Harvey Wasserman Brings Nuke-Free, Frack-Free Vision to Ann Arbor on Sunday 9/27

I’m honored to be hosting my friend Harvey Wasserman this weekend as he visits Ann Arbor to take part in the Michigan Daily reunion. As a special bonus to Ann Arbor-area residents, he will be speaking on Sunday about the movement to halt Fermi 3 and ban fracking. Harvey is an adviser to Greenpeace USA and is recognized worldwide as a visionary of the anti-nuke movement.

Ever hear the expression “No nukes!”? Simple but concise. That was Harvey’s. He also wrote the story of Liberation News Service, the AP-UPI of the underground press, for my Voices from the Underground Series.

Details below in the press release. Please do plan to join us.

Special thanks to the Alliance to Halt Fermi 3, which did most of the organizing for this event; and the Ecology Center for hosting it.

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Harvey Wasserman will present “Making Michigan Nuke-Free and Frack-Free: Getting to Solartopia” on Sunday, September 27 from 1-3 pm at the Ecology Center in downtown Ann Arbor. This timely event is free and open to the public. Co-sponsors include the Alliance to Halt Fermi 3, the Ecology Center, the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, Sierra Club-Huron Valley Group, and Public Citizens of Washtenaw.

Joining Harvey will be Peggy Daub and Keith Gunter. Peggy is co-coordinator for the Washtenaw County group of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan. She will be talking about the anti-fracking movement in Michigan and the petition drive to put a fracking ban on the statewide ballot. Keith is co-founding member and current board co-chair of the Alliance to Halt Fermi 3. He will be talking about the anti-nuke movement in Michigan.

One of the best-kept secrets in Southeastern Michigan is that DTE is the only utility in the entire Midwest with a license to build a new nuclear power plant, Fermi 3. As we thankfully close several dirty coal plants and plan to meet the President’s Clean Power Plan to address the global climate crisis, we are at a historic crossroads and must make a collective choice–we will either spend $10-20 billion on Fermi 3 or we will make a historic commitment to solar, wind, and efficiency. Renewables are a far better climate strategy: quicker, cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable as nukes can be shut down at any time due to safety concerns. DTE wants to make this decision behind closed doors–it has already spent $100 million of ratepayer monies on paperwork and licensing fees without telling its customers. We need to force DTE to come clean and listen to its customers.

The oil and gas industry is not-so-secretly trying to extract every available fossil fuel out of the ground regardless of its impact on families and communities. High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing–commonly known as fracking–is a relatively new technique for extracting oil and gas using millions of gallons of water and sand mixed with toxic chemicals, and then blasting the mixture underground under intense pressure to break up the subsurface rock formations to release oil and gas. We already have fracking in Michigan and the oil and natural gas companies want to expand it throughout the state. There is ample scientific evidence that this technology is inherently unsafe and destructive to human health and the environment. Only a ban can protect us.

Harvey Wasserman, a historian and adviser to Greenpeace USA, has been a leading visionary of the anti-nuclear power movement since the 1970s. He also created the vision of Solartopia, a democratic and socially just green-powered Earth free of all fossil and nuclear fuels. Harvey graduated from the University of Michigan in 1967 and was editor of the Michigan Daily. He helped found the legendary antiwar Liberation News Service, the AP-UPI of the underground press. He has written more than ten books, and edits nukefree.org which posts cutting-edge articles on nuclear power and green energy.

The Ecology Center is located at 339 E. Liberty Street, Suite 300, in downtown Ann Arbor. Convenient parking is available at the Liberty Square Parking Structure with the entrance at 510 E. Washington Street. Light refreshments will be served, and donations will be accepted.

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Introducing Reveal Digital’s New Underground Press Digital Platform

For the past five years, I’ve been writing a lot about Independent Voices, Reveal Digital’s keyword-searchable digital collection of underground, alternative, and literary newspapers and magazines from the fifties through the eighties (primarily sixties and seventies but significant overlap in both directions). I’ve teased interested readers by listing new titles as I obtained permission to include them in the collection. I’ve called out libraries as they’ve joined our growing team of sourcing libraries. I’ve reprinted talks that I’ve given at academic and political conferences and celebrations about the underground press and the digital collection.

It’s been a real ride.

And now, it is my pleasure to share with you Independent Voices’ new, more robust, more dynamic, more attractive, more functional platform for your enjoyment, your inspiration, and your education. [Note: Any fuzziness and blurriness that you see in the blog entry images below are factors of my attempts to reduce screen shots to fit blog space; when you visit the actual website you will see text and images that are crisp and clear.]

Feast your eyes.

We’ll begin with the Home page.

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The icon on the left is from a cover of Big Mama Rag, a feminist paper from Denver, Colorado, that published from 1972 to 1984, one of the nearly 120 feminist and lesbian papers that will be available in Independent Voices by the time we are finished uploading content sometime around January 2017. Every time you log on, you’ll get a different cover from among our over 1,000 titles that you’ll be able to access.

In the middle of the page is a brief overview of the collection and on the right, if you’re already familiar with the site and want to start searching, is our Search button. But hold on for a minute if this is your first visit. Let me take you through the rest of the site before you start your search.

The second tab is our Search tab.

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Oh, the searches you can do, and the tricks that you can perform to make your search easier.

This brief blog entry isn’t a complete tutorial so I’m not going to hold your hand and take you step by step through every feature. Instead, I’ll refer you to the Help tab (see below).

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Here you will learn how to do simple keyword searches, exact phrase searches, and Boolean searches, as well as how to apply filters to refine them. You will learn how to search over one or multiple publications, within date ranges, and within full text, comments, and tags. You will learn how to choose the number of search results you want displayed on each page, and determine whether you would like text or image previews displayed with your search results. Wildcard searches? Fuzzy searching? Optical character recognition? Proximity searching? The fun is just beginning.

The next tab, Titles, is my favorite because it is such a vast improvement over our earlier site. In our earlier site, you had no idea what the full range of uploaded titles was, so you could enter a title and not know if it would even come up. Now we present to you an alphabetical listing of our titles—but note that these are only the titles that have been uploaded. The scanning and digitizing process is still in full action mode and isn’t slated to be finished until the end of January 2017. New titles are being uploaded regularly.

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This above screenshot shows titles that begin with A. In addition, a number of titles from our collection of GI underground papers began with numbers so those appear above the A’s. Notice that the titles all have locks after them except for one that appears in red. The vision of Independent Voices is that it will be an open access system after we have recovered our costs, which means that, sitting in your home or your favorite restaurant or wherever you do your Internet research, you will be able to conduct a simple keyword search on our site and view every title. We aren’t there yet. While production is in process, only patrons of supporting libraries have complete access, a perk we provide supporting libraries as an incentive for them to help us reach what we call our “sales threshold,” which is the amount of funding we need to break even on this immense project.

But for those who can’t access the complete site, we have already placed a handful of titles—22 to be exact—in open access so that you can get a feel for the site and see what you’re missing. In this screenshot the GI underground paper The American Exile Newsletter is open access. A short list of others: Battle Acts, Berkeley Barb, The Rag (Austin), Bragg Briefs, Conditions, Ann Arbor Sun, Great Speckled Bird, On Our Backs.

Here is our list of libraries that have made the one-time investment to help us achieve open access according to our unique “cost recovery = open access” economic model. As someone who spent over a decade of the last century editing library journals, including Reference Services Review and Serials Review, I regularly heard librarian laments about shrinking budgets and ever-rising serials costs. “Open access” is the gold star for librarians, the alternative to the models of our competitor companies whose digital collections are priced prohibitively high for most libraries and remain behind a pay wall forever, meaning they are only accessible to patrons of those libraries that can afford it, while scholars forever have to pay to gain access to their own articles.

If your library is on this list, you’re in luck. Your thoughtful, progressive, insightful librarians have thrown their support behind the principle of open access while enabling you to do the research you need for your classes and your continuing education in women’s studies, ethnic studies, gender studies, poetry and fiction, American history, political studies, military history, and more. If your library is not on the list, tell your librarian why being able to access Independent Voices is important to you. Personal requests from patrons go a long way in helping librarians determine how to spend their scarce funds. Then contact me or have them contact me at ken.wachsberger@revealdigital.com.

Before we leave the Titles tab, I want to take you one step inside it. Here’s what you see when you click the red “American Exile Newsletter, The”:

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We call this a landing page and every title has one. As you can see, Independent Voices has eight issues of this GI underground newspaper, which was published in Stockholm, Sweden, from March 1973 to March 1975. You can now click the icon for each issue and explore further. The landing page also was not part of our earlier website.

The next three tabs are, respectively:

  • Dates: Presently it goes back to 1950 but two titles that haven’t yet been loaded but that have their roots in the forties are Vice Versa, considered the first lesbian publication of our era, and National Guardian, the forerunner of The Guardian. It goes up to 2013 because, while our stated date range of fifties through eighties (with the two above exceptions) refers to founding dates; some of the papers continued to publish after the eighties and in fact are still publishing.
  • Libraries: We’re working with a growing team of sourcing libraries that provide us with original copies of papers to scan and digitize once we get permission from the intellectual property rights holders. This tab lists the libraries and private donors that have loaned us the titles that are already uploaded. This list will continue to grow substantially because libraries trust us to care for the materials that they send us from their non-circulating collections. We scan and digitize the issues, then return them to the libraries still in good shape because our scanners are the highest-quality, best-trained in the business. At the same time, we provide them with keyword-searchable digital files and metadata of the titles they provide to us.
  • Series: another convenient new feature. Presently it indicates that the website already includes titles from the following collections: Black American, Campus Underground, Feminist, GI Press, LGBT, and Little Magazines. Not listed yet are Latino (including our Chicano papers) and Native American, two of our growing collections for which we have obtained many permissions but that haven’t been loaded yet.

Finally, for now, accessibility is important to us. The content loaded in Independent Voices is page-image-based but we have created a text layer that is accessible to screen readers. The text is created by optical character recognition (OCR) with auto-column detection. It has not been corrected or manually tagged. The text layer is accessible both within the application at the page level (under the “Text” tab) and as downloadable PDF files, at both page and issue levels. The interface uses element labels/titles to assist screen readers in navigation.

Our new hosting platform is Veridian. Here is what Veridian wrote on their website concerning their compliance with web accessibility guidelines:

Veridian is used by many government/public institutions that need to conform to local or international web accessibility guidelines, and as such it has been carefully designed to comply. Veridian has been chosen by the American Foundation for the Blind as a platform for their Helen Keller Archives, partly due to Veridian’s strong commitment to supporting web accessibility, and removing barriers preventing access to websites by people with disabilities.

And that’s my fifty-cent tour of Independent Voices. Now it’s your turn. Search by series or by title or just do a random search and enjoy what you find. If your favorite publication from the period is missing drop me an email at ken.wachsberger@revealdigital.com. It may simply not yet have been uploaded. Then again, I may have been unable so far to obtain permission. My biggest challenge is finding rights holders. Your help in locating them for me can bring your favorite titles into the collection.

Thanks in advance for your help and your support. If you like what you see and you are excited about the potential, please consider a tax-deductible financial donation to the library or libraries of your choice earmarked to fund their support of Independent Voices. If you don’t know who to contact there, let me connect you with their collection officers. Whatever we’ve done so far, however many newspapers and magazines we’ve already digitized, we can do much more with your help.

 

 

Joe Grant: Happy Birthday and Goodbye, Friend

Today is Joe Grant’s birthday. How painful to receive birthday notices on Facebook for friends who you actually know and love and to know that they died within the past year.

Happy birthday, Joe, wherever you are now.

Joe Grant was one of the unsung legends of the underground press. He was a dear friend and a hero. He also was a thief, a scoundrel, a hustler, a counterfeiter, and a liar. But he was lovable. He had a warm heart, amazing energy, a sharp mind, talent as a gifted artist, and a progressive politics. I loved him.

Joe Grant. Photo courtesy of Jeff Scott Olson, 2015.

Joe Grant. Photo courtesy of Jeff Scott Olson, 2015.

Joe was the founder and publisher of Prisoners Digest International, the most important, by far, prisoners’ rights underground newspaper of the seventies—and possibly of all time. Although it was short-lived, it made its way into San Quentin, Joliet, Soledad, Leavenworth, and other prisons around the country and the world. There, inmate correspondents reported on prison conditions and other news that no corporate newspaper would touch or even think to be newsworthy.

Stop the Presses! I Want to Get Off! is Joe’s story of how he came to publish Prisoners’ Digest International, or Penal Digest International, as it was originally called.

It was my good fortune to work with Joe as his editor.

It Began with a Woman

It began with a woman. I know that’s a cliché. It’s corny. It’s embarrassing. But there’s no other way to say it. I broke up with a woman, got depressed, fell into my “woe is me” state of mind, and did what I always did in the early seventies when I was depressed or restless: I hit the road. It was May 1972.

My first stop was Madison, Wisconsin, one of the Midwest countercultural hotbeds of the era; then Boulder, Colorado, home of my all-time oldest friend, who was going to school out there. I traveled by my usual mode of transportation, my thumb. And so on this particular afternoon I was hitching west on I-80 from Madison to Boulder and I got let off in Iowa City. Before I had time to recharge my thumb, a car pulled up alongside me. Two guys sat in the front seat. The guy sitting shotgun said, “Where ya headed?”

I said Boulder.

“Hungry?” he asked.

I was, although I didn’t pay much attention to hunger in those days. I fed off the exhilaration of being on the road, going whichever way the wind blew, waving the shopping bag that revealed my destination so seductively—while always giving direct eye contact—that drivers had no choice but to either stop and offer me a lift or, well, pass me anyhow, but if they passed me up they knew that I knew that they knew that I was standing there and so they felt guilty, and in the world of hitchhikers, that’s known as a consolidation prize. And if all that didn’t satisfy my hunger, I always had a bag of raisins in my knapsack—they were inexpensive, they lasted forever, they never went bad, and you could squeeze them into any open bubble of space in your backpack.

The guy sitting shotgun opened the back door, I hopped in, and they drove me to 505 South Lucas, their office and home.

On the way to 505, as they called it, they explained to me that they were ex-cons and that they worked on a paper called Penal Digest International, or PDI. I had never heard of Penal Digest International because it wasn’t a member of Underground Press Syndicate, the first nationwide network of countercultural underground papers from the sixties and seventies, including Joint Issue, the paper I worked on in Lansing, Michigan. But I was intrigued by the idea of a paper that was published by ex-cons, and whose reporters were all prisoners covering their respective “beats” in Folsom, Leavenworth, Soledad, Attica, and other prisons all over the country. The two guys spoke excitedly about the paper but they became even more passionate as they described the birth of the newest member of their collective, a girl who had been born less than a month before in an in-home ceremony that featured music in the background and a hash pipe being passed around the room in the foreground.

PDI cartoon by Drummond, artist and friend of Joe Grant from Leavenworth: “Racial Disunity.” Courtesy of PDI Archives.

PDI cartoon by Drummond, artist and friend of Joe Grant from Leavenworth: “Racial Disunity.” Courtesy of PDI Archives.

I was greeted warmly by everyone at 505 and I shared a delicious vegetarian dinner. While I was waiting for the meal to begin, I noticed a light table in the back room. I figured that was the newspaper office so I went over to take a look. A partially laid-out page was on the table so I started to read it to get a preview of the upcoming issue. Wouldn’t you know it, I discovered a typographical error. Being the compulsive anal retentive that I was–and still am—I had no choice but to correct it. There was a desk next to the light table, and a typewriter on the desk, and a piece of paper in the typewriter, so I typed the word correctly. I cut it out with a scissors, leaving as little white space around the word as possible. Then I picked up the correctly spelled word with a tweezers, lightly daubed the back of it with Glue Stick, and carefully positioned it over the incorrectly spelled word, using the light that shined through the page from the light table to line it up correctly with the other words on the line. That was it, but I felt a lot better.

I can’t remember if I spent the night at 505 or had them take me back to the highway right away. What I do remember is that the visit left a major impression on me. I sent a letter back to the folks at Joint Issue that they published.

Sixteen Years Later

Sixteen years later, when I was conceptualizing what would become the first edition of Voices from the Underground: Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, I knew I wanted PDI to be included. I was fortunate that the Special Collections library at Michigan State University had copies of PDI, and the general library upstairs had an impressive phone book collection that included Iowa City. I perused the staff boxes and compiled a list of complete names—not just first names, nicknames, or pseudonyms. I looked them up in the Iowa City phone book hoping to find a match. I did. So I called her and asked her if she had written for Penal Digest International in the early seventies.

When she said she had, I described my project, and said I was looking for an insider to write a comprehensive history of the paper. Then, to burnish my PDI credentials, I told her about hitching west on I-80 and the two ex-cons and the baby being born and the hash pipe celebration.

Unfortunately, she said, she was not the right person to write an authoritative history of the paper. I asked who I had to talk to. She said Joe Grant. I said, “Can I have his phone number?” She said no.

But, she said, “If you give me your phone number, I’ll tell him to call you.” So I mustered up all the enthusiasm I could muster up and said, “Great,” and I gave her my phone number. But as I hung up the phone, I said to myself, “Well, you can kiss that one goodbye”—because, honestly, how many people, when they say they’ll call you back, actually call you back.

Two weeks later, Joe called me back! As it turns out, Joe had been out of town the day I visited the paper. But apparently I had made such a memorable impression on those who were there that they told him about me when he returned. “Ken,” he said, “a lot of people stopped by 505 in those days. They drank our booze, ate our food, smoked our dope, partied with us, and slept with us. But you were the only person, ever, to work on the paper, voluntarily, without being asked.”

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He said many writers and scholars over the years had asked him to tell his story but he had always said no. To me, he said yes. All because I had corrected a typo. So there’s a lesson for you anal retentives out there: Put that on your résumé. There’s a job waiting for you.

Over the next year and a half we formed a precious bond and a close friendship that continued to the end as he dove into writing his story and I dove into editing his story. By the time we were finished, it was one of the two longest stories in the first edition. I knew then that it should have been its own book. With publication of my updated, expanded, revised four-volume Voices from the Underground Series, that vision was realized as Joe’s story became all of volume four.

Hell Holes, Spirit of Rebellion, and the Story of PDI

And what a great story Joe tells. Joe had a few years on most of the rest of us who contributed to the Voices from the Underground Series. We were coming of age during the Vietnam era. Joe’s story begins in 1953 when many of us were in pre-school and Joe was in pre-Revolutionary Cuba serving in the U.S. Navy and he met and befriended a group of revolutionaries. It takes us through his years as publisher of a rank-and-file newspaper, then into Leavenworth where he did time in the mid-sixties for counterfeiting.

“Back then,” Joe writes, the feds “used Leavenworth for the truly incorrigible.”

Leavenworth was where they sent the prisoners when they closed Alcatraz.

Stepping into that prison and becoming part of it reminded me 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.

Prisons in those days were hell holes—but there was a spirit of rebellion and reformation in the air. A certain segment of society believed that the purpose of prison was to rehabilitate prisoners, not punish them, so that when they were released they could return to society as well-adjusted citizens. So there were efforts to provide vocational classes; modernize libraries; expand visiting hours; improve medical care and food quality; recognize religious freedom; not censor mail. Prisoners were catching the spirit of rebellion that was happening in the streets and becoming politically aware. They were overcoming differences that separated them from each other by race and religion and uniting around common causes, including with inmates from other prisons.

It was in this atmosphere that Joe’s idea began to take shape for Prisoners’ 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.

Spirit of rebellion: Prisoner giving peace sign, Graterford Prison, Graterford, Pennsylvania. Photo by Joe Grant. Courtesy of PDI Archives.

Spirit of rebellion: Prisoner giving peace sign, Graterford Prison, Graterford, Pennsylvania. Photo by Joe Grant. Courtesy of PDI Archives.

The first PDI came out in spring 1971. During the paper’s brief history, Joe and the collective did more than just publish stories and poems from prisoners. As with the best of the era’s underground newspapers, they made news—and then reported on it. They stopped the extradition of an Arkansas escapee, ended an innocent Indian boy’s six years in prison, exposed behavior-modification experiments on prisoners through insider stories of surviving inmates, shared victories and defeats of jailhouse lawyers, stood up for prisoners outside Attica before the guards stormed the prison, and much more.

Joe was a natural story teller. In Stop the Presses!, he tells us

  • about the first and only underground newspaper produced inside the walls of Leavenworth, naturally under Joe’s leadership;
  • about the financial support he received from labor legend Jimmy Hoffa and from Playboy magazine;
  • about the devoted collective of ex-cons, community folks, neighbor kids, and out-of-town visitors he attracted, including Jerry Samuels, who, under the name Napoleon XIV, wrote and sang “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha”; and
  • the touching testimonial to his beloved mother that includes the never-before-told story about how singing legend Peggy Lee got her name.

The last PDI came out in spring of 1974. Not surprisingly, police harassment played a role in its ending, and so did burnout. Today, prison conditions are worse than they were then. Rehabilitation has been replaced by punishment and for-profit privatization as the guiding forces behind prison management. Fortunately prisons do still have some independent voices, including Prison Legal News. Joe and I were honored that publisher Paul Wright, himself an ex-con, wrote the afterword to Joe’s story.

And the most famous political prisoner in the world, former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, wrote the foreword. Personally connecting to anyone on death row requires persistence, creativity, serious networking ability, and good fortune. Whatever it was, I connected with him while he was on Pennsylvania’s death row, and he loved Joe’s story. Not long after that, he was released from death row and sent back to the general prison population for the first time in 29 years. Still, his treatment by the justice system is continued testament to Pennsylvania’s desire to silence him because he is a powerful voice of truth about prison conditions today.

Joe Moves on to His Next Adventure

The last time I saw Joe was one week after I received copies of his book from our publisher’s distributor for my resale inventory. The timing was impeccable. It was August 2012. Emily and I were driving to Las Vegas with Carrie, who was about to begin her three-year doctoral program in vocal performance at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). It didn’t take much revising of the shortest route possible to bring us through Kansas, where Joe was living with his beloved wife Shar, ironically not far from Leavenworth Prison. I had visions of visiting Leavenworth with Joe and trying to deliver a copy of his book to the prison library. Naturally they would refuse our entry while the TV cameras rolled and the reporters took notes. Joe passed on the opportunity, not wanting to upset Shar, who was favoring a quieter life since their PDI adventure.

Joe and Shar Grant, final days of Prisoners' Digest International, Bulger’s Hollow, Iowa, 1973. Courtesy of PDI Archives.

Joe and Shar Grant, final days of Prisoners’ Digest International, Bulger’s Hollow, Iowa, 1973. Courtesy of PDI Archives.

On April 19 of this year, I received a call from Joe’s daughter Charity, who had taken it upon herself to deliver the news of Joe’s passing to his network of friends. She told me that he had died on March 27 from natural causes: “He was part of the circle until the very end.” Ironically—or karmically, as is my preference—that day I was delivering a keynote talk on the underground press at a conference on radicalism in the electronic world at Michigan State, where my story had begun. Naturally, I mentioned my adventures with Prisoners’ Digest International. I choose to believe that Joe was at the talk with me and that, when he heard my PDI reference, he decided it was time to move on to his next adventure.

Joe was a legend. For all of his faults he was, as far as I knew him, a kind man, a generous man, a funny man, and—not to press the double meanings but never one to pass one up—a man of conviction. He is missed.