STAN PERSKY, 27, puckish intellectual, prison martyr (three days for loitering), the acknowledged Socrates of Vancouver’s hippie symposium, sits sipping Scotch-and-soda as if it were hemlock and talking — erupting — with nervous verbal energy. He’s like a condemned man anxious to impart a whole philosophy of life in the precious time he has left. And besides, this square Maclean’s journalist he's half putting on may freak out at any moment. The philosophy, it becomes clear, is nothing less than the celebration of the hippie as a Platonic ideal of humanity.
“My evolution as an activist derives from Plato’s themes of poetry, Eros and the city. Poetry, which is language charged with energy, created my political response to the world. Eros is the expression of man's love for man, an all-embracing bisexuality. The city is the best unit in which to work for the cultural changes that must precede socio-political changes.”
Suddenly Persky giggles. A concrete plan of action has emerged from the medley of metaphysics: “Let's see, Wednesday is May Day. What do all peace-loving nations do on May Day? Hold parades to demonstrate their military might, right? So we’ll have a military parade, too. Some 2,000 hippies will march to Stanley Park. Unfortunately, our budget allows us only one major piece of military equipment — a huge, chocolate-marshmallow tank. Our slogan will be, ‘Eat The Tank.’ Great! A couple of thousand hippies munching a marshmallow tank.'’
Persky giggles again, savoring the image. In fact, the whimsical march never materialized and the marshmallow tank was doomed to remain un unmunchable Platonic form. By Wednesday, Persky was busy organizing something else, feverishly playing out his role as an activist for all seasons. He is the prophet and chief architect of a new’ Republic for hippies. He dreams of a sort of Big Rock-candy Mountain out beyond the Rockies, a city within the city of Vancouver where golden, long-haired lads and lasses can laze on the public lawns, smoke their grass and do their thing. Above all, they won't be hindered or harassed by the RCMP “narc” squad, plodding city police or any of the other symbols of an unsympathetic morality collectively known as The Man.
The foundations of Persky's Republic have already been laid. Last spring a dozen activist leaders in Vancouver's hippie community established a mock-heroic City Government, complete with ministers of welfare, education, philosophy, justice and so on. The City Government conceives its mandate as being both to satirize and negotiate
with the rival administration of Mayor Tom Campbell, whose reaction to the hippie phenomenon to date can best be described as clumsy.
The hippie government has its own newspaper in the form of The Georgia Straight, a lively underground fortnightly that Mayor Campbell unwittingly resurrected by trying to put it out of business last fall. It also has its own arts centre, a psychedelic dance hall called The Retinal Circus which is owned by Minister of Culture Roger Shiffer and is visited with monotonous regularity by prowling police freshly trained to sniff out pot. The Government’s welfare branch is a group called Cool-Aid who run hostels and provide food for the platoons of padless hippies converging on the west coast.
Persky is the Acting Mayor of the City Government. The formal Mayor is Joachim Foikis, Vancouver’s colorful Town Fool. Foikis, for his self-appointed role as a mirror of man’s pretensions, recently earned a $3,500 grant from the Canada Council and a snort of disgust from Mayor Campbell. The Fool is broadly in sympathy with the hippies but has stipulated he will only don his chain of office on April Fool’s Day.
In any other Canadian city, the concept of a hippie government would probably never have developed beyond a marijuana pipe dream. But in Vancouver, where the physical climate is balmy and the moral climate is black and white, the idea took root and flourished in the glare of city hall’s unimaginative hostility. The City Government has now gained a measure of recognition and an aura of legitimacy as an opposition “shadow” administration. It deals with and is taken seriously by the city parks department and Campbell's civic committee studying the hippy problem. Communication is by means of grandiose diplomatic notes offering “immediate peace negotiations” and suggesting a meeting “on some neutral ground like Warsaw, Paris or Stanley Park.”
"Part of the hippie ethos is to project our world as a metaphor of the larger world,” Persky explains. “That's why we adopt the Washington-Hanoi format in our letters and talk about the Kitsilano Beach area, a summer meeting place for hippies, as War Zone Z.
“On one level the City Government is just a funny, surrealistic organization based on the idea that municipal politics should be a drama. Entertainment is a prime civic responsibility. The satirical approach brings media publicity and recognition. This in turn helps achieve our practical objective which is to consolidate the various sub-cultural welfare groups and / continued on page 58
continued on page 58
VANCOUVER HIPPIE continued from pane 20
“Cops can’t define hippies, but they can recognize them”
provide a central organization to handle the hippie invasion coming this summer. We'll provide food, housing, education and legal and medical aid. We'll make the conditions for a true hippie community available. It'll he a gigantic Be-in.”
Estimates of the number of hippies expected vary from 20.()()() to 50,000.
Many will be “weekend hippies,” local school kids temporarily joining in the fun. But a significant proportion will be modern hoboes, social dropouts heading north and west on their thumb because the moccasin telegraph says Vancouver is where it’s at this summer. The City Government hopes they won't be disappointed.
Persky himself is no dropout. Rather, he trails a classical academic background behind him. He was born and raised in San Francisco, studied at the local state college and served in the U.S. Navy (as a petty officer, third class) before migrating to Vancouver where be had friends. He arrived in July 1966 and decided to resume his
education by enrolling in the University of British Columbia. Next fall he will begin the fourth year of an honors anthropology course.
Until last year Persky was a relatively private and uninvolved student at UBC. Then, after a bad love affair, he flippantly decided to run for president of the arts faculty, was astonished to find himself elected, and promptly became the chief focus of activism on campus. “Next I ran for student president of the whole university, advocating things like a hard line on bisexuality. I won overwhelmingly last February but lost the office because of some residence technicality raised by the opposition Young Liberal element.”
Meanwhile, Persky’s interest in general hippie affairs was being sharpened by his teaching activities at the Free School, the educational branch of the City Government. This is one of several institutions in Vancouver where teenagers with permissive parents are instructed in an unrestricted, experimental atmosphere. Persky, for instance. teaches a course that is listed as: Western Canadian History, Indians (because they’re not usually included in history). How to Live in Your Own Land and Poetry.
The crisis that pushed Persky beyond such moderate activities and down the path to martyrdom and jail began last March. For months hippies had been congregating on the downtown corner of Granville and Georgia Streets, outside the main Hudson’s Bay store. Then the hippies started patronizing the Bay’s coffee shop. Customers became frightened and complained that pot was being pushed under their very noses. Alarmed store officials announced that hippies would no longer be served in the coffee shop. The hippies charged discrimination.
The newly formed City Government decided to mediate. Persky rapidly read a book on the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company, discovered it was the Bay’s 300th anniversary and proposed a peace treaty. “I suggested that the original Hudson’s Bay pioneers, with their long hair and buckskins, looked a lot like today’s hippies. I also thought it strange that the beads and trinkets the company once traded to Indians were now adorning these beautiful youths. Finally, I pointed out that the hippies were searching for the heart and soul of the city and that the Bay should be flattered. The store conceded the argument and agreed to serve the hippies. The City Government, for its part, agreed to station observers in the coffee shop to ensure order.”
Unfortunately, the original band of hippies hadn’t waited around for the victory. Still searching for the city’s heart, they had drifted a block down the street and were now spending their days cluttering up the Court House lawn and the new Centennial fountain, Vancouver's pride and joy.
“I was down there casually governing and educating when the police began to harass us.” says Persky. “Police are programmed to discriminate. They receive orders from above about how to react to specific problems. But these orders reinforce their independent view that hippies are undesirable. Cops can't define hippies
continued on pape 60
hut they can recognize them. They didn’t, for instance, bother old ladies or well-groomed students who were also loitering near the fountain.”
Eventually, the exasperated police sallied forth from the Court House with blank warrants and arrested 17 citizens (none of them well-groomed students or old ladies) on charges of loitering. Two turned out to be juveniles and were released. The rest, including Persky, were haled before a magistrate and given suspended sentences on condition they sign a $100 bond to keep the peace for six months. Persky joyously declined to sign on the grounds that he hadn’t heen disturbing the peace in the first place. He spent the next three days in jail. Then, explaining his purpose was protest and not fanaticism, he signed.
“That magistrate was generous,” says Persky. “By tacking on the peace bond, he presented us with a clear-cut issue of civil liberty that we could exploit.” City newspapers and broadcasting stations saw it that way too and threw their support behind the hippies. An editorial in The Province called the Persky case a “22-karat, triple-plated example of how asinine the law can get.” CBC-TV, on its local news-magazine show, broadcast a report that ended by superimposing a picture of Christ on a close-up of a bearded hippie. ’Twas all in all a famous moral victory. Today, hippies continue to loiter ostentatiously around the fountain while police gnash their teeth and wait for further orders from above.
Persky, meanwhile, is growing increasingly preoccupied with his personal interpretation of Eros. In jail he encountered a man serving six months for having slept with another man. “The crime belongs to the State,” he wrote bitterly in a subsequent issue of The Georgia Straight. “In the imaginary government where I have the power of invisibility I guarantee Eros free movement and coherent splendor. Let’s docket this one for the law-crimes tribunal. I’m almost incoherent before this, having often drunk the famous bitter milk from the very body of desire.”
Now Persky is gaily urging the need for more experiments in group sex. “People don’t realize how beautiful hippies are. This summer we’ll drape the town with posters of beautiful hippie boys. If people can only learn to overcome their fears about bisexuality . . .”
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