Table of contents for volume 1

Voices from the Underground:
Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press

To learn about Ken’s celebrated revised, expanded four-volume second edition, see here.

Collective Dedication

Publisher's Notes by Joseph W. Grant

Foreword by William M. Kunstler

Foreword by Abe Peck

Editor's Introduction by Ken Wachsberger

At This End of the Oregon Trail: The Eugene AUGUR, 1969-1974
by Peter Jensen

An alien force had taken over our country; it talked peace and made vicious war; it owned both political parties. We were all that was left of the opposition. Above all, the media had caved in and was reporting inflated, daily body counts for generals in Saigon and Washington. The press was just another chain of corporations acting like a line of skimpily dressed cheerleaders for the boys in grunt green. In such a setting, writes Peter Jensen, the Eugene AUGUR began publication in 1969.

Fast Times in the Motor City—The First Ten Years of the Fifth Estate: 1965-1975
by Bob Hippler

Harvey Ovshinsky wasn't happy when his mother moved to Los Angeles in 1965 and dragged along the popular senior from Detroit's Mumford High School. Wandering around town in a funk, Ovshinsky happened upon the Sunset Strip. There he saw two sights that piqued his interest: a gathering place called the Fifth Estate Coffeehouse and Art Kunkin's Los Angeles Free Press. Ovshinsky began hanging out at the coffeehouse and working on the Free Press. He was captivated by its antiwar politics, its concern for developing a radical Los Angeles community, and its coverage of the local music scene. Before the year was over, he returned to Detroit and founded Fifth Estate. Twenty-five years later, writes alumnus Bob Hippler, the snake oil of Reaganism is seen to have bankrupted the country, most workers do not have a union, countries still suffer under the yoke of neo-colonialism, and Fifth Estate is the nation's longest-lived underground paper to emerge from the Vietnam era.

Looking for Utopia
by Patrick Halley

In August of 1973, Guru Maharaj Ji, the 15-year old "perfect master," arrived in Detroit to inaugurate his "Divine Light Mission"—a religious cult started in India—and to receive the key to the city. The local press hailed him as a messenger of peace and brotherhood. His disciples hailed him as the new "God." Only Detroit's Fifth Estate concluded that he was a hustler and a fraud. In this appendix to Bob Hippler's history of the Fifth Estate, Patrick Halley tells, for the first time, how he infiltrated the "Divine Light Mission" and pied the perfect master from 15 feet, and about the steel plate he wears in his head as a reminder.

A Fowl in the Vortices of Consciousness: The Birth of the Great Speckled Bird
by Sally Gabb

In 1968, a collective of young type humans in Atlanta, Georgia, spit out a response to the then-present insanity because they believed in possibility. It was naturally a collection of graduate students. Who else had been so groomed to take themselves so seriously? Budding historians and philosophers they were, mostly men, with women in the shadows, women on the brink of bursting forth to be heard. They were men and women joined by a certain lesson: the South. In this article, Sally Gabb recalls the history of Atlanta's Great Speckled Bird.

The Joy of Liberation News Service
by Harvey Wasserman. With a sidebar by Allen Young

Founded in youthful genius, LNS moved this country as few other rag-tag operations ever did. It was the AP and UPI of the underground, supplying the counterculture with a wide variety of articles and essays, proofs and spoofs that were read and loved by emerging millions. Then came the split, and co-founder Marshall Bloom's suicide in 1969. Even today, the extent of FBI penetration and involvement is unknown, but Freedom of Information records show it was significant. In this article, LNS alumnus Harvey Wasserman tells his story. Allen Young's profile of Marshall Bloom is reprinted from Fag Rag.

Muckraking Gadflies Buzz Reality
by Chip Berlet

How does an Eagle Scout and church youth group leader end up hawking underground newspapers with nudes and natural food recipes? In the 1960s, the transition seemed, well, organic. In this article, long-time muckraker Chip Berlet recalls his introduction to the underground press and his resulting journey down the road to ruin as a member of College Press Service, The Denver Clarion, Flamingo Park Gazette, and other papers of the day. He concludes by explaining why he is still an optimist. In sidebars, he presents overview histories of a few other, short-lived underground press services and keeps his promise of utter anonymity to his sources so he can share experiences that they would never share openly because they have kids and respectable jobs now.

Messaging the Blackman
by John Woodford

In 1968, H. Rap Brown was in jail in Louisiana on trumped-up charges and the Black Panther Party was striding around northern California declaring it the right and duty of African-Americans to defend themselves with arms against brutal police. Against that backdrop, journalist John Woodford, Harvard class of 1963, moved from Ebony magazine, the country's biggest magazine aimed at African-American readers, to Muhammad Speaks, the newspaper of the Black Muslims, in order to play a more active role in events of the period. In this article, he provides an intimate account of his experience at both newspapers.

The Guardian Goes to War
by Jack A. Smith

Within that assortment of several hundred alternative publications that together helped to build domestic opposition to the Vietnam War, none matched the influence exercised by the Guardian. During the decade from 1965 to 1975, the Guardian metamorphosed from "progressive" to "radical" to "Marxist-Leninist. " Throughout that period, writes former editor Jack Smith, it retained its political and organizational independence, did not deviate from its stress upon "uniting all who could be united" against the war, attacked "right opportunism" and "left dogmatism" within the movement, and published timely and superior articles, commentary, and polemics for its national audience of 75,000 readers. Founded in 1948 to generally reflect the views of supporters of Henry Wallace's short-lived Progressive Party, it is still today one of the most important independent alternative publications in the United States. In a sidebar, Smith defines some of the key terms used in his article.

off our backs: The First Decade (1970-1980)
by Carol Anne Douglas and Fran Moira

off our backs was founded in late 1969 with $400 that had been collected to start an antiwar coffeehouse for GIs. The name was chosen, according to co-founder Marlene Wicks, because, "We wanted to be off our backs in terms of being fucked. We wanted to be off our backs in terms of being the backbone of American or every society or culture with no power. And we wanted the flack we would get from everyone about being strong to roll off our backs." Twenty years later, off our backs still operates on a shoestring while continuing to report on women's struggles worldwide and their interconnectedness. Veterans Carol Anne Douglas, who is still a staff member, and Fran Moira review off our backs' first twenty years, with an emphasis on the first decade.

off our backs and the Feminist Dream
by Marilyn S. Webb

off our backs, the first national feminist newspaper to emerge on the East Coast during the Vietnam era, is a quintessential child of the sixties—born of enthusiasm, a pinch of planning, and a lot of idealistic vision. Although no one realized it at the time, the paper's beginnings can be traced to the summer of 1968. Elsewhere, hippies were giving up the Haight, police were rioting in Chicago, and the Weather Underground was beginning to form. But in Washington, DC, it was hot. Sticky hot. And muggy. In this appendix to Carol Anne Douglas and Fran Moira's history of off our backs, co-founder Marilyn Webb recalls oob's first year.

The San Francisco Oracle: A Brief History
by Allen Cohen

Few people realize the tremendous influence that the Haight-Ashbury community and its voice, the San Francisco Oracle, had as both symbol and focal point for the social, artistic, psychological, and spiritual changes that were taking place during that chaotic period known as the sixties. In this history, Allen Cohen, founder and editor of the Oracle, chronicles the Haight-Ashbury community from its post-World War II working class beginnings to the end of its days as the mecca of the counterculture and draws lessons for the present.

Space City: From Opposition to Organizational Collapse
by Victoria Smith

Any organized group can become a victim of organizational failure, but social movement organizations seem especially vulnerable. Group activists often are so determined not to fall into conventional patterns of division and hierarchy that they may not notice when these patterns start creeping into the group. Or, their resistance to mainstream structures is so intense, they fail to take advantage of the valuable aspects of a little conventional organization. Or maybe social movement activists are so individualistic and creative they just have trouble functioning in any sort of organization. On Houston's Space City!, financial struggles would never cease, from the first issue in June 1969 to its last, in September 1972. But the real nemesis was not money. In this article, Victoria Smith analyzes the paper's rise and fall.

Soldiers Against the War in Vietnam: The Story of Aboveground
by Harry W. Haines

"Tell us about the plan to burn down barracks buildings at Fort Carson." The army intelligence officer wasn't keeping notes during the interrogation, so I figured the gray room had a microphone somewhere, recording my answers. My cover was blown, and here I sat in my dress uniform, summoned to explain my role in the publication of Aboveground, an antiwar paper directed at soldiers stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. Harry Haines looks back at the widespread GI antiwar movement, that largely hidden, secret part of the war's history that embarrasses and threatens the regime that rules America today. An appendix identifies 227 underground antiwar newspapers aimed at members of the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War.

Fag Rag: The Most Loathsome Publication in the English Language
by Charley Shively

On Friday evening, June 27, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Bar on Sheridan Square; instead of going quietly into the waiting vans, the motley crowd of queers and queens attacked the police. Stonewall was closed but sporadic street rioting continued in Greenwich Village for the next few days. The event quickly became the Bastille Day of an emergent, nationwide gay and lesbian liberation movement and the inspiration for a whole network of Gay Liberation Front papers, including Boston's Fag Rag. All of them offered a brisk brew of sexual liberation, anarchism, hippie love, drugs, peace, Maoism, Marxism, cultural separatism, feminism, effeminism, tofu/brown rice, urban junkie, rural purism, nudism, leather, high camp drag, poetry, essays, pictures, and more. In this article, Fag Rag collective member Charley Shively gives context to the paper's history into the present by tracing the history of the gay press back to Paris and Chicago in the twenties.

The Kudzu: Birth and Death in Underground Mississippi
by David Doggett

Yes, there was an underground press in Mississippi in the sixties. How could there not be writers in the land of Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Richard Wright, and Eudora Welty? The paper was called The Kudzu after the notorious vine that grows over old sheds, trees, and telephone poles throughout the South. How did it come about that a bunch of Mississippi white kids, descended from rednecks, slave owners, and Bible-thumpers, published for four years in the state's capital a running diatribe of social, economic, and political revolution, a proclamation of sexual liberation, illegal drugs, and heretical mysticism? How does anyone, anywhere rise above the overpowering flow of one's native culture, the suffocating, vise-like grip of the familial and communal, birth-to-death universe view? David Doggett tackles these questions and more in his fascinating history of The Kudzu.

A Tradition Continues: The History of East Lansing's Underground Press, 1965-Present
by Ken Wachsberger

The Lansing area of Michigan has a long tradition of underground and alternative newspapers, going back to 1965, when staff members of Michigan State University's campus newspaper, State News, rebelled against its refusal to deal with issues of the day and started The Paper. Five years later, two successor papers combined staffs and resources and put out an experimental "joint issue." The following year, the first free Joint Issue hit the streets and a new era began. In this article, alumnus Ken Wachsberger presents the history of East Lansing's underground press. In appendixes, he tells why being in jail is like finals week and opens the Red Squad files on East Lansing's underground press.

Freedom of the Press—or Subversion and Sabotage?
by Nancy Strohl

In the late 1960s and early 1970s young Americans, disproportionately poor and of color, were shipped off to Southeast Asia ostensibly to fight for freedom for the Vietnamese people. They soon became angry about racism, brutal conditions, and their own lack of freedom inside the U.S. military, as well as the insane policies they were supposed to defend with their lives. Meanwhile, antiwar activists at home often mistakenly attacked these same military personnel for their role in the Vietnam War. In the early seventies, however, some of us began to understand that they were themselves victimized by the war. One product of the natural coalition between antiwar GIs and the antiwar movement at home, writes Nancy Strohl, was Freedom of the Press, an alternative newspaper she produced and distributed with her husband at the naval Air Station in Yokosuka, Japan, port for the USS Midway when it was not serving as the base for bombing raids on north Vietnam.

The Wong Truth Conspiracy: A History of Madison Alternative Journalism
by Tim Wong

No Midwest city is as closely associated with the antiwar movement and counterculture of the Vietnam era as Madison, Wisconsin. At the University of Wisconsin thousands took part in antiwar marches. The Army Math Research Center was bombed and one researcher was killed. Off campus, the Mifflin-Bassett neighborhood declared "independence" from Madison and the United States. Energy flowed into creating a wide variety of alternative economic institutions. In this article, the history of the alternative press from March 1967 to the present is told by Tim Wong, whose own 8 1/2 years of alternative journalism in Madison chronicled the transition from the sixties to the eighties.

Ain't No Party Like the One We Got: The Young Lords Party and Palante
by Pablo "Yorúba" Guzmán

When Paul Guzman went to Mexico for a semester of study in early 1969, he was already an experienced political activist and aspiring "black militant." After 3 1/2 months in a country where everyone was a Latino and proud of that heritage, he returned to New York as Pablo "Yorúba" Guzmán, ready to learn about Puerto Rico's militant history. In May 1969, he joined a group of college-age Latino males who would later merge with two similar groups to become the New York Young Lords Organization. His days of identifying with black or white North Americans, even radicals, were over, he writes in this history of the group's newspaper, Palante; it was time to look within and without and begin organizing in the barrios, creating a Puerto Rican, even a pan-Latino, movement.

Let a Hundred Flowers Blossom, Let a Hundred Schools of Thoughts Contend: The Story of Hundred Flowers
by Ed Felien

The year 1970 was a turning point for America. Resistance to the war in Vietnam had matured into a permanent institution, a persistent and articulate counterculture. A new consciousness was being developed about capitalism, racism, and sexism. And in the last eight months of the year, Minneapolis' Hundred Flowers blossomed, flourished, and withered. In this article, former staff member Ed Felien discusses his involvement in the paper and tells why he is neither repentant nor nostalgic for his involvement.

The Furies: Goddesses of Vengeance
by Ginny Z. Berson

Women's Liberation in the nation's capital in the early 1970s was thriving. With consciousness-raising groups enabling hundreds of women to understand that the personal is political, women established rape counselling, child care, and other services, began researching The Pill and testifying in Congress, and created their own forms of media. In the winter and spring of 1972, while Richard Nixon and his minions were preparing to bug Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Building, 12 self-proclaimed revolutionary lesbian feminists—who were known collectively as the Furies—began putting out the first issues of what would almost instantly become The "legendary" Furies. Former collective member Ginny Berson tells her story here for the first time.

Karl and Groucho's Marxist Dance: The Columbus (Ohio) Free Press and Its Predecessors in the Columbus Underground
by Steve Abbott

The writings of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King bump up against the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and Walt Whitman on a bookcase in Steve Abbott's house in Old North Columbus. Political extremes coexist comfortably here, from Tom Wolfe and Abbie Hoffman to Marxist and anarchist treatises, from texts on drugs and sensual massage to analyses of racism and community organizing. What may appear to be a library tour, writes Abbott, is evidence of a personal odyssey that represents the myriad influences and contending philosophies that typified the alternative/underground press during its heyday in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Columbus Free Press, in its content and its internal struggles, reflected both its community and its time, a time filled with days of agony and days of wonder as the ideals of mystical transformation and principled political struggle contended for the lives of those involved.

"Raising the Consciousness of the People:" The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service, 1967-1980
by JoNina M. Abron

On Tuesday August 22, 1989, Huey P. Newton was murdered. The man who had been an international symbol of black resistance to white oppression was found dead on a street in Oakland, California, the same city where he had co-founded the Black Panther Party 23 years before. Six days later, over 2,000 people, including ex-Panthers from all over the country, mourned Huey's death and celebrated the enduring contributions that he and the party made to the political empowerment of black and other disenfranchised people in the United States. JoNina Abron was one of the speakers that day, along with Bobby Seale, Elaine Brown, Ericka Huggins, David Hilliard, and Emory Douglas. As she looked into the faces of her Panther comrades on the front pews, she writes, she thought about the good and hard times they had shared "serving the people body and soul," and about her experiences as the last editor of the Black Panther newspaper.

Both Sides Now Remembered: or, The Once and Future Journal
by Elihu Edelson

Jacksonville, Florida, was not the most fertile ground for an underground paper in late 1969. The city was ruled like a feudal fiefdom by a local machine that included the Florida Publishing Company, a monopoly that put out both the morning and evening papers. Three nearby military bases contributed to the ultraconservative atmosphere. New Leftists could be counted on the fingers of one hand; a handful of blacks put together the Florida Black Front, a local version of the Black Panthers; some good rock bands—like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd—were to come out of Jax, but they had to make their names in Atlanta. Because none of the local hippies had any journalistic experience, they went, naively, to an editor of FPC's Florida Times-Union for advice. Elihu Edelson, a public school art teacher and part-time newspaper art critic, was about to get "sucked in" to the story of Both Sides Now.

My Odyssey Through the Underground Press
by Michael Kindman

In September 1963, Michael Kindman entered Michigan State University, eager about the possibilities that awaited him as one of nearly two hundred honors students from around the country who had been awarded National Merit Scholarships, underwritten by MSU and usable only there. Together, they represented by far the largest group of Merit Scholars in any school's freshman class. At MSU? The nation's first agricultural land grant college? Two years later, he founded The Paper, East Lansing's first underground newspaper and one of the first five members of Underground Press Syndicate. In early 1968, he joined the staff of Boston's Avatar, unaware that the large, experimental commune that controlled the paper was a charismatic cult centered on a former-musician-turned-guru named Mel Lyman, whose psychic hold over his followers was then being strengthened and intensified by means of various confrontations and loyalty tests. Five years later, Kindman fled the commune's rural outpost in Kansas and headed west. When Kindman wrote this important journey into self-discovery, he was living in San Francisco, where he was a home-remodeling contractor, a key activist in a gay men's pagan spiritual network, a student, and a person with AIDS. He died peacefully on November 22, 1991.

Stop the Presses, I Want to Get Off: A Brief History of the Penal Digest International
by Joseph W. Grant. With sidebars by Richard T. Oakes, Warren Dearden, Bob Copeland, and Steve Levicoff

Twenty years ago, Joe Grant was a prisoner in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. Back then, the feds used Leavenworth for the truly incorrigible. Leavenworth was where they sent the prisoners when they closed Alcatraz. Stepping into that prison was reminiscent of the opening paragraph of Tale of Two Cities. It was the best and the worst place to do time. The best place to be if you wanted to serve your prison sentence and not be bothered by anyone—prisoner or guard. The worst place to be if you were hoping to make parole. The best place for quiet in the cell blocks. The worst place for informers. The best place for food. The worst place for library books. The best place if you could learn by observing and be silent until spoken to. The worst place if you had a big mouth. It was in this atmosphere, Grant writes, that the idea began to take shape for Penal Digest International, a newspaper with two purposes: to provide prisoners with a voice that prison authorities could not silence and to establish lines of communication between prisoners and people in the free world.

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