Does the “Green OB” still have meaning? A brief history

by on June 7, 2011 · 15 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, OB Time Machine, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Popular

The original "Green OB", 1972. Click on this image to view an image suitable for printing.

Does the “Green OB” still have meaning in the OB of the 21st century? With only T-shirts bearing the “Green OB” nowadays, the verdant graphic with the letters “O” and “B” with the peace symbol being held up by a fist is more of a concept than a thing in Ocean Beach. But back in the 1970’s it had real meaning, and OBcians placed it in the windows of their homes.

The first peace sign designed by Gerald Holtom for the nuclear disarmament movement in Britain, 1958.

What did it mean? What did it stand for?

The story of the “Green OB” goes back to the inception of the original OB People’s Rag, the hard copy predecessor from the seventies to this website. In September of 1970 the 4-page first issue of the OB Rag rattled off the mimeograph machine and was stapled together.  In its masthead was the first use of the hand-drawn lettering of the underground newspaper’s name.  John Lyons, the paper’s first “resident-artist” drew that original, but I had come up with the design.

After figuring out what we wanted to call our new alternative paper (41 years ago), John and I – roommates on Etiwanda Street in northeast OB and recent graduates of UCSD – had to come up with the design.

The OB Rag began publishing just a few months after the huge, nation-wide student strike against the Vietnam war in the Spring of 1970. During those protests, I had seen signs, posters, and graphics with a peace sign being held up by a clenched fist.

That image seemed very interesting to me, a former art student at the University of California.

IWW graphic with fist, 1917.

Origins of the Peace Sign and Fist Graphics

By then, the peace sign had been around for years.  According to recent legend, the peace symbol was invented by Gerald Holtom, a member of the nuclear disarmament movement in England.  Specifically, Holtom designed it for the 1958 Aldermaston peace walk of that year.

The design comes from the naval code of semaphore, with the symbol representing the code letters for “ND” (nuclear disarmament).  The circle, representing the concept of total or complete, surrounds the N and D signifying total or complete nuclear disarmament.

Today of course, the peace sign is everywhere: on T-shirts, caps, posters, on jewelry, scrawled on walls, (in our masthead) – it’s everywhere!

Mexican graphic with fist, 1948.

The clenched fist, of course, was also a common symbol back then in the late sixties and early seventies, one of resistance and revolution – and was usually in red or black.  (I had a large, red fist on the back of my Army jacket that I wore for my college graduation ceremony in 1970.)

As Lincoln Cushing, a poster artist from OB now living in the Bay Area, instructs us on the history of the clenched fist:

A persistent symbol of resistance and unity, the clenched fist (or raised fist) is part of the broader genre of “hand” symbols that include the peace “V,” the forward-thrust-fist, and the clasped hands. The clenched fist usually appears in full frontal display showing all fingers and is occasionally integrated with other images such as a peace symbol or tool.

The human hand has been used in art from the very beginnings, starting with stunning examples in Neolithic cave paintings. Early examples of the fist in graphic art can be found at least as far back as 1917, with another example from Mexico in 1948.

Graphic using the New Left fist, Harvard anti-draft strike, 1969.

Fist images, Cushing tells us, were employed as political art in some form or another during the French and Russian revolutions, and used by the Black Panther Party in this country, for instance.  Usually the older images had the fist holding something, an arm or tool.

But graphic artists from the New Left changed that in 1968, with an entirely new treatment. This “new” fist stood out with its stark simplicity, coupled with a popularly understood meaning of rebellion and militance.

Cushing believes that the first use in more modern times of the clenched fist was by San Francisco Bay Area artist Frank Cieciorka as a graphic in a poster produced for 1967 and 1968 anti-draft actions.  Cushing continues:

This fist, or versions of it, were adopted by “the movement,” appearing in numerous posters and flyers for student, antiwar, women’s, and other political activities within the United States. It showed up almost immediately within the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS, which used it in flier for the 1968 Chicago National Democratic Convention protest). A virtually identical fist used in the 1969 Harvard student strike traces its design to School of Design student Harvey Hacker.

So, there was the peace sign and the clenched fist. How did they come together?

Back during the anti-Vietnam war days, the movement reached a “fever pitch” in the Spring of 1970 after President Nixon had invaded Cambodia, and after National Guard troops had killed students at Kent State and after police had killed more students at Jackson State. Wayne “Wally” Zampa had been an art student then at Foothill College in Los Altos, California.

Zampa's national student strike symbol, Spring 1970.

Again, according to Lincoln Cushing, Zampa wanted to “bridge the iconic needs of both the peace movement activists and the more militant antiwar activists”, so he created an image that included the classic peace symbol and the clenched fist.  At a San Jose State national student conference on the war, it was chosen as the “national strike symbol”.  The powerful graphic was picked up and reproduced by numerous groups and for numerous events. It had gone national.

As a student in the anti-war movement myself, I had seen the combo graphic and dug it. Back in Ocean Beach, I went to work and designed our new masthead. For the first time ever, the peace symbol was grafted into the “O” of “OB” and the fist enlarged to have its arm as the vertical middle bar.  This was a new design for the peace sign and the fist, a slight change from Zampa’s. And of course, it included the rest of the paper’s name.

As the months passed with new OB Rags, the masthead changed slightly with some new lines.  But the basic image remained, as it has to this day.

The Green OB Surfaces

The original OB Rag masthead with the first use of the peace sign within "O.B.", also including the first use of the fist and peace sign integrated. Ocean Beach, California, 1970.

Yet, back in the early seventies, OB was facing a terrible planning and over-development crisis. The city was allowing massive apartment buildings to take over the neighborhood.  One group that had formed to challenge the way the City allowed the community to be built up and out, was the OB Ecology Action Committee.  As more and more residents began to respond to the crisis, the activists had an idea.

The first Earth Day had been held two years earlier and the concept of “green” was just catching on. The activists thought: What if they printed a bunch of “Green OBs” and distributed them throughout the neighborhood? They would be printed up for folks to place in their windows as a sign of support for the anti-development current then reigning in OB at the time? The green color would signify support for the environment; the peace sign for sort of an anti-war gesture, and the poster as a whole would stand for resistance to development.

Photo Collage of Green OB's in Ocean Beach windows, OB Rag, circa 1974. (Green color by Patty Jones, added 2011.)

They met with the staff of the OB Rag and formed a consensus.  The Rag would print up a issue devoted solely to the crisis of apartment development. And inside would be a large, poster-sized “Green OB” ready to be pasted to a window.  The Ragsters and the eco-activists fanned out and found a host of businesses in the neighborhood that supported efforts to halt the apartments.  Such businesses as Baba Yaga (where Gary Gilmore then worked as a jeweler), Homestead Foods, Good Karma records, The People cabaret, Rare Comforts – all took out ads in the 4-page broadside against development.  Hundreds, no, thousands of issues were distributed throughout OB, and especially in the north end in late October 1972.  People were encouraged to place the “Green OB” in their windows as a sign of support for the anti-development forces.

And it happened.  Dozens of homes and apartments all over Ocean Beach had the graphic up and showing. I recall taking a drive-by poll with Charlie Marshall, going up and down the streets, me driving, him jotting down addresses and keeping a count.  We counted at least 80 residences that displayed the “Green OB”.  This was great, we felt. OB had responded to this first effort to use the symbol.  Later, the OB Rag would make and print a collage of photos taken of these OB’s in windows. (We’ve republished it here with some added color.)

Click on OB Green to view image suitable for printing.

A similar effort occurred a year or two after, with another version of the Green OB being distributed.  This time, residents were encouraged to place the image up, not only if they were against development, but also if they stood for police reform, and wanted to convey the message that their house or apartment was a “safe zone” for any hippie being hassled, and also for any woman being harassed by men.

For what its worth, I don’t recall any report or any instance where anybody took refuge in a “Green OB” home. But it was nice to see the images up anyway.

Over time, of course, the “Green OB’s” withered and fell off the window of consciousness in Ocean Beach.  Years later, the symbol was resurrected when a new activist group formed in 2000 – the Ocean Beach Grassroots Organization (OBGO).  Also that year, locals organized a re-union for OB activists from the 1970’s, using the green OB symbol on fliers and T-shirts, but without the green.

Current OB Rag T-shirts display the "Green OB". Click on image to go to the T-shirt order page.

Earlier this year, one of our avid readers asked us to print up OB Rag T-shirts but with the “green OB” on the back.  Wishing to remain anonymous, he also sent enough money so we could do it. So, with the help of James Gang Graphics, we printed up the new version – on T-shirts in sand, gray, white and black. All with the Green OB’s.

The Green OB has returned to OB.  And the staff of the OB Rag has been asking our readers to purchase the T-shirts in order to support the continuation of the website. Many have been bought, but dozens remain. We have also included links to two different poster-sized (8 1/2 x 11) Green OB’s so that they can be printed out (click on the Green OB images above).  Perhaps, the OBcian of today will paste the image in a window, and reconnect with the spirit of OB that fought to keep the neighborhood the way it was then, in order for us to enjoy the way it is today.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar mr.rick June 7, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Alway’s thought of the clenched fist as the original hip “Black Power Symbol” and dug the idea. When the Rag came out with the window version I was sure OB was on the way to international fame. I’m not sure if we’re famous world wide, but I’ve been to enough places in the states to know we’re famous nationally.The green OB t-shirts look good enough to give as gifts. hint,hint. Clear out here in Tennesse, my ol’ lady was asked a couple of times about the symbol at our local flea market. I said just tell ‘em to google OB Rag. Maybe well get some new supporters out of this. P.S. Just buy a damn t-shirt!

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avatar Dickie June 8, 2011 at 6:30 pm

As usual, Frank, great history!! As a graphics worker, I really appreciated the history, much of which I never knew before . . . the part about Wally Zampa I never knew in spite of my involvement with OB Rag of the time. As an activist in OB in the 70s, the green OB was a potent icon which was very effective to steer community people in the right direction. As I have commented previously:
” The Green OB was a centerfold originally in the old OB Rag . . . it got printed separately from the paper and people were encouraged to put it in their windows as a sign of OB solidarity, in those days against the Precise Plan for OB, against police harassment, against the war in Viet-Nam. Definitely a real symbol of “Think globally act locally.” It also signaled a good door to knock on when organizing, educating or mobilizing the community was in the works. Such households were usually good for enthusiastic greeting, maybe a puff or two, and perhaps an offer to pass on 5 or 10 of the fliers you might have been distributing or whatever. Kudos to today’s OBRag for resurrecting such a potent emblem of OB’;s special community-ness.”
And I am gonna get a t-shirt.

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avatar Frank Gormlie June 8, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Dickie – great quote. To which article did you originally post it?

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avatar Dickie June 8, 2011 at 10:16 pm

It was “OB Rag Presents Green OB T-Shirt,” April 22.

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avatar Lincoln "insurgent squeegee" Cushing June 9, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Great article, adding more to our own history. I’m linking it to my “clenched fist” essay.
I love the photo collage simulation.
OB rules!

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avatar Frank Gormlie June 9, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Lincoln! So good to hear from you! You’ve done some amazing graphic art and all this history collection. Great work. Sorry we’ve fallen out of touch. Let’s change that.

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avatar Dickie June 12, 2011 at 10:09 pm

hey, Lincoln, I think of you every day because I still have two of your wonderful posters up on on my wall up here [and several others archived]. great to hear from you . . . bring back the insurgent squeegee . . . lotsa love.

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avatar Frank Gormlie June 9, 2011 at 7:48 pm

I have always wanted to do this post, and this time around, things fell neatly into place, with a lot of help from Lincoln Cushing’s research. The story needed to be told and the Green OB explained to the current residents of OB.

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avatar Citizen Cane June 10, 2011 at 10:08 am

I see the original OB fist was left handed. Was there a reason for changing it?

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avatar Patty Jones June 10, 2011 at 10:19 am

Maybe the original artist was right handed and drawing their own fist? Interesting observation!

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avatar Frank Gormlie June 10, 2011 at 10:23 am

I think – being right handed – I was drawing my left hand. Good observation, Citizen Cane!

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avatar Patty Jones June 10, 2011 at 10:25 am

Is there an echo in here?….

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avatar mr.rick June 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm

You guys just keep in mind that we are gonna need both fists to win this fight.

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avatar Steve Zivolich June 13, 2011 at 10:12 am

Let the OB (freak flag) rag fly!

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avatar Allthink September 21, 2011 at 10:20 am

buying a shirt now!

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