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Kaliflower: the Intercommunal [Free] Newspaper

A Publication of The Free Print Shop

Out of the spinning whirlwind of Digger energy flew sparks that caught fire in communes and communities all across the counterculture. Starting in 1967, in California, Oregon, Arizona, Wisconsin and elsewhere, groups sprang to action and took the Digger name in the way the Diggers had taken it from their English forebears. Others began Digger activities under different names — the Provos in Berkeley used the name of the Dutch group whose White Bike Plan had captured the imagination of anarchists everywhere. Over the next several years, this Digger movement would actualize the original vision of Free in hundreds of communes across the land.

Back in San Francisco, the original Diggers had dropped that name soon after their Death of Hippie parade/event/ritual. Then began the Free City cycle of activities before their final exit from the stage that the City streets had provided for the past two years. But by then a new Free community had sprung from the Digger legacy. Where the Mime Troupe had taken their art from the confined space of theaters into the liberating space of public parks, and where the Diggers had taken their energy from the parks into the liberating space of the streets, now there was a reversal. Free went indoors, back into the new spaces that were being created in the old Victorian homes and renovated warehouses of San Francisco. The glaring onslaught of media attention drove the movement underground again.

Hundreds of communes in the San Francisco Bay Area sprung up starting in 1967. One among them, variously known by the street where they lived (first Sutter then Scott and finally Shotwell Street), consciously adopted the Digger Free philosophy. The Digger ethic had permeated the counterculture — every commune invariably had a Free Box in the hallway, whole wheat bread in the communal kitchens, and tie-dyed shirts in the communal dressing rooms — but the Sutter Street Commune was dedicated to implementing the blueprint for action that appeared in the Digger Papers (see especially Post-Competitive, Post-Comparative Game of Free City).

Since the fifties, tales of Buddhist enlightenment had permeated the counterculture with the Beat poets' interest in Zen. One of the concepts that gained popular renown was the idea of "passing on the dharma." This was the idea of sacred teachings being passed from teacher to student. A passing of the dharma between the Diggers and the Sutter Street Commune took place in the early months of 1968. The commune's co-founding member brought his printing presses to San Francisco, inspired and helped by two of the Diggers to start the Free Print Shop. Just as the Communication Company had been inspired by the Diggers and set up shop to offer free printing services two years earlier, so the Sutter Street Commune announced their new service to the community. This story would be recounted a decade later in the publication Deep Tried Frees.

In the spring of 1969, the Sutter Street Commune began publishing an intercommunal newspaper. The name they gave this free weekly publication was Kaliflower, a play on Kaliyuga, the Hindu name for the last and most violent Age of Humankind, the idea being a "flower growing out of the ashes of this current age of destruction." For the next three-plus years, the commune, through the Free Print Shop, kept Kaliflower going. At its end, there were close to three hundred communes, mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area, that were receiving Kaliflower every Thursday. The progeny became so well known that eventually it gave its name to the parent, the "Kaliflower Commune" as many people called it.

"Kaliflower Day", as the name by which Thursdays became known, was an intercommunal ritual. That was the day of the week when Kaliflower got bound and distributed to all the other communes on the "routing list". Members from other households would show up at Sutter (later Scott) Street, and spend the morning binding the paper, using the Japanese sewing method which the Sutter Street Commune learned from their salvage stints in the old abandoned Victorian houses of San Francisco's Japantown and Western Addition districts (where they lived for the first seven years.)

Kaliflower became a valued channel of communication among these hundreds of communes. It was not unusual for people who delivered Kaliflower to come back with stories of going from one commune to another and being feted at each in various fashions. These messengers would pick up announcements and ads (always Free Ads) that would appear in the next week's issue. Since the basis of the Sutter Street Commune's vision was Digger Free, Kaliflower also became the vehicle that helped create a Free City among these communes.

Eventually someone, perhaps even myself, may write a detailed history of this period. For now, I would like to present a collage of Kaliflower's pages. The Free Print Shop has already published the "Kaliflower Anthology" but I want to show the history in its raw form, unedited by hindsight. I am very blessed to have one of six complete collections of Kaliflower, for I was an archivist at the Scott Street Commune, and put together this set. So it is from the archives that I will draw in painting this portrait.

The Passing of the Dharma

Deep Tried Frees, originally published April, 1978.

This publication appeared long after Kaliflower had ceased regular publication. In the spring of 1978, news reached us that Emmett Grogan had died on a subway car in New York City. Deep Tried Frees was a tribute to the Digger vision on the occasion of the first Haight Street Fair, and was also seen as the Free Print Shop's ode to a fallen warrior. It also served as the commune's critique of certain counterculture icons from a pure Digger Free frame of reference. The odd-shaped pamphet was freely distributed at the first Haight Street Fair in San Francisco, and afterwards at Emmett's wake which convened at the Grand Piano coffee shop. The author (Sutter Street's founding member) describes the passing of the dharma that took place in 1968. This is also one of only a few Digger-movement manifestoes that pay direct homage to the original English Diggers in the context of Free's incarnation in the late twentieth century. Deep Tried Frees will probably be the lodestone against which future interpretations of the Digger philosophy are measured.

Here is the full text of the 1978 edition of Deep Tried Frees.

Kaliflower, The Intercommunal Newspaper

Volume 3, No. 1, May 6, 1971

This issue marked more than a change in printing format -- it was the beginning of a new phase in the Commune's publishing career, as they assumed the role of unabashed proselytizers for the communal vision. The cover article, Communal Archaelogy, paid homage for the first time to the first American communes from the previous century. Specifically, the commune came "out of the closet" and revealed the source of much inspiration for their communal practices -- the Oneida Commune (1848-1879) led by John Humphrey Noyes.

The Free Print Shop

If Kaliflower was the primary activity of the Sutter Street Commune, the Free Print Shop was the engine that kept this labor of love cranking away. Its light tables, darkroom, Chief 15 Offset Press, chemical solvents, inks, tools, but above all its printers, photographers, and the dozens who stripped the negatives into flats ready for burning onto the aluminum plates in the home-built plate burner — this is the Free institution that took over when the writers and editors had finished their work.

The Free Print Shop was a busy locus of activity on Kaliflower night, every Wednesday when the final printing of that week's issue took place. Each page was individually designed, and so the Chief 15 Offset press often had to be cleaned completely between several page runs in the same issue. The communal mechanics often had to repair the press in the middle of a "run" using tools and parts begged or scrounged from local parts houses or other printing operations.

Kaliflower wasn't the only publication, however. After all, the initial flyer for the opening of the Free Print Shop announced, "The Sutter Street Commune invites you to submit manuscripts, drawings, manifestos to our Free Print Shop. Free distribution guaranteed for whatever we print." Over the next several years, the Commune, through the Free Print Shop, published hundreds of items, from announcements for Free Movies, to Food Conspiracy order sheets, to Free Medical Clinic prescription forms. As an adjunct body of materials in addition to the actual issues of three-plus volumes of Kaliflower, these "print-outs" (as the Commune referred to them) are an incredible source of information about the Counter Culture at this time. We see clearly how the institutions of Free continued to evolve after the Free City Collective had left the City and moved to country communes such as Blackbear.

The CHS Collection of the Free Print Shop 

In early 1973, the Scott Street Commune completed negotiations with the California Historical Society to donate a complete set of Kaliflower and a set of hundreds of the Free Print Shop publications. Along with the collection was a catalog that the archivist had compiled. 

View the Catalog of the Free Print Shop (August 1968 — December 1972).

The Inter-Communal Free Network

By the time the (then named) Scott Street Commune decided to stop publishing Kaliflower in 1972 after more than three continuous years of weekly issues, there were close to three hundred communes on the "routing sheets" used to send out the deliverers every Thursday. A small core of this larger network had banned together, and in a parallel evolution to the first communal steps that brought individual renters into sharing their resources as a commune, this larger group of communes started sharing all their food budgets. Hunga Dunga became the Free Food Conspiracy for the communes. All food stamps  received in the dozen or so communes were pooled together and Hunga Dunga would buy food and distribute it to the member communes of the Free Food Family, as they called themselves. "From each according to ability; to each according to need."

One of the events from this period that we can look back on and appreciate due to the restoration of long-lost video is the 1972 Inter-Communal Free Carnival.

There's also a clip in the beautiful film that David Weissmann and Bill Weber produced, The Cockettes, that has interviews and film footage and photos about this inter-communal network in the early 1970s. Here is that clip:

Communal Living ("Is this OZ?")

Clip from The Cockettes, film by David Weissman and Bill Weber, 2002, StrandReleasing.com, with permission of David Weissman.


The KF logo that designated the location in a commune where the Kaliflower deliverers would hang the weekly issues every Thursday.
The Scott Street Commune gathered in the backyard of the Redevelopment-owned Victorian which they occupied from 1971 to 1974. The Free Print Shop was in the basement of the house next door. The Free Bakery would be located on the second floor next door after the Commune took possession of both buildings. This photograph was taken by Miriam, ca. mid-1972. Several members are absent.
(Click on image for large view.)
This announcement of the opening of the Free Print Shop was printed on gold-lamé paper, a trademark of the commune which had contacts with the Zellerbach paper company in San Francisco and obtained odd lots of paper at bargain basement prices.

Over the next several years, the Free Print Shop published a variety of materials including flyers for other communal groups, free services, ecology groups, free arts groups, and the occasional political protest (albeit only if the artistic quality of the poster design passed certain muster.) Shown here is a portion of the intricate invitation the Sutter Street Commune sent out announcing the Free Print Shop, in the summer of 1968.

(Click on image for large view.)


A Kaliflower Board, constructed of plywood for the back, clothespins at the top for holding the current issue, and bamboo tube at the bottom for holding scribbled messages. The first communes that received Kaliflower had these boards hanging in a communal area, such as the kitchen, library, or meeting room. The weekly arrival of Kaliflower was a special ritual, in which the Deliverers (fellow communards themsevles) would hang the new issue on the clothespins and pick up any waiting messages to get printed in the next week's edition.
(Click on image for large view. Click here for closeup image of the poster design.)


The Deep Tried Frees essay measured 4.75 in. (wide) by 12 in. (tall), comprising 8 sheets folded in half and machine sewn through the spine.


Cover for Kaliflower, Vol. 3, No. 1. This issue went back to the 8-1/2 in. x 11 in. size that had been used in the first volume. However, the binding now was the familiar Japanese hand-sewn style. Unlike the second volume, the sewing for volume 3 would be on the sides, typically in a five-hole pattern.



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