Up

Full text articles by and about the Diggers (4)

San Francisco Faces the Hippies: Communication Co., Diggers Organize

By Art Kunkin
Los Angeles Free Press
March 31, 1967
[Transcribed by EPNoble, 22 Sept 2011]

San Francisco kaleidoscope: "War on Hippies," (Banner headline, San Francisco Chronicle); "Freedom Means Everything Free," (From a Digger leaflet printed by the Communication Company); "If you're not a Digger, you' re property,” (Communication Company newspaper); "The Government of the City of San Francisco is hereby declared Null & Void," (Digger leaflet); "Police Chief Warns Hippies," (Banner headline, Chronicle); “If you really believe it, do it," (Communication Company newspaper); “Huge Invasion, Hippies Warn S. F .," (Banner headline, Chronicle); “There will be no riot this summer, there will be war," (Roy Ballard, black power leader as quoted in Berkeley Barb).

San Francisco last weekend was a city that seemed on the verge of revolution. The streets of the Haight-Ashbury section were filled with hippies, patrolling police cars and bands of tourists, some of them crew cut types looking for trouble.

Anyone of the right age and costume (young and freaky) or with the proper introduction could start a conversation with a young person and within an hour be at a Diggers youth hostel or a private home, provided with food, a place to sleep, a sexual partner and a variety of drugs from LSD to crystals (methadrine) or pot.

The ability to become involved in intense discussion and immediate relationships with total strangers resembles a scene out of the great French Revolution as described by Michelet or LeFebvre. It Is like Watts in Los Angeles with the exception that the revolutionary youth of San Francisco are far better organized with a number of storefront headquarters, Digger houses and even a group (The Communication Company) that prides itself on producing topical leaflet newspapers within 30 minutes anytime during the day or night.

The situation is much more intense than on the Sunset Strip. The hippies don't live on the strip or near Canter's; they come out of the woodwork from all over L.A. and visit their hangouts like tourists. In the Haight, however, the hippies live and freak publicly in a walkable area.
The Haight community has been slowly forming in the last seven years. In 1960 writers and artists began to move from North Beach to the cheaper rentals of Haight. In 1962 Negroes began to move in from the Fillmore section, rents dropped and the area of grand old houses became still more desirable to the creative. However, there was still no visible sign of the change in the community apart from the new Negro residents and the establishment of the Blue Unicorn Coffee House.

It was only with the establishment of the LSD generation in 1965 and 1966 that hippies began to freak on the streets in their distinctive dress and hair styles, psychedelic shops opened and the area took on the open look of the hippy community. Then came the articles in the underground syndicate newspapers and the national magazines emphasizing the power of the local rock music scene, the dances at the Avalon and Fillmore, the powerful nouveau art posters of Mouse and Wes Wilson, and the Haight became a magnet for disaffiliated youth from all over the country.

Everyone in the city is now concerned that the influx of thousands of hippies during the Easter Week Vacation into San Francisco is a forecast that this city of 800,000 might be visited this coming summer by as many as 100,000 indigent and hungry youth. The city government takes this possibility so seriously that they have hastily enacted regulations forbidding sleeping in the park and beefed up police patrols. The city has also announced plans to send teams of health inspectors into the Haight to close down hippy houses on the grounds of overcrowding, poor sanitation and the threat of bubonic plague.

Trying to show that the hippy invasion can be handled in a more loving fashion, the Diggers have set up free youth hostels, free soup kitchens (at least one such in a travelling VW bus), free clothing distribution centers and are rumored to have made arrangements with neighboring farms to house youths and grow food to distribute free in the city. Digger signs are posted in many Haight stores asking for donations of hammers, tar paper, wheel barrows, tents, shovels, manure spreaders and camping equipment.

The original group of Diggers were five ex-San Francisco Mime Troupe members, including Emmet Grogan and Peter Berg, who got together last July and issued a Manifesto to the Mime Troupe calling for total theatre in the streets. Having a concept of theatre which includes anything that can happen to people in real life, one of the Digger distribution points is a store at 901 Cole, called "Trip Without a Ticket." The Diggers say that they "offer the store as a social art form."

The original five adopted the name of Diggers because, during the 17th Century English Revolution, Gerrard Winstanley and William Everard formed a small group called "The True Levellers," or "The Diggers," with a primitive socialistic program of sharing the wealth.

A typical San Francisco Diggers' leaflet echoes Winstanley: "Well, the time has come to share. Diggers are people who share … so be a Digger. There will be more and more and more and you will be more and more and more. The Diggers take part in the Invisible Government. God is on your side. Take part in the Invisible Government. Share food in the park every day at four. That's the Panhandle Park at the corner of Oak and Ashbury. Are you deeply religious? Share. Are you for peace? Share. Are you for freedom? Share. Are you overstuffed? Share. Are you just out for kicks? Share. Be responsible. Take part in the Invisible Government.”

The Diggers are, in fact, the invisible government of the Haight, and set the tone for the whole community. They have grown to be an amorphous organization with no leaders, members, committees, dues or any trapping for formal organization. The result is that many people who share the Diggers' hospitality without a full conception of Digger ideology identify themselves as Diggers but will fend off any inquiries, saying, "Go see Grogan."

The Diggers received a lot of publicity recently as a result of a meeting held with the Haight Independent Proprietors (HIP), an association of the psychedelic shops and boutiques on Haight Street. At this meeting Grogan challenged the right of HIP to be the spokesman for the local community, charging that the merchants are only engaged in the business of making money. Published reports of this meeting say that the Diggers threatened to bomb or steal the merchants out of business unless the merchants reorganized themselves as nonprofit ventures, plowing surpluses beyond a reasonable salary back to the community. Persons close to the Diggers deny these reports, saying that the Diggers offered the non-profit conception only as a suggestion and that the Diggers made no threats beyond "blowing the merchants' scene through publicity" unless the personal profit making stopped.

While the police privately express relief that the hippy community of the Haight is "nonaggressive," there are persistent rumors in San Francisco that some individual Diggers are secretly arming themselves in preparation for clashes with the police. This writer spoke to persons around the Communication Company, who are closely allied with the Diggers, and these persons did not deny this rumor. There was a specific recognition that the Digger hostels are full of unemployed, angry young men who are not committed to a flower children's philosophy of non-violence.
So, on the one hand, there are the leaflets which say: "This is the Diggers' thing: no money, everything free. The Diggers are practicing the Cardinal Virtues because that's the thing to do." On the other hand, if the Diggers are right, there will be thousands of hungry and angry young people in San Francisco this summer and it will take a lot of action and education by the Invisible Government to prevent the development of demagogic and totalitarian leaders.

One of the most interesting and important organizations that has developed in the Haight is the already- mentioned Communication Company. The Company is a commune (there are many communes in the Haight), consisting of six people. Chester Anderson, a novelist and former publisher in 1959-60 of the literary beat generation magazine, "Underhound," is the recognized inspirer of the Company. Other members of the commune are Claude Hayward of the Ramparts staff, and his wife, Helene; Dawson, the former manager of the Venice West Coffee House in Los Angeles (who coordinates distribution of leaflets); a man who operates the printing equipment and a kitchen man.
Living in an upstairs apartment south of the Haight, the Communication Company in mid-January put $300 down on a Gestetner printing press and a Gestefax electronic stencil cutting machine. These simple office-type machines can be operated by anyone with a small amount of training and permit the Communication Company to miraculously produce in as little as ten minutes hundreds of copies of multicolored leaflets containing photographs, typewritten or handwritten material - which are all over the Haight within the hour.

Beginning with a leaflet put out at the San Francisco Be-In, the group estimates that they have put out over 500 leaflets in a total of more than half a million copies. Just last week the operation produced 30,000 copies of various leaflets.

The policy statement of the Company states that they are providing an inexpensive printing service to the hip community (free to the Diggers, at cost or with a small service charge to maintain the Company for everyone else). Issuing instantaneous leaflet newspapers which are widely read and distributed in San Francisco, and even Berkeley, the Company claims the right to be "outrageous pamphleteers who compete with the Establishment press for public opinion, to produce occasional incredibilities out of an unnatural fondness for either outrage or profit, to do what we damn well please, to supplement the Oracle with a more or less daily paper."
Commercial jobs put out by the Company have included broadsides for the Mime Troupe, the Committee Theater, the League for Sexual Freedom, Artists Liberation Front, the Resurgent Youth Movement, various boutiques, light shows, dances, parties, and letters issued by individuals to the hippy community including criticisms of Ramparts magazine and racism among hippies.

Non-commercial jobs include the Digger leaflets, Rules of the Game for when you're busted, photostatic reprints from the Chronicle, the L.A. Free Press and the Berkeley Barb (the Communication Company is a member of the Underground Press Syndicate), Ron Cobb cartoons, posters, poetry, songs with music, and warning of impending police action. (The Company claims credit for averting a big marijuana raid on the hippy community in February).

The Communication Company would, at first, print anything that was given to them but have learned to establish restrictions after they printed a leaflet identifying a certain person as “the heat." Within an hour another group came along denying this and the Company printed an immediate retraction. As it happens, and this shows the fast tempo in the Haight, the next day the original informants were arrested for marijuana possession, leading the Company to believe that there was an act of vengeance by actual police informers.

When I visited the Communication Company at midnight last Sunday, a group of hippies were sitting on the floor playing a board game Claude Hayward invented, called "The Golden Age.” On a huge, hand-painted wooden map of the world, half the size of the room, the players were throwing dice to determine the movement of populations. The game is won by exploiting countries through these population movements. Soon after I arrived, the high politics were temporarily adjourned to produce still another leaflet. It was a scene that could only be duplicated in a command post of a hippy revolution.

 

[end]

 

The Digger Archives is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Cite As: The Digger Archives (www.diggers.org) / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 / All other uses must receive permission. Contact: curator at diggers dot org.