Crack Team of Digitizers Preserving Music History

Do you miss those cutting-edge hip hop and rap magazines from the eighties and nineties?

Does your favorite academic library have incomplete runs of your favorite rock and folk music magazines and the pages are torn or missing?

For the past seven years, I have been on a crack team of digitizers at sister companies Reveal Digital and NA Publishing who are creating amazing collections of exact digital reproductions of important political and cultural newspapers and magazines from the nineteen fifties onward (with a few that dip into the forties). I’m the guy who figures out who the rights holders are, then researches how to contact them or their heirs and invites them to include their publications in the collections.

Our goals are to preserve these publications, which too often yellow around the edges and crumble as they age; and to make them accessible to current and future readers, for whom if it isn’t in electronic form it doesn’t exist.

Underground Press

Our premier collection was the landmark Independent Voices, which, when it is finished, will include some 1,000 underground, alternative, and literary newspapers and magazines from the fifties through the eighties, encompassing the Civil Rights and Vietnam era antiwar and liberation movements.





Rock Music Magazines

Our current series is of music magazines. The Rock collection is complete with minor exceptions, including sourcing of a few remaining issues of CREEM.



Folk Music Magazines

Folk, including Sing Out!, Broadside, People’s Songs Bulletin, and others, is smaller than Rock but scanning and digitizing continue and it is growing. We’d still like to add a few titles.




If you loved the music, check out the magazines in our collection that covered it:
password: Seeger

Hip Hop and Rap Music Magazines

Next is Hip Hop and Rap. We’re still in the crucial rights-gathering stage. Current and former hip hop and rap editors and publishers:

  • Would you like your magazine to be digitized at no cost to you?
  • Would you like to receive keyword-searchable digital files to put up on your website at no cost to you?

Then email me today at and let’s talk.

I look forward to hearing from you.



Introducing Reveal Digital’s New Underground Press Digital Platform

For the past five years, I’ve been writing a lot about Independent Voices, Reveal Digital’s keyword-searchable digital collection of underground, alternative, and literary newspapers and magazines from the fifties through the eighties (primarily sixties and seventies but significant overlap in both directions). I’ve teased interested readers by listing new titles as I obtained permission to include them in the collection. I’ve called out libraries as they’ve joined our growing team of sourcing libraries. I’ve reprinted talks that I’ve given at academic and political conferences and celebrations about the underground press and the digital collection.

It’s been a real ride.

And now, it is my pleasure to share with you Independent Voices’ new, more robust, more dynamic, more attractive, more functional platform for your enjoyment, your inspiration, and your education. [Note: Any fuzziness and blurriness that you see in the blog entry images below are factors of my attempts to reduce screen shots to fit blog space; when you visit the actual website you will see text and images that are crisp and clear.]

Feast your eyes.

We’ll begin with the Home page.


The icon on the left is from a cover of Big Mama Rag, a feminist paper from Denver, Colorado, that published from 1972 to 1984, one of the nearly 120 feminist and lesbian papers that will be available in Independent Voices by the time we are finished uploading content sometime around January 2017. Every time you log on, you’ll get a different cover from among our over 1,000 titles that you’ll be able to access.

In the middle of the page is a brief overview of the collection and on the right, if you’re already familiar with the site and want to start searching, is our Search button. But hold on for a minute if this is your first visit. Let me take you through the rest of the site before you start your search.

The second tab is our Search tab.


Oh, the searches you can do, and the tricks that you can perform to make your search easier.

This brief blog entry isn’t a complete tutorial so I’m not going to hold your hand and take you step by step through every feature. Instead, I’ll refer you to the Help tab (see below).


Here you will learn how to do simple keyword searches, exact phrase searches, and Boolean searches, as well as how to apply filters to refine them. You will learn how to search over one or multiple publications, within date ranges, and within full text, comments, and tags. You will learn how to choose the number of search results you want displayed on each page, and determine whether you would like text or image previews displayed with your search results. Wildcard searches? Fuzzy searching? Optical character recognition? Proximity searching? The fun is just beginning.

The next tab, Titles, is my favorite because it is such a vast improvement over our earlier site. In our earlier site, you had no idea what the full range of uploaded titles was, so you could enter a title and not know if it would even come up. Now we present to you an alphabetical listing of our titles—but note that these are only the titles that have been uploaded. The scanning and digitizing process is still in full action mode and isn’t slated to be finished until the end of January 2017. New titles are being uploaded regularly.


This above screenshot shows titles that begin with A. In addition, a number of titles from our collection of GI underground papers began with numbers so those appear above the A’s. Notice that the titles all have locks after them except for one that appears in red. The vision of Independent Voices is that it will be an open access system after we have recovered our costs, which means that, sitting in your home or your favorite restaurant or wherever you do your Internet research, you will be able to conduct a simple keyword search on our site and view every title. We aren’t there yet. While production is in process, only patrons of supporting libraries have complete access, a perk we provide supporting libraries as an incentive for them to help us reach what we call our “sales threshold,” which is the amount of funding we need to break even on this immense project.

But for those who can’t access the complete site, we have already placed a handful of titles—22 to be exact—in open access so that you can get a feel for the site and see what you’re missing. In this screenshot the GI underground paper The American Exile Newsletter is open access. A short list of others: Battle Acts, Berkeley Barb, The Rag (Austin), Bragg Briefs, Conditions, Ann Arbor Sun, Great Speckled Bird, On Our Backs.

Here is our list of libraries that have made the one-time investment to help us achieve open access according to our unique “cost recovery = open access” economic model. As someone who spent over a decade of the last century editing library journals, including Reference Services Review and Serials Review, I regularly heard librarian laments about shrinking budgets and ever-rising serials costs. “Open access” is the gold star for librarians, the alternative to the models of our competitor companies whose digital collections are priced prohibitively high for most libraries and remain behind a pay wall forever, meaning they are only accessible to patrons of those libraries that can afford it, while scholars forever have to pay to gain access to their own articles.

If your library is on this list, you’re in luck. Your thoughtful, progressive, insightful librarians have thrown their support behind the principle of open access while enabling you to do the research you need for your classes and your continuing education in women’s studies, ethnic studies, gender studies, poetry and fiction, American history, political studies, military history, and more. If your library is not on the list, tell your librarian why being able to access Independent Voices is important to you. Personal requests from patrons go a long way in helping librarians determine how to spend their scarce funds. Then contact me or have them contact me at

Before we leave the Titles tab, I want to take you one step inside it. Here’s what you see when you click the red “American Exile Newsletter, The”:


We call this a landing page and every title has one. As you can see, Independent Voices has eight issues of this GI underground newspaper, which was published in Stockholm, Sweden, from March 1973 to March 1975. You can now click the icon for each issue and explore further. The landing page also was not part of our earlier website.

The next three tabs are, respectively:

  • Dates: Presently it goes back to 1950 but two titles that haven’t yet been loaded but that have their roots in the forties are Vice Versa, considered the first lesbian publication of our era, and National Guardian, the forerunner of The Guardian. It goes up to 2013 because, while our stated date range of fifties through eighties (with the two above exceptions) refers to founding dates; some of the papers continued to publish after the eighties and in fact are still publishing.
  • Libraries: We’re working with a growing team of sourcing libraries that provide us with original copies of papers to scan and digitize once we get permission from the intellectual property rights holders. This tab lists the libraries and private donors that have loaned us the titles that are already uploaded. This list will continue to grow substantially because libraries trust us to care for the materials that they send us from their non-circulating collections. We scan and digitize the issues, then return them to the libraries still in good shape because our scanners are the highest-quality, best-trained in the business. At the same time, we provide them with keyword-searchable digital files and metadata of the titles they provide to us.
  • Series: another convenient new feature. Presently it indicates that the website already includes titles from the following collections: Black American, Campus Underground, Feminist, GI Press, LGBT, and Little Magazines. Not listed yet are Latino (including our Chicano papers) and Native American, two of our growing collections for which we have obtained many permissions but that haven’t been loaded yet.

Finally, for now, accessibility is important to us. The content loaded in Independent Voices is page-image-based but we have created a text layer that is accessible to screen readers. The text is created by optical character recognition (OCR) with auto-column detection. It has not been corrected or manually tagged. The text layer is accessible both within the application at the page level (under the “Text” tab) and as downloadable PDF files, at both page and issue levels. The interface uses element labels/titles to assist screen readers in navigation.

Our new hosting platform is Veridian. Here is what Veridian wrote on their website concerning their compliance with web accessibility guidelines:

Veridian is used by many government/public institutions that need to conform to local or international web accessibility guidelines, and as such it has been carefully designed to comply. Veridian has been chosen by the American Foundation for the Blind as a platform for their Helen Keller Archives, partly due to Veridian’s strong commitment to supporting web accessibility, and removing barriers preventing access to websites by people with disabilities.

And that’s my fifty-cent tour of Independent Voices. Now it’s your turn. Search by series or by title or just do a random search and enjoy what you find. If your favorite publication from the period is missing drop me an email at It may simply not yet have been uploaded. Then again, I may have been unable so far to obtain permission. My biggest challenge is finding rights holders. Your help in locating them for me can bring your favorite titles into the collection.

Thanks in advance for your help and your support. If you like what you see and you are excited about the potential, please consider a tax-deductible financial donation to the library or libraries of your choice earmarked to fund their support of Independent Voices. If you don’t know who to contact there, let me connect you with their collection officers. Whatever we’ve done so far, however many newspapers and magazines we’ve already digitized, we can do much more with your help.



Joe Grant: Happy Birthday and Goodbye, Friend

Today is Joe Grant’s birthday. How painful to receive birthday notices on Facebook for friends who you actually know and love and to know that they died within the past year.

Happy birthday, Joe, wherever you are now.

Joe Grant was one of the unsung legends of the underground press. He was a dear friend and a hero. He also was a thief, a scoundrel, a hustler, a counterfeiter, and a liar. But he was lovable. He had a warm heart, amazing energy, a sharp mind, talent as a gifted artist, and a progressive politics. I loved him.

Joe Grant. Photo courtesy of Jeff Scott Olson, 2015.

Joe Grant. Photo courtesy of Jeff Scott Olson, 2015.

Joe was the founder and publisher of Prisoners Digest International, the most important, by far, prisoners’ rights underground newspaper of the seventies—and possibly of all time. Although it was short-lived, it made its way into San Quentin, Joliet, Soledad, Leavenworth, and other prisons around the country and the world. There, inmate correspondents reported on prison conditions and other news that no corporate newspaper would touch or even think to be newsworthy.

Stop the Presses! I Want to Get Off! is Joe’s story of how he came to publish Prisoners’ Digest International, or Penal Digest International, as it was originally called.

It was my good fortune to work with Joe as his editor.

It Began with a Woman

It began with a woman. I know that’s a cliché. It’s corny. It’s embarrassing. But there’s no other way to say it. I broke up with a woman, got depressed, fell into my “woe is me” state of mind, and did what I always did in the early seventies when I was depressed or restless: I hit the road. It was May 1972.

My first stop was Madison, Wisconsin, one of the Midwest countercultural hotbeds of the era; then Boulder, Colorado, home of my all-time oldest friend, who was going to school out there. I traveled by my usual mode of transportation, my thumb. And so on this particular afternoon I was hitching west on I-80 from Madison to Boulder and I got let off in Iowa City. Before I had time to recharge my thumb, a car pulled up alongside me. Two guys sat in the front seat. The guy sitting shotgun said, “Where ya headed?”

I said Boulder.

“Hungry?” he asked.

I was, although I didn’t pay much attention to hunger in those days. I fed off the exhilaration of being on the road, going whichever way the wind blew, waving the shopping bag that revealed my destination so seductively—while always giving direct eye contact—that drivers had no choice but to either stop and offer me a lift or, well, pass me anyhow, but if they passed me up they knew that I knew that they knew that I was standing there and so they felt guilty, and in the world of hitchhikers, that’s known as a consolidation prize. And if all that didn’t satisfy my hunger, I always had a bag of raisins in my knapsack—they were inexpensive, they lasted forever, they never went bad, and you could squeeze them into any open bubble of space in your backpack.

The guy sitting shotgun opened the back door, I hopped in, and they drove me to 505 South Lucas, their office and home.

On the way to 505, as they called it, they explained to me that they were ex-cons and that they worked on a paper called Penal Digest International, or PDI. I had never heard of Penal Digest International because it wasn’t a member of Underground Press Syndicate, the first nationwide network of countercultural underground papers from the sixties and seventies, including Joint Issue, the paper I worked on in Lansing, Michigan. But I was intrigued by the idea of a paper that was published by ex-cons, and whose reporters were all prisoners covering their respective “beats” in Folsom, Leavenworth, Soledad, Attica, and other prisons all over the country. The two guys spoke excitedly about the paper but they became even more passionate as they described the birth of the newest member of their collective, a girl who had been born less than a month before in an in-home ceremony that featured music in the background and a hash pipe being passed around the room in the foreground.

PDI cartoon by Drummond, artist and friend of Joe Grant from Leavenworth: “Racial Disunity.” Courtesy of PDI Archives.

PDI cartoon by Drummond, artist and friend of Joe Grant from Leavenworth: “Racial Disunity.” Courtesy of PDI Archives.

I was greeted warmly by everyone at 505 and I shared a delicious vegetarian dinner. While I was waiting for the meal to begin, I noticed a light table in the back room. I figured that was the newspaper office so I went over to take a look. A partially laid-out page was on the table so I started to read it to get a preview of the upcoming issue. Wouldn’t you know it, I discovered a typographical error. Being the compulsive anal retentive that I was–and still am—I had no choice but to correct it. There was a desk next to the light table, and a typewriter on the desk, and a piece of paper in the typewriter, so I typed the word correctly. I cut it out with a scissors, leaving as little white space around the word as possible. Then I picked up the correctly spelled word with a tweezers, lightly daubed the back of it with Glue Stick, and carefully positioned it over the incorrectly spelled word, using the light that shined through the page from the light table to line it up correctly with the other words on the line. That was it, but I felt a lot better.

I can’t remember if I spent the night at 505 or had them take me back to the highway right away. What I do remember is that the visit left a major impression on me. I sent a letter back to the folks at Joint Issue that they published.

Sixteen Years Later

Sixteen years later, when I was conceptualizing what would become the first edition of Voices from the Underground: Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, I knew I wanted PDI to be included. I was fortunate that the Special Collections library at Michigan State University had copies of PDI, and the general library upstairs had an impressive phone book collection that included Iowa City. I perused the staff boxes and compiled a list of complete names—not just first names, nicknames, or pseudonyms. I looked them up in the Iowa City phone book hoping to find a match. I did. So I called her and asked her if she had written for Penal Digest International in the early seventies.

When she said she had, I described my project, and said I was looking for an insider to write a comprehensive history of the paper. Then, to burnish my PDI credentials, I told her about hitching west on I-80 and the two ex-cons and the baby being born and the hash pipe celebration.

Unfortunately, she said, she was not the right person to write an authoritative history of the paper. I asked who I had to talk to. She said Joe Grant. I said, “Can I have his phone number?” She said no.

But, she said, “If you give me your phone number, I’ll tell him to call you.” So I mustered up all the enthusiasm I could muster up and said, “Great,” and I gave her my phone number. But as I hung up the phone, I said to myself, “Well, you can kiss that one goodbye”—because, honestly, how many people, when they say they’ll call you back, actually call you back.

Two weeks later, Joe called me back! As it turns out, Joe had been out of town the day I visited the paper. But apparently I had made such a memorable impression on those who were there that they told him about me when he returned. “Ken,” he said, “a lot of people stopped by 505 in those days. They drank our booze, ate our food, smoked our dope, partied with us, and slept with us. But you were the only person, ever, to work on the paper, voluntarily, without being asked.”


He said many writers and scholars over the years had asked him to tell his story but he had always said no. To me, he said yes. All because I had corrected a typo. So there’s a lesson for you anal retentives out there: Put that on your résumé. There’s a job waiting for you.

Over the next year and a half we formed a precious bond and a close friendship that continued to the end as he dove into writing his story and I dove into editing his story. By the time we were finished, it was one of the two longest stories in the first edition. I knew then that it should have been its own book. With publication of my updated, expanded, revised four-volume Voices from the Underground Series, that vision was realized as Joe’s story became all of volume four.

Hell Holes, Spirit of Rebellion, and the Story of PDI

And what a great story Joe tells. Joe had a few years on most of the rest of us who contributed to the Voices from the Underground Series. We were coming of age during the Vietnam era. Joe’s story begins in 1953 when many of us were in pre-school and Joe was in pre-Revolutionary Cuba serving in the U.S. Navy and he met and befriended a group of revolutionaries. It takes us through his years as publisher of a rank-and-file newspaper, then into Leavenworth where he did time in the mid-sixties for counterfeiting.

“Back then,” Joe writes, the feds “used Leavenworth for the truly incorrigible.”

Leavenworth was where they sent the prisoners when they closed Alcatraz.

Stepping into that prison and becoming part of it reminded me of the opening paragraph of Tale of Two Cities. It was the best and the worst place to do time. The best place to be if you wanted to serve your prison sentence and not be bothered by anyone—prisoner or guard. The worst place to be if you were hoping to make parole. The best place for quiet in the cell blocks. The worst place for informers. The best place for food. The worst place for library books. The best place if you could learn by observing and be silent until spoken to. The worst place if you had a big mouth.

Prisons in those days were hell holes—but there was a spirit of rebellion and reformation in the air. A certain segment of society believed that the purpose of prison was to rehabilitate prisoners, not punish them, so that when they were released they could return to society as well-adjusted citizens. So there were efforts to provide vocational classes; modernize libraries; expand visiting hours; improve medical care and food quality; recognize religious freedom; not censor mail. Prisoners were catching the spirit of rebellion that was happening in the streets and becoming politically aware. They were overcoming differences that separated them from each other by race and religion and uniting around common causes, including with inmates from other prisons.

It was in this atmosphere that Joe’s idea began to take shape for Prisoners’ Digest International, a newspaper with two purposes: to provide prisoners with a voice that prison authorities could not silence and to establish lines of communication between prisoners and people in the free world.

Spirit of rebellion: Prisoner giving peace sign, Graterford Prison, Graterford, Pennsylvania. Photo by Joe Grant. Courtesy of PDI Archives.

Spirit of rebellion: Prisoner giving peace sign, Graterford Prison, Graterford, Pennsylvania. Photo by Joe Grant. Courtesy of PDI Archives.

The first PDI came out in spring 1971. During the paper’s brief history, Joe and the collective did more than just publish stories and poems from prisoners. As with the best of the era’s underground newspapers, they made news—and then reported on it. They stopped the extradition of an Arkansas escapee, ended an innocent Indian boy’s six years in prison, exposed behavior-modification experiments on prisoners through insider stories of surviving inmates, shared victories and defeats of jailhouse lawyers, stood up for prisoners outside Attica before the guards stormed the prison, and much more.

Joe was a natural story teller. In Stop the Presses!, he tells us

  • about the first and only underground newspaper produced inside the walls of Leavenworth, naturally under Joe’s leadership;
  • about the financial support he received from labor legend Jimmy Hoffa and from Playboy magazine;
  • about the devoted collective of ex-cons, community folks, neighbor kids, and out-of-town visitors he attracted, including Jerry Samuels, who, under the name Napoleon XIV, wrote and sang “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha”; and
  • the touching testimonial to his beloved mother that includes the never-before-told story about how singing legend Peggy Lee got her name.

The last PDI came out in spring of 1974. Not surprisingly, police harassment played a role in its ending, and so did burnout. Today, prison conditions are worse than they were then. Rehabilitation has been replaced by punishment and for-profit privatization as the guiding forces behind prison management. Fortunately prisons do still have some independent voices, including Prison Legal News. Joe and I were honored that publisher Paul Wright, himself an ex-con, wrote the afterword to Joe’s story.

And the most famous political prisoner in the world, former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, wrote the foreword. Personally connecting to anyone on death row requires persistence, creativity, serious networking ability, and good fortune. Whatever it was, I connected with him while he was on Pennsylvania’s death row, and he loved Joe’s story. Not long after that, he was released from death row and sent back to the general prison population for the first time in 29 years. Still, his treatment by the justice system is continued testament to Pennsylvania’s desire to silence him because he is a powerful voice of truth about prison conditions today.

Joe Moves on to His Next Adventure

The last time I saw Joe was one week after I received copies of his book from our publisher’s distributor for my resale inventory. The timing was impeccable. It was August 2012. Emily and I were driving to Las Vegas with Carrie, who was about to begin her three-year doctoral program in vocal performance at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). It didn’t take much revising of the shortest route possible to bring us through Kansas, where Joe was living with his beloved wife Shar, ironically not far from Leavenworth Prison. I had visions of visiting Leavenworth with Joe and trying to deliver a copy of his book to the prison library. Naturally they would refuse our entry while the TV cameras rolled and the reporters took notes. Joe passed on the opportunity, not wanting to upset Shar, who was favoring a quieter life since their PDI adventure.

Joe and Shar Grant, final days of Prisoners' Digest International, Bulger’s Hollow, Iowa, 1973. Courtesy of PDI Archives.

Joe and Shar Grant, final days of Prisoners’ Digest International, Bulger’s Hollow, Iowa, 1973. Courtesy of PDI Archives.

On April 19 of this year, I received a call from Joe’s daughter Charity, who had taken it upon herself to deliver the news of Joe’s passing to his network of friends. She told me that he had died on March 27 from natural causes: “He was part of the circle until the very end.” Ironically—or karmically, as is my preference—that day I was delivering a keynote talk on the underground press at a conference on radicalism in the electronic world at Michigan State, where my story had begun. Naturally, I mentioned my adventures with Prisoners’ Digest International. I choose to believe that Joe was at the talk with me and that, when he heard my PDI reference, he decided it was time to move on to his next adventure.

Joe was a legend. For all of his faults he was, as far as I knew him, a kind man, a generous man, a funny man, and—not to press the double meanings but never one to pass one up—a man of conviction. He is missed.

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.

Speaking at the Berkeley Barb Reunion

I’ve been honored with an invitation to speak at the Berkeley Barb 50-year anniversary reunion, which is next Wednesday and Thursday, 8/12-13. What a week it’s going to be.

The Berkeley Barb was one of the original members of Underground Press Syndicate, the first nationwide network of countercultural underground newspapers. The Barb, founded in 1965, was the voice of the Berkeley community, which was the epicenter of the counterculture.

The week-long celebration begins on Sunday 8/9 with an art opening at the Art House Gallery (2905 Shattuck from noon to 3) featuring the work of Berkeley Barb artist Patricia Oberhaus and photographers John Jekabson and Harold Adler, all of which I’ll miss unfortunately because I won’t be arriving until Monday 8/10.

But I’ll be there on Wednesday 8/12 for the party and the concert with radio pioneer Scoop Nisker and live performances by Country Joe McDonald, Jef Jaisun, and Sal Valentino at the Freight & Salvage at 2020 Addison St. in the heart of Berkeley. I’m told it holds over 400 people; that may not be large enough to hold everyone who wants to attend so if you’re in the area and want to attend show up early. Tickets will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 7 p.m.

On Thursday 8/13 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Berkeley Main Library will host a day of speakers and panels in their community room. Legendary feminist comix illustrator and pioneer Trina Robbins will give the opening keynote, on women and their adventures underground; and Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld (Dr. Hip) will give the closing keynote, on sex, drugs, and health. Trina, I’m honored to say, was a contributor to the It Aint Me Babe history in my Voices from the Underground Series. Dr. Hip was an underground press syndicated columnist (which meant everybody used his column and no one paid him) who dispensed sex advice in a Dear Abby format. I read him regularly because East Lansing’s The Paper, another history in my series, was one of the papers that published his column.


I’ll be participating in the second of two panels, along with 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.

And more. It’s going to be an incredible event.

Main events conclude Friday 8/14 with an all-day festival of films from or about the era.

Kudos to the organizing committee for creating this event: Gar Smith, Diana Stephens, Raquel Scherr, Judy Gumbo, Ray Riegert, John Jekabson, and George Csicsery—though I know lots of other folks have made major contributions.

And if you’re in the area, I hope to see you there.


Preserving Radical Voices from the Civil Rights and Vietnam Eras

If you plan to attend the “Left Forum 2015” conference at John Jay College in New York this weekend, please plan to attend the panel “Digitizing Our Radical Past … Affordably,” which will be held Saturday from 5:10-7 p.m.. I will be talking about the underground press digital project that I have been working on for the past four years. Fellow panelists include Thai Jones, curator for American History at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and Kathie Sarachild, founding member of the pioneering feminist group the Redstockings.


 Overview of Panel

This panel is about the work that Reveal Digital has been doing for the past four years to digitize underground, alternative, and literary newspapers and magazines from the fifties through the eighties as a way to preserve our radical and literary past and make it accessible to the current and future generations of activists, scholars, and writers. It’s no secret among academics that young scholars today look first and primarily to the Internet for sources of information and may be totally unaware of the vast treasures that await them in the back shelves of special collections libraries. Digitizing these treasures is a first step toward making them accessible.

But digitizing alone isn’t enough to ensure accessibility, especially if the resulting digital collections are priced beyond the reaches of academic libraries, which are the primary purchasers of these collections. This is the predicament that libraries face under the traditional economic model employed by traditional publishing companies, which offer digital collections at prices so high that only a small number of libraries can purchase them ever and therefore only their clients have access to them ever. In addition, researchers increasingly want the ability to text-mine digitized content, which requires access to the entire full-text corpus of digitized collections, something that is typically unavailable under the traditional publication model due to intellectual property concerns.

Meanwhile, library budgets strain to keep up with rising prices for print and digital collections.

Reveal Digital has entered this arena with a unique new library crowd-funding model that offers a cost-effective way for libraries to fund the digitization of special collections without trading away their digital rights, a common practice under more traditional “publishing” models. Once a project’s crowd-funding goal is achieved, the content is made open access, resulting in free access to all.

The goal of the work described above—that we call Independent Voices—is to digitize three-quarters of a million pages of underground, alternative, and literary newspapers and magazines from the fifties through the eighties by the end of January 2017. To date, we have uploaded some 250,000 pages. 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 scholars and activists.

We originally aimed to include a thousand publications in the collection but we already have surpassed that number. Our collection so far includes approximately 120 feminist and lesbian papers, 130 literary magazines, 600 military underground papers, and 180 campus, community, high school, gay, minority, prisoners’ rights, and other underground and alternative papers that have either already been or are in the process of being scanned and digitized. We even have 4 papers published by the FBI to sow dissension in the Movement.

With each paper, we are creating an exact keyword-searchable digital reproduction of every page.


This work couldn’t be done without the immense help of a growing team of sourcing libraries that loan us original copies of these papers from their collections after we clear permission from the intellectual property rights holders. Libraries that are on board already include Duke, Northwestern, University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University, Georgia State University, University of Texas-Austin (UT-Austin), University of Buffalo, University of Washington, New York University, Bowling Green State University, University of Kansas, University of Arkansas at Little Rock (Sequoyah National Research Center), University of California-San Diego (UCSD), Oberlin College, University of Connecticut, and California Historical Society. It is not uncommon that for some titles no single library owns a complete run. In those cases, we patch together complete runs from our sourcing libraries that have partial collections. This ability to create aggregate collections is another advantage of digitizing.

Independent Voices is the first collection to be funded through Reveal Digital’s library crowd-funding model. Beyond the Independent Voices project, we are working with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) to create a SNCC Digital Archive, with Highlander Folk School to digitize their papers from its founding through the Civil Rights era, and with Liberation News Service, the AP-UPI of the underground press, to create a collection that includes their photos and news packets. Other projects are in the conceptual stage.

In the tradition of Kickstarter, Reveal Digital has created a crowd-funding website at . There, we introduce every new project that is under consideration, lay out the individual costs to create the site, reduce the total cost to a per-library cost based on a tiered pricing structure (approximately 20 percent of what libraries would pay a typical digitizing company for a similar collection), and ask for non-binding commitments of support. Once the total of commitments reaches the cost-recovery threshold, we begin the permission-clearance phase.

Libraries that fund any one collection receive early access to that collection, free MARC records, COUNTER compliant usage metrics, and full support for mass text downloading, as well as initial consideration for ideas to make their own collections more widely available through the cost recovery = open access economic model, without giving up ownership of the resulting digital files.

Libraries have a long tradition of working together for the greater good of the broader library community. In that same tradition, no library is expected to support every Reveal Digital project but every library will have access to every project once they become open access. Thus, libraries supporting this unique new approach to funding the digitization of special collections ensure that access to important cultural material is free and available to all.

You can learn more at Because we aren’t yet open access, you can only view the papers on that site if you have access to one of our supporting libraries. However, you can still review a sample of our work at our demo site,

 Panel of Presenters

  • Chair: Ken Wachsberger
  • Ken Wachsberger will give an overview of what the underground/alternative press was, focusing not on the countercultural history that begins with the Los Angeles Free Press but rather the broader, more diverse history that goes back to the forties and includes also minority papers, GLBT papers, women’s papers, and more. He will talk about the origins of the Reveal Digital Independent Voices collection and its current status. He will introduce and explain the cost recovery = open access economic model and introduce upcoming projects and Reveal’s crowd-funding website.
  • Thai Jones, Herbert H. Lehman Curator for American History at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, has worked in a number of ways to expand access to Columbia’s archival materials. He will talk about the political significance of open access, especially in relation to critical and authentic teaching and learning.
  • Kathie Sarachild, a founding member of the Redstockings, one of the most important feminist groups of the sixties and seventies and today a grassroots, activist “think tank,” will talk about the challenges the Redstockings have had in maintaining their Women’s Liberation Archives for Action and raising funds to have it cataloged, microfilmed, and digitized for a wider public, as the group continues to organize, mobilize, and develop and disseminate radical feminist ideas.


Ken Wachsberger is an internationally known author, editor, and speaker as well as a renowned expert on the Vietnam era underground and alternative press. Ken is a book contract advisor with the National Writers Union and a frequent lecturer on the topics of contracts and copyright. He is the former editor or managing editor of several peer-reviewed publications from Pierian Press and MCB University Press. During his tenure as Contracts and Copyright Manager with Reveal Digital, Ken has led the drive to identify and obtain permission for over 1,200 underground, alternative, and literary newspapers and magazines from the fifties through the eighties to be part of Reveal’s Independent Voices digital project.

Thai Jones is the Herbert H. Lehman Curator for U.S. History at Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library. He is the author of two books: More Powerful Than Dynamite: Radicals, Plutocrats, Progressives, and New York’s Year of Anarchy (Bloomsbury, 2014), and A Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground, One Family’s Century of Conscience (Free Press, 2004). Jones is currently working on a new book on the labor movement and the environment in a Nevada boomtown. Tentatively entitled, Boomtown: Dreams, Greed, Destruction, and the Fall of the Old West, it is under contract with Harvard University Press, with an expected publication date of Fall 2016.

Kathie Sarachild is a pioneer of the women’s movement of the sixties and seventies. She took part in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer as a volunteer with SNCC and joined the female liberation movement in1967, working with New York Radical Women, for whose organizing she developed the slogan “sisterhood is powerful” and the program for “consciousness-raising.” She was one of four women to hang the “Women’s Liberation” banner inside Convention Hall at the 1968 protest of the Miss America Pageant. Sarachild was a founding member of the Redstockings, one of the most important feminist groups of the period. She was an author of the Redstockings’ “Principles” and “Manifesto” in 1969, and an editor and contributor to the 1975 Redstockings anthology Feminist Revolution, which was later reprinted by Random House in a censored edition. Redstockings today is a new kind of grassroots, activist “think tank,” started by Redstockings’ veterans for defending and advancing the women’s liberation agenda. Sarachild is director of the Redstockings Archive for Action,, which was started in 1989 to make the formative and radical 1960’s experience of the movement more widely available for study by current and future feminist activists.

Feminist and Lesbian Periodicals in the Digital Age

Following is my talk at the “Women’s History in the Digital World 2015” conference that was held at Bryn Mawr College this past Thursday and Friday, May 21-22. I was honored to be joined by Laura X and Andrée Rathemacher as fellow panelists and Julie Enszer as chair of our panel, which was titled “Feminist and Lesbian Periodicals in the Digital Age … Rebroadcasting Our Voices.” Quick bios:

  • Laura X: legendary feminist archivist and founder of both the Women’s History Research Center and the National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape as well as, more recently, the Laura X Institute to house her Social Movements Archives from the women’s movement and overlapping social movements
  • Andrée Rathemacher, professor and head of acquisitions in the University Libraries at the University of Rhode Island, and long-time advocate of open access and scholarly communication reform
  • Julie Enszer, visiting scholar in the Department of Women’s Studies at University of Maryland and editor of Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal

Upcoming guest blog posts will be the presentations of Laura and Andrée.

Panelists (L to R) Andrée Rathemacher, Laura X, and Ken Wachsberger

Panelists (L to R) Andrée Rathemacher, Laura X, and Ken Wachsberger

* * *

When I got the word that my panel had been accepted into the conference I announced on Facebook that I would be speaking on the topic of the feminist and lesbian underground press. A college friend of mine, who I haven’t seen in over forty years, wrote, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

We lived in the dorm together back then. Today I think he’s Tea Party. I got busted after Kent State and emerged from solitary confinement as a committed radical. Not everyone who lived through the sixties experienced the magic of the period. Those of us who did read the underground press.

I’m not surprised today that so many young people have never heard of the underground press. Vietnam was a national embarrassment. We were the bad guys. We got trounced. And then, instead of having a national dialogue so that we could heal as a nation, Vietnam was disappeared from national discourse. Schools and colleges didn’t teach it. Generations grew up having no idea what happened.

So here’s a quick summary: The antiwar movement during the Vietnam years was the broadest, most diverse antiwar movement in the history of our country, no exception. The underground press—the independent, alternative, non-corporate, antiwar, underground press—was the voice of that movement. There were underground papers everywhere. They were all united against the war. But they all spoke to their individual communities. There was the gay press, the lesbian press the feminist press, the black press, Native Americans, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Asian-Americans, GIs, campus, community, high school, psychedelics, socialists, Southern consciousness, prisoners’ rights, rank-and-file workers, senior citizens….

I’m talking today about the women’s papers. Like the others, they were everywhere. In fact, I’m going to make an assertion and then I’m going to tell a story.

The assertion: You can’t fully know women’s history, especially in the sixties and seventies, without studying the feminist and lesbian underground press.

The story: Fifteen years after the war ended, I published my book, Voices from the Underground, a series of histories of different underground papers as written by key people on each of the papers. I included as many different sectors of the antiwar movement as I could because I wanted to create a mosaic of what the antiwar movement looked like. For the feminist press I chose off our backs, the first national feminist paper to emerge from the east coast. A group of radical lesbians broke away from off our backs and became known as The Furies, soon The legendary Furies. Their paper, The Furies, is also in Voices.

The book came out to much critical acclaim, and then it went out of print, in a story for another time but way too soon. Not long after it went out of print, I received a phone call from Susan Brownmiller. I’m sure most of you know who Susan is but for those of you who don’t, Susan was—is—a feminist author and organizer who became famous in the early seventies after publishing her book, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, the book that put rape on the map as a feminist issue. At the time of her call she was writing a history of the feminist movement (In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution (1999)) and wanted a copy of my book so she could read the off our backs and Furies entries. I didn’t have one—fortunately she found one on her own—but the experience stayed with me: Susan Brownmiller, the famous author, liked my book. I was pretty full of myself.

So another fifteen years later, when I was working on the revised and expanded second edition, which came out as the four-volume Voices from the Underground Series, I contacted her for a testimonial quote, which she graciously gave to me. It appears on the back cover of volume 1; off our backs is one of the stories in that volume. On my next trip to New York, I met her for the first time.

4-volume Voices from the Underground Series

4-volume Voices from the Underground Series

On my way from the subway to her apartment, I was visualizing our greeting: She opened the door to her apartment. She had a warm smile on her face. With outstretched arms, she embraced me and told me what a great book I had created and how much she admired me as an author and editor and a supporter of the feminist cause and how just all-around wonderful I was….

Okay, I admit it, I was in groupie mode. In fact, although I’m sure she said hello, I don’t remember it. What I remember is her opening the door and saying, “You don’t have enough women’s papers.” I was immediately thrown on the defensive. I tried to explain to her that I had off our backs, so I had feminist papers covered, and I had The Furies, so I had lesbian papers covered. And, after all, Voices from the Underground didn’t make any claims to be exhaustive; it was just representative.

But she insisted. She said the women’s papers were everywhere. “You can’t fully know women’s history, especially in the sixties and seventies, without studying the feminist and lesbian underground press.” Those are my words, not hers, but that was the exact message that I took away from her conclusion.

And then she said, “You’ve got to have It Aint Me Babe.” Those were her words. It Aint Me Babe was the first feminist paper to emerge from the west coast. It actually came out a few weeks before off our backs so it gets credit for being the first national feminist underground paper. But to Susan it had another level of significance. Her consciousness-raising group, New York Radical Feminists, used to read and discuss every issue as it came out. During one meeting, they discussed an article that was an interview with a woman who recently had been raped on her way home from a late-night meeting. Her boyfriend’s response had been less than sensitive: He had tried to make a joke out of it. The article was about that experience and what it meant. So Susan’s group discussed the article, and Susan had her light bulb moment that inspired her to write the book that made her famous.

Then she said to me, “You’ve got to contact Laura X.” It was Laura who conducted the interview and wrote the article; I’m honored to be sharing this panel with her today.

So I put “Laura X” in parentheses, did a Google search, and found her. Laura reconnected with other former staff members and they put together an amazing piece, the last history to be accepted into the series. It appears in volume 3 along with the history of The Furies. Susan wrote the foreword.

It was around that time that I was contacted by Jeff Moyer.

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. It Aint Me Babe was the first paper to become part of the collection.

Reveal Digital crowd-funding home page

Reveal Digital crowd-funding home page

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 commit to purchasing the collection but we don’t yet invoice them. When we have enough commitments to recover the costs, what we call our “sales threshold,” sales stop and we go into full production, including rights gathering, sourcing from libraries, and scanning and digitizing.

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. Once it is completed and after a certain period of exclusivity for our supporters, it goes into open access where even those libraries that didn’t support it have access to it. In other words, some libraries pay, every library and their patrons benefit. 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 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, respectively, 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.

So this is the project and the model. Projects that are looking for funding include

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, 180 campus, community, gay, minority, and other underground and alternative newspapers and magazines from the period, some 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.

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. For the women’s papers, we’ve worked most closely with Duke and Northwestern.

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, those who have invested in the project. 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. This is an amazing project—the first of hopefully many—that can be even better with your help. And we have a library-friendly model that achieves the holy grail of open access in a way that is friendly to library budgets. We’re looking for friendly libraries that believe in the community of libraries to help us make it come true. Let’s talk.

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.


* * *

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 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.

My Friend Davey Brinn


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

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

We Meet in the Dorm at Michigan State

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

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

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

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

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

Busted Together in the Student Union

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

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

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

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




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

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

We Become Best Friends, I Join the Underground Press

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

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

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

Davey’s Dark Side, We Drift Apart

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

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

Davey’s Manuscript Brings Us Back Together

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

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

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

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




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

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



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

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

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

Quietly. “Dave, she saved us all.”

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

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

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

Intentions Are Always There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Reveal Digital: SNCC, Highlander and the Civil Rights Movement”: A Special Webinar for Librarians

Librarian friends: I’ve talked about my underground press digital project. That’s only one of the digital collections I’m creating through REVEAL DIGITAL.

Please join us on October 8, 2014 from 1 -2 p.m. eastern time when LYRASIS will host a special webinar, “Reveal Digital: SNCC, Highlander and the Civil Rights Movement.”

Special guest Julian Bond will reflect on his participation in the struggle for civil rights during his time with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  REVEAL DIGITAL founder and visionary Jeff Moyer will introduce participants to two other potential civil rights-themed digitization projects that, with your support, will become open access, like the underground press collection: the SNCC Digital Archives and the Highlander Center Digital Archives from their founding in the thirties through the Civil Rights era.

Don’t miss it, and please invite other librarian friends who understand the importance of what these organizations accomplished to participate as well. Registration is here.