©1998 A.D. Sullivan
It's `68 and You're 18
I never knew that!
Johnny's in the Basement
Rich, Poor & Current Events
It's `68 and You're 18
You gather for transport at an hour which inhales
itself over and over, sucking the nails
from the palms of the saviors selling briskly
in cameos on the counter. Vending
machines kicked quarterless squat
in illuminated crannies alone. It's said
they serve an acceptable insecticide gumbo inside,
nothing too abruptly terminal, but could
even the stories son-of-a-bitch you've ever seen
sidle into the seat beside you and say
only, Worthless weather for weeping in, eh?
There's a crowd in everyone
anxious to make like swine-sans-demon
and a war on a sea or two to the South. At least
this President hasn't sprouted any holes
in his head yet, though rumor has the Whore
cavorting in cafes with the carafe of Red
whose son's blood? Some would
sell their soul for a seizure inside her.
Others prefer the old betrayal, by silver.
Before the driver can utter, we're entering,
you've already begun to obey. Debarking
at daybreak in Fort Des Moines, you'd swear
the windowpane's strychnine's straight fear.
I never knew that!
For many years, we have lived unaware of all the opportunities life has presented us. We have also lived with the lie that people -- media, churches, governments, our parents -- have been telling us the truth.
When I was growing up, these same people kept telling me that America was the land of opportunity and that it did not do those things which other nasty countries like the Soviet Union did.
We don't often kill people in the street; yet we do throw them in jail, sometimes in concentration camp-like conditions such as the Management Control Units at the state prison in Trenton.
In the former Soviet Union (we are told by these same people), there was censorship. This was conducted by the state against those souls that dared to print their options of truth. During the early 1980s crack down in Poland, the Communist government confiscated every possible means of reproducing a document including printing presses, mimeograph machines, copiers and the like, they believing that the print media could do the government harm. The Soviet Union and its associated nations had one good use for deviant writers, hard labor in Siberia. In those places, censorship is obvious, book burnings public, and the jails full of writers.
Here in America, we lack this obvious enemy. If we had a government censoring us alone, we would have less to fear than the odious entity that actually acts to censor us. For the most part, writers in America do not have some big brother looking over our shoulders as we scribble out our diatribes about the evils of capitalism and the curse of living in a consumer society. Our censors are much more sophisticated. They have learned the art of cutting off information at the source, leaving us to believe we have access to legitimate information when we do not.
A conservative friend of mine constantly tells me how free our press is, how libraries and newspapers and television, and yes, the Internet, demonstrate free speech in action. In our country, the test books we use in school show both sides of every issue. In book stores, we can purchase any book we like detailing any point of view. America has no censorship, this friend says.
Despite the recent monstrous behavior by the record industry to label recordings and the TV to rate its shows, we do not have a single monitoring entity that tells us what we can learn and what we cannot. But the fact is that America approaching the new millennium is as censored as the Soviet Union was until its crash in 1989, and our censorship is getting worse.
In some ways the Bombing in Oklahoma, the shoot out at Ruby Ridge, the battle and fire in Waco, are the signs of a new war in America, the left of my generation shifting to the right of Generation X, with the same issues being fought over, only with a slightly different slant.
In the mid-1980s, the Moral Majority -- that silly right wing religious group the world took so remarkably serious in the 1970s -- complained about being censored by the New York Times bestsellers list (at the same time, of course, the Moral Majority was busy burning books in the mid-west). This group insisted that the sale of certain religious books more than qualified for membership on that privileged, snobbish, Eastern Establishment list. Like it or not, if the Moral Majority was right, then they suffered a kind of censorship.
In truth censorship -- in a variety of forms -- is alive and well in America, with only the Internet free of its worst flaws (though even here free speech is under attack with a host of filters designed to keep people from total access, right wing filters to keep left wing ideas out of the minds of their kids, religious filters to keep kids from ever finding out about the issue of sex.) In fact, censorship in America is on the rise, even after America won its ideological battle with the Soviet Union. In 1985, the United States Congress rushed through legislation that made it illegal to reprint information the government said was a danger to national security, even if that information came from public documents. This law could easily be used to shut down Internet sites, or publishing houses, or magazines. In the early 1990s, storm troop-like raids by the FBI grabbed equipment from bulletin board owners when credit card or other information appeared illegally on their servers, even if that information was put up by an outside caller. These raids were very similar to the raids made against the underground press in the early 1970s. The 1985 law could easily be invoked to shut down websites, even if the information published there was from the public library.
But this is only the most obvious of censorship devices and much more subtle versions are currently in play. The media is much more difficult to control, cutting off the voices of those who had a right to speak. For years we've heard talk about how anyone can get up on his soap box on Main Street and tell the world what he thinks. In the past, people often found a soap box and did just that. Only now, Main Street has changed. Newspapers, radio, television, and now the Internet have replaced Main Street as the venue for public discussion. And until the Internet became viable in the early 1990s, most people who had something to say couldn't say it without expending a serious amount of money to purchase air time or space in print media. Free Speech is dangerous speech to a society based on product liability and tax-exempt advertising costs. Before 1990, electronic bulletin boards and eventually the Internet, posed little threat because there was a natural censorship. Most people couldn't afford the computers or didn't know enough about computers to log on. With the prices falling on computers and the rapid expansion of Web sites, an easier method for using the Internet, the medium becomes more and more dangerous as more and more people log on.
Public action groups, that posed such a danger in the past in their censorship activities, have focused whole heartedly on the Internet as a great evil, partly because it is such an unwieldy institution, and not subject to the same pressures more traditional institutions of knowledge were. In the past, these groups attacked libraries for including the "wrong books" in their collections. Sometimes these moves for censorship are based on wrong assumptions about the books in questions, black social groups attacking Mark Twain as a racist. Sometimes, these groups have a clear objective, such as keeping a writer like Kurt Vonnegut from questioning America's behavior during World War Two. When Tennessee Williams published his first novel, "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone," people attacked it without ever having read it at all.
One aspect of censorship, still alive and well, popped up in the mid-1980s when a Texas group decided to change the contest of modern college and high school text books, not so much setting a local community standard, but limiting the kind of knowledge kids they didn't even know could have access to. This handful of modern fascists spend their time pressuring text book companies to exclude certain information this group finds unacceptable, such as Darwin's theories, and studies on Karl Marx. Text publishing companies, unduly sensitive to negative public opinion and fearing delays in their publishing schedule, often comply.
To understand censorship, you need to two their are essentially two kinds: Preventive and Punitive. Preventive removes the offensive information before it is issues. This is one of the more dangerous kinds of censorship because if often takes a private detective to figure out what information is missing at all.
Punitive censorship comes after the fact, such as the removal of certain Vonnegut or Mark Twain novels from the shelves of libraries. Sometimes this is done in the public forum, where it is fought over by citizens with differing opinion. Sometimes, it is done on the sly, such as the right wing groups that have been stalking Libraries in Bergen County, New Jersey, stealing what they consider offensive books, right off the shelves, or altering audio and video tapes to as to make them worthless. Libraries, faced with shrinking budgets, then not to bother to replace these books and tapes, in the belief the vandalism will only re-occur.
Preventive censorship, like that of the Texas group, is often exercised quite heavily in network programming, and is in some ways the real danger behind the labeling of records and the rating of TV shows. The most harmless of this kind might be called "idiot censorship" such as the 1956 attempt to keep Elvis Presley's crotch off the Ed Sullivan Show. Censors, fearing the moral implication of Presley's swiveling hips, gave strict orders to the camera men to shoot Presley only from the waste up. From 1965 through 1970, it was Barbara Eden's navel on I Dream of Genie that censors found so offensive. In another instance, ABC executives during that same time period, hemmed and hawed over whether or not to show a certain very revealing Bikini contest, finally canceling the spot with the lame excuse of it being shot badly.
A much more serious and political aspect of this same kind of television censorship showed up in the late 1960s when the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour featured Pete Seeger, an alleged communist banned from the airways in Ronald Reagan's famous Hollywood black list. Not only did this show infuriate the TV censors, but sent chills right up into the White House, where Richard Nixon -- Ronald Reagan's friend -- exerted his vast influence in having the show removed from the air, at the peak of its popularity.
In 1973, a made-for-TV-movie called Stick and Bones, was stricken from many Network affiliates because it dealt with the still controversial issue of the Vietnam War. Yet -- despite Hillary Clinton's claim of a right wing conspiracy -- censorship cuts into both sides of the political world, and perhaps because right wing extremists have taken on the role the left used to play, censorship and an anti-free speech society has led directly to violence, creating situations like Waco, Oklahoma and Ruby Ridge. But even more respectable main stream groups have suffered censorship. In 1983, New York City's Police Benevolent Association was refused air time on local TV because the Network feared the issues the group sought to highlight.
While the most obvious punitive censor in history is the Catholic church having condemned works by Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert, Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, Daniel Defoe, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mills, Emile Zola and Jean-Paul Sartre, the most outrageous censors are far less obvious, corporate entities that sue people to keep them quiet or sign agreements or set rules that refuse to allow free speech. Until the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against Hartz Mountain Industries in 1996, malls in New Jersey remained free of any free speech. People could not distribute pamphlets, or any other form of unapproved literature. Even now, some questions exists as to whether malls constitute a new Main Street, and whether or not people have the same rights as they would walking down Main Street, Paterson or Broadway, New York.
Censorship is a way of life in America, conducted by anyone with a special interest to protect. Often, public ignorance is the only way a group or corporation can make a profit, and such businesses are perfectly willing to sue a person for giving their product a bad name, even when that bad name is well deserved. Indeed, most of what we are handed as commercial, largely amounts to propaganda, much more prevalent than was ever exorcised under communism. Censorship is then a natural condition for any power seeking to maintain control, corporate or commercial, religious or democratic.
The lure for censorship is greater in a so-called free society because of the awesome power we have as voters, consumers and laborers. By keeping us ignorant we will vote for those whom we are told to vote for, buy what we are told we should buy and work at anything we are told to work at.
Be wary, be wise, read widely, and fight censorship on every level, even if you disagree with the subject matter. Because the next censor will be aimed at you.
Johnny's in the Basement
by Michael Alexander
"If it takes a bloodbath, let's get on with it. No more appeasements." -- Ronald Reagan.
It is 1970. Governor Ronald Reagan issues his battle cry against the revolutionary movement.
One month later, President Nixon warns: "When dissent turns to violence, it invites tragedy."
In another three days, four Kent State students are killed by National Guardsmen.
How did this happen? Is this the America of Bruce Springsteen? Mr. Appeasement is now president of this nation. Is bloodbath in his vocabulary today? What brought the youth in those days to such a threatening pitch? Where is the text of their history?
Abe Peck's Uncovering the Sixties: The Life & Times of the Underground Press, newly released in paperback by Pantheon Books, unearths a history of independent magazines that voiced the collective mind behind the events of that decade. From the early break with the Old Left to the later armed resistance, governmental interference, and internal conflict that spelled the end, Sixties magazines determined much of what was said, thought and done. If one would understand the events, one must understand the magazines.
Precursors set the scene. Radical journals like Liberation and the Guardian espoused left politics even in the Red Scare time, and humor magazines like the Realist and Mad satirized the Establishment. The Village Voice is one of the best known and longest surviving of the community papers that fought the system which journalism. But, the new breed were inspired by such as these to go further, to chance survival by experimenting with that which their predecessors took for granted: objectivity, professionalism, labor, sales and ownership.
Art Kunkin's Free Press was among the first. Pressured out of work for criticizing President Johnson's (lack of) civil rights policy, he turned full attention to his paper. Loosely leftist politics and spontaneity characterized his coverage. Kunkin's connections with the black community gave him a unique perspective on race issues, such as the Watts riot. Hip bar-owner Max Scherr began the Berkeley Barb on a dare, creating an open forum for demonstrators and organizers like Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. The East Village Other, started by Walter Boart as an alternative to the Voice carried the first underground comix and promoted free-form lifestyles. It was the Other that initiated the idea of a co-operative, to be known as UPS -- the Underground Press Syndicate.
In 1967, a hippie paper called the Oracle asked the UPS magazines to come together for a convention, in which the prime movers of the underground press could discuss main issues. Some came to praise the Aquariun life, eat brown rice, and drop acid. Others argued war resistance, SDS politics and the Black Panther struggle. Six months later, UPS had doubled its membership (a letter to UPS headquarters was the only requirement). The division between cultural and political revolutionaries, however, made it difficult to serve both interests.
The Liberation New Service (LNS), established my Marshall Bloom and Ray Mungo at a second UPS conference later in 1967, attempted to bridge this gap. Fifteen-dollar-a-month subscribers got packets of articles on both fronts, three times a week. After a year, however, when the editors moved to escape the increasing violence of the Movement and get in touch with the earth, militant staffers raided their farm to retrieve money, materials and subscription lists.
Rifts went wider and deeper. Black Panthers in their own mag alienated the white underground and promoted "can you top this" militancy. Soon, taking the Panthers as a model, white Weathermen armed themselves. The hippies wanted no part in such violence. Meanwhile, politicized feminists began to expose the inherent sexism within the Movement. After an all-woman issue of New York City's Rat, editor Jeff Shero sided with his male staffers against a complete feminist takeover -- and lost both his magazine and his marriage.
Arguments within the mags were not the only factor in the break-up of the counter-culture. Peck cites the PEN American Center report "Un-American Activities: the Campaign Against the Underground Press" on FBI and CIA activities against independent press. Right-wing groups were funded, armed, and trained to bomb, burn, and steal from magazine offices. Staffs were infiltrated by agents. Anonymous memos broke the trust that had been the heart of the papers. The Select Senate Committee to Study Government Operations determined a decade later that "the FBI went beyond excessive information gathering and dissemination to the use of secret tactics designed to disrupt and neutralize domestic intelligence targets." By then, of course, the damage had been done.
Peck's personal experiences as an editor of Chicago's Seed highlighted his account of the times. His break with the establishment, his trek to California and back, his involvement with individuals in the Movement -- it is the story of his generation. He wanders through the leftist concession at Woodstock, an illustration of the Left's failure to politicize the music-listening millions. Anonymous bricks smash the windows of his own magazine's office. Finding the scene too dangerous, Peck himself finally leaves the underground and eventually rejoins the establishment.
In the final chapter, he gives a run-down on the survivors; most make their livings in the mainstream media, as writers, editors, executives and educators. The current state (circa 1985) of independent press comes up in their comments, illustrating how their opinions have come to diverge. WBAI's Bob Fass says, "If there's another underground press, it'll be fascist, because there's no money for anything like that -- unless the technology suddenly opens up." (Such as the Internet?) Geoffrey Ripps, who edited Un-American Activities, disagreed: "The publishing industry almost demands independent presses. It encourages if not underground newspapers, then underground magazines."
Hopefully, the struggle for free press (a fight that has continued since pre-Revolutionary days) will not lead to a dead end, this time around. Independent presses can not be regulated to one time or generation, as if it were a temporary fad. Our right to free press is vital to democratic choice. Cultural, as well as political freedom, depends on the outlets available for writing. Long live the mimeograph, the Xerox, the off-set (and Web pages). Prosperity to the free press.
Read it and weep not!
Rich, Poor & Current Events
February 12, 1992
We live with current events. We don't have to like them. No more than we have to like the insanity of Americans who live with the illusion they are still Number One in the world, fat cats who drive Cadillacs and Lincolns, who run the local red light like they owned the town -- who voted Republican last year to keep little black bastards from sucking their hard earned (but often misreported taxes) from the government.
The innocent verdict for the Teaneck cop who shot a black kid in the back will slip into the realm of myth, justifying cop brutality everywhere, while becoming part of the fuse for a racial bomb already nearing explosion.
Part of that racial interpretation is the conviction of Mike Tyson, a black boxer accused of raping a contestant in the Miss Black America pageant -- this after the acquittal in a similar rape case concerning a Kennedy in Florida.
We seem to be granting license to certain kinds of people which will allow them to do what they want, while others -- especially those with darker skin will be punished.
Those fat-cat Republicans in their Cadillacs can run red lights, avoid taxes, but God help the welfare mother who finds herself pregnant. With her children already near-starving the state would punish her more for her poverty and her addiction.
New Jersey is a center of cruel, middle-class snobs who preach about blacks "pulling themselves up by their bootstraps" while a white man's boot is on their heads.
Our wealthy shine as examples of admirable greed, saying with their example to white suburban people: "See! You can make it, too!" The underlying message, however, is one of fear. Our wealthy tell our endangered middle class that the poor want to steal their homes.
For the poor job-enslaved middle class sucker it is easy to hate welfare, seeing it as a similar slavery but without task-master bosses on the backs of the poor. To the overworked and underpaid there is envy for those who simply have to cash their checks without the humiliation of having to "earn" it.
Suburban America is blinded by their own ambition. They believe if they can work hard and save enough, they can be rich, too. They just can't see the boot of the rich on their heads keeping them in place. They are too busy looking over their shoulders at the poor, to see if the poor are catching up, or if they are sinking back.
The question is: If the middle class are losing their jobs, where do we find jobs for the welfare people? Or have the Rich escalated their planned conflict between worker and impoverish to have them scrambling over limited jobs, while the rich get tax breaks and get even richer?
c/o A.D. Sullivan
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Jersey City, NJ 07307