009

Come Together: John Lennon In His Time

by Jon Wiener

John did not know that a similar "War Is Over" campaign had been launched by Phil Ochs and the Los Angeles Free Press more than two years earlier. Ochs wrote an article for the paper in June 1967 calling for a "War Is Over" rally in Los Angeles, across from the Century Plaza Hotel, where Lyndon Johnson was scheduled to speak at a five-hundred-dollar-a-plate dinner and the Supremes were to entertain. Ochs wrote a song for the occasion: "I Declare the War Is Over." Lots of people came, marched down the Avenue of the Stars to the hotel, and chanted, "The war is over!" Ochs started to sing his song; the police ordered the crowd to disperse and then attacked, beating the marchers while TV cameras, on hand for the President, whirred. Delighted by the extensive TV coverage, Ochs staged a second "War Is Over" demonstration in New York's Washington Square Park in November 1967. Paul Krassner and the Diggers commune helped organize it. This time the police did not attack, but again the press coverage was extensive. The Village Voice ran a front-page story on the event.

Ochs had demonstrated that clever and novel forms of protest could win much more media coverage than traditional antiwar demonstrations. Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman grasped the implications of Ochs's "War Is Over" events. Shortly after the Washington Square demonstration, they began to plan an even bigger festival at which their "Youth International Party" would nominate a pig for President outside the Democratic national convention in Chicago the following August.

Although the similarities between John and Yoko's "War Is Over" campaign and the proto-Yippie ones which preceded it are striking, the differences are equally significant. John and Yoko put up billboard; Ochs organized demonstrations which thousands of people attended. John and Yoko were a long way from real mass politics.

BBC-TV featured John as a "Man of the Decade" in a special broadcast on December 31, 1969. In a long interview, John reflected on the sixties. "Not many people are noticing all the good that came out of the last ten years," he said. "The moratorium and the vast gathering of people in Woodstock--the biggest mass of people ever gathered together for anything other than war. . . . The good thing that came out of the sixties was this vast, peaceful movement."

And with his sweet optimism, he said, "The sixties were just waking up in the morning. We haven't even got to dinnertime yet. And I can't wait! I can't wait, I'm so glad to be around."

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