Recalls Kopkind: "There were plans made in New York City to go up there with literature and a table and be around the Yippies, who were going to go as a logistical-support group. Abbie was central to the whole thing."
Manhattan's Lower East Side has emerged as the East Coast capital of the counterculture, and it was Hoffman's base for organizing. A veteran of the civil-rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, Hoffman had decided in 1967, at the age of 31, to put his skills to work in the youth rebellion. "Organizers are almost always outside agitators," he wrote in his autobiography, Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture" (1980, Perigree). Like anthropologists, they study the locals, learn their dialect, begin mimicking their style of speaking." But now he was organizing on behalf of his own people. The hippie culture, he wrote, "was just emerging and it was us."
He added: "Something else made the scene on the Lower East Side different from other organizing experiences: long hair. It meant a lot at the time...took real commitment...it caused hassles with family, school officials, and police. On the Lower East Side police would often grad kids by their long hair, throw them against the wall, and start searching them."
Police harassment became the first local organizing issue for the hippies in New York. In his efforts to stop the harassment, Abbie befriended New York Police precinct captain Joe Fink, who, he said, "adopted me as a wayward son."
Fink would inadvertently play a key role in the history of Woodstock. The concert promoters, all of whom were under 39, had hired Wes Pomeroy to coordinate security; Pomeroy was a former sheriff and highway patrolman who had just retired as an assistant to US Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Pomeroy enlisted Fink to recruit reasonably hip police officers to do security on the weekend of the show.
Although Fink had established a professional friendship with Hoffman and the Yippies, he was frequently at odds with a more militant group, the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers. The Motherfuckers put up hand-scrawled fliers urging hippies to attend Woodstock. The fliers promised "free music, free camping, pigs dressed as plastic hips wearing blue bells scarlet red tee shirts...also carrying no weapon."
Fink, sensing a veiled threat, brought the flier to the attention of Police Commissioner Howard Leary. The day before the festival, Leary forbade city cops to moonlight at Woodstock. In a sense, the Motherfuckers' artless organizing tactic caused a huge shift in what was to happen. On Friday, August 15th, the first day of the festival, a New York Times headline proclaimed: 346 POLICEMEN QUIT MUSIC FESTIVAL.
A crowd shot from above at Woodstock 1969
"Now I don't have any security people at all," Pomeroy told the Times. "We're having the biggest collection of kids there's ever been in this country without any police protection." Thus, word circulated quickly among the region's youth that Woodstock was likely to be an event where they would not be persecuted for smoking ass or dropping acid. That swelled attendance and set a tone of freedom.