The Underground Press: Exactly What the Founding Fathers Intended

For those who asked, below is the text of the keynote talk I gave on Friday March 27 at the “Digital Scholarship and Radicalism Studies” symposium at Michigan State University, in East Lansing. The symposium coincided with the launch of MSU’s Studies in Radicalism Online (SIRO), a new thematic node of the Advanced Research Consortium, in partnership with Michigan State University Libraries and the Journal for the Study of Radicalism.

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In the late sixties and early 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 period came to an end, roughly 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 history. Few high school or college courses studied it honestly.

By the time I published the first edition of Voices from the Underground in 1993, 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.

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 the underground press digital project I spoke about in the last session. 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, noncorporate, 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 often 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 Nonviolent 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 Reveal Digital’s digital collection.

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 were found in every branch of the military—over 900 GI underground papers—and their stories are represented in Voices from the Underground. 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. Among the first five members was East Lansing’s own The Paper, whose story is told by founder Michael Kindman in volume 2 of my four-volume Voices from the Underground Series, which is the updated and expanded second edition of my earlier book. Original copies of The Paper can be read downstairs in MSU’s special collections library.

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 since the war ended 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. And now our own Pentagon is preparing to launch a ten-year retrospective celebration of the Vietnam War, ostensibly to honor the vets but in reality another effort to whitewash our true history and glorify the military and continued militarism.

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 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 MSU’s State News during the time I wrote for Joint Issue, the Lansing-area underground paper (also found in the special collections library), 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 I’m grateful for this opportunity to say something about how I do my research on the underground press. There’s no magic source that contains everything you want to know.

I don’t know how many of you know this but MSU Library has—or at least had 25 years ago—one of the great collections of telephone books. I don’t know if anyone even uses them still—I seldom do. But back then they were essential. After I compiled my initial list of papers whose histories I wanted to include in Voices from the Underground, I came right here—I was already living in Ann Arbor but I remembered the incredible job special collections library director Janet Fiore had done collecting underground papers in the seventies. I spent a day looking through those papers and writing down names of staff members, which was not always an easy task—and still won’t be. In those days, we often used pseudonyms, or first names only, or we didn’t sign our names at all—“confronting our egos” was a major issue among some of us.

Then I went up to the phone book collection, found the city, and looked up all the staff names. If I found a match, I would call the person and ask if he or she had been on the paper. If the answer was yes, I would explain my project and ask if that person could write the history. More often than not, I was referred to someone else, and then someone else. I made lots of phone calls—and rang up quite a bill—but I found everyone I wanted to find.

Today you look up that information on the web. Everyone is there, and usually their contact information. Or, if not, you can find them through online researching. Type in the title of a paper, using quotes, and look at every entry. Write down names that come up and then do creative keyword searches on the names. Write down additional names that come up along the way and search them. Write down names of children and spouses because a lot of the folks you want to find are not with us on this plane anymore, including several contributors to Voices from the Underground, but you can find their obituaries. When I was working with them, I told them, “Tell me everything: names, quotes, anecdotes, headtrips, analyses. Because you’re gonna die. And when you die, your story will be told by others, with their interpretations.” They listened to me and gave me the greatest collection of stories I’ve ever had the honor to edit.

Two excellent online sources that I’ve used successfully to connect to underground press veterans are Facebook and LinkedIn though neither usually lists contact information. With Facebook, write a private message to the person you want to meet. You have plenty of room to state your query though be sure to request an email address if you’re planning on having an ongoing conversation. While you’re at it, look at their list of friends to find others who may be on your to-locate list. With LinkedIn, you need to connect to communicate. LinkedIn always provides you with a generic invitation to connect. Revise it to be more specific—though you have to be concise so as not to exceed the character limit.

The Alternative Press Center has been collecting and indexing underground and alternative papers since the sixties. Their papers for the most part may be found at the University of Maryland. But there are special collections libraries all over the country and the world that contain original copies of underground papers beginning with our amazing collection downstairs in this building. I was friends with Peter Berg since before he took over as director from Janet Fiore. I ran the streets and organized with comic book maven Randy Scott—his name, in fact, appears in my history of the Lansing-area underground press that’s found in volume 1 of my series. They and the others members of the special collections team will give you whatever guidance you need.

There have been some excellent books written about the underground press. Abe Peck, himself an underground press historian as well as the former editor of Chicago Seed and a contributor to Voices from the Underground, wrote an overview of some of the best, dividing them interestingly by generations of books based on when they came out. You can find their titles in his article, “The Life and Times of the Underground Press,” which appeared online in Logos in 2013.

A history of the gay press, not mentioned in Abe’s article, is Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America by Rodger Streitmatter.

To find other underground press veterans check out the Facebook page for Underground Press Syndicate – Media History and post a comment.

The political blog Rag Blog is the digital successor to the Austin Rag, one of the first ten members of Underground Press Syndicate. Its editor, Thorne Dreyer, was an Austin Rag editor also. Underground press veterans are regular contributors, including me.

There already is no better digital collection of underground, alternative, and literary newspapers and magazines from the fifties through the eighties than Independent Voices, the digital collection that I’ve been creating at Reveal Digital, and we’re not finished with it. Check it out now at voices.revealdigital.com and view what we have so far of what will be, by the end of January 2017, approximately one million pages of keyword-searchable exact digital reproductions of these publications. MSU is not only a sourcing library—which means they have actively loaned us original copies of underground papers from their special collections library for us to scan and digitize—but they’re also a supporting library, so they’ve put down the bucks so that you can all use the digital collection for your research and enjoyment even before it goes into open access, which is our ultimate goal.

So far we’ve uploaded about 200,000 pages, mostly from our women’s, GI, literary, and underground press titles. We’re starting to add the minority papers including El Renacimiento and Sol de Aztlan from Lansing. Other Lansing-area papers that are on board: The Paper, Goob Yeak Gergibal, Generation, Bogue Street Bridge, Joint Issue, Lansing Star, People’s Voice, Lansing Beat, and Lesbian Connection. And, facing the deadline of this talk, I speeded up my own rights-acquisition work and am now about to bring on board two other papers that were still missing: The Spectacle and Grapevine Journal.

And network. Attend conferences and other major events that bring together academics and left activists. Two conferences where I will be speaking in upcoming months:

  • And a third major event where I’ll be speaking: The Berkeley Barb, one of the legendary underground papers of the era, also part of the digital collection, is having its 50th anniversary reunion on Wednesday-Thursday August 12-13 in Berkeley.

Everyone you talk to, ask, “Who else do you know who I can contact? Who else worked on your paper? Do you have an email and phone number? What other papers did you work on? Who else worked on them?” Pick one paper and write its history. That will be a major contribution to our understanding of the era.

In the sixties, we 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 our present.

We’re still out there. When I compiled the histories for the first edition of Voices from the Underground, what was most gratifying to me was that most of my contributors were still organizing and teaching and keeping their visions alive. Those who are still living still are politically active. But as a generation we’ve peaked. It’s your turn now, those of you who are college age and recently beyond, to carry on the struggle that we carried on from generations before us.

Our two generations, 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 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. I was.

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. Public awareness is starting to turn the corner on the environment and the Middle East. We’re not doing so okay on others: women’s rights, immigrant rights, voting rights. Economically we’ve got our work cut out for us: union rights, student tuition, the wealth gap, campaign finance laws. 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.

I don’t think you will, because your generation is one of the most progressive in years. I have great faith in the immediate future.

Study the underground press to learn what the best minds—and, don’t get me wrong, some of the goofiest minds—were thinking. We made lots of mistakes 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. We were 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.

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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.

Landmark Anti-Vietnam War Opus Subject of Talk at EVERYbody Reads

Press release for upcoming talk. If you’re in the Lansing area, hope to see you there:

Former Lansing resident and veteran of the Vietnam era underground press Ken Wachsberger will tell stories from the period and do a book signing at a launch party at EVERYbody Reads, 2019 East Michigan Avenue, Lansing, 7 p.m., Thursday, March 3.

Ken is the editor and visionary of the landmark 4-volume Voices from the Underground Series (published by Michigan State University Press), an anthology of histories of underground papers from the Vietnam era as told by key people on each of the papers. Volume 1 has just been released and will be available for purchase at the signing. 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. Ken was one of the principals of the Lansing area’s Joint Issue, one of a long tradition of local underground papers beginning with the legendary The Paper in 1965 that are included in Ken’s history, which appears in the newly released volume 1. In appendices, he tells why being in jail is like finals week and opens the Red Squad files on East Lansing’s underground press.

Forewords are by Chicago Seed veteran Abe Peck, attorney William Kunstler, and Markos Moulitsas, founder of dailykos.com, one of the most important progressive blog sites of today’s new media. According to Ken, “With our country bankrupted by two wars, the timing couldn’t be better to read these stories. Markos’s foreword connects yesterday’s underground press generation with today’s blogger generation. It’s time to listen again to the poets and visionaries of the independent, alternative press.”

The book was called “the most important book on American journalism published in my lifetime” by the reviewer for In These Times and was named one of the five most important books in the field of communication for 1993 (Choice) when it appeared in an earlier version in 1993. The Los Angeles Times reviewer said it “comes closer than anything I’ve yet read to putting the sights, sounds and texture of the ‘60s on paper.” “… and it’s fun,” said Erwin Knoll, former editor of The Progressive.

Ken is a long-time author, editor, educator, political organizer, public speaker, and consultant who has written, edited, and lectured widely on the Vietnam era, the Holocaust and Jewish resistance during World War II, the First Amendment, and other issues.

The Voices from the Underground Series has been celebrated by Susan Brownmiller, Bill Ayers, Tom Hayden, Ben Bagdikian, Charlotte Bunch, Barbara Tischler, Country Joe McDonald, Noam Chomsky, Peter Werbe, David Du Bois, Barbara Grier, Art Levin, Paul Krassner, and many others.

To learn more about Voices from the Underground, read many more testimonials, and view the entire four-volume table of contents, go to www.voicesfromtheunderground.com. Ken may be reached at ken@voicesfromtheunderground.com for interviews and speaking invitations.

 Then mark your calendar: Thursday March 3 beginning at 7 p.m.

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 A small sampling of stories from volume 1 of the 4-volume

Voices from the Underground Series:

  •  Marilyn Webb recalls the first year of off our backs, the first national feminist paper to emerge on the east coast.
  •  Allen Cohen tells the history of Haight-Ashbury through his history of The Oracle, the premier psychedelic underground paper of the period.
  •  John Woodford shares his journey from being an editor at Ebony, the highest-circulation publication for a black readership, to joining Muhammad Speaks, the Black Muslim paper, soon after Elijah Muhammad expelled Malcolm X, to becoming editor in chief, to being released.
  •  Charley Shively remembers the 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Bar in New York City where “instead of going quietly into the waiting vans, the motley crowd of queers and queens attacked the police,” inspiring a nationwide gay and lesbian liberation movement, along with a whole network of Gay Liberation Front papers, including Boston’s Fag Rag.
  •  Ken Wachsberger opens the Red Squad files on East Lansing’s underground press and tells why being in jail is like finals week.
  •  Doug George-Kanentiio intertwines oral and written records going back 2,000 years to explain how Akwesasne Notes became the most influential aboriginal newspaper of the twentieth century.
  •  Victoria Smith Holden takes a sociological look at the inner-group dynamics of Houston’s Space City! while analyzing its rise and fall and wondering why social movement organizations are so especially vulnerable to failure.
  •  Nancy Strohl celebrates the emerging coalition between antiwar GIs and the antiwar movement at home that broke the back of the government’s war against the Vietnamese in her history of Freedom of the Press, a newspaper she produced and distributed with her husband at the naval Air Station in Yokosuka, Japan, port for the USS Midway when it was not serving as the base for bombing raids on north Vietnam.
  •  and more

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.