Jerry Rubin (July 14, 1938 – November 28, 1994) was an American social activist and anti-war leader during the 1960s and 1970s. During the 1980s, he became a successful businessman.
Rubin was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of a bread delivery man and union representative, and grew up in the Avondale neighborhood.
Rubin’s parents died within 10 months of each other, leaving Rubin the only person to take care of his younger brother, Gil, who was 13 at the time. Jerry wanted to teach Gil about the world and planned to take him to India. When relatives threatened to sue to obtain custody of Gil, Jerry decided to take his brother to Israel instead, settling in Tel Aviv. There, Rubin worked in a kibbutz, and studied sociology while his brother, who had learned Hebrew, decided to stay in Israel and moved permanently into a kibbutz. Before returning to social and political activism, Rubin made a visit to Havana, to learn first-hand about the Cuban revolution.
Rubin attended Cincinnati’s Walnut Hills High School, co-editing the school newspaper, The Chatterbox and graduating in 1956. While in high school Rubin began to write for The Cincinnati Post, compiling sports scores from high school games. He later went on to graduate from the University of Cincinnati, receiving a degree in sociology. Rubin attended the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964 but dropped out to focus on social activism.
Rubin began to demonstrate on behalf of various left-wing causes after dropping out of Berkeley. Rubin also ran for mayor of Berkeley, receiving over twenty per cent of the vote. Having been unsuccessful, Rubin turned all his attentions to political protest. His first protest was in Berkeley, protesting against the refusal of a local grocer to hire African Americans. Soon Rubin was leading protests of his own. Rubin organized the Vietnam Day Committee, led some of the first protests against the war in Vietnam, and was one of the founding members of the Youth International Party or Yippies, along with social and political activist Abbie Hoffman.
In October 1967, David Dellinger of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam asked Rubin to help mobilize and direct a March on the Pentagon. The protesters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial as Dellinger and Dr. Benjamin Spock gave speeches to the mass of people.
From there, the group marched towards the Pentagon. As the protesters neared the Pentagon, they were met by soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division. who formed a human barricade blocking the Pentagon steps. Not to be dissuaded, Abbie Hoffman, co-founder of the Yippies, vowed to levitate the Pentagon while Allen Ginsberg led Tibetan chants to assist. Eventually, things turned ugly. By the time the group’s 48-hour permit expired, approximately 680 protesters had been jailed and 50 hospitalized.
As one member of the march recalled:
Then someone in authority decided that the Pentagon steps had to cleared. Rifle butts came down on people’s heads with dull ugly wet sounding thumps. Blood splashed on to the steps. There were shouts of “Link arms! Link arms!”, mixed with screams of pain and curses. People were dragged off and arrested. The brutality was appalling and the people standing on the steps began throwing debris at the soldiers. I saw a garbage can sail over my head. I feared people might be trampled in panic as they tried to escape from the clubs and rifle butts.
Rubin later played an instrumental role in the anti-war demonstration that accompanied the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago by helping to organize the Yippie “Festival of Life” in Lincoln Park. He spoke along with Hoffman at an anti-war rally at the Grant Park bandshell on August 28, 1968 and instructed demonstrators to resist if riot broke out. However, the extent of violence between Chicago police and demonstrators (which an official government report called a “police riot”) was not anticipated by the Yippie leaders. Some 1,500 people including civilians and police were injured. The arrest and trial of the Yippie leaders (known later as the Chicago Conspiracy Trial) which began on September 24, 1969 eventually led to the conviction of Rubin and seven others on charges of incitement to riot, including Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, John Froines, David Dellinger, Lee Weiner, Tom Hayden, and Bobby Seale.
The defendants were commonly referred to as the “Chicago Eight”. Seale’s trial, however, was severed from the others after he demanded the right to serve as his own lawyer and was sentenced to four years in prison for contempt of court, making the Chicago Eight the Chicago Seven. Rubin, along with the six other defendants, was found not guilty on the charge of conspiracy but guilty (with four other defendants) on the charge of incitement. He was also sentenced by the judge to more than three years in prison for contempt of court. All the convictions for incitement were later overturned by an appeals court, who cited judicial and prosecutorial misconduct. Most of the contempt of court citations were also overturned on appeal. The retrial was held in 1972.
Rubin held a post-election party at his place in New York in January of 1973, attended by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, after McGovern lost to Nixon. Soon, Rubin retired from politics entirely, and became an entrepreneur and businessman. He was an early investor in Apple Computer, and by the end of the 1970s became a multimillionaire.
In the 1980s, he embarked on a debating tour with Abbie Hoffman titled “Yippie versus Yuppie.” Rubin’s argument in the debates was that activism was hard work and that the abuse of drugs, sex, and private property had made the counterculture “a scary society in itself.” He maintained that “wealth creation is the real American revolution. What we need is an infusion of capital into the depressed areas of our country.” A later political cartoon portrayed Rubin as half-guerrilla and half-businessman.
Rubin’s differences with Hoffman were on principle rather than personal. When Hoffman died in 1989, Rubin attended his funeral.
Jerry Rubin appeared posthumously in the 2002 British documentary by Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self. He appears in episode part 3 of 4. This segment of the video discusses the Erhard Seminars Training, of which Rubin was a graduate.
Rubin also appeared on Saturday Night Live’s second episode of its first season. He was announced as “Jerry Rubin, Leader of the Yippie Movement.” The sketch is a fake commercial for wallpaper featuring famous protest slogans from the 1960s and 1970s (e.g., “Make Love, Not War”, “Off The Pig!”, “Give Peace A Chance”, “Hell, No, We Won’t Go!”, etc.). He ends the sketch by parodying a famous radical slogan as “Up against the wall-paper, motherfuckers!” (with the last word bleeped out). The fake commercial was later played in a few other first season episodes, including the episode featuring Ron Nessen, President Gerald Ford’s press secretary.
Portrayal in popular culture
In a motion picture about Abbie Hoffman, Steal This Movie, Rubin was portrayed by Kevin Corrigan. In the 2007 documentary Chicago 10: The Convention Was Drama. The Trial Was Comedy Rubin is featured both with film footage and with animation using Mark Ruffalo as his voice. In the television show Dark Skies, Rubin is shown organizing an anti-war protest group in Berkeley that has been infiltrated by aliens – he is portrayed by Timothy Omundson.
Jerry Rubin’s anti-establishment beliefs were put down in writing in his book, DO IT!: Scenarios of the Revolution (1970), with an introduction by Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver and unconventional design by Quentin Fiore. In 1971, his journal, written while incarcerated in the Cook County Jail, was published under the title We are Everywhere. The book includes an inside view of the trial of the Chicago Seven, but otherwise focuses on the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, LSD, women’s liberation and his view of a coming revolution.
In 1976, Rubin wrote another book entitled Growing (Up) at Thirty-Seven, which contained a chapter about his experience at an Erhard Seminars Training (EST) session, later included in the reader “American Spiritualities.”
Near the end of his life, Rubin was heavily involved in multi-level marketing of health foods and nutritional supplements.
On November 14, 1994, Rubin jaywalked on Wilshire Boulevard, in front of his penthouse apartment  in the Westwood area of Los Angeles, California. It was a Monday evening and weekday traffic was heavy, with three lanes moving in each direction. A car swerved to miss Rubin but a second car, immediately behind the first, was unable to avoid him. He was taken to the UCLA Medical Center, where he died two weeks later. He is interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.