Celebrating Berkeley Barb’s 50th Anniversary of Founding

I’ve said it many times already in many forms. I’m happy to say it again: My deepest thanks to the Berkeley Barb reunion committee for inviting me to share in the festivities of the fiftieth anniversary reunion, Wednesday and Thursday August 12-13. (Events took place all week but those were the only two I was able to attend.) The Barb, one of the legendary underground papers of the Vietnam era, hasn’t actually been around since 1980 but it was founded fifty years ago, in 1965, and fifty years of anything is worthy of a celebration.

Reunions always include at least two parts. First is the celebration, seeing friends who you haven’t seen in what seems like forever and who you’re never sure you will ever see again, and also seeing folks who go back to the same time but who you never knew personally and are meeting for the first time. So the event is joyous at the same time as it is bittersweet.

Here are some of the friends who shared memories and laughs with me:

  • Friends I met while organizing against both major parties in Miami Beach in the summer of 1972 (Gabrielle Schang, Leslie Bacon, Babs Yohai, Kathy Streem, Judy Gumbo);
  • A friend who worked with me on Joint Issue in Lansing-East Lansing, Michigan, and then made the trek west with a stop at the Barb (Stephen Vernon);
  • A friend from East Lansing who worked on another area underground paper, The Spectacle (Tom Price);
  • Contributors to my Voices from the Underground Series (Trina Robbins, Alta, Laura X, all veterans of the feminist newspaper It Aint Me Babe);
  • Members of the reunion committee (Raquel Scherr, Gar Smith, Diana Stephens, John Jekabson);
  • The legendary medical advice columnist Eugene Schoenfeld, known as Dr. HIPpocrates.
John Jekabson, Berkeley Barb veteran and member of the reunion committee, with Ken Wachsberger. Photo credit Marianne Smith, August 2015

John Jekabson, Berkeley Barb veteran and member of the reunion committee, with Ken Wachsberger. Photo credit Marianne Smith, August 2015

And there were others so apologies to anyone I neglected to list here.

The second part is reflective. When you’re living in the now and you’re looking back fifty years, and if you have an active mind, you can’t help but go deep inside yourself as you listen to others go deep inside themselves. The conference on Thursday encouraged the trip back in time. It began with a keynote from feminist comix pioneer Trina Robbins talking about women in the underground press and how she broke through the all-boys’ club of comix artists; and ended with a keynote from Dr. HIP, giving his fascinating life story including how he came to write his famous sex advice column for the Barb, which was “syndicated” in underground papers all over the country. (I use quotes because none of the papers that reprinted his column, he said, in fact paid him. Although membership in Underground Press Syndicate allowed papers to reprint others’ articles and graphics for free, it is likely that non-UPS members also reprinted his column without paying for it; we were kind of loose with understanding of copyright in those days.)

Between the opening and closing keynotes were two panels and a reading by feminist poet Alta. In the morning panel, moderated by Judy Gumbo, veterans of the Barb representing the entire fifteen-year span of its existence shared their memories by answering two questions apiece that Judy prepared specifically for them. I shared the afternoon panel with journalist/historians Peter Richardson, historian of Ramparts magazine and the Grateful Dead; and Seth Rosenfeld, chronicler of the FBI-Ronald Reagan war against student radicals in the sixties. Diana Stephens, who led the effort to organize the reunion after being inspired during the writing of her master’s thesis on the Barb, moderated this panel.

A report on the reunion appeared in the Contra Costa Times News. You can read it here.

Following is the full text of my talk, which I cut slightly at the panel in consideration of a tight time frame.

* * *

As a veteran and a historian of the sixties, I hear often—and maybe you do, too—the question: “When did the sixties end?” I’d like to reframe that question:

  • Same-sex marriage is now legal in the entire country.
  • Legal marijuana is not far behind.
  • Women are rising up again to fight for equality and to control their own bodies.
  • U.S. residents of Mexican descent, who we knew as Chicanos, are demanding a path to citizenship and the right to study their history and culture in schools and universities.
  • Black Lives Matter.
  • A socialist is a viable candidate for president.
  • And the alternative press is vibrant, and more necessary than ever.

So my reframed question is: How have the sixties lasted so long? That shining star that never fades.

When I was compiling and editing histories of individual underground papers in the late eighties-early nineties for the first edition of my Voices from the Underground Series, I was chided by at least one friend, himself a veteran of the underground press, for putting so much effort into such an esoteric topic. Fortunately, I didn’t know what “esoteric” meant, so I was undeterred. Since then, it has become a major part of my life’s work.

While working on that first edition, my most gratifying discovery was that my contributors were still politically active. This was no small feat. We were fifteen years after the war’s end. The country had veered dramatically to the right. We were living in Reagan’s America. A major percentage of our peers were becoming Yuppified. They were hiding from their own kids what they did to help us accomplish all that we did because they were paranoid of losing their jobs, even though the period had produced the broadest, most diverse antiwar movement in the history of our country.

Now we’re 25 years beyond that time. I know all of you are still politically active. And the country is starting to swing around to our side. I know it still looks bad, but the arc is curving in our direction. We were persistent. We were patient. And we were right all along.

And I discovered something else: Our friend Jerry Rubin said it best: “We are everywhere.” Underground papers were everywhere. They were in urban, suburban, rural, ghetto, barrio, tribal, and other communities in every state of the Union and in countries around the world. They represented the gay, lesbian, feminist, black, Native American, Puerto Rican, Asian American, Chicano, senior citizen, high school, campus, community, anarchist, socialist, psychedelic, counterculture, new age, prisoners’ rights, rank and file, Southern consciousness, and other alternative voices of the day. They were found in every branch of the military—over 900 GI underground papers published by or directed to members of the military. Support the troops? You’re damn right we supported the troops. No one supported the troops like we did. Underground papers were everywhere. Each one spoke to its own unique audience. But they were united against the war.

So here we are celebrating Berkeley Barb, one of the greats, one of the legends, one of the first five members of Underground Press Syndicate, the first nationwide network of countercultural underground newspapers. My hat’s off to all of you who played a role in that history. You really are a remarkable family of heroes and legends and friends. I’m honored to be sharing this historic moment with you.

And congratulations to all of you who came of age in the eighties and nineties and have carried on our struggles, which we carried on from generations before us. You’re the new leadership.

We still have goals to achieve, fantasies to live, as Abbie [Hoffman] would have said, but the torch has been passed to the next generation. Our mission now is to share our experiences and lessons with current and future leaders.

Here’s the first thing, people of my generation, you’re going to find: Too many young folks have no idea what happened back when. A journalist wrote to me recently. He said: “It is interesting how little the underground press plays into our popular conception of the 60s and 70s, given how vibrant the scene seemed to be.”

We can debate the reasons but he’s right. Young, progressive bloggers, our political heirs, for the most part, have no idea of their journalistic roots.

So I’m issuing you all a challenge. We’re in the middle of a celebration and I’m issuing a challenge. Here’s my challenge: Record your stories. Now. Produce a movie. Publish a book. Post a blog entry. Write a letter to your kids. Get it down—because if you don’t, someone else will do it for you and it won’t be the way you remember it or the way you want others to remember it. Teach your children and your children’s children.

I’m grateful to the reunion committee for inviting me here to share my latest effort to preserve the greatest writings of our generation, including the Barb, and make them accessible to current and future generations of activists, artists, and historians. When we’re done, we will have digitized over 1,000 titles, representing over three-quarters of a million pages of exact, keyword-searchable, digital reproductions of underground, alternative, and literary newspapers and magazines from the fifties through the eighties covering all of the genres I mentioned earlier. We even have four papers published by the FBI to sow dissension in the Movement. With more funding, we could do more. So all of you wealthy heirs here today, let’s talk.

We heard Trina Robbins, in her keynote, talk about women in the underground press. The digital collection includes nearly 120 feminist and lesbian papers including the Bay Area’s own It Aint Me Babe, the first nationwide feminist underground newspaper in the United States, and one fortunate enough to have had many of Trina’s covers and inside cartoons. Sometime after January 2017, the collection will go into open access, which means the entire collection will be accessible to anyone through a simple keyword search.

While it is still in development, only patrons of supporting libraries can get into it, but one of them is Berkeley. In fact, the entire UC system is a supporter so anyone with access to any of the UC libraries can view the complete evolving collection. We have about 400,000 pages uploaded so far.

And if your library isn’t on board, here are two thoughts to keep in mind:

  1. Please introduce me to your acquisitions librarian.
  2. We have put aside a select list of twenty-two titles that are open access from the beginning so you can get a feel for the site and endorse it glowingly to your acquisitions librarian. One of them, in honor of this wonderful celebration, is Berkeley Barb.

We’re working with a growing team of sourcing libraries and individuals, including some of you here today, who are sending us original copies of papers from their collections that we scan and digitize and then return to them. In this way, we are able to create complete runs of titles where the individual sourcing libraries had gaps in theirs. When we’re done, we will have, as far as we can tell, the only complete collection of the Barb anywhere and it will be fully keyword-searchable. Thanks to all of you who have shared your original issues.

I became aware of the Barb before Kent State, which is when I became radicalized. I remember the day. I was visiting my brother in Manhattan Beach. I was listening to Johnny Rivers sing “Going Back to Big Sur” and I realized that Big Sur was only about 400 miles north on Highway 1. So the next morning I filled my laundry bag with two days worth of clothing and camping gear, slung it over my left shoulder, and rode my right thumb up Highway 1. I know it was 1969 because that was my first of what would turn out to be a decade of hitchhiking adventures and it was the year, I learned later, that Jack Kerouac died. So naturally, I drew a karmic connection between the two of us, two generations of hitchhikers. Three short rides brought me out of the Los Angeles area, and then I got picked up by four long-haired hippies, two male and two female, in—cliché alert—a VW microbus with multi-colored swirls and shooting stars on the sides. There was so much smoke coming out of the car I was high before I sat down. Some time before I passed out with a big grin on my face, they introduced me to the latest copy of the Barb. I’m pretty sure that was why I had a grin.

For a kid from the eastside suburbs of Cleveland who wasn’t ready yet for the politics, the Barb was outrageous with its cartoons, graphics, and layout that told me there was something different out there that I couldn’t ignore. Later, when I came of age at Michigan State and realized that The Paper, East Lansing’s underground newspaper, was one of the first five members of Underground Press Syndicate, I discovered that the Barb had been another. Berkeley was the epicenter of the counterculture. The Barb was the voice of Berkeley.

The sixties was an amazing era, one of the most dynamic, colorful, significant—and divisive—eras in our young country’s history. I’ve never been one to apologize for the period’s supposed excesses and I’ll bet none of you have either. Were we excessive? Of course we were. We changed the world, for the better, and it’s still changing, for the better, because of what we did—and what we continue to do.

Congratulations to the Berkeley Barb for being such a major player in this historic era that never fades.

My Friend Davey Brinn


My friend Davey Brinn died. It’s been over a year, closer to eighteen months, but I just found out. We hadn’t seen each other for over twenty years. Somewhere along the way we lost touch with each other. Then we reconnected. Our reunion was only via email but it was one of my best days of this millennium. I wanted to see him—in my mind I started making plans. But I didn’t. And then he died.

Life plays funny tricks on you if you take it for granted. I thought I was pretty good in that regard. I slipped up on that one.

We Meet in the Dorm at Michigan State

Davey was my best friend during the most intense period of our lives. Well, I won’t speak for him but it certainly was the most intense period of my life. There’s a joke that goes, “If you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there.” It’s a dumb joke, a reference to the supposed memory-numbing qualities of marijuana. The truth is, if you were an active part of what history now refers to as “the sixties” but generally considers the time period beginning in the first year or so of the sixties and ending midway through the seventies—if you demonstrated against the Vietnam War, loved the music, experimented with mind-enhancing drugs, supported the Civil Rights and other liberation movements, mistrusted authority, rebelled against your parents, got busted at least once, marched often, dropped out of school, hitchhiked anywhere, or any combination of those and other known acts of defiance and celebration and trauma and courage that marked the period—you didn’t forget it and you haven’t lost the feelings that were attached to those events. Your best friends today you probably met then. Like Davey.

Davey and I met at Michigan State University sometime not long after Fall 1967, when we entered Wonders Dorm to begin our freshman years. It wasn’t a momentous meeting. We never lived on the same floor, never hung out with the same crowd, never even had a conversation in passing that I can recall that would have covered more than two paragraphs apiece. But the first time I remember his face it had a smile directed toward me and I smiled back. From then on, when we saw each other we smiled. I recall those smiles now and think that they were speaking to the deep friendship that was about to happen.

That deep friendship happened after “Kent State.” If you were from the period or have even the slightest knowledge of American history, the reference is clear. On May 4, 1970, four students at Kent State University were murdered and nine others were wounded by Ohio National Guardsmen during an antiwar rally to protest President Nixon’s expansion of the war into Cambodia. Students at universities and colleges throughout the country went out on strike, including at Michigan State.

At Michigan State, where Davey and I were now juniors and still living in Wonders Dorm, the small radical community grew exponentially and merged with the off-campus radical community to become a powerful countercultural, antiwar force.

I wasn’t from that radical community yet but I certainly by that time opposed the war—like most other liberal Jews from Cleveland’s east side suburbs where I was raised. Now, after four vicious murders, I was compelled to learn the history behind it and the arguments in favor of actively opposing it. I began going to marches and demonstrations and symposia and other events that could help me to better understand what was happening. Soon I was hanging out at Snyder-Phillips, the dorm complex that took on the important role of “strike central.” There, I joined in with the others as we wrote leaflets and flyers, tuned in to and shared news from campuses around the country, planned marches, rallies, and demonstrations, and inhaled a radical analysis of society. For many, like me, it was our first exercise in thinking free from suburban restraints. I began as an observer, intellectually curious to understand what was happening. I became a participant.

Busted Together in the Student Union

Two weeks after Kent State, on May 18, I arrived at strike central in the early evening, sometime after dinner. While catching up on the campus strike news from around the country, I happened to read a flyer that advertised a teach-in on racism that was taking place at that very moment at the MSU Student Union. In fact, I’m embarrassed to say, it was already by this time well in progress. I hurried over and entered the building, the last person to join what was already an overflow crowd. There were no places to sit. I stood in the back of the room by the door and observed a lively discussion.

MSU’s public relations department at the time was reaping a harvest of civil rights good-vibe points after having recently scored a major liberal coup d’état with the hiring of Clifton Wharton, a board member of multiple Ford and Rockefeller foundations, as its new president. Oh, and he was black. That was the coup. He was the first black man to be named president of a major university; his father had been the first black man to pass the Foreign Service exam and become a career ambassador.

So the organizers of the teach-in, knowing a teachable moment when they saw one, invited him to join us in our discussion. Unfortunately he couldn’t make it so he sent a friend. Actually he sent lots of friends, representing the campus, East Lansing, Lansing, Ingham County, and State police departments. They surrounded the Union. Then, shortly after midnight, the manager of the Union announced, “Everyone must leave the building immediately.” I’m sure he had been instructed to say those exact words by his hierarchical superior, who had been instructed on what to tell him to say by someone above him, but the words were for show only. In fact, before anyone who might have been inclined to escape could move, police entered the building through all doors.

A moment of awkwardness ensued. I was standing next to a woman who I recognized from strike central. She had never said a word to me to make me think she even knew who I was let alone cared but she was pretty and intelligent and my hormones had a way of screaming to me even in politically inappropriate times when they saw her. I whispered to her, “I wonder what they’ll do next.”




That did it. Suddenly, two cops, each 6’8”, who had been standing behind me, grabbed me, one under each armpit, lifted me—all 5’4” of me—half a foot above the ground, and carried me out. My feet didn’t touch the ground until they threw me against the paddy wagon closest to the entrance.

I was the first of what came to be known as the MSU 132. I was the only one thrown into solitary confinement for committing my all-time bravest act of non-bravery: I didn’t sign my fingerprints, thinking no one else would either because that’s what our “What to do if you get busted” instructions said we should do, but everyone else did. I was the last one arraigned because I was in solitary all night while the others were being arraigned. Every one of the bustees and a growing crowd of supporters and admirers were there outside the jail to greet me—the unknown who was now seen as a major political heavy—including Davey, who had also been busted that night.

We Become Best Friends, I Join the Underground Press

As the only two bustees from Wonders Dorm, Davey and I suddenly shared an intimate bond that we hadn’t known before. Davey dropped out of school after that semester. I went back for Fall 1970 semester but didn’t return for Winter 1971. I moved in with Davey, the first time I had lived off campus since moving to East Lansing.

I already noted that I didn’t become a radical until the MSU Union bust. Davey, on the other hand, was by this time already a long-time radical. He was brilliant. He was well-connected. He was action-oriented. That summer after the strike he had joined the White Panther Party, the white countercultural counterpart to the Black Panther Party, and had been arrested again, this time in Grand Rapids during a protest outside a Spiro Agnew $100/plate dinner. By the time I moved in with him, he was already involved in Generation, one of East Lansing’s two underground newspapers. Davey took me to my first underground press meeting. It was December 1970. The staff members of Generation were meeting with the staff members of the other local underground newspaper, Bogue Street Bridge, to discuss the idea of combining staffs, resources, and energies and putting out an experimental joint issue. The result was Joint Issue, the first underground paper where I would make my mark over the next several years until the war ended. Davey was working on an article for the paper, on the state of the Movement. I was secretly in awe that he even knew the state of the Movement let alone had been tapped by the other staff members to write the paper’s position paper on it.

In the coming months, Davey and I did everything together or kept closely in touch when we were separate. When he and Patti, his wife and partner, hit the road to Seattle to stay with friends, I went with them as far as Boulder where I had friends. By the following May, 1971, we were all back in East Lansing. Along with about a dozen other local radicals, we joined thousands of protestors from around the country in Washington, DC, for the May Day demonstrations with the aim of shutting down the city. On the morning of the second day of protests, word got out that the police were arresting everyone who they found in groups of three or more so our group split up into groups of twos to meet up again at the point where the march to the Department of Justice was to begin. Davey and I walked together. On our way there, Davey said to me, “If they try to bust us, I’m not gonna fight it.” I said, “I’m with you.” That afternoon, 10,000 protestors were arrested in front of the Justice Department while Attorney General John Mitchell smoked his pipe and watched the proceedings from his office window. It was at the time the largest mass bust in the history of our country. Davey and I were among them.

Davey’s Dark Side, We Drift Apart

I didn’t notice it when it was happening but Davey had a dark side. As my work on Joint Issue intensified and began to define my life, Davey was slipping away from underground press life altogether. As I organized marches and spoke at rallies and wrote political commentary and poetry and grew politically and socialized at community potluck dinners, Davey withdrew and became fatalistic despite never losing his crisp radical analysis or his sense of humor. I couldn’t understand it. Davey was one of my first friends to stop smoking pot, not because he evolved beyond it but because it brought up memories that he was trying to block. I couldn’t understand that either. We used to talk often about our feelings, something men were not conditioned to do, so I cherished those talks. He told me stories of growing up in the household of his father, a hellfire-and-damnation Church of Christ minister during Davey’s youth though a college administrator by the time I met him in 1971. I never grasped the pain that Davey felt. I never asked the right questions to help him probe deeper into the hurt. I wanted to but I didn’t know how. I knew from when we lived together that he was one of the great sleepers. I should have seen that as a sign but I didn’t.

Then we drifted apart—long story for another time perhaps. Short story: We both got swept up in the Me Decade that followed the end of the war, learned to “express our feelings,” and collided in a feeling-fest of misinterpretations. Both of us were fucked up in our own ways. We loved each other and we tried to connect but our words muddled our feelings. I knew time would heal that wound.

Davey’s Manuscript Brings Us Back Together

And so the good news was that we came together again. It began in the first days of May 2012 when I received a message from Michigan State University Press, publisher of my Voices from the Underground Series: “I just wanted to let you know that you received a manuscript here from David Brinn called ‘Mayday: A Memoir.’ If you’d like I can mail it to you.” The message included his email address. I wrote back immediately and instructed them to send it right away.

The next day I wrote my first letter to Davey. I caught him up on my life alone and with my family and concluded: “Again, great to hear from you. Thanks for taking the initiative. Life’s too short….”

I didn’t hear from him for six months. When I finally did, on November 6, he didn’t offer an explanation for the long delay between letters. Instead, he hinted that we were at the beginning of a long e-conversation: “I wanted to let you know you have connected with me. I decided I don’t want to try to write an autobiography for you. We’ll pick up the pieces as we go along.”

And we did with a series of letters back and forth that lasted over a month. From Davey’s niece Danielle, I would later learn about the health problems that were breaking his body down and stealing his independence. He had throat cancer while he was living in Austin, where he had spent the last healthy decades of his life among a close circle of friends. Somehow he survived the cancer but then he got an ulcer that almost ate through his stomach and killed him. He recovered. Then other issues arose and he had to move back to Michigan.




Davey never wrote to me about the cancer or the ulcer but he did write freely and openly about those other issues, in particular his lifetime of manic-depression:

Got the depression under control around 1986 after falling fast in 1984. The mania was there for years but didn’t show up on the radar. So, for some time, things seemed okay. In 2006 I hit a spot where I simply could not sleep. When I told people how many (few) hours I slept they thought I exaggerated. The doctors tried the “do nothing” sleep meds (Lunesta and Ambien). So they gave me some Seroquel which is a powerful drug. To make a long story short, I took some. Didn’t do anything. Got furious. Took a bunch. (911. Slept 20 hours.) My family found out, and when I came to Michigan on a trip, they took me before a probate court, and my younger sister Kat had herself appointed my legal guardian. Kat’s a tough, no nonsense sweetheart. I go where she says for me to go.



He wrote also about his past struggles with his father, with whom he was now making his peace; and about his beloved mother:

My dad is 94 and failing fast. Dementia. (At a family reunion Kat had to tell him who his 4 nieces were.) And yes we fought each other tooth and nail for decades. He’s always been self-centered and demanding. Lately I’ve been able to connect with him. I simply express my love for him. I hug him when I encounter him and hug him as I depart, and tell him I love him (which I do). It pleases him and me.

I do wish you could’ve met my mother then maybe you would be able to see why my siblings all love each other and care for others. My mother the walking cliché. A “saint.” Dad the talker. Mother the listener. Our “defense attorney” with my dad. Recently–out of the blue–I told Kat “I miss mother so much. If it hadn’t been for her I don’t know how bad my life would have been. She saved me.”

Quietly. “Dave, she saved us all.”

Despite his battles with manic-depression, Davey never lost his political edge. “One of my themes in MAYDAY: A MEMOIR,” he wrote, “was David v. Goliath. Bad problem. People unaware for the most part. Helplessness abounds. People talk. They network. They stay at it. Knowledge and resistance grows. History is filled with victories of the ‘little people.’ The Vietnam War is an example. People’s victories will always take an ungodly amount of struggle. So we keep lighting a fire under the feet of the rich and powerful. They will always suit up and show up, so we will too. We have no choice.”

He imagined my students at Eastern Michigan University, where he didn’t realize I no longer taught, using it as part of their coursework:

Not as an ego trip but as a subject to study and write about. About the nature of struggle against the ruling elite in any situation. David and Goliath. How change always looks hopeless in the beginning. How change is an attitude (often taking great risks) and using good old fashioned elbow grease. Your students could use MAYDAY as a point of departure. They could pick out a similar subject to explore. The reasons behind struggles. The light of democracy being snuffed out everywhere in the world except in the “Colonies.” The war against the redcoats not being about the price of tea. Slavery. Union organizing. Populism. Women’s Suffrage. Civil Rights. Feminism. Gay Rights. The Vietnam War. Abortion. Healthcare, and always the “little people” against the “gray men.” The struggle goes on. Expect it. Prepare for it. Keep the pressure on. Keep the faith. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Intentions Are Always There

In Lansing, he lived with his sister Nancy for a while. I could have visited him then but I didn’t. Then, as his health worsened, he moved to Kalamazoo to be under constant care. I could have visited him then but I didn’t.

But the intention was there. Isn’t it always? I did invite him to an event in Lansing where I was going to be talking about a newly released volume from my Voices from the Underground Series but he had to decline because he had no transportation. He did say he would call me as soon as he fixed a problem with his cell phone but he never fixed it.

So when Emily said to me one day about midway through July, “Let’s find a weekend to go out of town,” and asked me where I would like to go, I said, “Kalamazoo.” There was no fall-back option.

I wrote to Davey: “I hope all is well. I’m trying to find a time to come to Kalamazoo to visit you. It’s looking like Saturday August 2 is shaping up as the first good time. Will you be around then? I’d love to see you again.”

During our brief flurry of emails, each letter was followed by a relatively quick response. So I was surprised when I didn’t hear from him right away. Fortunately, I had written a few weeks in advance of our proposed travel date. Five days later, on what turned out to be my 65th birthday, I forwarded the same letter to him again.

In an earlier message, Davey had given me the name of his niece Danielle, who was close to him. I called her. She wasn’t in so I left a message. I thought it was pretty high energy. I knew that she knew of me from Davey so I gave my name and said I looked forward to seeing him but I wanted to know that he would be available.

A few days later, she called back. I wasn’t in so she left a message. It wasn’t as high energy: “Ken, I’m sorry to tell you that my Uncle Dave died last March.” She apologized for having to tell me in a phone message, but there was no other way she could have told me given that my planned trip was only a few days away and she wanted to make sure I got her message in time to cancel my trip.

When I finally spoke with her on the phone she said Davey’s death surprised everyone. “We knew he wasn’t well, and he was weak. He didn’t like to focus on his health but he couldn’t eat without a tube. It caused numerous infections. He had trouble with his lungs, staph infection. Ultimately he passed from pneumonia.”

That call took place three days after I listened to Danielle’s message. I didn’t call her right back. I couldn’t. I thought about Davey. I beat myself for not having contacted him sooner. I took notes on what I wanted to say to Danielle so that my first call could be meaningful. I replayed key events in our shared history.

But who expected him to die? I certainly didn’t. His community of beloved friends who he left behind in Austin certainly didn’t. And so during all that time starting with my message from MSU Press I committed myself to visiting him. I put the idea on my list of things to do. But by the time “visit Davey” got to the top, it was too late.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life but I have few regrets. Not seeing my friend Davey one more time is one of my biggest regrets. It was a missed moment that I’ll carry with me until the next time I see him.

His last words to me were: “You did well, my friend. You did fine.”

So did you, Davey. Even through manic-depression you were positive. You kept your humor. You were inspirational, an example to follow.

[This blog entry originally appeared in The Rag Blog, October 16, 2014.]

Women’s Liberation Conference Celebrates 2nd Wave, Revs Up 3rd Wave

The Women’s Liberation Conference at Boston University, “A Revolutionary Moment: Women’s Liberation in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” was a celebration of a moment in history, popularly known as the second wave of feminism, that changed the world forever. Throughout the three days of seminars, readings, films, and meetings, from Thursday to Saturday, March 27-29, attendees recalled the successes of that period and beyond while cautioning about dangers ahead, including confronting the present-day war on women that is seeing past victories being rolled back. Veterans of the second wave who led and participated in that revolution networked with young activists and academics from the third wave who today are carrying the movement forward.

Main conference organizer Deborah Belle welcomed the crowd and invited veterans of the second wave to stand. You could see by the number of attendees who stood that a major reunion was taking place. Many of the women had bios in Barbara Love’s Feminists Who Changed America, 1963-1975. But everyone who stood played a major part locally, nationally, or internationally in creating the change that marked the period.

In her opening remarks, Deborah noted that she had been inspired to organize the conference after repeatedly hearing a narrative of feminism’s history that was different from the one she remembered.

Feminist historian Sara Evans expanded upon that theme in her opening keynote address. “Why is women’s liberation a footnote in late-twentieth century history of feminism?” she asked. She stated four myths about the movement that needed to be cleared away to see the revolution: It was confined to members of the white middle class; it can be told through a chronicle of famous women and key pieces of legislation; participants could generally be described with such words as “shrill,” “ugly,” “anti-sex,” and “oversexed”; the movement was caused by extreme sexism in the New Left.

Throughout the weekend, the power of words and impressions was never far from many analyses. Carol Hanisch, a founding member of New York Radical Women, noted that an image of the period had it being one of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” even though it was really one of “study, struggle, and organizing.” Words that feminists used to describe events and issues lost their sharp edge. “Women’s Liberation Movement” became “Women’s Libbers,” then “the Women’s Movement.” “Abortion now” morphed into “choice.” “Roe was about privacy. After Roe, the Movement declared victory and the term was taken off the table. ‘Rape’ became ‘nonconsensual sex.” “Imagine,” she said, “a woman shouting, ‘Help! I’m having nonconsensual sex!” It was funny. It wasn’t funny.

Dana Dunsmore, a founder of Boston’s Cell 16 female liberation group, made a similar point. Asked why there was such a large gap between the second wave of feminism and the third, she said, “The second wave was so transformative that the next generation could imagine that the job was done and lose their drive.” But, she said confidently, “the third wave is doing a great job.”

I could see that in the sessions I attended and the women who I met. While many of the sessions were led by veterans of the second wave talking about the second wave, others featured third wave activists and academics sharing their research and activism. As a veteran myself of the sixties-era underground press, I found myself drawn to sessions involving media past and present. Thus, in one session, I heard third wavers Agatha Beins, women’s studies professor from Texas Woman’s University, talk about her research on the women’s papers of the seventies, and Tessa Jordan, communications professor from British Columbia Institute of Technology, discuss her research on Branching Out, Canada’s first national feminist magazine. In another, Maria Cotera, professor of women’s and Latino studies at the University of Michigan, shared updates on her impressive project to digitize primary archival materials about women of color.

As a man at a women’s liberation conference, I was considered an ally. I was also considered an ally when I attended, and spoke at, the conference in New York in 2012 to honor the one hundredth birthday of Harry Hay, the founder of the Mattachine Society, one of the early gay groups from the fifties, as well as a co-founder of Radical Faeries, a group for spiritual gays.

An ally is someone who isn’t from the group in question, as defined by members of the group in question, but is supportive of their social, political, sexual, and other goals. I stood out in Boston, one of a small handful of men among some seven hundred women. I stood out less so in New York unless you believe that you can always tell a gay man by looking at him.

In both cases, I was an “ally” because I wasn’t one of them, in the obvious sense. I’m not a woman. I’m not gay.

In the broader sense, though, which is how I saw it, I was one of them. We’re at least part of the same family.

The movements that they represented came out of the years and events from the mid-fifties through the mid-seventies that popular culture, in its less-than-nuanced way, now refers to as “the sixties.” Linda Gordon, a leader of Boston’s Bread & Roses feminist group in the sixties and now a professor of gender studies, social movements, and imperialism at New York University, gave the closing keynote speech in Boston. She defined the period of the New Left as beginning with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and ending somewhere in the mid-seventies with the early gay, lesbian, and environmental movements. I’m okay with those same parameters.

Other historians may begin or end a bit earlier or a bit later. I’m okay with those parameters also. For every individual the beginning was unique: attending a first demonstration, smoking a first joint, getting busted for the first time, getting laid for the first time and realizing that sexual mores were looser than what we learned growing up. Each ending was equally unique. For me, I entered the countercultural movement probably when I smoked my first bowl of weed out of a water pipe after tubing down the Salt River in Phoenix, Arizona, in the summer of 1968 with my friend Steve and realized that I could never again say I had never smoked dope. Two years later, I became a political activist when I got busted for the first time at a teach-in on racism at Michigan State University during the Student Strikes of May 1970 following the murders of four Kent State University students by Ohio National Guardsmen. By that time, long-time veterans of the Movement were masking their personal burnout by declaring the Movement dead. For me, it was just starting; I considered it still happening even into the eighties, though by the end of the Reagan years we were on the defensive.

With my rising political consciousness and activism as a result of Kent State, I became a hardcore member of the underground press, that community of hundreds of primarily tabloid newspapers that promoted and debated the many sides of every issue affecting the gay, lesbian, feminist, Black, Native American, Puerto Rican, Asian American, military, psychedelic, socialist, Southern consciousness, rank-and-file worker, and other alternative voices of the period but came together to oppose the Vietnam War.

The underground paper that captured my greatest attention was Joint Issue, out of Lansing-East Lansing, Michigan, my home base during that time, but I traveled throughout the country, found my way onto newspaper staffs everywhere I went, learned about their local issues, and organized and wrote about events with them.

As I wrote in my introduction to the first edition of Voices from the Underground: Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press,

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.

I still believe that. To me, the Women’s Liberation movement was part of the larger Movement that also included, to begin, the GLBT, ethnic, and environmental movements. I may not have grasped at a gut level that one day I would be old but I at least knew it intellectually and demonstrated in solidarity with the Gray Panthers as they fought against ageist laws and practices. I had no physical defects that hampered my participation in society but I recognized that I was a mere TAB (temporarily able-bodied). The National Writers Union, whose union card I have proudly carried for now over thirty years, wasn’t even founded until 1981 but I supported unions in the sixties and still do. I knew the liberal programs for the poor weren’t perfect but I believed and still do that they were necessary and merely needed to be improved, not eliminated, and certainly not so that rich people could get richer, so I marched for welfare rights and child care and jobs and unemployment and every other issue that mattered to the poor among us. And I certainly supported the troops—the ones who threw down their medals and said war is wrong until we’ve tried all other options for peace.

Not everyone would agree with me about this holistic approach to the Movement. Some of the conference attendees in Boston were angry to even see me and my type there. At least one woman, at an open mic, declared that men had no business being at their conference and that any who were there should—assuming the voice of every woman in attendance—“kiss our asses.”

Fortunately, not every woman shared that perspective. Many approached me, out of intellectual curiosity, to ask why I had chosen to attend a women’s conference. I was pleased to share my reasons. Word got out. By the end of the conference, women were approaching me.

In my next post, I’ll explain why I was there and introduce what is to date the most extensive project ever to digitize underground, alternative, and literary publications from the fifties through the eighties; I’ll describe the economic model, which I hope grabs the attention of serious librarians who want to enhance their collections of digital resources without busting their budgets; and I’ll list some of the feminist and lesbian papers that are on board.

Stay tuned. And if you were part of an underground, alternative, or literary publication from the period, please get in touch with me. We need to talk.

Meanwhile, congratulations to the organizers and attendees of the Boston women’s liberation conference. We need more of these conferences, not only to study the women’s movement then and now but to study the other movements that made up “the sixties” as well, and to formulate strategies for applying the lessons of then into actions for now.

Also, for another report on the conference, check out my friend Sue Katz’s “Consenting Adult” blog site.


Manuscript Arrives for Life of Michael Kindman, Underground Press Legend

I got the word from MSU Press that the edited manuscript of volume 2 of the Voices from the Underground Series is ready for my review.

Volume 2 is the story of Michael Kindman, one of the legends of the Vietnam era underground press. Michael started school at Michigan State University in September 1963 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.

The irony was not lost on the academic community, as MSU, the nation’s first agricultural land grant college, was busy under President John Hannah trying to shed its reputation for being a cow college. Those years immediately followed a period of tremendous expansion on the MSU campus, for reasons that became clear later. But for Michael the first two years were academically bleak for a brilliant mind that was looking to expand.

To do that he had to change his environment. So, two years after coming to MSU, he dropped out of school—despite being in line to become editor in chief of State News, MSU’s student newspaper, and instead founded The Paper, East Lansing’s first underground newspaper and one of the first five members of Underground Press Syndicate, this country’s first nationwide network of underground papers. It was The Paper that helped Ramparts magazine expose MSU’s role from the mid-fifties until 1962 as the CIA’s number one front organization for the government’s war against the people of Vietnam. CIA agents—actively training the South Vietnamese police, “pacifying” the South Vietnamese countryside by pushing peasants into the cities, instituting ID programs, and more—were all the while publicly identified as faculty members at MSU (some actually were MSU faculty even before the CIA involvement, and, in their defense, some were well intentioned and only later became disenchanted). Meanwhile, MSU was being secretly reimbursed through CIA funds that were laundered through the MSU budget.

One of the first articles I ever wrote for the underground press years later was about the return to MSU of Wesley Fishel, publicly identified during those years as an MSU assistant professor but in reality the person who introduced then-exiled Ngo Dinh Diem to powerful U.S. government officials who helped bring him back to power as prime minister of South Vietnam in 1954. Fishel became head of the MSU Group, the program that guided many of these activities. My article appeared in Joint Issue in 1971, about a campus protest that greeted Fishel’s return to the MSU campus after two years of heading the Center for Vietnamese Studies at Southern Illinois University, where he was likewise hounded by protestors.

In early 1968, Michael moved east, settled in Boston, and 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, Michael fled the commune’s rural outpost in Kansas and headed west, where he eventually settled in San Francisco, came out as a gay man, and changed his name to Mica. When Mica wrote this important journey into self-discovery, he was working as a home-remodeling contractor, a key activist in the gay men’s pagan spiritual network Radical Faeries, a student, and a person with AIDS. He died peacefully on November 22, 1991, two months after submitting the final draft of his story. I never met him personally but—because his underground press activity in East Lansing preceded my activity by two generations of underground papers—I considered him my spiritual grandfather.

His story is a major first-person document of the period and joins three other volumes of major first-person documents in the Voices from the Underground Series.

I received the Mica electronic files as 34 attachments—including frontmatter, backmatter, and main text—plus the style guide in four separate email messages. Not that I’m superstitious but my lucky number is 34. (That also was the number of chapters in my first published novel but the number goes back to my childhood.) My comments are due back by October 28.

On one hand, the announcement couldn’t have come at a worse time as I’m fighting about six other deadlines.

On the other, I look forward to reading the files. I’ll use my best time management skills with a major dose of hyperactivity and I’ll get the job done probably early. I’m especially pleased that MSU Press got them to me early thanks to, obviously, expert time management on the part of the MSUP editorial team. So I owe them no less.