Historians (and other social scientists) think and work and research in two dimensions. There’s the vertical. And then there’s the horizontal. Take Pompeii as an example. The vertical aspect is the moment in time that was frozen with the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Archaeologists (primarily) and historians study the ruins to reconstruct that lost moment. The graffiti on the walls, the perfect frescoes in the long-ago atria, the petrified corpses in last gasp poses. Each remaining artifact has a place in the reconstruction. The deeper you go into the analysis the fuller the picture of that one moment. Vertical thinking digs deep.
On the other hand, horizontal thinking casts its nets across far distances — both of time and space. Wikipedia has adopted this approach with its “List of Years” pages. Each page documents known events that took place around the world during the same year. Historians need to keep both perspectives in their work. To ignore the larger context runs a risk of missing a key element in the story.
That brings us to the image above. This was a poster designed for a protest of the American Vietnam War. The protest took place on Nov 5 1966 starting at 11am in Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan, New York City. It was a march through city streets. The protesters eventually ended up in midtown Manhattan for a rally at 2pm. This was 1966 — three years after the first protest against the war organized by the War Resisters League. And seven years before all U.S. combat troops would be pulled out of a war that a generation of American youth had come to loathe.
What’s so interesting about this poster — from a horizontal historical perspective — is the moment in time. Fall of 1966. Think of what else was happening on the radical social and cultural landscape of America at that moment. In September, the Artists Liberation Front announced their program of Free Fairs in San Francisco. The Black Panthers formed in Oakland in October and issued their revolutionary Ten Point Program. The Diggers formed in the same month as the Panthers, issuing a series of street manifestos and offering the first of a series of Free community services. Lenore Kandel’s Love Book would be busted along with three booksellers in November in San Francisco, leading to the coalescence of resistance by a community that would embrace the concept of love as their siren call the following year — the Summer of Love. And as this poster clearly evidences, the American Peace Movement had fully surfaced.
The fall of 1966 thus was a moment in which the politics of ecstasy was in ascendancy. Soon, the winter of discontent would seek to erase the memory of this moment of hope. The Peace Movement would become the Anti-War Movement. As such, perhaps it was inevitable — in confrontation with societal powers, the blush of hope is soon burnished. But just as rivers can flow underground before surfacing in unexpected places, so can avant-garde culture fade then reappear. Who knows when? Who knows where? Keep a horizontal perspective to know the answer.
5 thoughts on “For Love and Peace and Freedom”
Right then in that same Fall ’66 I escaped LA and arrived in SF on a rainy night w/H’lane and her daughter Modi Frank in a ’51 Chevy pickup with all we had. Driven by Lovable Ol’ Doc Stanley. Little did I know what I was in for…
The Door to the Underground I had found in LA had popped me out on to an alley south of Market; out of that dimension and into the next.
And how fortunate for the Haight Ashbury community that you and H’lane arrived when you did. The Communication Company was truly a harbinger of the coming information age and a model (along with the underground press in general) for the universe of social media we have inherited.
Fall 1966, I was in my senior year of high school. My family lived on Long Island where we’d moved from Ohio the previous year. I hated high school except the odd bunch of geeks and freaks that I gravitated toward. We attended this event in the poster. One of our group had found a torpedo tube (or that’s what we called it) on a Long Island Sound beach. We had somehow attached a faux conning tower, painted the contraption yellow and joined a contingent of yellow submarines that marched in the Peace Walk. (Note the inclusion of “yellow submarine” in the poster’s listing of highlights.) It was a most memorable event. Either at that march or another one in the same time period was when I first laid eyes on Allen Ginsberg with finger cymbals, chanting Hare Krishna, walking arm-in-arm with Peter Orlovsky. I’d never seen two men expressing love together. It was a turning point for my gay self-esteem.
Years later, Michael Rossmann (he of FSM fame) invited me to his bohemian enclave in Berkeley where he housed his (now enshrined) poster collection. He lovingly gave me one of the first sets of Communication Company broadsides to be part of the Digger Archives. He also gave me a flyer from December 1966 for an event that was held on the Berkeley Campus. Michael called it the Yellow Submarine Movement. The same spirit of direct action infused with ecstatic joyfulness was happening on the West Coast in the Fall of 1966 as in the East.
Eric, I have the 1970 paper on the first recycling center in Berkeley. How can I pass it to you? Bill Olkowski
Bill, you can it to me via: curator at diggers dot org. Thanks.