Tuesday, January 20, 2009

John Lennon's Political Activism

In September of 1969, Lennon returned his MBE, awarded by Queen Elizabeth to the Beatles in 1965, in protest over Great Britain’s involvement in the Vietnam War. After their marriage in March 1969, John and Yoko staged a “bed-in for peace” at the Amsterdam Hilton. It was at their second bed-in in Montreal in June of 1969 that Lennon recorded “Give Peace a Chance” in his hotel room, aided by a host of celebrities, such as Tommy Smothers, Timothy Leary, Petula Clark, Dick Gregory, and Murray the K. The song was sung by half a million Vietnam War protestors at the second Vietnam Moratorium Day in October 1969 in Washington, D.C.

When John and Yoko moved to New York in 1971, they became friends with radicals Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Rubin and Hoffman co-founded the Youth International Party, nicknamed the “Yippies.” From the visitors’ balcony, Hoffman, Rubin, and others disrupted the New York Stock Exchange briefly on August 24, 1967 to make a statement on Vietnam. Later they organized massive rallies during the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention to protest the Vietnam War. Rubin convinced Lennon to perform in Ann Arbor, Michigan on December 10, 1971 to free John Sinclair, leader of the White Panther Party, who had been arrested for selling two joints of marijuana to undercover policemen. (The White Panther Party worked in tandem with the Black Panthers to promote cultural revolution.) John and Yoko were joined onstage by Phil Ochs, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale, head of the Black Panthers. Lennon performed the song “John Sinclair,” which would later be released on his album Accoustic in 2004. Sinclair was released from prison three days after the rally when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the state law regarding marijuana possession was unconstitutional.

Noting Lennon’s appearance at the Sinclair rally, Senator Strom Thurmond sent a memo to Attorney General John Mitchell in February 1972, declaring that Lennon could pose a serious threat to the re-election of Richard Nixon that year. Lennon could allegedly mobilize the youth vote against Nixon, as well as donate sizeable sums of money for rallies that would disrupt Nixon’s idea of an orderly America. The following month the Immigration and Naturalization Service began a four-year effort to deport Lennon based on his 1968 conviction of drug possession.

According to Albert Goldman in The Lives of John Lennon, John lost all interest in political activity in 1972, in part because of his return to heroin use. Goldman’s book is a questionable source of information since the author’s goal was to portray Lennon in as unflattering light as possible. The reality is that Lennon continued to make statements, singing songs such as “The Luck of the Irish” on The Mike Douglas Show in 1972. In 1973, the singer formed a conceptualized state called Nutopia, which would have no boundaries or passports. Everyone would be a citizen and ambassador of the imaginary country. In 1973, John and Yoko also attended the Watergate hearings in Washington, D.C.

Lennon’s deportation order was overturned in 1975, and his application to remain a permanent resident of the U.S. was granted in July 1976. John and Yoko attended Jimmy Carter’s inaugural ball in 1977. In later years, it became known that the FBI had a file on Lennon consisting of several hundred pages. The complete story of John’s struggles with the Nixon administration and the United States government is told in the exemplary 2006 documentary film The U.S. vs. John Lennon.

1 comment:

  1. Hey what about my relationship with Lennon. He gave me money to start riots in Miami in 1972. He and Yoko were my partners in crime who hit Dylan up for nickels and dimes. Lennon was a junkie.