Be-In permit story

Allen Cohen

We knew we had to have a permit for the Human Be-In and that was our greatest worry between Allen Cohen and myself. Sure, we could create this gathering of the tribes but how could we get the permission of the city? So Allen decided that he would go down to city hall and present some kind of peace manifesto to the mayors office and ask for a permit to gather for a day in the park. The people in the city hall took one look at Allen listened to him for a few minutes and threw him out of the building. Allen came back to the studio, which was not yet turned into the Oracle office, and told me this. I had not known he was going to do this and I had also not figured out any easy way to convince the city anyway which would in fact really reveal our plans for the gathering. As for Allen, City Hall never gave him the time of day ever anyway, so there were no plans to be revealed. When Allen told me this disaster, it occurred to me that I had a very good friend and a very prominent attorney named Melvin Belli.

Melvin Belli

Mel knew everyone at city hall and they all loved him. Today his offices are a kind of shrine of the cities and the entire block where the offices are in North Beach is named after him. Mel and I were very good friends for years so that when I took him this problem that we had already tested a small version of the Be-In with no problems and now we realized there was going to be a very large version, we knew we had to have a permit or we could have a riot on our hands…..“Hippies take over San Francisco”… who knows what the cops would have done if we had gone ahead without a permit? After all, they already beat up anybody they did not like and regularly raided gay and lesbian bars for absolutely no reason.


Bowen and Cohen

Well, Mel was very pro-freedom and so he simply sent his secretary down to city hall and got a permit to be held for his own birthday party. It was a permit that allowed any number of people to gather together for his birthday party at the Polo Field in Golden Gate Park, And they gave him the permit immediately. His secretary gave me the permit as soon as she came back from city hall that same day and so now we had the necessary permit! This is how the Human Be-In went ahead completely legally. The facts are that the police department, which is always supposed to be protecting you at any kind of gathering, was not aware there was going to be any Be-In or any 20,000 people at the Polo fields or even a birthday party. They did not find out until that night around nine o’clock or ten and then they were a very angry group of police.

Ginsberg on the phone to Mexico from Bowen studio

That night I was in my studio with Ginsberg, Leary, and various other people that had been at the Be-In that day and all of a sudden we heard screaming and sirens and lights. We looked out the window and sure enough the street was filled with police beating up and attacking anybody they felt like attacking. It was a true police riot, tear gas was seeping in my studio windows. They were very angry that we pulled off the Be-In without their knowledge even though we had a legal permit in hand. There was a poor guy that got caught by the police and attacked which we printed in the next issue of the SF Oracle.. He was a yogi walking down the street holding flowers that he found laying around in the park. He simply could not understand why he was attacked that night.

That night, in my studio, the tear gas seeped through the windows until we finally had to tape them shut. Leary was happy just to be inside and drink champagne with everyone. And Allen Ginsberg was talking on the phone to my mentor, John Starr Cooke in Mexico, and then later decided to go out and try and talk some peace-sense to the police who were in no mood to hear any of it. As for me, I happily stayed in my studio painting and drinking champagne with everyone.

So that’s the story of the permit for the human Be-In.

Michael Bowen

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