The Digger Oral History Project
I've met a lot of interesting people doing this Web archive. One day, I
received a feedback message from Etan Ben-Ami. It turns out that he and I
share a number of parallel life paths, including starting an oral history
of the Diggers. Etan was a youngster in the late 60s, so by the time he
heard about the Diggers, they were already history. Except they weren't,
in the sense that the history of the hippies, the Haight, the Diggers
hasn't been written. Why? Perhaps in some parallel universe the Summer of
Love never ended. To write a history about something assumes that it is
over. But for everyone who believes in Digger Free, the history is still
playing out, stretching back to Winstanley, Everard and the gang that
planted those seeds in our collective imagination 300+ years ago. Perhaps
the best history we can do is to collect the stories, and retell the tales
that inspired us. This is not the history practiced in the Academy, this
is People's History.
Etan Ben-Ami wrote that:
- Roughly ten years ago, I took a month off from work to interview
people for what was intended to be a book length oral history of the
Diggers. I'm not a journalist and the intent was not to launch any
kind of career, &c. I'd just read too much junk history re the
Sixties, hippies, the Haight ... you name it. They all seemed to be
saying that freedom was a juvenile activity that most people grew out
of basically a political revision of not only the past but the
present. I wanted to try to work against that. The interviews went
well, but I burned out doing the huge amount of transcribing and
editing that it takes to turn that amount of material into a book. (I
also went from part-time or temporary work to full-time and permanent,
got married, moved to Detroit, a few other things...) So anyhow, I've
got a large semi-abandoned work sitting on disk and on paper. I can't
distribute it or any part of it without the consent of the person
interviewed which may be really tough in some cases, since I've
lost touch with people.
Etan is worried that people are upset that he hasn't finished this
project. But, Etan, I don't think anyone can really be upset, especially
if you agree with my premise that the Digger history really cannot be
written. All we can do is preserve the stories that our elders told us
gathered around the proverbial communal fire, and pass this collected body
of knowledge onto the next generation.
So, Etan, thank you for this project. Know that you have a home for
your transcripts, and they will be cherished.
Interviews posted here:
Ben-Ami's Interview of Peter Coyote, Mill Valley, 1989.
Marty Lee & Eric Noble's Interview of Judy Goldhaft and Peter
Berg, San Francisco, 1982.
(Updated April 2023 with the addition of another half of the
interview that had not been originally transcribed.)
Interview of Linn House and Ivory (at
the Scott Street Commune, 1973).
Photos by Chuck Gould