After Ratso Sloman ghost-wrote Howard Stern's autobiography, "Private Parts," he compiled an oral biography of Abbie Hoffman, "Steal This Dream." Stern wasn't impressed.
"Well," said Ratso, "Stew Albert likes it."
"Who the hell is Stew Albert?" asked Stern.
When Stew heard about this, he made that question the title of his memoir. Previously, he had co-edited with his wife, Judy Clavir, "The Sixties Papers," a collection of documents behind the countercultural history of that era, from Tom Hayden's "Port Huron Statement"--the credo of Students For a Democratic Society, currently undergoing a rebirth on campuses--to Robin Morgan's feminist manifesto, "Goodbye to All That."
The Alberts had found an illegal surveillance device under their car, they sued the FBI and won. Part of the settlement enabled them to buy a computer, with which they produced that book, now used in college courses across the country.
Stew never got the media attention that Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin did as fellow organizers of the Yippies (Youth International Party), though after he died at the age of 66 last Monday, his contributions were finally recognized in his obituaries.
We met in 1965 when I was invited to emcee the first Vietnam Teach-In on the UC-Berkeley campus. He was on the Vietnam Day Committee, and became the first activist to turn me on to marijuana, with Thai stick.
"Now I know why we're fighting in Southeast Asia," I observed. "To protect the crops."
During the antiwar demonstrations in the summer of 1968 at the Democrats national comvention, Stew was the first to get smashed on the head with a police billy club. After his head was stitched and bandaged, we went to a Western Union office and sent a telegram (recently deemed an obsolescent means of communication) to the UN, requesting them to send in a human rights unit to investigate violations in Chicago.
Stew, who had acted as a liaison between the Yippies and the Black Panther Party, told me, "Malcolm X, and then the Black Panthers, had planned to take their case to the UN."
We were both unindicted co-conspirators for crossing state lines to foment rioting--later, an official investigation would conclude that it had been "a police riot"--unindicted because they were afraid we would have a freedom-of-the-press defense; in addition to being there as protesters, Stew covered the counter-convention for the "Berkeley Barb," and I covered it for my own magazine, "The Realist."
I published a couple of Stew's articles, one on the legacy of Che Guevara, another on his campaign for sheriff of Alameda County; he came in 4th, winning in Berkeley with 65,000 votes.
He became a go-between for Timothy Leary and Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria. Leary wanted to take LSD with Cleaver, who told Stew that he was afraid Leary would try to program him, but said yes to acid provided he could wear his gun during the trip.
What I will miss most about Stew is the empathetic way that he served as a peacemaker, whether it was trying to create a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, or mediating a disagreement between Hoffman and Rubin. For example, in Chicago, Abbie bought a pig to run as the Yippie candidate for president, but Jerry thought it wasn't big enough or ugly enough, so Stew went with him to buy another pig, bigger and uglier. This fierce-looking creature was then named Pigasus.
Stew Albert was really a wise old rabbi in the guise of a lovable blond teddy bear.