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.