Pigasus the Immortal was announced as the Youth International Party nominee during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. What followed was chaos.
Political conventions took on a new look this week thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, as the Democrats nominated Joe Biden as their candidate via remote feeds from across the nation. There were a few moments of bafflement: A live feed caught Bernie Sanders trying to figure out what to do with his hands; Billy Porter performed a cover of a Buffalo Springfield tune against a green screen as Steven Stills, the original songwriter, played guitar.
But for what it’s worth, there were few surprises. It’s not like anyone tried to nominate a farm animal.
The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago took place against a backdrop of large, sometimes violent daily protests against the Vietnam War. Among the most prominent and vocal protesters were members of the Youth International Party, better known as Yippies. (Among the party’s founders was the activist Abbie Hoffman.)
During a demonstration at Civic Center Plaza, the Yippies brought a “squealing and reluctant” pig to the microphone and introduced him as Pigasus the Immortal, candidate for president.
As another YIP founder, Jerry Rubin, attempted to give an acceptance speech on behalf of the porcine politician, police officers confiscated Pigasus and arrested his handlers, charging them with disorderly conduct.
Over the course of the demonstrations, two more pigs were taken into custody, including a sow dubbed Mrs. Pigasus. Eventually, the Pigasus family ended up on a farm west of the city.
As for the Yippies, their troubles didn’t end when the convention was over. Richard Nixon won the 1968 election, and after he took office in 1969, eight YIP members were charged with federal crimes, including crossing state lines to incite a riot.
The trial of the Chicago Seven, as they came to be known, was followed closely by TV news and activists alike. (An eighth defendant, Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale, was severed from the trial, and sentenced to four years in prison for contempt of court for disrupting the proceedings.)
A circus-like atmosphere pervaded the courthouse during the trial. At one point the judge ordered Seale bound to a chair and gagged.
During testimony, a Yippie defendant — the folk singer Phil Ochs — was asked by his lawyer, William Kuntsler: “Were you informed by an officer that the pig had squealed on you?”
Five of the seven YIP defendants were convicted of various crimes, including contempt of court. But in 1972, the Justice Department reversed all charges, and the Chicago Seven walked free. (Seale remained in prison.)
In 1976, outside of the Republican National Convention, Yippies unveiled a new presidential campaign: “Nobody for President.”
The tale of Pigasus helped pave the way for other joke candidates, including Vermin Supreme, who wears a boot on his head and whose platform promises everyone a free pony, and Lord Buckethead, a British politician who ran against Theresa May in 2017.
Retro Report spoke to witnesses who saw Pigasus first hand for our series on the history of American political conventions. You can find the entire playlist here.