What is a Digger?
For the back story, check out the new page. But long story short, I’m trying to figure out who this is. I thought it might be brother to Roy Ballard. If anyone knows for sure, please let me know.
For the back story, check out the new page. But long story short, I’m trying to figure out who this is. I thought it might be brother to Roy Ballard. If anyone knows for sure, please let me know.
The Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary film series on the Vietnam War (which aired in September on PBS) was a cathartic event for the Sixties Generation. Many of my friends could not watch the entire series—it was too emotional, too visceral, too heart-rending—even five decades later. There has been a lot of discussion of the film series. And much dissension about its historical perspective.
At a panel discussion last week on the 50th anniversary of the October 1967 “Stop The Draft Week” that shut down the Oakland Induction Center, I asked Frank Bardacke (one of the key organizers in the Anti-War Movement) what he thought of the film series. Here’s his answer:
“Ken Burns is extremely good at what he does. He knows how to take a still photo and combine it with music, combine it with a narrative. He knows how to take individual people and make you identify with them. He’s very good at it.
“There is a truth in that series and the truth is that war is hell for the participants. That series does a very good job at telling that truth. But that is only one truth about the war in Vietnam. And there’s lots of other stuff … he had so many hours and so much time. There’s a lot of other stuff that is terribly left out. And then also misrepresented.
“The biggest misrepresentation as far as I’m concerned is the presentation of the war in Vietnam as a civil war. My understanding of it is that it was a war of national liberation. It wasn’t a civil war. The South Vietnamese were completely propped up by the United States. They could not have existed without the United States. It was a war of national liberation like in that period wars of national liberation throughout the world. And we opposed it.
“The second thing that was very upsetting to me about the series was that there are a lot of very good Left histories of the war in Vietnam. Every single expert that was interviewed was from the CIA, the Army, or the Pentagon. They did not have one single historian of the war talk about the war. It got so ridiculous that the person at the end who was the “objective” person talking about the dilemmas of the military is John Negroponte??!! John Negroponte, who is probably implicated in the death of Che Guevara … this is a bad man. And he is presented there as an objective commentator on the war.
“I don’t know. It showed that war is hell. You know at the very beginning, there are two things from the very first one, it says ‘in wars nobody wins, nobody loses’ that’s what the guy says. Well, that’s not true. War is hell, it’s terrible for the people who fight it. I totally agree with that. And he does a good job of saying that. But you know what? Some people win wars and some people lose them. Thank goodness the North won the the Civil War. Thank goodness the Allies won the Second World War. And as far as I’m concerned thank god the Vietnamese won the Vietnamese War. And they won it.
“And so I don’t know, it’s so well done and yet so misrepresents what happened. Except for the idea that the war was really, really hard on the people who fought it. Well, that’s true of all wars. And it’s good to say that. It’s good to say that. But you don’t have to say that in eighteen hours, time after time. Every single one that I saw began with the soldiers and ended with the soldiers. Every single one.
“So, anyway … I’m very glad you asked that question.”
The panel discussion was sponsored by Shaping San Francisco and they have uploaded a video of the event.
The Emmett Grogan Papers at the New York Public Library consists of around 200 sheets (letter/legal size and a few odd dimensions) comprising 50 items. Many of these are drafts of the articles/pieces that went into the Realist/Digger Papers publication which the Diggers distributed in June, 1968. The story that I have been told is that one of the Diggers was sent to New York to deliver the typewritten manuscript of these articles to Paul Krassner who ultimately published them as an issue of The Realist while also providing 40,000 Free copies to the Diggers (with a separate cover sheet but everything else the same).
The Digger Papers quickly joined the tidal wave of underground news media that inundated the American counterculture of the 1960s+ — however, among those who were attuned to the radical ideological & philosophical attainments of Digger literary output, the publication achieved a cult following. To this day, a copy of the (now “sunned” and “tanned”) issue on newsprint brings big bucks in the rare book/ephemera dealer circles. For anyone not obsessed with holding actual history in hand but having access to the record of such manifestations, here is a link to a PDF copy of the Digger Papers.
One of the articles in the Digger Papers was “Dialectics of Liberation (A Speech)” which was important for articulating an approach to the deep social divisions that were becoming clear in 1967, suggesting that expanded consciousness grounded in loving autonomous communities creating alternative visions of future society was the answer beyond the paranoid style of politics and an impending ecological crisis. [Were that this message could be heard today!]
[Note: in my researches, this article is the first mention in both “above-ground” and “underground” media of the disaster-in-making of the trapped atmospheric carbon-dioxide leading to the greenhouse effect and subsequent melting of polar ice caps with sea level rise and massive coastal flooding. An important bellwether of the future half-century controversy.]
In the descriptive catalog for the Emmett Grogan Papers appears the following entry:
I have always assumed that Allen Ginsberg was the author of “Dialectics of Liberation.” He attended the conference by the same name in July, 1967 at London’s Roundhouse. Ginsberg is seen on various videos of the proceedings using similar phrasing as appears in the “Dialectics of Liberation” article published in the Digger Papers. But I have never seen him explicitly credited. I feel certain that Ginsberg — not Grogan — is the author. So, the NYPL catalog needs to be corrected (beside which, the title is mis-transcribed).
However, even though Ginsberg was the author, what is so interesting is that Emmett obviously edited the version that appeared in the Digger Papers. See the page scan (below) which clearly shows edits in Emmett’s handwriting.
One correction in particular is telling. Ginsberg wrote:
So I’m going to get on now to what I should have been on all along which is praxis — practical plans. | That has been classed generically as Flower Power, which is a euphuistic term, but I guess it’s as pretty a term as there is and why not then, Flower Power. Though it’s one that’s easy to put down and goof off with, but it’s a correct image — in the sense of correct in its origin and literal as to some of its techniques. and [sic] the original phrase seemed to rise up out of the streets — along with another phrase: “Make San Francisco an electric Tibet”.
Here’s how Grogan edited it:
I’m going to get on now to praxis — practical plans. Social action and plans have been cased in autonomy, it’s a correct term — in the sense of correct in its power and literal as to some of the new activists’ techniques. And the original style seemed to rise up out of the streets: “Standing on a street corner waiting for no one is power” — along with the phrase: “Make San Francisco an electric Tibet.”
Hmm, here we see Grogan substituting one of his favorite terms — autonomy — for Ginsberg’s discussion of “flower power.” The sense of the term as representing a concept that “seemed to rise up out of the streets” is maintained in both versions. It’s just that Ginsberg was talking about a generalized counterculture, and Grogan was substituting a tighter construction.
The whole article is full of such details.
For a last minute whirlwind journey before fall semester in grad school began, I trekked via several modes of transportation (train, plane, automobile, and Greyhound bus) to New York City and back. The primary reason was to visit the newly-accessible collection of papers that Emmett Grogan left with his friend Harvey Kornspan in 1968 before taking off for new horizons, never to return and retrieve the odd stash of documents. Instead, Harvey sold the collection in 2014 to a London dealer of ephemera who in turn “placed” it with the Special Collections department at the New York Public Library. Located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman building (the main branch of NYPL) at 42nd street and Fifth Avenue, the Special Collections department is impressive and spans three floors in numerous divisions. Over a four-day period, I studied all the documents in the Emmett Grogan Papers and made several discoveries that will be of interest to historians and bibliographers of the Digger movement. I will make a report in the coming weeks/months in this blog space.
First, the only two photographs contained in the papers, these are of Emmett before he arrived in San Francisco. I thought it appropriate to share these first. Thanks to Max, Emmett’s son and heir, for permission to publish these here.
In the late summer of 1967, Jeff Berner, the sometime publisher and underground diarist, wrote the following article in the S.F. Chronicle (Sunday, Aug. 13, 1967). It talks about the Free Store ideology that had evolved into a form of Digger street theater as propounded by Peter Berg in his essay “Trip Without A Ticket” the previous year. Berner had an ascerbic view of the cultural landscape but seems taken by Berg’s theories of social action.
I offer this as another in the series of sources documenting the Free Store concept that the Diggers innovated and which can be seen throughout the counterculture of the 1960s up to and including the present in certain communities.
ONE-HUNDRED PERCENT DISCOUNT ON ALL MERCHANDISE is policy at The Free Store, 901 Cole street. This Digger boutique is a clearing house for all sorts of goods, from food to clothes and furniture to posters, books and services. A principle of ”take according to your conscience, give according to your conscience” is the basic credo.
A visitor to this underground mart thinks first of Goodwill and Salvation Army. But one big difference is that goods sent to The Free Store don’t create jobs for anyone. They create a supply of goods free for the taking. The “management” of the place doesn’t believe for a minute that jobs help anyone. It believes that only help helps people.
* * *
This is one way the revolution of mind and matter lets the nation know that liberal talk and humanitarian legislation mean nothing any more. As one Digger spokesman told me, “I believe only in now, only in action!” If a man is hungry, giving him a job to dignify his image isn’t as good as giving him food now. When a profit-oriented shopper goes into this “store,” he’s awkward and suspicious. Suddenly faced with no money and no barter, how can an upstanding citizen judge the value of anything? What strings are attached? None.
“Give up your resources, give up power-games, share and give,” is the message, in this really super market.
If everything is free and you can take as much as you want, won’t people turn around and sell these goods elsewhere, or worse yet, hoard stuff? That happens a lot, but sooner or later even the self-destructive urge to hoard will be transformed; society will become an overindulgent eater with cramps.
The Maitre d’ here is Peter Berg, who lets it be known that his project is not “store” but “theater.” The building becomes a stage, and the merchandise is just a pretext for challenging everyone’s values all the time. The rich and the poor can take from the place.
* * *
It makes sense that if every thing is free, people can break their terrible belief in material acquisition, and get down to the nobler “business” of being people.
(A few months ago I got a letter from a friend on the East Coast. She said, “I’m giving away most of my possessions. I finally know that things will go on existing in the world even if I don’t own them. They’ll still be there in the world.”)
The whole question of ownership over objects, wives, pets, children, ideas, is being reshaped on the boards at The Free Store.
* * *
Some bitter ironies have come up:
Although a Black free store exists on McAllister Street, many black people visit the Digger store, and of these quite a few believe that the “good stuff” is hidden in the basement, and ask to see it. There’s no truth to the fear, but it persists.
The store itself has a fear or two, as shown in a tiny sign an the pay phone: “Don’t say anything on this phone you wouldn’t say to a cop!”
A widespread belief in the Hippidrome is that the very existence of a community which mocks traditional ideas of materialism is scary to government and business; the government and business which depends upon profit-lust for its very life. Fear of spying is so big, and so realistic, it’s thought that the San Francisco Police Community Relations team is actually a group of smiling informers.
What is so threatening about free? Americans give lip-service to freedom as an ideal. Now we have the roots of super-free enterprise.
I suggest a visit to 901 Cole street.
Clouds are free. Sunsets are free. Birds. Mountains. Rivers are free.
Why not objects and people?
* * *
[Image of original article:]
In the narratives of the Summer of Love, sex plays a big part. Hippies were supposed to be having lots and lots of sex. The unstated assumption was that it was “straight” sex—women and men getting it on. But even in that progenitor of unabashed heterosexual consciousness—Lenore Kandel’s Love Book—there are hints of other modes of sexuality (“the lust of hermaphroditic deities doing inconceivable things to each other”).
The following are four images from underground street sheets that represent gay liberation imaging from 1967 to 1969. Out of the Summer of Love and the counterculture that resulted came the gay hippies, a phenomenon that has not been well documented. This is the subculture that gave birth to the Kaliflower Commune, the Angels of Light Free Theater troupe, and the Cockettes. This is the subculture that fused with gay street youth to form groups such as the Committee for Homosexual Freedom (pre-Stonewall) and Gay Liberation Front (post-Stonewall).
The following are two of the Communication Company sheets distributed on Haight Street in the spring and summer of 1967. They are variants of the same image. I don’t have any information on their derivation but they are striking in their unabashed embrace of same-gender sexuality in the way Lenore Kandel had done for opposite-gender relations.
The following is one of the posters printed by the Free Print Shop in 1968. This was the commune that would begin publishing Kaliflower the following year in 1969. The Free Print Shop collection of publications located at the California Historical Society is full of gay-friendly images.
The final image here is from the spring of 1969, before the Stonewall Uprising in New York City. This poster was published by the Free Print Shop for the Committee for Homosexual Freedom to publicize a daily picket they were conducting of the United States Lines steamship company in San Francisco for the firing of a gay employee.
This past weekend, one of our long-ago communards came to visit. A group of us broke bread together then three of us went to the De Young museum for their Summer of Love exhibit.* Last fall at the Shaping San Francisco history collective’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Death of Money parade, I suggested that the Digger motto for choreographing street happenings—”create the condition you describe”—should be the working model for historians for presenting historical exhibits. For the Summer of Love, standing and looking at photographs, psychedelic rock posters and mannequins dressed in hippie attire does not “create the condition” that thousands of young people experienced when they were drawn to the Haight-Ashbury like a siren call heard across the vastlands of America in 1967.
But the De Young had one room (among the dozen or so) that came close to the ideal of a museum that re-creates the experience of the past. The room was bare of any objects except double-size bean bags large enough for couples to lay back and observe the four walls and ceiling projection of an hour-long continuous looping of four films that Bill Ham created which depict his invention of the acid rock light show. This room was popular when we visited—the bean bags were filled with couples staring at the slithering colors. Re-creating the actual experience of a psychedelic show would only be possible with the full reality. Nevertheless, the Bill Ham experience does a good job of eliciting one aspect of that environment.
First before mentioning two things about the De Young exhibit that annoyed me, I want to say that the museum staff have produced a very interesting interactive web introduction to the Summer of Love exhibit. Check it out.
Error #1. One of the placards in the room that is devoted to the Trips Festival (1966) is titled “a trip without a ticket” [see photo below] and the accompanying text explains that the festival was “the first event to gather members of the counterculture in a significant way and it remains the pinnacle of the psychedelic era.” Apart from arguing whether the Trips Festival was the “first” such event, my main annoyance is the placard title. “Trip Without A Ticket” was a phrase that was coined and popularized by the Diggers. To use it on this placard (see below) for something completely unrelated to the Diggers is either just ignorance of the source or a willful disregard of acknowledging it. “Trip Without A Ticket” was the title of a Digger street manifesto, an article that appeared in the final Digger Papers publication, and the name of one of the iconic Digger Free Stores. It appeared countless times in street sheets published by the Communication Company (for example: here, here, here and here.
Error #2. Similar to the first, another Digger slogan is used without attribution. “Do Your Own Thing” is the title of a display placard that explains the concept behind the motto. The accompanying text [see image below] gives a fair definition of the phrase (limited to the sense of individual fashion and style) but never mentions the Diggers as the originators and publicists nor the larger meanings the phrase had. Granted, today you hear “do your own thing” from all spectrums of society (including politicians on the Left and the Right both). It appears in news articles in both the underground (Internet) media and national news outlets. It’s in common usage. No explanation required. But in the context of the De Young exhibit on the Summer of Love, attention to the origins of counterculture phrases would seem to be an essential historical detail. Again, the mistake could be lack of knowledge of historical facts or disregard for acknowledging them.
The formal title of the exhibit at the De Young is “The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll.” I did not see any placards that mentioned the United States War in Vietnam. There is nothing mentioned about the Diggers. [There is one wall with six Digger sheets/posters, but nothing explains who the Diggers were or what they did.] The backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, the Berkeley Free Speech and Anti-War movements, and the North Beach Beat Poetry renaissance were the foundations of the counterculture. The mixture of psychedelics and avant garde art and music gave rise to the Haight-Ashbury community, but opposition to the United States war in Vietnam was ever present. Street literature confirms this argument, as can be seen in this Communication Company broadside.
One of the other museums with Summer of Love exhibits is the California Historical Society (CHS). They have an amazing collection for such a small institution. Their exhibit is much smaller than the De Young’s. I want to visit it again before writing my thoughts. There were two mistakes in the Digger display, though. I brought these to the attention of the Director. First, the Diggers were active from 1966 to 1968 NOT 1967-1968. Second, the famous photo of the five Diggers on the steps of City Hall after they were released from their arrest on Public Nuisance charges for the Intersection Game is credited wrong. The photographer was Bob Campbell as can be seen in the photo caption (below) as it appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on Nov 30 1966. The CHS exhibit credits Gene Anthony, which is a wrong fact. That’s an easy correction to make. I hope it happens.
So, errors of omission, errors of commission. We all are guilty of them, I suppose. Hopefully this pointing out of four will be a helpful reminder to historians all—amateur and professional— in using and referencing sources and facts. After all, those are the basis of the science of history.
*There are five Summer of Love exhibits that I know about: De Young, CHS, BAMPFA, GLBT Museum, and the fifth is the display of street posters that Deborah Aschheim designed for the SF Arts Commission on Market Street. Not a traditional museum but an outdoor public space to exhibit her provocative artwork. Deborah’s work has received a lot of publicity along with the museum programs.