Tag Archives: #Underground

Occupy the OccuPAST: Echoes of Dissidence in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection (pt. 4 of 4)

Today we have the final installment of Laurie Charnigo’s essay Occupy the OccuPAST: Echoes of Dissidence in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection. Previous sections are posted here, here and here.

Unlike the literature of Occupy Wall Street, the publishers of these newspapers did not have the benefits of digitization and the Internet to preserve and disseminate their information. Many of these papers would have been lost to history if not for the leaders of the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) who had the foresight to preserve as many of them as possible. In 1970, Tom Forcade, Head of UPS at the time, formed a deal with the Bell & Howell Company to film the underground papers. This was an ongoing project that continued until 1985. The UPS partnered with the Bell & Howell Company to microfilm hundreds of underground newspapers and newsletters. The result is the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection which, according to a catalog record in WorldCat, is currently housed in 110 (primarily academic) libraries. There have been some efforts to digitize select underground newspapers. For example, Georgia State University has recently digitized all issues of the Great Speckled Bird and made them freely accessible on the Georgia State University Library Digital Collections Web site. Likewise, Liberation News Service is in the process of making LNS packets available from the Liberation News Service Archive. The It’s About Time: Black Panther Party Legacy & Alumni Web site also provides an archive of the Black Panther Party Intercommunal News Service. All issues of The Realist, a satirical newspaper, founded by Paul Krassner, are available from The Realist Archive Project. Although, some consider the Los Angles Free Press to be the first counterculture paper, many include The Realist which predates them all, having been founded in 1958. The Ann Arbor District Library has digitized all issues of the Ann Arbor Sun, from 1967-1976, on their Free John Sinclair Web site. The Sun was founded by John Sinclair. Also available on this Web site are some really cool photos and audio recordings.

On February 28th at 6:30 p.m. at 20 Cooper Square, N.Y.U.’s Program in Museum Studies and Fales Library and Special Collections at Bobst Library will be sponsoring an exhibit on the East Village Other titled “It’s Happening: “Blowing Minds” a Celebration of the East Village Other. Although not freely available, libraries should consider purchasing the CD-ROM digital re-creation of The San Francisco Oracle which provides access to all twelve issues published. Although the Oracle is included in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection on microfilm, the CD-ROM version provides access to the paper in color. Viewing the Oracle in black and white is like looking at a rainbow without color. Many terrific books have been written about the underground press. Click here for a “Free Handout” which provides a bibliography on such books, including authors cited in this essay, as well as two excellent recently-published titles; Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America by John McMillian and Sean Stewart’s On the Ground: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S.

An interesting thought to end this entry on the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection is that, while scholars today are able to access many articles and newspapers online through databases and on the Web, the hundreds of papers which are not there still exist and only exist because of Thomas King Forcade’s efforts to have them microfilmed. Vendors, aggregated databases, and giant publishing conglomerates dictate what scholars and students are able to instantly access today. Because there is not enough demand for the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection (don’t confuse this with Alt-Press Watch) the vendor which holds the rights to the resource does not currently have any plans to digitize this Collection. Strangely, the very principles the underground press fought adamantly against, commercialization and allowing themselves to be co-opted, are the very reasons it has not entered the digital world. The powers that be just don’t consider the collection to have monetary potential. Perhaps it is up to us, the people, to protect and promote this collection. From their moldy, yellowed, microfilm tombs, it’s time to bring the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection back to life. Promote it. Use it. Demand it. Digitize it?

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Protest History: Underground Press Syndicate pt. 3 (of 4)

Continuing Laurie Charnigo’s essay on Protest History, here is part 3 of 4 from Occupy the OccuPAST: Echoes of Dissidence in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection.

Although newspapers, as shown in the previous examples, varied on issues so widely that any attempt to include them all would be impossible for this piece, they all bonded loosely as a movement through their unified opposition to the war in Vietnam. Many of the issues most widely shared focused on American imperialism, ecological awareness, dismantling the military industrial complex, and the erosion of constitutional rights such as free speech, expression and the right to peacefully protest. Corporate greed, growing commercialism, inequality, distrust of mass media and “The Establishment” were issues all papers had in common. The writings in this collection are echoes of concerns people are now raising in OWS.

Despite their differences, nearly all underground newspapers became the target of censorship and police harassment. We have the Patriot Act. They had J. Edgar Hoover and the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). In “Dirty Tricks on the Underground Press,” Geoffrey Rips cites a report from the UPS which indicated that at least 60% of their members experienced “interference” from the authorities. (47) According to Rips, this “interference” included “prosecutions in the courts, official interruption of distribution, bomb threats and bombs by groups with links to the authorities, harassment of customers and printers, wiretaps, and infiltration by police agents.” Trying to publish an underground paper in a place like Jackson, Mississippi left David Doggett, editor of the Kudzu, financially and psychologically crushed. Rips also reports on how the Black Panther Party (BPP), considered to be a terrorist organization by the FBI, was a constant target of harassment. According to Rips, in a particularly absurd memorandum to the FBI, authorities in Newark suggested spraying bundles of the BPP newspaper with a “chemical known as Skatole” which “disburses a most offensive odor on the object sprayed.” (Rips, 48). The object was to spray as many papers with this stinky substance in order to disrupt distribution of the paper. Authorities also harassed underground newspapers by arresting street vendors for such things as “vagrancy” or distributing obscenity. Streitmatter wrote that:

“On the very day that Richard Nixon was elected President, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sent a memo to his offices coast to coast. The subject of the communiqué was a plan Hoover had developed to halt what his lieutenants were characterizing, with considerable panic, as the ‘vast growth’ of counterculture papers.” (Steitmatter, 214).

It is unnerving to realize that surveillance and erosion of free speech continues under the Patriot Act.

Lest I be accused of over-romanticizing the Sixties Era underground press, I would be remiss not to point out some of its flaws…and there are many. The sixties counterculture papers are often dismissed by scholars as unprofessional, naïve, “hippie,” drivel. It’s certainly true that a forage through the underground papers does turn up its fair share of poorly written news filled with typos, bad artwork, and misinformation. And, heck yeah, there’s a lot of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. So what? One might even argue that liberating sex and legitimizing rock n’ roll were monumental feats in our cultural history.

Even though many of the issues expressed by the counterculture movement were extremely serious there is an ever-present element of humor which runs throughout the underground press. That zany mixture of silliness and seriousness is what is also fun and charming about the writers and artists of the underground press. As Harvey Wasserman (Liberation News Service) wrote in Sean Stewart’s recently-published book On the Ground: an Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U. S., “we were not only political activists but comedians…”(Stewart, 180).

All silliness aside, one should not forget that the underground newspaper collection also documents one of the greatest youth movements in U.S. history. The papers are filled with serious and thoughtful discourse concerning the Vietnam War, civil rights, ecology, to the evils of over-consumerism. With gusto and cleverness, articles of sheer brilliance and beauty were published in the underground press. It’s also important to remember that the underground press often broke news on issues before it was deemed appropriate or fitting for mainstream papers. As Rodger Streitmatter suggests in Voices of Revolution: The Dissident Press in America, the underground press was the first to bring forth the truth about what was really happening in Vietnam and why our involvement in it was doomed. Prior to the Tet Offfensive in 1968, Streitmatter reports that all major newspapers supported U.S. involvement in Vietnam, even claiming that the U.S. had almost won. Following the Tet Offensive, mainstream news sentiment quickly flip-flopped to opposition against continued military action. (Streitmatter, 197). Photographs and stories began to expose the extent of the horrors of Vietnam. In their news coverage of the conflict in Vietnam, the newspaper giants were years behind the underground newspapers. (Streitmatter, 199).

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“Modern civilization is a dangerous, insane process– destructive of man’s natural potential, murderous to other species of life, symbol addicted, anti-life. Drop out of the social game.”

Protest History: Underground Press Syndicate pt. 2 (of 4)
Continuing from last week’s installment, here is part two of Laurie Charnigo’s essay, Occupy the OccuPAST: Echoes of Dissidence in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection.

While the underground newspapers of the sixties and early seventies were united in their opposition to the Vietnam War, their content and purpose was by no means uniform. Some of the papers focused on hippie “drop out” culture, such as the short-lived but beautifully- illustrated San Francisco Oracle published from 1966 to 1968. The Oracle captured the pinnacle of the “Summer of Love” in Haight-Ashbury, covering such subjects as expanding consciousness, experimentation with Eastern spirituality, and human be-ins. Contributors to the Oracle included writers, poets, thinkers, and artists such as Timothy Leary, Gary Snyder, Ken Kesey, Alan Watts, Allen Ginsberg, Michael Bowen, and Allen Cohen. Revolution, as espoused in the Oracle, is an expansion and change of consciousness which occurs within an individual. As Timothy Leary proclaimed in the first issue of the Oracle, “Drop out! Modern civilization is a dangerous, insane process– destructive of man’s natural potential, murderous to other species of life, symbol addicted, anti-life. Drop out of the social game.” Perhaps no other paper in the underground newspaper collection achieved the Oracle’s sophistication in artistic expression. The paper is just as interesting to look at, with its beautiful psychedelic imagery, as it is to read. Allen Cohen, the paper’s editor, wrote that the idea for the Oracle came to him in a “rainbow newspaper” dream. The Oracle, however, only represented one spectrum of the rainbow of underground papers. On the other end of the spectrum were papers which were opposed to flowers, peace, and mind expansion as a central means to obtain social and political justice.

Music may have been the most powerful and unifying expression of the counter-cultural movement. In Voices of Revolution: The Dissident Press in America, Rodger Streitmatter writes “Despite rock ‘n’ Roll’s evolution into a potent cultural force, the established media largely ignored it.” (211). Streitmatter goes on to assert that underground newspapers helped “legitimize” rock n’ roll by providing the first serious reviews and analysis of records. One of the most beautiful counterculture essays is “Liberation Music” written by John Sinclair, former White Panther Party member, while he was serving time in Marquette Prison in July 1970. In “Liberation Music” which was published in Creem Magazine, Sinclair warns about the commercialization of music and how it is was being co-opted by big corporate interests. In this piece, Sinclair writes about the origins of the counterculture movement “Our culture started to develop about five years ago [1965] as a real alternative to the death culture of the straight world. We started from where we were then, which was almost nowhere, and we built up our culture from the ground.” Sinclair found parallels between what was happening in the rock and roll world and society as a whole, writing:

“…if we study the way the pig has infiltrated and taken over and manipulated our culture, we can not only discover how to put an end to this exploitation but we can also see how monopoly capitalism and imperialism works in the larger society as well. What we have to realize, finally, is that everything that happens in the macrocosm of the American consumer culture can be seen in detail at work in the microcosm of the rock and roll world, and if we can combat the consumer mentality in our culture then we can combat it in the mother country culture too, and save ourselves and eventually all the people of the earth from destruction at the hands of the greed creeps and “owners” who are causing all of us all this grief.”

While underground papers served as the journalistic voice of the counterculture movement, rock n’ roll was the greatest and most lasting expression of the movement.

While sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll surface frequently in the underground newspapers, hundreds of others focused solely on serious social and political issues. New Left Notes, the official paper of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), for example, focused on New Left ideology. The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service (BPINS) was the voice of the Black Panther Party and addressed Black Power and African American issues. Papers in the south, such at The Great Speckled Bird in Atlanta, the Kudzu in Jackson, Mississippi, T-Town’s High Gauge (roll tide, crimson hippies!) and NOLA Express in New Orleans spent a great deal of time reporting on civil rights issues. Although hippies and college-educated New Left did not exactly fit in with the working class, Rising up Angry addressed workers rights in Chicago. Free Palestine (Washington, D.C.) took up the issue of Palestinian rights and ran from 1969-1971. In the January 1969 issue of Free Palestine, Justin Harris urged Americans to become more informed about the IsraeliPalestinian conflict writing:

“One can make a fine start towards the goal of wider understanding by reading the message of the Palestinian resistance as presented by Free Palestine, and then continue with additional study of the historical roots of the problem and the present-day ramifications. Careful consideration should be given to this movement’s revolutionary contribution to the Arab world; its political impact on American society and its spiritual significance to all the oppressed people of the world.”

Dine’ Baa Hani gives readers a glimpse into the social issues surrounding the Navajo during 1970 to 1973. Modern Utopia provided information about communal living and compiled lists and addresses of social organizations. Gay Sunshine was one of the first papers to focus on gay and Lesbian rights following the Stonewall Riots in 1969. G.I. Press Service was an example of the many underground newspapers created by soldiers who opposed the War in Vietnam. Perhaps G.I. papers, more than any other paper, would have been considered “underground.”

Women’s rights were the central focus of Rat (New York), It’ Aint Me Babe (Berkeley), and Ain’t I a Woman (Iowa). In 1970, the women who worked at Rat staged a coup and took over the entire paper, opening up “LiberRATion” from their alleged sexist- male coworkers whom they believed had relegated them to secretarial or non-important positions in the paper. In her exposé, “Goodbye to All That,” printed in Rat’s “take over” edition, Robin Morgan wrote:

“Goodbye, goodbye forever, counterfeit Left, counterleft, male-dominated cracked-glass mirror reflection of the Amerikan Nightmare. Women are the real Left. We are rising, powerful in our unclean bodies; bright glowing mad in our inferior brains; wild hair flying, wild eyes staring, wild voices keening…We are rising with a fury older and potentially greater than any force in history, and this time we will be free or no one will survive. Power to the people or to none. All the way down this time.”

Morgan’s “Goodbye to All That” was widely reprinted and considered one of the best underground newspaper essays on the role of women in the counterculture movement.

Numerous papers were centered around or started as college newspapers. These papers tended to create a counterculture environment on or around campuses, with many forming SDS chapters. In September 1969, NOLO Express (New Orleans) put out a special “Student Handbook” in which they exposed the big corporate affiliations of the LSU at New Orleans Board of Supervisors in “Freshman Orientation 101: Introduction to LSU Board of Supervisors”. The editors proceeded to lambaste the monopoly of the campus bookstore and the outrageous prices of textbooks in “Book Store Code Exposed.” Other pieces in the “Student Handbook” included “Busting the Ban on SDS “ (the University felt the organization was too radical for LSUNO), disgruntlement at the high prices of coffee and the “cardboard hamburgers” in the University Cafeteria, a “Freshman Orientation Quiz” with a section on maps titled “Know your Empire,” and a piece bemoaning the increase in student fees. On the cover of the handbook is a cartoon by R. Cobb of Satan tempting a hippie- looking Adam and Eve couple with the caption “Besides…Just how far do you think you can get in today’s world without a good education?”

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Protest History: Underground Press Syndicate

We are lucky enough to have a series of guest blog posts from Laurie Charnigo, a Reference Librarian at the Houston Cole Library at Jacksonville State University. One of the gems of their collection is the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) Underground Newspaper Collection– more than 500 underground newspapers and newsletters from the 1960′s now preserved on microfilm. Enjoy the first of four posts from Laurie about the collection.

Occupy the OccuPAST: Echoes of Dissidence in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection

…we had been so wiped out by our visions of love and universal truth that we were blinded to the real nature of the death culture and we just couldn’t believe it when Babylon refused to melt away in the face of the colossal wave of good feeling we had let loose on Amerika. …This wasn’t quite what we expected, and it knocked most of us right off our feet, and we still haven’t recovered from the shock of finding out that the world wasn’t going to change just because that was the best thing for it. ~ John Sinclair, “Liberation Music,” June-July 1970.

In the introduction to Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology, Danny Schechter writes, “All movements need their poets to set the tone, to raise the questions and express the sensibility.” 1 Just as a distinctive literature may emerge from Occupy Wall Street (OWS), the protest movement of the Vietnam era had its own literature in the form of hundreds of underground newspapers published during the sixties and early seventies. Luckily, most of these papers were preserved in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection. Unfortunately, this collection sits in over 100 libraries throughout the United States gathering cobwebs in moldy, yellowing boxes of microfilm, largely overlooked and forgotten by scholars and unknown by students today. Now, more than ever, it’s time for this collection to be rediscovered and brought back to life. The voices of dissidence, captured in the sixties counterculture papers, in many ways, parallels and echoes the concerns of OWS.

The counterculture newspapers in the UPS Underground Newspaper Collection, published mostly on shoestring budgets and with small circulations, facilitated the anti-war movement while also documenting its history. In 1966, a loose coalition of editors from five papers, including the East Village Other (New York), Los Angeles Free Press, Berkeley Barb, Fifth Estate (Detroit) and The Paper (Michigan State University) founded the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS). Membership into the UPS increased rapidly over the next six years. For a membership fee of ten dollars, newspapers were required to send all issues of their papers to UPS, in addition to all other members of the Syndicate. In exchange for the small fee and swapping papers, all members were allowed to reprint each other’s work with nothing more than a credit line.

The underground press dropped all pretense to objectivity, which many claimed was a myth anyhow. The goal of these papers was to rouse their readers to action, to serve as both spokespieces and active participants in the movement. As John Wilcock, former editor of the East Village Other and Other Scenes, recalls “we underground publishers thought we were making history!” Because the newspapers included information on cultural, social, and political events (e.g., protest gatherings, rock concerts, human be-ins, notices about crimes against the people by the “Establishment”) which were not reported by mainstream news sources, the UPS was essential for the rapid spread of counterculture information in a pre-Internet age. An extremely important member of UPS was Liberation News Service (LNS) founded by Raymond Mungo and Marshall Bloom in 1967. LNS served as a sort of Associated Press or a United Press International service on foreign and political affairs worldwide. LNS had correspondents in places such as Southeast Asia, South America, and throughout the United States. For a fee, LNS sent news bulletin packets to interested underground newspapers. This service allowed newspapers to add international and political news, often not reported by “Establishment” newspapers. LNS enabled small local underground papers, such as the Kudzu in Jackson Mississippi, to enrich their own local news with an international flair. In addition, through membership to the UPS, the Kudzu would have rights to reprint articles written by key members of the counterculture who may have written for some of the larger underground papers, such as the East Village Other or Los Angeles Free Press. The services of both UPS and LNS were essential factors in the rapid growth and expansion of underground newspapers in cities all across the United States.

Soon after the UPS was established, counterculture newspapers began to “spread like weed,” as Thomas King Forcade, legendary leader of UPS and founder of High Times Magazine, once described their rapid growth in a 1973 issue of the UPS Directory. In the ’73 Directory, Forcade traced the first “true” underground newspaper back to the Los Angeles Free Press which was founded by Art Kunkin in 1964 with an estimated readership of 20,000. By 1972, Forcade reported that the number of underground newspapers had risen to 300 with an estimated readership of twenty million! The counterculture papers of the sixties were such an integral voice of the youth movement in cities across the United States that at a UPS Media Conference in Boulder, Colorado in 1973, paper editors unanimously decided to change the name of the Underground Press Syndicate to the Alternative Press Syndicate. As Forcade wrote in the July/ August issue of the Underground Press Revue, “Though we are the only press uniquely equipped to go underground at a moment’s notice, what we are really about is viable, social alternatives.” The life of Tom Forcade and his passion for the underground press is an interesting story, in itself. Through a series of video interviews, Steven Hager reveals an interesting and rare glimpse into the life of Forcade and his role in the UPS in “The Tom Forcade Story.”

1 Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology, https://peopleslibrary.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/ows-poetry-anthology2.pdf

The essay continues: part two, part three, part four.

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