Volume 3 of landmark Vietnam antiwar opus out in time to oppose Iran War

At long last, volume 3 of my Voices from the Underground Press Series is out. The timing couldn’t be better as the drums beat louder for war in Iran.

The Voices from the Underground Series is a four-volume collection of histories of underground papers from the Vietnam era as told by key people on each of the papers, all of them just regular folks from varied backgrounds who answered the patriotic call to resist war and now share their heroic adventures. The underground press was the independent, antiwar press of the Vietnam era that told the true story, which the corporate papers suppressed, of what our government was doing behind our backs to the Vietnamese people in our name and with our tax dollars.

Stories in the series represent the gay, lesbian, feminist, Black, Puerto Rican, Native American, military, prisoners’ rights, socialist, new age, rank-and-file, Southern consciousness, psychedelic, and other independent antiwar voices of the era as never before told. The foreword in volume 3 is by feminist pioneer Susan Brownmiller.

If you experienced the Vietnam era but for some reason are now hazy on the details, or if you could never describe the intensity of the politics when your kids (and now grandkids) asked what life was like then, or if you succumbed to the fear that followed our country’s dramatic post-war shift to the right and covered up your experiences, as too many of our generation did, this book is for you.

If you are a progressive blogger, this book, and the entire series, is about the folks who did what you’re doing now by using what was then the new technology of offset printing. Marcos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos, one of the most important progressive blog sites today, connected the two generations in his foreword that appeared in volume 1.

And, especially, if you are of military age—this book is dedicated to you, our intergenerational peers, who have been called upon already to defend two sham causes in Iraq and Afghanistan and soon will be called upon—unless we start mobilizing now—to shed your lives in Iran. In this amazing book you will see how others who were your age but from a different era created a new society while finding the courage to refuse to fight even when those who would profit from war called them cowards and traitors for not submitting quietly.

Begin with Harry Haines’ story of the widespread GI antiwar movement, now largely hidden from the public debate, and in particular Aboveground, an antiwar paper directed at soldiers stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. Two appendices, by Haines and James Lewes, without a doubt the world expert on the military underground press, identify nearly 500 underground newspapers produced by or aimed at members of the U.S. armed forces, all branches, during the Vietnam War.

When those who want endless war cry “Support the troops,” remember that there is only one way to support the troops and that is to bring them home, away from foreign entanglements where they don’t belong; or not ship them there in the first place.

Does anyone really think the age of racism is over just because we have a black president? For background, read stories of the Black Panther newspaper by JoNina Abron, the paper’s last editor; and Palante, the newspaper of the Puerto Rican liberation group Young Lords Organization, by Pablo “Yorúba” Guzmán.

As anyone who breathes air knows, the Republicans’ war on women and the GLBT community is accelerating. Read stories of

  • It Aint Me Babe, the first national newspaper of the emerging women’s liberation movement, by members of the collective;
  • The Furies, published by twelve self-proclaimed revolutionary lesbian feminists from Washington, D.C., by Ginny Berson; and
  • Fag Rag, one of the most important Gay Liberation Front newspapers to arise after the Stonewall Rebellion, by Charley Shively.

Reflect on the war against union workers being fought in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, and everywhere else where Republicans have seized control of government. Then remember why labor unions are essential for a strong middle class as you read Paul Krehbiel’s story of New Age, an antiwar paper published by rank-and-file union workers in upstate New York.

These wars that are being fought now were all fought during the Vietnam era. Too many of us thought we had won. Could it be we relaxed? The lesson, and I’m not the first to declare it, is that freedom has to be won in every generation. It helps to know how allies from an earlier period did it.

Other stories in volume 3 of the 4-volume Voices from the Underground Series:

  • Bob Hippler recalls fast times in the Motor City with his history of the first ten years of Detroit’s Fifth Estate, the longest-running underground paper to emerge from the sixties.
  • Peter Jensen takes us to the end of the Oregon Trail where an alien force had taken over our country; it talked peace and made vicious war; it owned both political parties; its media reported inflated, daily body counts for generals in Saigon and Washington; and the Eugene AUGUR was all that was left of the opposition.
  • David Doggett tackles the question of how a bunch of Mississippi white kids, descended from rednecks, slave owners, and Bible-thumpers, published for four years in the state’s capital The Kudzu, a running diatribe of social, economic, and political revolution, a proclamation of sexual liberation, illegal drugs, and heretical mysticism.
  • Tim Wong reflects on his own eight and a half years of alternative journalism in Madison, Wisconsin, the Midwest city most closely associated with the antiwar movement and counterculture of the Vietnam era, and how it chronicled the transition from the sixties to the eighties.
  • and more.

I’m the editor of the series, as well as a contributor. My story on the East Lansing-Lansing, Michigan, underground press, which was my base during the early seventies, appeared in volume 1 and I wrote editor prefaces to all four volumes.

To learn more about the Voices from the Underground Series, read more testimonials, view the entire four-volume table of contents, watch a few cool videos, read some funny stories, and order your copy of volume 3— as well as volumes 1 and 2 if you don’t yet have them, visit www.voicesfromtheunderground.com.

While you’re at it, order a set for your local school library. Besides helping them stretch their shrinking budget, you’ll get a tax write-off for supporting your favorite educational institution. (Don’t trust me. Ask your favorite tax preparer for specifics.)

Volume 4 is due out in August with a foreword by Mumia Abu-Jamal. Reserve your copy now.

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Lessons from Vietnam Era at Printers Row

I’m late in reporting on last weekend’s Chicago Tribune Printers Row Literary Fest. After four months of strategic preparation and psych-up, it came and went. I returned home to way too many emails and some serious deadlines that I’m just meeting.

My deepest thanks to everyone who showed up on Saturday and/or Sunday to share a brief moment with me recalling the Vietnam era and drawing lessons for the present. I was grateful for the opportunities to share stages Saturday with Bill Ayers and Sunday with NPR’s Alison Cuddy, and also to connect or reconnect—before, at, and after both events—with friends from high school, cousins, members of the National Writers Union-Chicago chapter, veterans of the underground press and the Vietnam era, and others who weren’t even born then but knew something happened then that needs studying now.

Saturday’s show

On Saturday, Bill began by talking about the importance of the Voices from the Underground Series and the significance of our telling our own stories because of the false mythologizing that the right is doing. He used as an example the Catholic Church’s recent attempt to blame their entire pedophilia scandal on the liberal sexual attitudes of the sixties. He also noted that the period known as the sixties was more than just a decade that ended after 1969. Then he introduced me.

I began by noting that the sixties didn’t begin for me until 1970, as a result of Kent State. I talked about the series and how it came to be, told a few stories, we did some give and take, and then we opened the floor to questions.

In response to one question, I agreed that today’s bloggers are the political successors to the veterans of the underground press. Unfortunately, I said, many have no idea we even existed. That’s one of the changes I hope will come about through my books, and that was one reason why I invited Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos, one of the most important progressive blog sites today, to write the foreword to volume 1. His contribution was masterful. However, at this time, I said, I don’t believe blogs have eliminated the need for newspapers. As the questioner brought up, you can’t hand out blogs. Handouts, whether flyers or newspapers or buttons, I agreed, are a powerful organizing tool.

I broadened the definition of what the underground press is seen to be. “The traditional story line says that Art Kunkin used the new technology of offset printing to start the Los Angeles Free Press in 1964 and from that paper emerged the hundreds of papers that we know of as the underground press. It’s a good story and a big part of it is true but for me the definition is too narrow.” I noted that the gay press began in 1947 when a lesbian office worker started a mimeographed 12-page paper called Vice Versa so she could meet other lesbians (a fact I only recently learned from having read Rodger Streitmatter’s landmark Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America). She took the name of Lisa Ben, a rearrangement of the word “lesbian.” During the fifties, other gay and lesbian papers included ONE, Mattachine Review, and The Ladder. African Americans had several important radical papers that were founded before 1964 including Paul Robeson’s Freedom; Freedomways; The Liberator, The Student Voice, put out by Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); and Triple Jeopardy, by the Third World Women’s Alliance. A paper given credit for being a starting point for the women’s liberation movement, called “a kind of memo,” was written in 1965 by Casey Hayden and Mary King to express concerns within the fertile organizing atmosphere of SNCC.

Then, for the sake of those who came of age after the Vietnam era ended or just forgot, I pointed out some of the memorable titles that Chicago hosted: Seed, Rising Up Angry, Muhammad Speaks, Lavender Women, Black Maria, CWLU News, Voices of the Women’s Liberation Movement, Spokeswoman, Killer Dyke, and Feminist Voice. I’m sure there were others but those were the ones I called out.

If you were associated with any of those papers or know anyone who was, please write to me. I’m involved in an exciting digital project now, which I didn’t talk about in Chicago, that is attracting the attention of underground press veterans all over the country. I would love for these papers to be part of it if I can talk to the rights holders and get permission. [Muhammad Speaks, CWLU News (and papers associated with it: Womankind, Blazing Star, and Secret Storm), and Voices of the Women’s Liberation Movement already are.]

Overall, it was a positive audience, they laughed at the right places, and at the end, I’m grateful to say, they bought books.

Sunday’s show

My co-panelists on Sunday were Matthew Ehrlich, author of Radio Utopia: Postwar Audio Documentary in the Public Interest, a study of radio journalism in post-World War II America as we moved into Cold War mode; and Matt [his preference] Carlson, author of On the Condition of Anonymity: Unnamed Sources and the Battle for Journalism, a study of anonymous sources especially around the time of the Iraq War. Alison did an impressive job of tying together these three marginally related books, using as the common theme journalism in war time.

Leading up to the panel, we had discussed the idea of her letting us each introduce our own books and then opening it up for free-flowing discussion. It sounded good in theory but the more I thought about it the more I became convinced that it would be a disaster to have three egocentric authors nosing for opportunities to plug our respective books. Fortunately, Alison prevented that potential scenario from reaching fruition by asking us her own pre-planned questions one at a time.

She began by allowing us to each give a 3-minute overview of what in the current moment drove us to do our particular projects. In my case, the roots of the Voices from the Underground Series go back to the late 1980s so I told how it came to be, how it was received, how it went out of print, and how it came back in an expanded, updated, four-volume format. (Yes, I pushed the 3-minute time limit.) Then she moved us into broader topics including the relationship between journalism and war, the possible roles journalists can play during war, the various pressures they face in covering conflict, and the way technology shapes the coverage they are able to do.

I noted that contributors to underground papers weren’t necessarily trained journalists; they were community and antiwar organizers, activists, and thinkers who rabble roused first and then wrote about it, or organized events and encouraged the community to attend, or built countercultural institutions and used the pages of the underground press to give them strength. I got a good laugh when I noted that writing for the underground press itself was not a good career move. Matt C. got a follow-up laugh on his next question when he noted that writing for the mainstream press today isn’t necessarily a good career move either.

Today, with the rise and proliferation of new mediums for accessing and distributing information, including e-newspapers and blogs and even Twitter, we’re watching the decline of certain forms of journalism, especially print newspapers. In addition, I said, investigative journalism is more dangerous because the number of staff journalists on papers is being reduced so journalists doing real investigative reporting do not have the protection of large newspapers. They work with no health insurance because they are freelancers so if they get sick or injured they have to cover expenses on their freelance income. And, being freelancers, they have no assurance that what they write will even be picked up, or if it is picked up they will be given a living wage. Certainly if they are captured they have no assurance that a news institution will use its strength to free the reporter.

I reminded listeners that Bradley Manning was being tortured in prison for exposing ugly truths about our government. “Instead of being treated like a hero for uncovering lies he’s being convicted without a trial, even by Harvard law school grad President Barack Obama, who could have used the truth Manning exposed to indict the Bush-Cheney administration but instead has chosen to embrace it.”

Overall, I thought our answers complemented each other well. We fooled the audience into thinking we knew what we were talking about. Here’s hoping the C-SPAN audience was as receptive.

 Please let me know if you are looking for a speaker on the Vietnam era.

Volume 1 of Voices at Typesetter, Due out Early January

I got the word last week from Michigan State University Press that volume 1 of my Voices from the Underground Series is now at the typesetter. Official release date is January 2011 but I am told that books will be in the warehouse by December 1, 2010, and possibly earlier—in other words (and forty years ago I never could have imagined myself saying this) just in time for the holiday season.

I have to pay cash up front to order books to resell so look for advance sale offers as I hustle to raise the money I need to fulfill my first order. Books will be available from my upcoming website, www.voicesfromtheunderground.com. I’ve begun writing the text already and am almost finished, but the site won’t go live until I am able to make books available or just before then.

Volume 1, Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, is the first of four volumes of histories of underground papers from the period as written by key activists on the papers. The underground press was the dissident press, the antiwar, noncorporate press. Today’s progressive bloggers are direct descendants of these underground press veterans. In fact, many of today’s bloggers are underground press veterans.

The first and third volumes are anthologies; the second and fourth are monographs. Following release of the first volume, subsequent volumes will be released every six months until all four are out.

More details to follow. For now, let me say that there is nothing like Voices from the Underground and I believe there never will be. Every volume stands alone as a testament to the period. The four-volume series provides a picture of the Vietnam era antiwar movement unlike any that has ever been published. Stories represent the gay, lesbian, feminist, Black, Puerto Rican, Native American, military, prisoners’ rights, socialist, Southern consciousness, new age, rank-and-file, and other dissident voices of what was known as the counterculture. Stories are accompanied by plenty of images and article reprints that further help to bring the period alive.

Volume 1 features two forewords that are being reprinted from an earlier version of Voices from the Underground—by Abe Peck, veteran of the legendary Chicago Seed, and William Kunstler, the foremost progressive lawyer of the period—and a new one by Markos Moulitsas, the founder of Daily Kos, the most influential progressive blogsite today. I’m deeply honored by their participation.

At a later date, I’ll write more about some of the stories that are featured in volume 1.

Until then, anyone wanting more information or to reserve books can write to me at ken@azenphonypress.com.