Allen Ginsberg – Chicago Trial Testimony – 1

A historic day today.  50 years ago today, Allen gave his testimony in the famous Chicago Conspiracy Trial

Setting the stage. From Jason Epstein’s invaluable account in Feb 12 1970 issue of the New York Review of Books

“Ginsberg, wearing white tennis sneakers on his somewhat pronated feet, entered Judge Hoffman’s courtroom late in the afternoon of December 11, 1969, and walked, slightly slouched but with a bouncing, cat-like gait, to the witness stand. From a sling over his left shoulder a large, woven purse swung at his hip. Facing the bench as he proceeded to the witness stand he paused, pressed his palms together, touched his fingertips to the bottom of his wiry, black beard, and made an elegant little Oriental bow in the direction of the defendants as well as toward the Judge who stared down at him from his high backed armchair. Ginsberg then took his seat and began to explain, under examination by Leonard Weinglass, one of the two defense lawyers, how he had traveled to India to study the religions of the East, whose mantras and other chants had been known to calm large assemblies of people..

Here is a transcript of the testimony (in its entirety)

LW: Will you please state your full name?
AG: Allen Ginsberg.
LW: What is your Occupation?
AG: Poet.
LW: Have you authored any books in the field of poetry?
AG: In 1956, Howl and other Poems; in 1960, Kaddish and other poems; in 1963, Empty Mirror; in 1963, Reality Sandwiches, and in 1969, Planet News.
LW: Now, in addition to your writing, Mr. Ginsberg, are you presently engaged in any other activity?
AG: I teach, lecture, and recite poetry at universities.
LW: Now, did you ever study abroad?
AG: Yes. In India and Japan.
LW: Could you indicate for the court and jury what the area of your studies consisted of?
AG: Mantra yoga, meditation exercises and sitting quietly, breathing exercises to calm the body and calm the mind, but mainly a branch called mantra yoga, which is yoga which involved prayer and chanting.
LW: How long did you study?
AG:  I was in India for a year and a third, and then in Japan studying with Gary Snyder, a Zen poet, at Daitoku-ji monastery, D-A-I T-O-K-U-J-I. I sat there for the zazen exercises for centering the body and quieting the mind.
LW: Are you still studying under any of your former teachers?
AG: Yes, Swami Bahktivedanta –  faith, philosophy – Bhakti Vedanta, B-A-H-K-T-I V-E-D-A-N-T-A. I have seen him and chanted within the last few years in different cities, and he has asked me to continue chanting, especially on public occasions. This involves chanting and praying, praying out loud and in community.
LW: In the course of a mantra chant, is there any particular position that the person doing that assumes?
AG:  Any position which will let the stomach relax and be easy, fall out, so that aspiration can be deep into the body, to relax the body completely and calm the mind, based as cross-legged,
LW: And is it – chanting -to be done privately, or is it in public?

Thomas Foran (prosecutor): Oh, your Honor, I object. I think we have gone far enough now..
Judge (Julius Hoffman):   I think I have a vague idea now of the witness’ profession. It is vague.
TF: I think I might also indicate that he is an excellent speller.

AG: : Sir,,
Judge: Yes, sir.
AG: In India, the profession of’ poetry and the profession of chanting are linked together as one practice.
Judge: That’s right, I give you credit for that.

Allen Ginsberg & Jerry Rubin

LW: Mr. Ginsberg, do you know the defendant Jerry Rubin?
AG: Yes, I do.
LW: Do you recall where it was that you first met him?
AG: : In Berkeley and San Francisco in 1965 during the time of the anti-Vietnam war marches in Berkeley. I saw him again at the Human Be-in in San Francisco. We shared the stage with many other people.
LW: Would you describe for the Court and jury what the “Be-in” in San Francisco was?
AG: A large assembly of younger people who came together to…

TF: Objection, your Honor.
Judge: Just a minutes I am not sure how you spell the “be-in”.

LW: B-E I-N, I believe – “be-in”.
AG: Human be-in.
Judge: I really can’t pass on the validity of the objection because I don’t understand the question.
LW: I asked him to explain what a “be-in” was.
TF: I would love to know also but I don’t think it has anything to do with this lawsuit.
Judge:  I will over the objection of the Government, tell what a “be-in” is.

AG: A gathering-together of younger people aware of the planetary fate that we are all sitting in the middle of, imbued with a new consciousness, a new kind of society involving prayer, music, and spiritual life together rather than competition, acquisition and war.

LW: And was that the activity that was engaged in in San Francisco at this “be-in”?
AG: There was what was called a “gathering of the tribes” of all the different affinity groups, spiritual groups, political group, yoga groups, music groups and poetry groups that all felt the same crisis of identity crisis of the planet and political crisis in America, who all came together in the largest assemblage of such younger people that had taken place since the war, in the presence of the Zen master Suzuki, and in the presence of the rock bands, and the presence of Timothy Leary and Mr. Rubin.
LW: Now, later on in the year of 1967 did you have occasion to meet again with the defendant Jerry Rubin?
AG: Yes, we met in a cafe in Berkeley and discussed his mayoral race for the city of Berkeley. He had run for mayor.
LW: Did you have any participation in that campaign?
AG:: I encouraged it, blessed it.
LW: Now, do you know the defendant Abbie Hoffman?

Abbie Hoffman (1982 at Naropa)

AG: Yes.
LW: Now, calling your attention to the month of February 1968, did you have any occasion in that month to meet with Abbie Hoffman?
AG:  Yeah.
LW: Do you recall what Mr. Hoffman said in the course of the conversation.
AG:  Yippee..  among other things.. He said that politics had become theater and magic, that it was the manipulation of imagery through mass media that was confusing and hypnotizing the people in the United States and making them accept a war which they did not really believe in, that people were involved in a life style that was intolerable to young folks, which involved brutality and police violence as well as a larger violence in Vietnam, and that ourselves might be able to get together in Chicago and invite teachers to present different ideas of what is wrong with the planet, what we can do to solve the pollution crisis, what we can do to solve the Vietnam war, to present different ideas for making the society more sacred and less commercial, less materialistic, what we could do to uplevel or improve the whole tone of the trap that we all felt ourselves in as the population grew and as politics became more and more violent and chaotic.
LW: Now, did he ascribe any particular name to that project?
AG: Festival of Life.
LW After he spoke to you, what, if anything, was your response to suggestion?
AG: I was worried whether or not the whole scene would get violent. I was worried whether we would be allowed to put on such a situation allowed to put.. I was worried, you know, whether the government would let us do something that was funnier or prettier or more charming than what was going to be going on in the Convention hall.

TF: I object and ask that it be stricken. It was not responsive.
Judge: Yes. I sustain the objection.
AG: Sir, that was our conversation,

LW: Now, during that same month, February of 1968, did you have occasion to meet with Jerry Rubin?
AG: I spoke with Jerry Rubin on the phone, I believe.
LW: Will you relate to the Court and jury what Jerry Rubin said to you?
AG: Jerry told me that he and others were going to Chicago to apply for permission from the city government for a permit to hold a Festival of Life and that he was talking with John Sinclair about getting rock and roll bands together and other musicians and that he would report back to me.
LW: Mr. Ginsberg, do you recall anything else that Mr. Rubin said to you in the course of that telephone conversation?
AG:: Yes, he said that he thought it would be interesting if we could get up little schools like ecology schools, music schools, political schools, schools about the Vietnam war, schools with yogis.
He asked if I could contact (William) Burroughs and ask Burroughs to come to teach non-verbal, non-conceptual feeling states.

LW: Now you indicated a school of ecology. Could you explain to the Court and jury what that is?
AG: Ecology is the interrelation of all the living forms on the surface of the planet involving the food chain—that is to say, whales eat plankton: larger fishes eat smaller fish, octopus or squid eat shellfish which eat plankton; human beings eat the shellfish or squid or smaller fish which eat the smaller tiny microorganisms
TF: That is enough, your Honor.
Judge: Yes. We all have a clear idea of what ecology is.

AG: Well, the destruction of ecology is what would have been taught. That is, how it is being destroyed by human intervention and messing it up with pollution.

LW: Now you also indicated that Mr. Rubin mentioned nonverbal education. Will you explain what that is to the Court and jury?

AG Most of our consciousness, since we are continually looking at images on television and listening to words, reading newspapers, talking in courts such as this, most of our consciousness is filled with language, with a kind of matter babble behind the ear, a continuous yakety-yak that actually prevents us from breathing deeply in our bodies and sensing more subtly and sweetly the feelings that we actually do have as persons to each other rather than as talking machines.

LW: Now, Mr. Ginsberg, on March 17, where were you?
AG: I took part in a press conference fit the Hotel Americana in New York City.
LW: Who else was present fit this press conference?
AG: Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were there as well as Phil Ochs, the folk singer, Arlo Guthrie, some members of the USA band, some members of the Diggers groups.

LW: Could you indicate to the Court and jury what Jerry Rubin said?

AG:  He said that a lot of younger people in America would come to Chicago during the Convention and hold a Festival of Life in the parks, and he announced that they were negotiating with the City Hall to get a permit to have a life festival in the parks.

LW: Do you recall what Abbie Hoffman said?

AG: He said that they were going to go to Chicago in groups to negotiate with representatives of Mayor Daley to get a permit for a large-scale Gathering of the Tribes and he mentioned the human be-in in San Francisco.

LW: Did you yourself participate in that press conference?

AG: Yes. I stepped to the microphone also. My statement was that the planet Earth at the present moment was endangered by violence, overpopulation, pollution, ecological destruction brought about by our own greed; that our younger children in America and other countries of the world might not survive the next thirty years; that it was a planetary crisis that had not been recognized by any government of the world and had not been recognized by our own government, nor the politicians who were preparing for the elections; that the younger people of America were aware of that and that precisely was what was called psychedelic consciousness; that we were going to gather together as we had before in the San Francisco human be-in to manifest our presence over and above the presence of the more selfish elder politicians who were not thinking in terms of what their children would need in future generations, or even ill the generation immediately coming, or even for themselves in their own lifetime and were continuing to threaten the planet with violence, with war, with mass murder, with germ warfare. And since the younger people knew that in the United States, we are going to invite them there, find that the central motive would be a presentation of a desire for the preservation of the planet. The desire for preservation of the planet and the planet’s form was manifested to my mind by the great mantra from India to the preserver god Vishnu whose mantra is the Hare Krishna. And then I chanted the Hare Krishna for ten minutes to the television cameras, and it goes:
Hare krishna/hare krishna/krishna krishna/hare hare/hare rama/hare rama/rama rama/hare hare.

LW: Now in chanting that did you have all accompaniment of any particular instrument?

( laughter)

LW: Your Honor, I object to the laughter of the Court on this. I think this is a serious presentation of a religious concept.
Judge: I don’t understand. I don’t understand it because it was… the language of the United States District Court is English.

William Kunstler (defence attorney) : I know, but you don’t laugh at all languages.

Judge: I didn’t laugh. I didn’t laugh.

AG: I would be happy to explain it.

Judge: I didn’t laugh at all. I wish I could tell you how I feel. (laughter) …I didn’t even smile.
Laugh—I didn’t even smile.

WK: Well, I thought—

Judge: All I could tell you is that I didn’t understand it because whatever language the witness is using..
AG: Sanskrit, sir.
Judge: Well, that is one I don’t know. That is the reason I didn’t understand it.
AG: Might we go on to in explanation?
Judge: Will you keep quiet, Mr. Witness, while I am talking to the lawyers?
AG:  I will be glad to give an explanation.
Judge: I never laugh at a witness, sir. I protect witnesses who come to this court. But I do tell you that the language of the American court is English unless you have all interpreter. You may use an interpreter for the remainder of the witness’ testimony.

WK: No. I have heard, Your Honor, priests explain the mass in Latin in American courts and I think Mr. Ginsberg is doing exactly the same thing in Sanskrit for another type of religious experience.

Judge: I don’t understand Sanskrit. I venture to say the jury members don’t. Perhaps we have some people on the jury who do understand Sanskrit, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t even have known it was Sanskrit until he told me. I can’t see that that is material to the issues here, that is all.

LW: Let me ask this: Mr. Ginsberg, I show you an object marked 150 for identification, and I ask you to examine that object.
AG Yes.
[Allen “identifies” the object (a harmonium) by playing it]
TF: All right. Your Honor, that is enough. I object to it, your Honor. I think it is outrageous for counsel to..
Judge: You asked him to examine it find instead of that he played a tune on it. I sustain the objection.
AG: It adds spirituality to the case, sir.
Judge: Will you remain quiet, sir.
AG: I am sorry.

LW: Having examined that, could you identify it for the court and jury?
AG:  It is an instrument known is the harmonium, which I used at the press conference at the Americana Hotel. It is commonly used in India.

Allen Ginsberg’s harmonium

TF: I object to that.
Judge: I sustain the objection.

LW:  Will you explain to the Court and to the jury what chant you were chanting at the press conference?

AG: I was chanting a mantra called the “mala mantra,” the great mantra of preservation of that aspect of the Indian religion called Vishnu the Preserver. Every time human evil rises so high that the planet itself is threatened, and all of its inhabitants and their children are threatened, Vishnu will preserve a return.

The Chicago Seven (absent is Bobby Seale) and their lawyers raise their fists in unison outside the courtroom in October, during the proceedings of the trial

part two of Allen’s testimony (given December 11 and 12, 1969) may be read –  here



  1. Regarding the Human Be-in mentioned above:

    There were several posters created by local artists who were part of the San Francisco counterculture community, notably one by Stanley Mouse and Casey Sonnebrand. This copy, from recordmecca, is signed by Mouse and Ginsberg. The recordmecca posting also has good information about the event.

    The prominent poster artist, Rick Griffin, created another well known Be-in poster:

    The poster presented in this article on Ginsberg is a modern fantasy production from a company that specializes is what could properly be called “souvenirs.”

    If you like the originals keep searching and you’ll soon be a poster collector!

  2. Correction to my post on the Human Be-in.
    The photograph of the “guru used by Stanley Mouse was provided by Casey Sonnabend, not Sonnebrand.
    The concept for this poster came from Michael Bowen.

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