Notes from the Underground
I interviewed Babylon Falling’s Sean Stewart, for Guernica, about his book on the Sixties underground press in America. Included below is an excerpt. Follow the link for the complete interview.
With the Occupy Wall Street protests still fresh in the nation’s collective memory, and hacktivist groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec now a part of our culture, modern American protest has a different identity than the counterculture movements of the 1960s.
One shared trait, however, is the importance these movements have placed on mass communication. In the case of OWS, social media played a critical role, facilitating instantaneous eyewitness reports from Liberty Plaza/Zuccotti Park and providing the tools to quickly organize. But old media models had their place. OR Books’ Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action that Changed America and n+1’s Occupy! An OWS-Inspired Gazette, are key examples. Taking cues from the Sixties underground press, these publications offered readers a more holistic view than social media could provide, and tipped their hats to a publishing movement that often remains historically unsung.
Of course, no discussion of American counterculture in the 1960s is complete without mentioning the role and influence of the underground press. In the wake of the civil rights movement, and as public opposition to the war in Vietnam swelled, this ad hoc network of alternative newspapers found a growing audience among the disaffected and disenfranchised.
What set these small, independent weeklies apart from the journalistic establishment was that they didn’t cover news in the same fashion as The New York Times, Boston Globe, or Chicago Tribune. Instead, the loose-knit group of editors, writers, photographers, and illustrators that comprised the underground press focused heavily on the concerns of the rising New Left, the far left, and the infinite nuances of the counterculture scenes sprouting up from Haight-Ashbury to the East Village, and every small town in-between. In essence, the underground press represented the freaks, a mandate lovingly embraced by the movement’s founders.
[Photograph: Sean Stewart by Shaun Roberts]