Fred Moore died in a horrendous car accident in 1997, much too young for such a committed activist and pathfinder. Fred carried out one of the (if not the) first of many anti-military protests on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. In 1959 at the age of 18, Fred sat-in on the steps of Sproul Hall to begin a fast protesting mandatory ROTC training for all entering male students. Future activists who led the Free Speech Movement credit Fred’s act in 1959 as the opening round of the Sixties student protest movements.
As much as Fred’s career as a lifelong pacifist, non-violence advocate, continental walker for peace and justice, and devoted father deserves a clarion call of remembrance, that is not my purpose with this posting. Instead, I want to call attention to Fred’s connection with the Diggers and the philosophy of Free. Fred played an important role in proselytizing the vision of a society free of buying and selling, just as the original English Diggers (1649) and the San Francisco Diggers (1966) had done. Fred also was instrumental in my uncovering a forgotten piece of Digger history.
First, the uncovering story. In 1974, I had been living in the Kaliflower Commune for three years and had started collecting the leftover remains from the Digger movement that had burst onto the scene in 1966 and finally dissipated (at least in the public eye) in 1968 (or thereabouts). We were actively collecting Digger Papers, Communication Company broadsides, Free City News sheets and posters. We had reached out to all manner of folks — Ron Thelin, Peter Berg, Judy Goldhaft, Peter Coyote, Eileen Ewing, Linn (Freeman) House, Vicki Pollack, Siena Riffia, Phyllis Wilner, Allen Cohen … etc. We were begging, and borrowing whatever we could turn up for the Digger collection. We were also interviewing folks. Tape recorders made people nervous so I would write up notes and type a “memcon” when I got back to the commune. The term memcon came from the Watergate hearings, which Irving was avidly watching every day on a black-and-white TV he had bought cheap at one of the used furniture stores in the Western Addition.
I would reach out to total strangers and ask if they had any Digger materials they could share or let us borrow to make Xerox copies. In January 1974, I contacted Fred Moore. I wrote to him at the address in Menlo Park where he was coordinating something called the Information Network. (More about it later…) Fred responded and we had a phone call the following month. Fred said that the only person he knew who had been involved in the Digger movement was a man named Walt Reynolds who had taught the Diggers how to bake bread in coffee cans. Fred had met Walt at Resurrection City in Washington, D.C., in 1968 (the last project that Martin Luther King had planned before his assassination). After our phone call, I contacted Walt and he told me his story. Here is the memcon I wrote at the time about my phone call with Fred and then with Walt: (to view any of the images, click and choose open in new tab)
Fred’s introduction of Walt Reynolds uncovered a whole piece of Digger history that had not been documented. The result was the page on the history of Digger Bread and the Free Bakery(ies).
But wait, there’s more. Fred may have contributed this significant piece of history to the Digger story. But even more importantly, he was an influence on the budding personal computer revolution in the early 1970s. Fred was involved with Lee Felsenstein and the Community Memory project that created the first online computer switchboard (later termed bulletin board). And in 1974, Fred started a project in Menlo Park called the Information Network that was his vision of a society without buying or selling. The following year, Fred and Gordon French put out a call for a group of computer enthusiasts to come together and share ideas, inventions, and technology. This became the Homebrew Computer Club. Much has been written about this moment when some of the long-haired underground computer hobbyists first began experimenting with the new Intel and Motorola microprocessor chips.
Fred’s role in the Homebrew Computer Club has been widely recognized. See, for example, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. Or John Markoff’s What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry. Or Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Or Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism.
All of those (and more) sources are replete with the influence that Fred had. But none of them totally explain his philosophy. That’s where this last piece of the puzzle is so crucial. At some point, Fred visited Joseph and me after we had moved out of the commune, and he gave me a document that I think is the missing link between the Diggers and Fred’s inspiration that can be seen in the open source and free software movements. Recently, in our ex-commune member Zoom group, we got to talking about Fred. I pulled out the copy of Fred’s manifesto that he had donated to the Digger archive. It was printed on newsprint but I scanned it several years ago. Nevertheless, both in the hard copy and the scanned version, it is not an easy document to read. The printing is tiny, quite dense. So, I decided for the sake of our Zoom group to transcribe the text. The title of Fred’s vision is “Put Your Trust in People, Not Money” and it lays out the philosophy that is still practiced today in many corners of the World Wide Web. Here it is: