Political Ephemera from the Vietnam War Era
August 16, 2008 3:55 PM   Subscribe

The University of Washington has put a collection of Vietnam War era printed ephemera (posters, flyers, pamphlets, magazines, mostly cheap mimeographs or photocopies) online. The browsable collection ranges from Defend the Black Panthers to How to Make a Revolution in the U.S. to the Planetary Citizen Human Manifesto to plain old Do Something. The collection offers a fascinating insight into the passion, energy and graphic sensibilities of grassroots, home-front politics in late 1960s and early 1970s Seattle. posted by Rumple (18 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
This is great — I'm having fun poking through it and seeing what comes up.

The more that archival materials can become available without having to go and register and sit in a basement of a library, the better.
posted by Forktine at 4:54 PM on August 16, 2008

I'd bet that not a single one of the originals was printed on recycled paper with soy inks. Nothing bilingual, either.

Monolingual planet-raping fascists.
posted by codswallop at 4:58 PM on August 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Helix, Vol 1, no. 4 (May 16, 1967) Ad for the 'electrical banana company' - "take the worry out of getting high" "The superior blend of fine bananas specially selected and processed for your greater smoking satisfaction" $5 per 1/2 Oz.
posted by acro at 4:58 PM on August 16, 2008

Stuff like this is what the Principia Discordia and Illuminatus trilogy were spoofing.
posted by empath at 5:20 PM on August 16, 2008

The military was even infected by this kind of loopiness by the late 70s

The First Earth Battalion.
posted by empath at 5:22 PM on August 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

From the "Black IQ Test for Honkies", one of the questions is "In C.C. Rider, what does C.C. stand for?" I'm pretty sure it doesn't stand for anything, as the name of the song is "See See Rider", as in "see see rider, see what you done done". The 1920s Ma Rainey version was "See See Rider Blues" and all my Leadbelly CDs list it as "See See Rider".

"The superior blend of fine bananas specially selected and processed for your greater smoking satisfaction"

Heh, I had no idea that legend was that old. I thought it originated in the 70s at the earliest.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:28 PM on August 16, 2008

The First Earth Battalion features prominently in The Men Who Stare at Goats, which is a fun read.
posted by lukemeister at 5:44 PM on August 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

another vote for "The Men Who Stare At Goats"; it's also covered in Ronson's "Crazy Rulers of the World" 3-episode TV series.
posted by mrbill at 6:20 PM on August 16, 2008

Hey, they're using CONTENTdm. Nice to see someone actually successfully using that format, not least because of the amount of metadata generated by it. It's perhaps not surprising to see UWash using it, since there's a library school attached to the university. I also wouldn't be surprised to find out that some of the work on this project was done by library students (skills at a discount, after all).

Digitization projects are expensive, and one or way another someone has to pay for it. Libraries have some awesome and awe-inspiring items in their special collections, and no money to digitize. It's not a new story, but if you want to see more of these projects online you might want to look into directed giving or inquiring whether the library has policies on accepting corporate/non-profit sponsorships for projects like these.
posted by librarylis at 6:53 PM on August 16, 2008

Awesome post Pumple. Rich with links. Whoa man, heavy stuff. ;-)

I remember those old mimeographs so well, their smell, the purplish ink. Vivid memories of marches, demonstrations, protest rallies, moratoriums. And rock concerts. So amazing to see some of the flyers from then, like Boycott Grapes, Lettuce, and Gallo Wine, Cesar Chavez Jailed! Dow Chemical Guilty, Eye Witness Report from Kent State.

It's great to see some of the font and visual aesthetics that were hip at that time.

My heart swells with pride to have come from an activist and outspoken generation. It seems to me that from the late 70's on students lost interest in being active in making political changes. GW seems to have fixed that, LOL

1965: Harvey Matusow invented the myth that smoking banana peels would get you high (as an ill conceived plot to extract geopolitical revenge on the United Fruit Company, aka Chiquita Banana).

'Will bananas get you high? Of course not. The whole thing was a hoax first publicized in the Berkeley Barb in March 1967. The wire services, and after them the whole country, fell for it hook, line, and roach clip. "Smokeouts" were held at Berkeley. The following Easter Sunday, the New York Times reported, "beatniks and students chanted 'banana-banana' at a 'be-in' in Central Park" and paraded around carrying a two-foot wooden banana. The Food and Drug Administration announced it was investigating "the possible hallucinogenic effects of banana peels."
posted by nickyskye at 6:55 PM on August 16, 2008

It seems to me that from the late 70's on students lost interest in being active in making political changes.

I have an aunt who was heavily involved along with her partner in all manner of Aquarian Age activism. When I was just out of university in the mid-90s, I lived with them in Toronto for a couple of months. Ontario was at the tail end of a ferocious recession, and I was unemployed for six weeks despite blanketing the city with resumes and answering even the most ridiculous classifieds (I even trained as a door-to-door home alarm salesman but didn't have the stomach for it). I landed a job at Starbucks for 15 cents above minimum wage and was even grateful for it.

So one night my aunt and her partner have old friends over for dinner, an old radical couple, and they get to talking about their activist days and one of 'em says exactly this - what's with you kids today?

So I asked them a few questions. When you all were fighting the good fight, for example, could you get a job at a moment's notice if you needed one? One that paid a decent wage, even allowed you to save up the money to buy a crash pad? (My aunt and her partner live in the old crash pad they bought.) If you wanted to live cheap and simple for months on end, were affordable accomdations readily available? Were you saddled with five figures of student debt? If you wanted to go back to the land, could land be had for a song?

I don't know if that completely convinced them, but it sure gave them some perspective on what was with us kids these days.

I mean no disrespect, nickyskye - this is a dear, dear aunt of mine, and you're one of my favourite Mefites - but there were certain economic conditions in the '60s, at the peak of the biggest economic boom in modern history, that made it if not possible at least less problematic to devote oneself to political causes.

Also, killer post. Thanks, Rumple. Anyone know if there's a particularly good archive of the underground press out there somewhere on the internet? I mean like full text of Ramparts, that sort of thing? It's of quasi-professional interest, but I've never done any serious looking . . .
posted by gompa at 7:27 PM on August 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

Great post, and it takes me back.

*flashes nickyskye the peace sign*
posted by languagehat at 7:58 PM on August 16, 2008

*flashes a peace sign back at languageehat! Yo bro!

Hi gompa! aww shucks I'm glad you like me. :)

I like you too. And you awed me with your wonderful book, Geography of Hope.

It's interesting your term "devote oneself to political causes". It was more of a passionate response at the time, not devoting. It was a need, an explosive, have to shout it out, intense need.

could you get a job at a moment's notice if you needed one?

I ran away from home at 15 in 1969 and made $1 an hour babysitting to support myself. And I still went to marches, rallies, moratoriums, be-ins. I knew no kids with jobs. They were students in high school, living with their parents, runaways or at university. The older people I knew who made an effort to be politically active had straight jobs, were not well off by any means.

were affordable accomdations readily available?

Squatting and crash pads. I didn't know anybody who bought a crashpad. The men I knew who were older than me, in their 20's, worked in construction, retail sales, were teachers, shared tiny apartments. Plenty of people I knew couldn't afford to take time off to go to university. I couldn't. And those that did had student debts.

Money was not a main consideration for student protesters, political or civil rights activists. Many lived poorly, *really* frugally. There wasn't money among the kids I knew, from jobs or anywhere. Jobs for women in those days were typically secretary, maid, teacher and nurse. Not good wages for living well by any means.

But there was an intense passion then in the mid 60's I think partly because the 50's had this suffocatingly fascist edge to it. The McCarthy era tyrant types, the post World War obsession with "success" and materialistic comfort was psychologically, philosophically, emotionally, socially and spiritually stifling. All hell broke loose in the mid-60's out of dire need for lots of reasons.

A bunch of things happened in the mid-70's that put the damper on the 60's. The influx of massive amounts of heroin into America undermined the mellowness of the pot direction. Then in came massive amounts of cocaine. Cocaine and disco got the better political activist part of the end of the 70's.

In the 80's cocaine and Reagan moved the shift of focus back onto gross materialism, the whole Material Girl thing came into fashion. The Republican Right and their "Moral Majority" used the fear of AIDS to douse the flames of the sexual revolution with shame about sex.

Drug addiction's (cocaine mostly but qualuudes, meth, pills etc) social devastation in the 80's precipitated the 12 step movement including a wider range of focus than booze. That, imo, opened up people talking about their relationships with each other and the impact of family dynamics. then the Berlin Wall came down. There seemed to be great social possibilities ahead. But that drifted back in the 90's into hard-core Martha Stewart materialism again with the dismantled Soviet Union turning into some mafia, corrupt greed mayhem with oil magnate vultures there and in the Middle East.

The internet of the late 90's busted up the complacency and materialism of the 90's. Use Net, journalists and geeks online ended up being the social revolutionaries. And it doesn't cost much to go on the web. One can be a truth teller, a political and social activist while sitting at home most places on the planet.

In the US I think the political stuff that has gone down after 9/11, the entire GW and dynasty fiasco, has precipitated an interest in politics again here, a passionate interest. That and the crescendo of fear about the environment, fear of the impact of Bush's war mongering.

Something like the 60's but different. It's a need now. Nobody's "devoting" time to be on the web out of altruism, say political things. It's a passion to speak up on the web.

No longer mimeographed or photocopied flyers but emails, websites, blogs. So awesome! Right on brothers and sisters of the web!
posted by nickyskye at 10:18 PM on August 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

It's worth emphasizing how small a proportion of the student body in the 1960s was radical. Even big, safe protests (the kind that weren't going to attract police violence) brought in a minority of students on a campus; even fewer were actually deeply political and did anything more than attend one or two protests. SDS at its peak had something like 100,000 members, which is a lot but was only a tiny fraction of all students.

The vast majority of students went through their college careers drinking beer, joining frats, and trying to pass their classes. Many were quite actively repelled by the "excesses" of the politicals — don't forget, Dick Cheney was at the University of Wisconsin at the same time as the biggest protests and violence there.

Once the drawdown in Vietnam began, there was an immediate demobilization of students, too. Take away the immediate self-interested component of the draft, and you had a lot less politicization. The biggest campus protests happened after the Kent State shootings, which makes sense given the direct "that could have been me!" feelings that inspired.

I didn't know anybody who bought a crashpad.

As someone a generation younger than yourself, I knew (and know) lots of people my parents age who indeed did buy a cheap place in the 1960s or early 1970s, and who are now sitting on serious equity as a result. You could buy a place near the Berkeley campus, or huge acreage near a city like Portland, Vancouver, or Seattle, for what in current terms is almost free. Every commune story begins by a few people pooling their money and buying a farm — not something that is within the reach of the average (non-trust fund) graduate today.

Attending university was also almost free at the time — my uncles all paid their yearly tuition bills by working manual labor jobs all summer. Try that now, and see how many minutes of school that summer job pays for.
posted by Forktine at 6:32 AM on August 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I guess the hippies were so well off, they made time between real estate deals in their busy schedules to protest. And the kids in the late 70's and 80's were so impoverished, drinking coffee out of rolled up newspapers, they had to put all their focus on cocaine as an antidepressant. *rolls eyes

The changes in the 60's happened at a grassroots level, no pun intended, from the poor up, a groundswell of commitment to thoroughly renovating American industrial society along ecologically and socially just lines, whatever they might prove to be.

Just refusing to be forced to give one's seat to a white person on the bus made a huge political statement that was heard around the world. Big political changes can happen in increments. Rosa Parks wasn't a radical and she risked her neck, in an era of lynching, to make a difference. She lost her job for making that effort.

And it wasn't just guys scared of being drafted. Regular people formed cooperatives, for food, housing, worked on making changes in the educational system, creating day care centers, created amazing books like Our Bodies, Ourselves or the pre-Google Whole Earth Catalog. Now that kind of thing has gone on line in many forms, from Craigslist to websites of all kinds.

It's worth emphasizing how small a proportion of the student body in the 1960s was radical.

It has never been necessary to be radical to be politically r/evolutionary. Plenty of students who were not radical were the ones who walked in the marches, handed out the flyers, attended meetings, wanted a different way of being in the world than the 50's and early 60's mainstream version of reality.

Just being oneself, publicly, could be a political act at that time. For example, just saying one was gay was a tremendously brave act then, when there was such strong social conservatism. Wearing one's hair long as a guy took bravery for the same reason, so did wearing colorful clothes. It seems trivial now but bucking the system then was scary and one didn't have to be radical to be a part of the changes.

my uncles all paid their yearly tuition bills by working manual labor jobs all summer.

My older brother paid his university tuition working summers in a fish cleaning factory, after hitch hiking from NYC to Alaska and back, and then working throughout the year as a delivery guy. And he went to same university, the same time as GW. There are still summer jobs in Alaska that make between $5000 and $15,000.
posted by nickyskye at 8:53 AM on August 17, 2008

We used to have to drink out of a rolled up newspaper....And you try and tell the young people of today that ..... they won't believe you.
posted by nickyskye at 11:01 AM on August 17, 2008

RaWr copyright! I wanna take these and put them up on my wall!

Seriously, though, these are amazing.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:20 PM on August 17, 2008

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