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Free City Bank

In the Digger Papers essay Post-Competitive, Comparative Game of Free City appears this description of the Free Bank:

Free City Bank and Treasury

this group should be responsible for raising money, making free money, paying rents, for gasoline, and any other necessary expenses of the Free City Families. They should also organize and create small rackets (cookie sales, etc.) for the poor kids of the ghettoes and aid in the repair and maintenance of the machinery required in the performance of the various services. [Digger Papers, p. 15]

Amidst the whirlwind of Digger activities that the Free City Collective carried out in late 1967 and the winter/spring of 1968, the role of Free Banker was played by Bill Fritsch. Also known as Sweet William, and referred to as Tumble in Ringolevio, Lenore Kandel had eulogized him in her poem Love Book which the SF police busted for obscenity. Bill was probably the ideal free banker, with a distinct air of intimidation riding his Harley motorcycle in leather jacket. But he was also a "stone idealist" (a term Emmett used to describe the original Diggers). Bill carried out the role of Free Banker with a distinctive flair. This video clip from Nowsreal below shows him riding his Harley down Haight Street throwing handfulls of coins in the air:

Free City Banker on Haight Street

When the iconic "1% Free" poster mysteriously appeared on outdoor walls in public spaces in the winter of 1968, much speculation about the meaning of the message ensued. Some merchants were said to think of it as a shake-down by the Diggers. This impression was undoubtedly reinforced by the full page announcement for the Free Bank that appeared in the San Francisco Express Times (2/29/68):

 

The Free City
will be funded by
The Free Bank

The Free Bank is:
Rock Bands       Dance Halls
Haight Street Merchants
Hip Lawyers      Industrialists
Music Companies
Any Fool On The Street

GIVING
1 per cent of their gross,
the change in their
pockets, a week's take
a big deal, to create a
FREE CITY

The visions are yours. What
would you have?

Free Bank
Bill Tumbleweed
302 Cumberland St, S.F.


Some of the merchants appreciated the Diggers and what they were doing and came through with what they could afford. Peter Berg told me that the owner of the bead shop on Haight Street walked into the Free Store one day and said, "What do you guys need?" Peter replied, "I need the rent every month for this Store." And she said, "You got it." Peter explained that "She just wanted to do that. She thought it was interesting." Peter talked about another merchant who came through when the Diggers were planning events and needed to find the right props. He was the owner of the Phoenix head shop:

We would just walk in and tell him what we needed, and he'd say, "Sure, just take it." So if we were going to have an event in the park, and we needed 3000 wooden flutes because somebody's idea of Art, or Theater, was to have people play wooden flutes for 15 minutes in the scenario of what was going to happen that day—which was the way we designed those events. I don't know if you are aware of it—they weren't wide open. They were built to make wide-openness happen. So one time, Lenore Kandel thought it would be the greatest idea in the world to hang 500 sets of glass, Chinese chimes in every bush around Marx Meadow—that if we did that, people would discover them, take them home with them, play them and be entertained and felt elegant for the event. So, we went in and asked Tosh for 500 sets of Chinese chimes. He said, "Sure. Just take them." [Interview of Peter and Judy Berg by Marty Lee and Eric Noble, 1982]

Not all merchants took so kindly to the 1% Free suggestion in the Free Bank announcement. Some posted their own notices challenging the Diggers and claiming near-poverty as their defense. In any case, it seems that the major source of funding for the Free Bank was the famous Digger hustles. In an interview of Bill Fritsch that I did in 1974, he told me that he and Emmett Grogan and Peter Berg and Peter Coyote would go to Los Angeles and come back with $3000 or $4000 for the Free Bank. The Free Bank only gave money for free projects and never loaned money to people. "You need money, what do you need it for? Is it free? Then you can have money, but no loans." Bill told me that he still had the Free Bank book in which was recorded all income and expenses.

In an interview at the Free Print Shop in 1973, Freeman House talked about Bill Fritsch in his role as Free Banker:

[He] rode around on his motorcycle with a hundred dollar bill in his headband going from commune to commune and had conferences with them about their economic position, what they needed and what they actually had. If they needed something he would take it out of his headband and give it to them. And if they didn’t, go on. He was probably the only man in the city who could handle that role in that style, you know.

One time when he got bored, he rode up Haight Street on his motorcycle, and he’d gotten something like eighty dollars worth of nickels, dimes and pennies and at that time Haight Street was just jammed with spare-changers. You’d walk up there and on one side of the street would be, “Spare change? Spare change? Spare change?” And, on the other side, you’d hear … “Grass, acid, speed, dope, grass.” So Bill Fritsch one Sunday afternoon just rode up that street at like ten miles an hour, throwing handfuls of nickels, dimes, and pennies, just to amuse himself. Some incredible actors on that stage. [Interview of Linn House, 1973]

The Free City Bank was the model on which the Kaliflower Commune operated and which was later used for the Free Food Family intercommunal network. All monies were pooled and a communal treasurer handled the responsibility of banking. In the case of the Free Food Family, all food stamps were pooled and one commune (Hunga Dunga) did all the food buying for the rest of the communes. In the history of the Sixties Counterculture, I don't think that sharing of money/resources will be found to have been a cause for the eventual disillusionment that took place. The Free Bank idea worked while it lasted.

July 2017

 

 


Bill Fritsch and bike (Gould photo gallery)

Lenore Kandel (in Nowsreal)

The Free Banker (in Nowsreal)

Full page spread in SF Express Times 2/68
 
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