Since they were better known for street theatre and politically-themed pranks, many of the "old school" political left either ignored or denounced them. "The group was known for street theater pranks and was once referred to as the 'Groucho Marxists'.
A Yippie flag was frequently seen at anti-war demonstrations. The flag had a black background with a five pointed red star in the center, and a green cannabis leaf superimposed over it. This flag is also mentioned in Hoffman's Steal This Book.
Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin became the most famous Yippies — and best-selling authors — in part due to publicity surrounding the five-month Chicago Seven Conspiracy trial of 1969. Hoffman and Rubin were arguably the most colorful of the seven defendants accused of criminal conspiracy and inciting to riot at the August 1968 Democratic National Convention. Hoffman and Rubin used the trial as a platform for Yippie antics—at one point, they showed up in court attired in judicial robes. Rubin also attended trials dressed as Santa Claus and a Viet Cong soldier.
Anita Hoffman liked the word, but felt the New York Times and other "strait-laced types" needed a more formal name to take the movement seriously. That same night she came up with Youth International Party, because it symbolized the movement and made for a good play on words.
The Yippies held their first press conference in Chicago 6 months before the August 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Judy Collins sang at the press conference. The Chicago Sun-Times reported it with an article titled: "Yipes! The Yippies Are Coming!"
"We are a people. We are a new nation," YIP's New Nation Statement said of the burgeoning hippie movement. "We want everyone to control their own life and to care for one another... We cannot tolerate attitudes, institutions, and machines whose purpose is the destruction of life, the accumulation of profit.
The goal was a decentralized, collective, anarchistic nation rooted in the borderless hippie counterculture and its communal ethos. Abbie Hoffman wrote: "We shall not defeat Amerika by organizing a political party. We shall do it by building a new nation — a nation as rugged as the marijuana leaf.
The Yippies often paid tribute to rock 'n' roll and irreverent pop-culture figures such as the Marx Brothers, James Dean and Lenny Bruce. Many Yippies used nicknames which contained Baby Boomer television or pop references, such as Pogo or Gumby. Pogo is famous for creating the chant "No More Mindless Chants" in the mid-70s. At demonstrations and parades, Yippies often wore face paint or colorful bandannas to keep from being identified in photographs. Other Yippies reveled in the spotlight, allowing their stealthier comrades the anonymity they needed for their pranks.
One cultural intervention that misfired was at Woodstock, with Abbie Hoffman's attempt to use the stage as a soapbox immediately prior to a performance by The Who. Guitarist Pete Townshend used his guitar to bat Hoffman off the stage.
Yippies were famous for their sense of humor. Many direct actions were elaborate pranks or put-ons, like the time they applied for a permit to levitate the Pentagon. The most famous prank was a guerrilla theater event in New York City. Abbie Hoffman and a group of Yippies managed to get into a tour of the New York Stock Exchange. They threw hundreds of dollar bills from the balcony of the visitors' gallery to the floor below. The stock exchange shut down as wealthy men in suits trampled each other to get dollar bills. The visitors' gallery was closed until a glass barrier could be installed, to ensure that it never happened again.
When they feel enthusiastic about a speaker or performer, Yippies howl "yip yip yip YIPEEEE!" like coyotes. They identify with the coyote as archetypal trickster, adding yet another layer to the elaborate pun that is YIP.
The Yippies were the first on the left to make a point of understanding mass media. Colorful, theatrical Yippie actions were tailored to attract media coverage, and also to provide a stage where people could express their own free-spirited inner Yippie. "We believe every nonyippie is a repressed yippie," Jerry Rubin wrote in Do it! "We try to bring out the yippie in everybody.
There was a clash with police on 22 March 1968, where a large group of countercultural youths led by the Yippies descended into Grand Central Station, where some caused more intimidating havoc than anticipated. The night erupted into a violent clash with police that Don McNeill of The Village Voice christened a “pointless confrontation in a box canyon.”
The House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman of the Yippies in 1967, and again in the aftermath of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The Yippies neither respected nor feared the committee, and used media attention to make a mockery of the proceedings. Rubin came to one session dressed as an American Revolutionary War soldier, and passed out copies of the United States Declaration of Independence to people in attendance. Then Rubin "blew giant gum bubbles while his co-witnesses taunted the committee with Nazi salutes. Rubin also attended a session dressed as Santa Claus. On another occasion, police stopped Hoffman at the building entrance and arrested him for wearing an American flag. Hoffman quipped for the press, "I regret that I have but one shirt to give for my country," paraphrasing the last words of revolutionary patriot Nathan Hale; meanwhile Rubin, who was wearing a matching Viet Cong flag, shouted that the police were communists for not arresting him also.
According to The Harvard Crimson:
The Yippie organizers hoped that well-known musicians would participate in the Festival of Life and draw a crowd of tens if not hundreds of thousands from across the country. The city of Chicago refused to issue any permits for the festival and most musicians withdrew from the project. Of the rock bands who had agreed to perform, only the MC5 came to Chicago to play and their set was cut short by a clash between the audience of a couple thousand and police. Phil Ochs and several other singer-songwriters also performed during the festival.
In response to the Festival of Life and other anti-war demonstrations during the Democratic convention, Chicago police repeatedly clashed with protesters, as many millions of viewers watched the extensive TV coverage of the events. "The whole world is watching," protesters chanted. "A police riot," concluded the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. "On the part of the police there was enough wild club swinging, enough cries of hatred, enough gratuitous beating to make the conclusion inescapable that individual policemen, and lots of them, committed violent acts far in excess of the requisite force for crowd dispersal or arrest." Following the convention, eight protesters were charged with conspiracy to incite the riots, and there was a heavily publicized, five-month trial. The Chicago Eight represented a cross-section of the New Left. The two Yippie defendants, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, became popular authors and public speakers, spreading Yippie militancy and comedy wherever they appeared. When Hoffman appeared on Merv Griffin's TV talk show, for example, he wore a shirt with an American flag design, prompting the CBS network to black out his image when the show aired.
In 1972, Yippies and Zippies (a younger YIP offshoot whose "guiding spirit" was Tom Forcade) staged protests at the Republican convention in Miami. Some of the Miami protests were larger and more militant than the ones in Chicago in 1968. After Miami, the Zippies evolved back into Yippies.
Yippies organized marijuana smoke-ins across North America through the 1970s and into the '80s. The annual July 4 Yippie smoke-in in Washington, D.C., became a counterculture tradition.
A YIP-related newspaper, The Yipster Times was founded by Dana Beal in 1972 and published in New York City. It changed its name to Overthrow in 1979. The New Yippie Press Collective published "Blacklisted News: Secret Histories from Chicago '68 to 1984" in 1983. It is still in print.
The most famous writing to come out of the Yippie movement, is Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book, which is considered to be a guidebook in causing general mischief and capturing the spirit of the Yippie movement. Hoffman is also the author of Revolution for the Hell of It which has been called the original Yippie book. This book claims that there were no actual yippies, and that the name was just a term used to create a myth.
The Yippies have continued as a small movement into the early 2000s. The New York chapter no longer publishes a newspaper, but is known for their annual marches for decades in New York City to legalize marijuana. Dana Beal, of New York City, started the Global Marijuana March in 1999. Beal also crusades for the use of Ibogaine to treat heroin addicts. Another Yippie, A.J. Weberman, deconstructs the poetry of Bob Dylan and speculates about the tramps on the Grassy Knoll through his various websites. Weberman is also active in the Jewish Defense Organization, which has been linked to political violence.
Two of the best-known original Yippies met untimely ends. Abbie Hoffman committed suicide, while Jerry Rubin became a stockbroker, and was later fatally injured by a car while jaywalking. By the age of 50, Rubin had broken with many of his previous countercultural views; he was interviewed by the New York Times, which described him as a "yippie-turned-conspicuous-yuppie." In the interview, he stated that "Until me, nobody had really taken off their clothes and screamed out loud, 'It's O.K. to make money!'
In 2004, the Yippies, along with the National AIDS Brigade, purchased their 9 Bleecker Street headquarters for $1.2 million. It has since been converted into the "Yippie Museum Cafe. It houses an independently operated cafe that features live music on scheduled nights (no alcohol served or permitted on premises). The museum is chartered by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York. According to the curator's message at the official website the museum "exists to preserve the history of the Youth International Party and all of its offshoots." The Board of Directors consists of Dana Beal, Aron Kay, David Peel, William Propp, Paul Di Rienzo, and A. J. Weberman.