Full text articles by and about the Diggers (2)

The San Francisco Diggers have split...

Anon., unpublished article, ca. April 18, 1967

Note from editor: Rev. Leon Harris sent me this article in 1974. He had kept it in his files on the Diggers and copied it for me. I don't know who the author was. It deals with the group who set up the Digger office at the All Saints Church. By April, 1967, there were several factions of Diggers operating autonomously in the Haight-Ashbury. It was not unusual to find Diggers who had only come onto the scene in the spring who were outside the circle (and unknown to some) of the original Diggers. A Communication Company sheet (written by one of the original group) talks about the situation in this article. See: about time we started doin' our own livin' and dyin'. This article is interesting because it sheds light on the fundamental problem of organization among the Diggers: the quandary of any anarcho group. Though the "O'Donnell plan" sounds (and must have sounded to many) a particularly "straight" solution, it does foretell the movement into communes and collectives in the coming months and years. —en

The San Francisco Diggers have split, both literally and figuratively. As a result, they, like the thousands of migrant guests whom they serve, are on the streets.

As of April 18, 1967, the office at All Saints Church (Episcopal) is closed. The reason: disorganization. There was no leader. Whoever happened to come in and sit behind the desk assumed control until someone else happened in to sit. No one knew what anyone else was doing and no one would assume the responsibility to guide the vast undertaking. In the words of Tommy O'Donnell, a possible future Organization Chairman, "The Diggers is an unorganized organization..."

Why are they out? They were not asked to leave. The choice to stay was given, but who would accept the responsibility for maintaining a bit of order. The Church had requested that no litter be allowed to accumulate or be scattered, that no one be allowed to "crash" (sleep) in the office, and that the kitchen and recreation areas be cleaned after use. Who would guarantee these things? No one, that's who. And so they all just packed up and went away.

On April 20, Reverend Leon P. Harris, the minister, leaves San Francisco to return May 26. If the Diggers wish to return to the offices offered by the All Saints Church, perhaps after May 26 they will be able to do so.

Mr. O'Donnell and his associate Mr. Mike Donnellsen say they have a plan. It calls for six permanent volunteer members acting as organizers, directing the efforts of the many other volunteers. At all times a minimum of two persons will be in the Diggers' office to receive funds, take calls, dispatch persons to refuge, maintain cleanliness of the area, and keep things rolling. One of those six people will be responsible to see that the agreements with the Church are kept.

On the other hand, some of the members say they will not go along with the O'Donnell plan. The Diggers, according to those gentlemen, cannot operate as an organization. It's people helping people, organization may undo the good by creating power-plays and bosses. If they cannot operate from the church, they will take to the streets with a sort of floating social first aid kit in hand to minister to the needs of people as they meet them.

O'Donnell objects to this manner of operation if it is not correlated with a stationary office for the benefit of those who may not be able to locate the roving Samaritan.

The two factions are still considering various modes of operation either separately or cooperatively.

The Reverend Harris was asked to comment on the departure of the Diggers.

In spite of the resignation of his Senior Warden and his Director of Acolytes (Altar Boys) the discord among the congregation, and cancelled pledges (five percent of total church income), and the "adverse" publicity, the Reverend stated that he was glad to have been able to assist. Having his office next to the diggers, he said, had given him the opportunity to participate in many activities related to social assistance, lost and needy persons, and an occasional runaway to name a few. Friendships had been made and cemented in this worthwhile endeavor. Mrs. Harris joined him to express how very glad they were to have been able to have the opportunity of working and being with the Diggers.

It was obvious that the determination and solidarity of the congregation also had been reinforced. He presented this writer with an epistle concerning love and peace which had been circulated and explained somewhat the views of the Reverend and the Church.

[end of article]

The Current Status of the Haight-Ashbury Hippie Community

Excerpt by Stephen M. Pittell, Director, Haight-Ashbury Research Project, September, 1968

Note from editor: Rev. Leon Harris sent me this excerpt in 1974. Written from a sympathetic, albeit "straight outsider", viewpoint, it contains inaccuracies of fact and interpretation. Nevertheless, it should have a place in any Digger history, if for no other reason than to understand the prevailing academic view of the budding counterculture.

Any discussion of the groups specifically set up to serve in the Haight-Ashbury community must begin with the Diggers, a loosely organized group of Utopian hippies whose activities were as influential in creating the hippie culture as in serving its needs. While the amorphous nature of this group, its intentional eschewal of organization and structure, and its rapidly changing membership make it difficult to adequately trace its history or specify its functions, it seems reasonably clear that the majority of services which characterized the Haight-Ashbury community during the spring and summer of 1967 were either directly or indirectly initiated by members of the Diggers. The identified leaders of the hippie community and the spokesmen for the hippies prior to the summer of 1967, have all been associated with the Diggers and it is quite likely that anyone who provided some important service to the community during this early period automatically joined its ranks.

In any event, the Diggers, who derive their name from a 17th Century English group who took it upon themselves to dig and plant in the public land and distribute their crops to all poor people, began their work in the late fall and early winter of 1966. In the midst of the racial tension in San Francisco following the Hunter's Point riots they began to distribute food in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park as a symbolic gesture of friendship to the largely Negro community of the Haight-Ashbury district. Perhaps as a result of this experience, and of the community work of some of the early members, the Diggers were among those who planned the Human Be-In in the Park which first attracted attention to the Haight-Ashbury as the gathering place for the hippie movement. The Diggers predicted the influx of hippies to the district in the summer of 1967, and called for the creation of a variety of services to meet the needs of the new community. They argued that they did not require money to establish these services, and they proved that they were able to meet the needs of the community on their own when the city proved unwilling to provide help or encouragement.

They continued to obtain food from local merchants and distributed a daily meal to more than 150 people in the Panhandle throughout the spring and most of the summer of 1967. They apparently were able to establish their own farms on land donated or lent to them, and began to grow food for subsequent distribution. They maintained a number of communes in the Haight-Ashbury which served as crash pads for newcomers to the district and they were often influential in helping runaways who desired it to be returned to their parents. In keeping with their belief that all services and products should be freely available to those who require them, they opened a Free Store, stocked with used furniture, clothing, kitchenware, and miscellaneous items, all of which could be taken without charge by anyone who wanted it. They initiated the baking of Diggers bread which was also distributed without charge both in the Park and through the Digger headquarters, and they printed recipes for this nutritious bread so that others could make their own. They provided counseling and referral services for a variety of needs, and were ubiquitously useful in meeting all of the needs of the hippie community.

They encouraged a number of the hippie merchants on Haight Street to share their profits with the community and they worked with members of the professional community in San Francisco to establish services to supplement their own work in the neighborhood. The Diggers did not have any apparent source of financial support for their enterprises and they appear to have existed on their ability to get donations of supplies and services from those who were sympathetic to the hippie cause.

Even by the beginning of the summer of 1967, a number of the original Diggers left the Haight-Ashbury, some of them feeling that they could not continue to function without better leadership or organization. Father Leon Harris of All Saints Church in the Haight-Ashbury had cooperated with the Diggers in their earliest efforts, providing them with the use of the Church's kitchen for preparation of their free meals, and with office space adjoining his Rectory to serve as their headquarters. As the Diggers began to abandon their projects and leave the Haight-Ashbury, Father Hariis appointed a committee of Church members to aid the Diggers in their many services. This committee functioned throughout the summer and was then relieved of its responsibility in the fall of 1967, when one of the original Diggers returned to the Haight-Ashbury. During the summer the Digger headquarters (which was now called The Community Affairs Office) added to its list of services to the community a recreation center in the basement of the church, a pancake breakfast served free on three days during the week, and a Hip Job Co-op, an employment center for hippies which had been independently organized and then transferred to the CAO. Even after the distribution of free food in the Park had stopped, the CAO continued to provide up to 1,000 pounds of bread per week to the community, in addition to maintaining a number of the original Digger projects.

The CAO has now replaced the Diggers in many of their functions [1], and a number of the original Diggers have returned to the Haight-Ashbury to organize a commune called the Free City. This group retains many of the original Digger functions such as distribution of food, literature, and information on free things available in San Francisco, but they no longer attempt to serve the entire Haight-Ashbury hippie community. Rather, they restrict their attention to the hippie families or communes in the Haight-Ashbury and the surrounding neighborhoods who they feel have kept up the hippie ideology. The original Diggers work is now available to the hippie community at large only through the CAO. With the help and encouragement of Father Harris, who had been called the Patron Saint of the Haight-Ashbury, many aspects of the Diggers ambtious plans to meet the needs of the Haight-Ashbury community have been preserved, even while the initiators of the plan lost interest in it or failed to maintain their efforts in the face of continually mounting obstacles.

Other services in the Haight-Ashbury have had intimate connections with All Saints Church in their formative stages, and all of them have been able to use the facilities of the Church and the services of the CAO to aid them in their own work in the community. At the present time the CAO remains one of the few Haight-Ashbury services which has had a continuous operation since the spring of 1967, and it is likely to be one of the few service agencies in the neighborhood which will continue to function long after the summer of 1968.

In contrast to the Diggers, whose projects might have died without outside organizational support, the Switchboard, another service initiated from within the Haight-Ashbury community, has continued to function autonomously from the summer of 1967 to the present. Perhaps the greater success of the Switchboard in providing services to the hippie community lies in its less than total involvement with the hippie ideology and in its explicit commitment to provide a link between the hippie and straight worlds. The Switchboard is a volunteer service designed to facilitate communication among people throughout San Francisco, and specifically to serve as an informational and referral source for the Haight-Ashbury community. Al Rinker, Founder and Director of the Switchboard, was an early resident of the Haight-Ashbury hippie community who felt that his organization might best serve the community if it were not identified too closely with the hippie movement. The Switchboard provides a 24-hour-a-day service through which individuals can obtain information about community activities, services, housing, jobs, etc., and leave or receive messages. They maintain a list of runaways whose parents have attempted to contact them, and through posted and newspaper notices circulate the names of individuals for whom messages have been received. Through the summer and fall of 1967 they also acted as the answering service for the Free Medical Clinic.

[end of excerpt]

1. With the letter of September 5, 1974, in which Rev. Harris enclosed this excerpt, he included the following note about this paragraph:

Dr. Pittell's statement ("The CAO has now replaced the Diggers in many of their functions") is misleading in that it seems to suggest that it was no longer a Digger project even though it continued work which Diggers had initiated.

The fact is that it was a Digger operation at all times, and was always known as such. Many of the original Diggers were active in it in all periods, despite the fact that others of the early group had lost interest. From time to time there were changes in the personnel, and many who becam active were relative newcomers, but all were proud to be known as Diggers. [signed L. P. H.]


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.