Mica Died on This Date

November 22. The date is forever associated with President John Kennedy, who was assassinated on that date in 1963.

I think also of Mica Kindman who died on that date in 1991.

I was honored to work with Mica as his editor while he wrote his autobiography, My Odyssey through the Underground Press. The book recalls Mica’s adventures working primarily with two underground newspapers during the sixties and seventies: The Paper, in East Lansing, Michigan, and Avatar, in Boston. The underground press was the independent, noncorporate, dissident press of the Vietnam era. His story was one of two dozen insider histories that I compiled, edited, and published in what became my four-volume Voices from the Underground Series.

Muckraking at The Paper

To his friends in East Lansing in the sixties, he was Michael Kindman. In 1963, Michael was one of some 200 honors students from around the country who had been awarded National Merit Scholarships, underwritten by Michigan State University and usable only there. Together, they represented by far the largest group of Merit Scholars in any school’s freshman class. At MSU? The nation’s first agricultural land grant college?

Two years later, he founded the legendary The Paper, the Lansing area’s first underground newspaper and one of the first five members of Underground Press Syndicate, this country’s first nationwide network of underground papers during the Vietnam era.

The Paper connected the emerging radical campus community of Michigan State University with the activists of the East Lansing community. It is best known for its work with Ramparts, the premier left-wing glossy magazine of the era, in exposing MSU’s role as the number one CIA front organization in Vietnam in the sixties. The bureaucrats, academics, and police who built the infrastructure of oppression in Vietnam that forced the Vietnamese peasants from the villages into the cities, carded them, and forced their daughters into prostitution, then bombed their homes anyway, received salaries from the CIA that were filtered through an account at MSU. Most of these “professors” never actually showed up on campus.

Through Underground Press Syndicate, underground papers around the country exchanged subscriptions with each other to spread the word and build solidarity. One of those papers was Avatar, a paper out of the Boston area whose poems and essays explored a mystical dimension that attracted Michael’s attention.

Getting Sucked into Avatar

So in 1968 he left The Paper, headed east, and joined the staff of 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. Michael got sucked right in, not surprisingly. He was bright and might have posed a perceived threat to the leadership so they worked on him with mind control games and punishments.

It took him five years to escape, which he did from the commune’s rural outpost in Kansas. He headed west, eventually settled in San Francisco, worked as a carpenter, came out as a gay man, and changed his name to Mica.

By the time I caught up with him, he was working as a home-remodeling contractor, a key activist in the gay men’s pagan spiritual network Radical Faeries, and a student. He was also dying of AIDS.

I worked with him for two years on his autobiography. He died peacefully on November 22, 1991, two months after submitting the final draft. I got the call from his partner, Tony. I believe he lived as long as he did because he was inspired to complete his book.

Mica Press

Meanwhile, after receiving multiple publisher rejection letters from my agent that told me they loved the concept but didn’t want to touch the content (one gave me a “rave rejection”), I realized I wasn’t going to find a commercial press to publish my collection or an agent to represent me. I knew I would have to create my own press to tell the story of the underground press. With the help of Joe Grant, one of the other contributors, we created Mica Press.

In its Mica Press iteration, Mica’s story appeared as one piece – by far the longest – in a 600-plus-page, 2-column anthology. Twenty years later, Michigan State University Press worked with me to divide the anthology into four separate volumes, known as the Voices from the Underground Series. Mica’s story is all of volume 2.

The below image shows Mica’s patch on the famous AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Ken Wachsberger is a book coach, editor, and author of the upcoming You’ve Got the Time: How to Write and Publish That Book in You.

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.

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.

Digital Project Welcomes East Village Other, Others

It was a good week for Independent Voices, the underground/alternative/literary press digital project that has consumed the better part of my last four years. I won’t detail every connection I made with rights holders or prospective rights holders. Getting an official okay can take many weeks and require my sending of multiple reminders. That’s just the nature of email communication. This project has taught me patience.

Today, I’ll just mention a few of the major agreements that I received.

After a long campaign to find out who the rights holder was, I was thrilled—yes, that’s still an understatement—to welcome East Village Other and Gothic Blimp Works to the project. I ended up not finding one rights holder. Rather, I sent my invitation to a list of every EVO veteran I could find, and even some folks peripheral to EVO who weren’t really in a position to say yes or no anyhow but might have been able to provide input, and then I responded to everyone who got back to me. I found strong support for being included, and no opposition, which is what I anticipated. EVO was one of the most important underground papers of the Vietnam era and was one of the first five members of Underground Press Syndicate, the first nationwide network of underground papers. In fact, as the story goes, the name Underground Press Syndicate came out of their office. Gothic Blimp Works had a brief run of eight issues in 1969. It was published by EVO and was billed as “the first Sunday underground comic paper.”

Along the way, I developed a nice email friendship with veteran Alex Gross. I’m currently reading his memoir, The Untold 60s: When Hope Was Born: An Insider’s Sixties on an International Scale. It’s a huge book, approaching 700 pages, but it’s a fast, enjoyable read, taking on his adventures in England, Germany, and the United States, including his time with East Village Other and London’s first underground paper, International Times (a.k.a. IT).

Another major paper to come on board was Southern Patriot, published by legendary civil rights organizer Anne Braden. I got the okay from her son, who is her estate executor. Along with Independent Voices, we are developing other Civil Rights- and Vietnam-era digital collections, including the archives of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the archives of the Highlander Center, and the news packets and photos of Liberation News Service. Having connected to Jim Braden, we’re now talking about creating the Anne Braden Digital Archives. Just in the talking stage so far but exciting to me.

Meanwhile, speaking of the East Village Other, I should mention that three new literary publications that have recently come on board are Yardbird Reader, Y’Bird, and Quilt, all co-published by EVO co-founder Ishmael Reed, who gave me the okay.

Other recent additions to the literary collection: Reflections from Chapel Hill, Personal Injury, Fire Exit, Not Guilty, d.a. levy’s The Marrahwanna Quarterly, and the feminist Earth’s Daughters.

And then I topped off the week by getting the okay from Tessa Koning-Martinez, daughter of Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez, to include El Grito del Norte (The Northern Call), an important bi-lingual (Spanish and English) paper from New Mexico, co-founded by Betita and attorney Beverly Axelrod, that covered news of the Chicano movement, workers’ struggles, and Latino political prisoners from 1968 to 1973). I thank Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz for connecting me to Tessa.

Digitizing Underground, Alternative, and Literary Publications from a Legendary Era

The murders forty-four years ago this month of four white students at Kent State University by Ohio National Guardsmen and two black students at Jackson State University by Mississippi state police led directly to my dropping out of college at Michigan State University and joining the Vietnam-era antiwar Movement. Before my first rent payment was due, I had attended my first meeting of East Lansing’s underground newspaper, Generation, beginning a lifetime connection to the underground press, as an activist and writer, a political organizer, and later an historian and editor.

The project that I’ve described in three of my recent posts to digitize underground, alternative, and literary publications from the fifties through the eighties is a continuation of my passion for that experience and now for my effort to preserve the most important political and artistic creations of the era and make them accessible to current and future generations of activists, artists, and scholars.

In my last post about the digital collection, I described the “cost recovery = open access” economic model that is enabling Reveal Digital, the company where I am currently working, to offer the collection to libraries at a cost of approximately 20% of what other digitizing companies would charge. In an earlier post, I listed the feminist and lesbian papers that are already on board to be digitized.

In this post, I will name some of the other newspapers and magazines from the fifties through the eighties that are on board.

I’ll begin with the gay papers:

Ain’t It Da Truth, Chicago Gay Pride 1971, Come Out!, The Effeminist, Fag Rag, Faggots on Faggotry, Gay Flames, Gay Liberator, Gay Post, Lavender U, The Paper (Chicago, IL), Philadelphia Gay News, and Philadelphia Weekly Gayzette

And the minority papers:

Akwesasne Notes, Burning Spear, Chahta Anumpa/The Choctaw Times, Con Safos, El Machete, Freedom, Freedomways, Gidra, The Indian Progress, The Liberator, Maine Indian Newsletter, Makah Times, Muhammad Speaks, Palante, The Sentinel, Talking Leaf, and Voz Fronteriza

I’m in discussion with folks from other gay and minority papers, or waiting for them to send in their permission forms, but we are still weak in these areas because we got started on them later than the women’s papers. Lots more are on my list of papers to get but I don’t always know who to ask.

Do you know of gay and minority papers not included here that should be? More important, do you know veterans of those papers—or were you one yourself—who I can contact for permission?

Let’s talk. As you’ll see below, I have access to original issues of titles from serials collections of a growing list of libraries all over the country. Your paper’s omission from the collection is only because you haven’t yet given me the okay.

Meanwhile, other papers, representing the campus, high school, community, rank-and-file worker, prisoners’ rights, socialist, psychedelic, Southern consciousness, new age, and other underground and alternative voices of the era include the following:

The Activist (Oberlin, OH), Alternative Media Magazine, Ann Arbor Argus, AUGUR (Eugene), Austin Rag, Barb on Strike, Berkeley Barb, Berkeley Tribe, Big Us/Burning River News, Black & Red, Bogue Street Bridge, Both Sides Now, Buddhist 3rd Class Junkmail Oracle, Burning River Oracle, Carbuncle Review, CAW!, Chicago Kaleidoscope, Chicago Seed, Columbus Free Press, Connections, Counter-Spy, CovertAction/CovertAction Information Bulletin/CovertAction Quarterly, Cuyahoga Current, Dallas News, Dallas Notes From the Underground, Fifth Estate, Flamingo Park Gazette, The Flea, Free For All, Generation, The Ghost, Goob Yeak Gergibal, Good Morning Teaspoon, Great Speckled Bird, Great Swamp Erie da da Boom, The Guardian, Guerrilla: The Free Newspaper of the Streets, Helix, High and Mighty, Hundred Flowers, Iconoclast, The Indicator, Joint Issue, Kansas Free Press, King Street Trolley, Kudzu, Lansing Beat, Lansing Star, Leviathan, Life in the Great Society with Lyndon, Los Angeles Free Press, Madison Kaleidoscope, Midnight Special, Milwaukee Kaleidoscope, The Movement (San Francisco), National Guardian, Natty Dread, Nebraska Biweekly Dispatch, New Age, New Indicator, New Leaf, New Mole, New York Ace, New York Herald Tribune, No Limits, NOLA Express, North Star, Northwest Passage, Notes From The Underground, Notes From the Underground—The S.M.U. Off Campus Free Press, Ocean Beach People’s Rag, October 4th Organization, Old Mole, Orpheus,, Osawatomie, Other Scenes, Overthrow, Pack Rat, The Paper (East Lansing, MI), Paper Tiger, Peace & Freedom News, Penal Digest International/Prisoners’ Digest International, The People Yes, People’s Voice, Peoples Dreadnaught, Plain Talker, Pterodactyl, Public Eye, Purple Berries, Quicksilver Times, The Realist, Red Apple News, Red Tide, Richmond Mercury, The Rights of Man, Rising Up Angry, The Root, San Diego Door, San Diego Free Press, San Diego Street Journal, Sour Grapes, Space City!, The Spectator, The Spirit of Logos, Student Action Committee Newsletter (Philadelphia), Sun (Warren-Forest, Detroit, and Ann Arbor), Swamp Erie Pipe Dream, Swill & Squeal, These Crazy Times, The Unicorn, University Review, The View From Here, The Walrus, What’s Happening, White Lightning, Willamette Valley Observer, and Yipster Times

I have been honored to work with James Lewes, the world expert on the military underground press, who is on a mission to digitize every military underground paper from the era that was ever produced. Our collection includes approximately 200 of the papers that he has scanned, which is only a fraction of his amazing work. Eventually I anticipate that our larger collection will include all of his papers.

And we have four publications produced by the FBI in their campaign to destroy the underground press:

Armageddon News, A Handbook for Revolting Kids, Longhorn Tale, Rational Observer, and SDS New Laugh Notes

During that same period from the fifties through the eighties that brought forth the underground and alternative press, another burst of publishing was taking place in another genre. The underground and alternative press was largely political writing but included fiction and poetry. Other creative souls from the period were producing literary publications, largely poetry and fiction but some highly political, that were known as “little” magazines. While I can claim expertise in the underground and alternative press, I am less of an expert with the little magazines. However, our partners in this project are librarians at University of Buffalo and University of Wisconsin, whose collections include major holdings of these publications. They have provided me with suggested lists of magazines to include and I have gone forth to obtain permissions.

Among the literary journals on board so far are

0 to 9, Aion (New York), Amazon Quarterly, Amphora, Aphra, The Archer, Arsenal: Surrealist Subversion, Audience, Audit, Bezoar, Birth, Black Maria, blewointment, Bombay Gin, Bread & Roses, Bread&, Broadway Boogie, Bulletin from Nothing, Burning Deck, Caliban, Chelsea, The Chelsea Review, Chrysalis, Cloud Marauder, Clown War, The Coldspring Journal,Conditions, Copkiller, El Corno emplumado, Credences, Damascus Road, Extensions, Free Poems/Among Friends, Ganglia, Genesis West, grOnk, Hanging Loose, Harris Review, Head, Heresies: A Feminist Journal on Arts and Politics, IKON, Imago, Io, Ironwood, IT, The Little Mag, Little Square Review, Living Hand, M, Maelstrom, Mag City, Magazine, Magazine of Further Studies, Margins, Matter, Meatball, Milk Quarterly, Modern Occasions, Mother: A Journal of New Literature, New Wilderness Letter, Niagara Frontier Review, NOW/NOW NOW/NOW NOW NOW, The Outsider, Panjandrum Press, Poems from the Floating World, River Styx, Roof, Roy Rogers, Score, Scree, Search for Tomorrow, Sinister Wisdom, Sipapu, some/thing, Soup, Stooge, Sum: A Newsletter of Current Workings, Sumac, Talisman, Telephone, Things, Tish, Tree, Trobar, United Artists, Unmuzzled Ox, Unnatural Acts, Yanagi, Yeah, and Yowl

Our primary sources so far for the women’s publications have been the libraries at Duke and Northwestern. This means that, once I get permissions from rights holders, these libraries provide the original hardcopy issues for us to scan. We then return the issues undamaged. We pay all shipping and handling charges for the library. Buffalo and Wisconsin have provided us with original little magazines from their collections according to the same arrangement. Other libraries that are working with us so far as sourcing libraries include Michigan State University, Georgia State University, University of Texas-Austin, University of Maryland-Baltimore County, University of Washington, New York University, University of Arkansas at Little Rock (Sequoyah National Research Center), and William Way LGBT Center. We’re in discussion with others.

Our goal is to digitize a million pages in four years. Our motivations are two-fold: to preserve the most important writings of our generation, which are now hidden in dark shelves of special collections libraries and beginning to yellow and crumble with age; and to make them available to current and future generations of activists, artists, and scholars. You can check out our beta site here. It includes some 80,000 pages primarily from our feminist/lesbian and military underground press collections. As you can see, it is just a small sample of our projected collection, and the files are keyword-searchable, a vast improvement over the old non-searchable Bell & Howell UPS (Underground Press Syndicate) microfilm collection.

Thanks to everyone who has shown so much support for this project. Much remains to be done. I need your continuing support. In particular, if you were part of an underground, alternative, or literary publication from the period that is not included on any of my lists, please get in touch with me so I can bring you aboard. And if you are a librarian or scholar, please make your library an active supporter by enrolling in the collection.

In the meantime, if you missed my three earlier posts on the digital project, you can read them here, here, and here.

CHOICE Review of Mica Kindman’s Story, V.2 of Voices Series

I can’t find an accessible electronic link to this review of Michael “Mica” Kindman’s book, My Odyssey through the Underground Press, which is volume 2 in the Voices from the Underground Series, but I’m grateful to CHOICE for permission to reprint it here. It appears in the August 2012 issue.

In this posthumously published autobiographical account, Kindman (who died in 1991) details his involvement with the underground press and culture and brings to the fore a long-missed voice of the 1960s and beyond. As a Michigan State University student, Kindman established The Paper, a weekly underground newspaper and in 1966 one of the founding publications of the nation’s Underground Press Syndicate. Paul Krassner’s outstanding foreword provides context for Kindman’s story and underground newspapers across the nation like Los Angeles Free Press, Berkeley Barb, San Francisco Oracle, Seattle’s The Helix, and New York’s The East Village Other. The book itself also features excerpts from letters and newspaper articles. As a well-researched, well-edited firsthand account of the US underground press from its formative to it later years, this book complements John McMillian’s Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in the United States (2011), but Kindman offers more details about the beginnings of this kind of news media. A good resource for anyone interested in underground-media history and counterculture. Summing Up: Highly Recommended. All readers. — M. Goldsmith,Nicholls State University (Reprinted with permission from CHOICE http://www.cro2.org,  copyright by the American Library Association. )

Everybody Reads to Celebrate Release of Michael Kindman Bio

Former Lansing resident and veteran of the Vietnam era underground press Ken Wachsberger will lead a celebration of the life of Michael Kindman at EVERYbody Reads, 2019 East Michigan Avenue, Lansing, 7 p.m. Thursday February 2, 2012.

The event marks the release of My Odyssey through the Underground Press, the riveting, at times chilling, ultimately inspirational, and always captivating autobiography of Kindman, one of the local and national legends of the Vietnam era underground press. Kindman’s story is volume 2 of Wachsberger’s classic Voices from the Underground Series (published by Michigan State University Press).

Wachsberger spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at EVERYbody Reads on March 3, 2011 to celebrate publication of volume 1 of Voices from the Underground. Both volumes will be available for purchase.

My Odyssey begins in September 1963, when Kindman entered Michigan State University as one of nearly two hundred 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.

They arrived, brilliant minds all, expecting to find a vibrant cultural and academic oasis. They didn’t, not at the nation’s first agricultural land grant college, so they were forced to look elsewhere. The Vietnam War was raging, though it hadn’t yet entered the general public’s consciousness. But the raging inner-city ghettoes already had brought civil rights to the forefront of the country’s imagination. In East Lansing, open housing crystallized a small portion of a latent radical community. Kindman joined that community, first as a reporter for the State News, MSU’s student paper, then  as the founder of 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.

In early 1968, he was drawn to a paper from Boston, Avatar, that spoke often in poetry, always in spiritual and mystical terms, and he headed east to check it out. Kindman was welcomed by the staff, dug in as a member, and discovered too late that the large, experimental commune that controlled Avatar was a charismatic cult centered on a former-musician-turned-guru named Mel Lyman, whose psychic hold over his followers was being strengthened and intensified by means of various confrontations and loyalty tests.

Five years later, Kindman fled the commune’s rural outpost in Kansas and headed west, where he settled in San Francisco, came out as a gay man, and changed his name to Mica. When Kindman wrote this important journey into self-discovery, he was 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.

Forewords are by legendary sixties-era author and satirist Paul Krassner, who is often considered the father of the underground press; and Tommi Avicolli Mecca, author, gay activist, and long-time veteran of the gay press.

Michael Kindman’s revealing memoir … will take you through his adventures and misadventures in the larger context of an evolutionary jump in consciousness, from hippie to the New Age, from a control freak’s cult to individual freedom, from sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll to a spiritual revolution. Ultimately, this book will serve as a multi-faceted slice of countercultural history.—Paul Krassner

Mica’s recapitulation, as he calls it, is a record of an era long past, a time when idealism wasn’t a bad word and questioning was a rite of passage for many of America’s young people. Recapitulations such as his can only help us better understand the strengths of the struggles of the past and how to avoid the mistakes that were all too often made.—Tommi Avicolli Mecca

The 4-volume Voices from the Underground Series is a collection of histories of underground papers from the Vietnam era as told by key people on each of the papers. 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, while giving voice to the liberation movements of the period.

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.

Voices from the Underground was called “the most important book on American journalism published in my lifetime” by In These Times when it appeared in an earlier version in 1993. The Los Angeles Times said it “comes closer than anything I’ve yet read to putting the sights, sounds and texture of the ‘60s on paper.”

Editor Ken Wachsberger 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, writing for self-discovery, and other issues.

Volumes 3 and 4 both are due out in 2012. Ken may be reached at ken@voicesfromtheunderground.com for interviews and speaking invitations.