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.”

VoicesGrantComp2.indd

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.

Hitchhiking to the Revolution: A Hitchhiker’s Tale from the Seventies

Last month I posted the talk that I gave at the “Women’s History in the Digital World 2015” conference at Bryn Mawr College. Given the narrow scope of the conference, women’s studies, the scope of my talk was limited to the feminist and lesbian underground papers. The week after, I spoke at Left Forum 2015. There, the scope was “the political Left”—including national, international, any topic at all. So, my talk, adapted from two previous talks and reproduced below, was on the broader definition of the underground press, beyond the women’s papers, beyond the thread that begins with the Los Angeles Free Press. All of the definitions need to be known, their stories celebrated and shared widely especially with the current and future generations of activists, our intergenerational peers.

* * *

Emily, Ken, and Ernestine Hemingway hitchhiking in Austin, Texas, 1978. From wedding invitation. Caption: "Emily and Ken are finally getting hitched"

Emily, Ken, and Ernestine Hemingway hitchhiking in Austin, Texas, 1978. From wedding invitation. Caption: “Emily and Ken are finally getting hitched”

In the late sixties and throughout the seventies, I was a hitchhiker. I hitchhiked not only around town but to all ends of the country. Everywhere I went, I met folks who either were on their local underground newspapers or read one on a regular basis.

I met ex-cons working on Penal Digest International, a prisoners’ rights paper in Iowa City. I hitchhiked to a women’s liberation march in DC with five women from Lansing who all read Her-self, a women’s paper out of Ann Arbor. In 1972, I hitchhiked to Madison and stayed with a staffer for their paper, Takeover, who I met through their local crash pad file, and I helped the local Yippies organize a Smoke-In. Later, after they bailed me out of jail following a street demonstration, I drove down to Miami with them to organize against the Democrats and Republicans, who both held their nominating conventions there that summer. While there I contributed a piece to the Daily Planet and worked with the Underground Press Syndicate. Everywhere I went, I met gays and lesbians who tried to convert me to their agenda, which was basically “Live and let live.” They had their favorite papers that emerged after the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, including Gay Liberator in Detroit, Gay Sunshine in San Francisco, and Fag Rag in Boston.

In my foreword to the first edition of Voices from the Underground I wrote:

The period was a vision as much as a reality. It was a time of experimentation. We made mistakes and learned from them. In the beginning, men attacked sexism while women typed their articles. In the end, women founded the feminist and lesbian press and men learned that it was okay to cry. For all its faults, the sixties was a magical period. A time warp opened up and those who stepped inside glimpsed the new paradigm that brought together the best visions of the visionaries and showed us, on a small scale, how to make them work. On the pages of the underground press, writers tried to reduce the vision to the written word and apply the strategies to a larger scale. Those who were touched remain touched.

It was a fleeting vision for sure. We were offered the fruits of so many liberation movements to harvest that it’s no mystery why there was a return to the land. But not everybody embraced the changes. The period divided and traumatized our country like no period since the civil war.

By the time the war ended, activists of the antiwar movement had turned inward and embraced the Me Decade. Meanwhile, the country swung dramatically to the right. Vietnam was pretty much written out of public discourse. Few high school or college courses studied it honestly.

By 1993, when I published the first edition of Voices from the Underground, my anthology of underground press histories as written by key people on each of the papers, we were living in Reagan’s America. The country had shifted so dramatically to the right, veterans of the antiwar movement, who were now having children and looking for career jobs, were scared to talk about their experiences, even with their kids, even though they had proudly been part of the broadest, most diverse antiwar movement in the history of our country. Those who wrote their stories with me displayed courage.

Voices from the Underground, first edition, volume 1

Voices from the Underground, first edition, volume 1

Today the underground press is becoming better known, though it has not nearly reached the level of recognition that accurate history requires. Scholars like John McMillian (Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America) and James Lewes (Protest and Survive: Underground GI Newspapers during the Vietnam War) are writing dissertations on it and publishing them. James, in fact, is the world expert on the GI underground press as well as a major supporter of Independent Voices, the underground press digital project that I’m talking about here. Young librarians like Suzanne Parenti Sink (from Florida Atlantic University) and Laurie Charnigo (from Jacksonville State University) are compiling major collections for their libraries and speaking about the underground press at conferences.

So what was the underground press?

The underground press was the independent, non-corporate, antiwar alternative to the corporate press of the Civil Rights and Vietnam eras. The traditional history of the underground press focuses on the Los Angeles Free Press, which was founded in 1964, as being the first underground paper of what was known as the counterculture. It might have been.

But in my vision and based on my work, I’ve expanded the term to include the papers of the liberation movements, whose roots go back earlier. Major gay and lesbian papers came out of the fifties: ONE, Mattachine Review, The Ladder. The first lesbian paper of our era, Vice Versa, goes back even further, to 1947. Important black papers also pre-dated the Free Press. The Student Voice, the paper of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee), began publishing in 1960. Freedomways, founded by W.E.B. Du Bois and others, began the next year. Paul Robeson founded his paper, Freedom, during the Korean War.

All of these papers already are or will be, by the way, in Independent Voices.

But these papers were sporadic. After the Free Press, and thanks to the advanced technology of offset printing, underground papers in tabloid format focusing on the antiwar movement and the emerging counterculture and its related liberation movements flourished. They were found everywhere you looked: on campus and off, in urban, suburban, rural, ghetto, barrio, and other communities in every state of the Union and in countries around the world. They represented the gay, lesbian, feminist, black, Native American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Asian American, prisoners’ rights, military, New Age, socialist, anarchist, psychedelic, high school, senior citizen, rank and file, Southern consciousness, and other alternative voices of the day. They spoke to their own unique audiences. But they were united against the war.

Many of them were members of Underground Press Syndicate, the first nationwide network of underground papers from the sixties and seventies.

The underground press was such a major, all-encompassing part of my life in the early seventies that I still find it hard to believe that not everyone knows about its role in ending the war. But today when I talk about it with young folks who are the age now that we were then, who I call our intergenerational peers, I get blank stares.

It’s no surprise. Students today still are seldom taught the truth about the Vietnam War. History classes too often still gloss over it while ignoring the role of the antiwar movement in bringing it to an end. Journalism classes still traditionally ignore or downplay the place of the underground press in the history of journalism.

Today, political blogs have taken up the tradition that we carried on in the fifties through the eighties but most young bloggers themselves have no idea of their political roots. One of the best sites, in my opinion, is Daily Kos. “Kos” is Markos Moulitsas, who founded it. So I wrote to Markos and asked him to write a foreword to volume 1 of my series as a way to link our generations. I sent him a few sample chapters. He wrote back to me and said, “Ken, I’d love to but—I have to admit—I don’t know anything about the underground press.” I said, “I know that, Markos. I read your last book. You don’t even mention it.”

But I wasn’t criticizing Markos. He’s a college graduate, even has a law degree. But he never learned about the underground press. I told him that’s why I wrote to him. I said I wanted him to write from the perspective of someone who had just discovered his own political predecessor. He agreed and he wrote a remarkable piece.

When the first edition of Voices was coming out, Art Levin, who was the general manager of Michigan State University’s State News during the time I wrote for Joint Issue, the Lansing-area underground paper, wrote:

The period of the late sixties and early seventies was a high water mark for American journalism. For the first time in American history, the vision of Justices Holmes and Brandeis blossomed and bore fruit. A multitude of voices, the essence of democracy, resounded through the land providing a compelling alternative against the stifling banality of the establishment press. What this nation had during the Vietnam War was exactly what the founding fathers understood the press to be all about when they wrote the First Amendment.

Since those days, it’s been a personal mission of mine, I admit, to make sure that that history is not forgotten and to educate others on how they can learn more about it to prevent future Vietnams from happening. So it was a karmic blessing when I was approached by Jeff Moyer one day five years back to lead the effort to digitize underground, alternative, and literary papers from the fifties through the eighties.

Jeff was the former head of the digitizing department at ProQuest. With a partner, he bought out the department and founded IDC, Image Data Conversion. But on his own he also started Reveal Digital because he had an idea for an economic model that would create wondrous keyword-searchable digital collections in a way that was friendly to library budgets and would end up with the collections going into open access, the holy grail for librarians. The first collection he wanted to create was of underground newspapers. He approached me after discovering the first edition of Voices from the Underground at the library of Eastern Michigan University, where I used to teach. He brought me on board as a consultant and not long after that he hired me full time.

What attracted me to the project, besides the opportunity to expand my knowledge of the underground press, was Jeff’s economic model, what he calls “cost recovery = open access.” Basically, we promote upcoming projects to libraries through our crowd-funding website, where we describe each project, explain its significance, lay out the proposed contents as well as the sourcing libraries, and list the line-item expenses. Then we invite libraries to make non-binding commitments to purchase the collection but we don’t yet invoice them. When we have enough commitments to recover the costs, what we call our “sales threshold,” we go into full production, including rights gathering, sourcing from libraries, and scanning and digitizing.

Projects that are looking for funding include

Libraries pay according to a tiered structure but it amounts to about 20% of what they would pay one of the larger digital publishing companies for a comparable project that the company would keep behind a pay wall forever. Those libraries that support us have immediate access to the evolving collection while it is in development. Soon after it is completed, it goes into open access where even those libraries that didn’t support it have access to it. Meanwhile we’ll be working on other projects with the same model. No library pays for every collection but everyone benefits from every collection.

This is a righteous model that deserves library and foundation support. In an earlier life I worked for many years as managing editor of Reference Services Review and Serials Review, two journals that were read widely by reference librarians and serials librarians. I read countless articles and heard countless librarian laments about rising costs and decreasing budgets. But I also remembered the community feeling that librarians shared. The focus was always on increasing and facilitating user access. Usually it was the larger libraries that made the big investments and then the benefits would trickle down to the smaller libraries. With Reveal’s tiered structure, everyone can help.

With Independent Voices, the underground press collection, we’re still looking for funding but we are already actively working on it because we wanted to get one live collection out into the public. Our goal was to get over 1,000 titles. We already have more than that including some 120 women’s papers, 130 literary magazines—what were known as “little” magazines back then, some 20 gay papers, 60 minority papers, over 100 campus, community, high school, and other underground and alternative newspapers, 900 papers published by and for members of the military in all branches of the service, and even 4 papers published by the FBI to sow dissension in the Movement.

Reveal Digital's Independent Voices digital collection

Reveal Digital’s Independent Voices digital collection

So far we’re about 40% of the way to being fully funded. We could include a lot more titles, and we would like to, if we had the funding.

We’re working with a growing team of libraries that are sending us original papers from their collections that we scan and digitize and then return safely to them along with keyword-searchable digital files and metadata of the papers that we scan.

Our goal is to upload a million pages of exact keyword-searchable digital reproductions by the end of January 2017. So far we have uploaded about 250,000 pages. Currently the collection is accessible only to patrons of our supporting libraries. After we reach our sales threshold, we’ll go into open access, which is the vision. However, libraries can make the files that we send them accessible immediately.

So this is where we are now.

In the sixties, we of the antiwar movement discovered philosopher George Santayana, who said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Yippie Abbie Hoffman added, “The only way to support a revolution is to make your own.” So we studied the first wave of feminism from the 1800s, the anarchists at the turn of the last century, the union struggles of the thirties, and much more, while we created and wrote about our present.

We’re still out there, organizing and teaching and keeping our visions alive. But as a generation we’ve peaked. Those of you who are college age and recently beyond, it’s your turn now to lead the struggle that we carried on from generations before us.

Our two generations and our struggles are intimately connected. In my generation, we flooded the colleges for at least two reasons: tuition was low and staying in college gave you a 2-S draft deferment. While we were in the college atmosphere, we learned how to think logically and critically, we met with other thinkers, and we organized to end a vicious war. It was the spawning ground for gender, minority, environmental, and other liberation movements. The underground press absorbed our thoughts and preserved them for you to study and critique.

The right has waged a relentless war against education since then—and make no mistake they want you to be either dumb and mindless—apparently truth is liberal—or so in debt you are a slave to your job, which, thanks to them, pays less and provides fewer benefits. So they have actively and enthusiastically waged war on public schools, attacked teachers’ unions, and cut aid for higher education.

The issues that we raised, the struggles we fought, were analyzed and documented in the pages of the underground and alternative press. Some of it was pretty crazy. One night I dropped acid with a fellow staffer and we went to a revival meeting to hear Leighton Ford, the son-in-law of Billy Graham. I took voracious notes—there was speed in the acid. On the way back, I read aloud some of what I wrote and my friend thought it was funny so I published my notes and called the article “I Dropped Acid and Saw God.” Another article I wrote was about a game a couple of my friends made up where they followed police cars and tried to not get busted. I called the article “Got One on the Pig-O-Scope.” I was attacked for being irresponsible because high schoolers read our paper. I was.

"I Dropped Acid and Saw God," from Joint Issue 3:16 (10/30/72)

“I Dropped Acid and Saw God,” from Joint Issue 3:16 (10/30/72)

But we also attacked the government’s atrocities in Vietnam and other countries and connected them to injustices at home as we worked to create a peace community. Your battle, one of them, is to take back the schools and colleges by ensuring the right to a decent, low-cost education that leads to a good job. Join the movement to eliminate student debt. If we can wipe bank debts clean and give billionaires tax breaks, we can wipe student debts clean also.

Today we’re doing okay on some of the social issues that emerged back then: gay rights, legalized marijuana, health care. Public awareness is starting to turn the corner on the environment and the Middle East. We’re getting trounced, but raising awareness, on women’s rights, immigrant rights, voting rights. Economically we’ve got our work cut out for us with union rights, student tuition, the wealth gap, campaign finance laws, expanding Social Security. There are other issues, and they’re all connected. Learn how. Don’t accept simplistic solutions that pit potential allies against each other. And don’t give in to despair.

We made lots of mistakes back when but we made some brilliant analyses, changed the world, and had fun. We quoted the words of anarchist Emma Goldman, who said, “A revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having.” Stew Albert, who was one of the legendary founders of the Yippies, said to me one day words that I have never forgotten. He said, “We can’t lose. We’re having too much fun.” It was summer 1972 in Miami Beach, where the Democrats and Republicans were holding their presidential conventions. We were at that moment on our way to the Yippie Puke-In.

Study this period. There has never been a more exciting, outrageous, mythological, liberating, artistic, magical period in our country’s history.

Begin by scouring the pages of the underground press.

Challenge everything you learn, including everything I just said.

Then create your own myths.