[The 6th Annual Slingshot Award to honor a lifetime of service to the radical community was presented to Yukon Hannibal in March at Slingshot's 23rd birthday party. Thank you, Yukon, for your inspiration and dedication.]
I have seen Yukon work to create harmony. He de-escalates potentially violent situations using grace, an understanding of the situation, and often his friendship with the individuals involved. Yukon works with Berkeley Liberation Radio as a DJ and at the East Bay Free Skool teaching a Political Education class in People’s Park. The park is a Berkeley, California radical history landmark that is subject to an ongoing battle between the University of California and the users of the park over who has the right to develop it. He distributes Free Skool calendars and mediates conflict at meetings.
Some days when I’m in People’s Park it feels so nice. Seeing groups of friends sitting in circles in the sun or huddled under trees and awnings in the rain. But, some days are very violent. Seeing Yukon in the park makes me feel a level of calmness on the scene.
Slingshot: So, what’s your story?
Yukon: “I was born in Chicago August Third of 1949. My father was a truck driver for the United States Post Office and my mother was a renowned jazz singer named Lilli Palmore. That was her stage name. She performed with such grace. She played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and she was running buddies with Billie Holliday and other greats. I didn’t understand her significance because I was real young. I was eleven when she passed away into the spirit world. She left an influence on me. She put a piano on me when I was five years old. My mind wasn’t on it until later in life. But she gave me her song writing and her voice.
“Eventually, we moved from the South Side of Chicago where we were staying with my grandmother. We moved into Cabrini Greens.” Cabrini Greens became famous as a housing project known for being chaotic and dangerous. “It was very safe then. People would sleep outside because it was so hot. The only violence I saw was from the racist cops. But people stood up to the harassment and this was before the Black Panthers. Cops would come in to invade the communities, terrorize the folks, and the folks be resisting.”
Slingshot: When did you start thinking about making change to society?
Yukon: “When I was seventeen it was another significant time of my life. I started getting some political direction. I started fighting back in the projects with my friends. The cops would be coming up the stairs and we would drop bottles down the cracks. Then there was a big snowstorm and the police that came into the projects were stuck in the drifts. My friends and I were throwing everything at them and I was recognized and I served time in Cook County Jail at seventeen. In jail I met a lot of politically-minded people and a lot of crazy people who were trying to terrorize people… I was placed on the same tier as two rival gangs. The idea was to let the two gangs destroy each other, but people really got along.
“I was released from Cook County Jail in November of 1967. I got out and I went back to Cabrini Greens and went back to fighting the police. I was pointed out as someone who messed with the police so I had to move out. I moved to Old Town where I met Fred Hampton in the early months of the Chicago Black Panther Chapter. He invited me to move to the West Side where they were organizing their office…. Then a couple months later they murdered Fred and we were nuts with grief. We just loved him so much.
“When I went to the funeral I couldn’t get in because there were so many people. Everyone was saying, ‘I am Fred Hampton.’ I was crying buckets. That’s when I started thinking about leaving Chicago.”
Yukon set out for California hitchhiking across the Midwest and Southwest, and arrived in Berkeley, California in the summer of 1970. He became involved in the People’s Park movement. The fence, installed in 1969, was removed from the perimeter of the park in 1971 by protestors with bolt cutters concealed within loaves of bread. Yukon moved his vehicle onto the asphalt that is now a grove of trees and free speech stage. Yukon said he could sense the public opinion shifting, “a stupid move by the University would get people excited so we moved in. There was a lot of weed but nothing else. Not too much alcohol even.
“At this time I met my wife and we had kids and that’s where I went for fifteen years. When we broke up I went back to People’s Park and living on the streets.
“The idea was that we needed more publicity, more people in the park. So David Nadel asked me to do a political table on Telegraph, which I did. I was telling people that the University is trying to take the park away by building volleyball courts.
“I created flyers and went out and educated people on People’s Park to defend the park, which we did. For the first few months I felt like my words were falling on deaf ears, but then we had an opportunity when there was another riot.” In 1991 during a riot, one in a series of riots that summer in Berkeley, the fence around the corner of Telegraph and Haste was removed and placed in the street. The people of Berkeley started an encampment in the empty lot one half block away from People’s Park, the new park became known as the People’s Park Annex. “We were communal but we were individualized which means that we were in solidarity but we also did our own separate things in our space. When there were fights I would step in to stop them. If I wasn’t there someone else would step in as the peacemaker. And there were a lot of fights.
“David and other activists brought in sod grass and we laid out the sod grass. People brought in flowers and we planted them. Then we welcomed people in and it was a home for many.
“It accomplished a unity that is felt even today with the people involved. And there were a lot of people involved. The activists who had homes would go home, but they would always come back and they brought solidarity and food. The churches would bring sandwiches and they would pass out their literature. Every night when the sun went down it was very festive. People would celebrate being in the heart of Telegraph. I was parked so I could watch over the lot. There were a lot of times I had to follow someone in and they were bringing in a bottle of alcohol. They would be coming all loud so I would have to get in their face and ask them to keep it down or get out. There were people from all over.”
Noise and sirens woke Yukon one night. The police were on bullhorns ordering everyone to get out within five minutes or be thrown out. The Annex had lasted two and a half months it was the summer of 1991. “It was very difficult. There were those in wheelchairs who had made the place their home and then had to move all their possessions. The police were handing out vouchers for one free night in a motel. That shows the hypocrisy of the city (of Berkeley). Berkeley does have homeless services; it’s the people of Berkeley who look out for the people of Berkeley, like the churches and Food Not Bombs. That doesn’t make the city progressive. These are the same people that put in the sit-lie ordinance and anti-sleeping laws. The city seems to criminalize homelessness.
Slingshot: You helped organize encampments in People’s Park in violation of the 10pm curfew. How did that start?
Yukon: “In 1991 at the Peace and Freedom Party rally, I spoke and encouraged the people to sleep in People’s Park, and the people slept there that night and for 3 nights until the long arm of the pigs came. A lot of people got arrested.
“Then, we started sleeping on the Haste Street sidewalk. We stayed there for eight days, until they rousted us. We moved to Dwight Street on the other side of the park and then across the street. We took over that whole sidewalk. Must have been like one hundred people.”
Slingshot. Your major form of expression is the drum. What’s the significance of the Ashby Flea Market drum circle?
Yukon: “It’s a way to network with musicians and a place people come to network. It’s a center to come together, harmonize with the drums and build friendship. The drum circle consists of people from Oakland, San Francisco, and anyone else with a drum. Some serious players are there who come to groove and one groove can last from anywhere from 5-30 minutes. There’s a certain fellowship when we’re in a groove. It’s almost hypnotic.”
Slingshot: If you had anything to say to the world what would that be?
Yukon: “Amerikkka is a culture that manufactures racism and bigotry. You can see it on television or read it in their newspaper. White male domination has stereotyped these phobias and delivered them to the front doors of America’s homes. The planting of war thoughts in the form of video games and the constant barrage of war images has set the course for future wars for the nation’s youth. View these images as a blue print for future engagements and it continues as long as Hollywood and other makers of violence reap the profits off it and it is in the billions. Hollywood and the media have influenced the nation’s youth into becoming war makers and haters and yet it seems that our minds are so full of Hollywood that we act out Hollywood in our communities, the violence, the drugs, the guns, and it keeps coming.”