The Rag Matures
(Continued from “In Full Swing”)
The OB Rag survived and thrived due to the full-time commitment of its unpaid staff
By the end of 1972, with the OB Rag its third year – the paper had clearly not only survived, but had indeed thrived. Its closely-knit staff had jelled into a group of serious-minded alternative journalists, all who held their work on the paper as their primary commitment – outside personal relationships of course. And it was this commitment that kept the publication together.
This commitment was not – say, that of a hobby – but much more than that; it was closer to that of the righteous zealotry of rebels who know that history will judge them as the good guys; they were warriors of the counter-culture, bringing “the truth” to the people; they were left-wing revolutionaries harboring the belief that the pen was mightier than the sword — (a newer version added: “But no match for the machine gun”)-. It was the near-missionary zeal of these underground journalists that allowed them to claim the streets of OB with their spicy rag. And, importantly, to keep publishing through the years, for the entire first half of the seventies the Rag flourished, through the worst of the Nixon years, and during the wind-down of the Vietnam War.
It was a given that the staff worked for free – no one received a salary or stipend. Most of the staff did not have full-time “straight” jobs, although a few had part-time jobs, including small salaries from other alternative institutions. The balance of the staff lived off savings, unemployment insurance, or literally from OB Rag “sales”. For all of them, the Rag was their job. This is why the paper survived. The near-absolute dedication and connection between the individuals who blew life into its pages, its articles and photos — and the process they journeyed through to print each issue – which still maintained its bi-weekly publishing schedule – was then reflected in the vibrant , colorful and zesty publication, issue after issue — the OB Rag itself. And the community began to accept it and call the OB Rag its own.
As an entity, such as an underground newspaper like the Rag, grows and develops with time and experience, and as long as it doesn’t fold, it can stabilize and become a staple for the people it serves. This is what happened to the OB Rag. As the OB Rag matured in its scope, breadth, character and role within the community, there was a corresponding maturation of the OB community movement.
Nixon Is Re-elected & Then Bombs Vietnam: OB Responses
No matter how deep one dug into OB, you couldn’t escape the fact that it was attached to the rest of the country. OB was affected by what happened in Washington and in Hanoi, Vietnam. In November 1972 Richard Nixon was re-elected to the White House in a landslide with promises of peace in Vietnam – as the first Watergate revelations had not gained hold of the American political psyche. The OB Rag reported, that on December 18:
… in a new show of arrogance and brutality, Nixon ordered the most massive continual bombing in the history of the world – directed at the heavily populated heartland of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) around Hanoi and Haiphong. Rather than sign the [9 Point Peace] Agreement, lying Dick decided to blackmail the Vietnamese into “serious negotiations” – a Nixon doublethink term which really means peace on Nixon’s own terms.
In solidarity with people across the country and world, the OB Rag joined up with other anti-war activists who organized a large rally and march on January 20, 1973, in downtown San Diego in protest of Nixon’s inauguration and the bombing. The Rag and others in OB even organized a “OB Contingent” for the protest – which met at “Hitchhikers’ Corner” – Sunset Cliffs & W. Pt.Loma – where free transportation was provided for any OBceans wishing to attend the demonstration.
In an article on page 3 of the mid-January 1973 issue, Dickie Magidoff wrote his first article for the Rag on why to protest “mean Dick’s second inauguration” and called for OB residents to join their “sisters and brothers of OB” in the contingent. Magidoff had just joined the staff as a contributor and the issue was the first of many that he worked on. Coming to OB for a visit in 1972, Magidoff had fallen in love with OB and its people, and his two-week visit ended up being eight years. He had brought a packtrain full of movement experience to the Rag, as he had been a regional organizer for Students for a Democratic Society back in the early and mid-sixties. Organizing an OB contingent for the protest had been his idea. The entire backpage of the issue of the paper was devoted to a call to “March with the OB Contingent” under a graphic of two hippies holding a huge banner with a green OB. The page announced: “We may have 4 more years of Nixon…but Nixon has four more years of us.” Nixon was inaugurated Jan. 20, 1973, and in less than 20 months, on August 9th, 1974, he resigned – in order to avoid impeachment. The kids were right, once again.
Years later, Magidoff remembers that there were several hundred people who marched in that protest under the OB banner. The crowd of 3,000 he recalled gathered at a park in downtown San Diego. This was probably the first and last successful effort to have a massive OB presence at a city-wide demonstration. But this was typical of Magidoff – always trying to connect with people on a higher level of politics – always pushing his compatriots to a better place. Born and raised in Manhattan, nurtured in New York’s left-wing Jewish culture, and a veteran of the civil-rights and early peace movements, he knew – and had even organized many of SDS’s leaders over the years, including Tom Hayden and Al Haber, who started the organization, and the top activists in the different factions. With this experience, Dickie joined the paper’s staff, began volunteering for everything and good-naturedly jostled with the rather parochial views held at times by others on the staff, giving the Rag a needed depth and breadth.
Anti-War Protests & Trials
The Jan. 20th demo may have been the last large anti-Vietnam War protest in San Diego. Nixon soon became engulfed in the Watergate Scandal and the building movement for impeachment. The Peace Accords were eventually signed, and US troops started withdrawing as our participation grew to a close by 1975.
Yet, protesting the Vietnam War while it was still going on had its price. A May 1972 demonstration up in Del Mar protesting a train full of war equipment resulted in the train being blocked for awhile. A number of activists were arrested, including several known ones from OB, who took their case to trial. Known as the “Del Mar 4” (“3” later), they included OB’ers Pete Bohmer, the San Diego State professor and former Rag staffer; Tom Kozden, from OB Ecology Action and the Free School, and Pete Mahone – a recently-released parolee who had been politicized in prison. After Kozden’s case was dismissed, the remainder went to trial in hopes of bringing the Vietnam war into the courtroom. But this was San Diego – no trial of the war here in our court! In December 1972 Bohmer, Mahone and Bill Haiber (the 4th defendant) were found guilty of blocking the train. (The only evidence against Mahone and Haiber came from undercover police officers; Bohmer spoke at a nearby rally just prior to the train being blocked.)
Undercover Cops – “the Red Squad”
The role of undercover police officers became highlighted in San Diego during the early and mid-seventies. These heady times provided the context for a surge in the use of undercover cops – called “the Red Squad” – for the surveillance and infiltration of peace and antiwar groups. This was the time when the Republicans were still planning to bring their ’72 Convention to Nixon’s “Lucky City,” as anti-war protests continued, as active-duty G.I.s and sailors got involved in those anti-war protests, as the calls for investigation into Watergate developed into demands for impeachment, more and more police officers were sent undercover to infiltrate the anti-war groups themselves – as well as other left-wing organizations. Fueled by grants from federal funds for stepped-up law enforcement, the pressure to surveil, infiltrate and ultimately, manipulate peace groups came from the top – the ever increasingly paranoid Nixon administration – beset on all sides by enemies. [This has all been documented from the revelations about COINTELPRO – “The founding document of COINTELPRO directed FBI agents to ‘expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize’ the activities” of antiwar, peace, Black movements and their leaders. For COINTELPRO, see here for Wikipedia’s entry.]
From the penthouses of the Watergate building to the grimy beach cabins of OB antiwar activists, undercover police agents were afoot. – dressed as hippies or hippie-look-alikes – they either posed as friends and “brothers-in-struggle”, or they watched from afar. Or they watched from a car, from the cliff top, from the roof top, or from the back of the meeting hall. Locally here in San Diego, the City had a police chief who understood the importance of Red Squads. He was a throw-back to the days when cops fought with sailors – and peace on the waterfront had to be enforced with a policeman’s knuckle. Chief Ray Hoobler looked like he rose through the ranks of a police department schooled in the rough and tumble. He had a boxer’s face. And a no nonsense attitude. He distrusted antiwar activists, placing them alongside burglars and other criminals. Chief Hoobler never like Ocean Beach either. Too many riots.
There were a lot of them, agents from national law enforcement, naval intelligence, FBI, down to the local police, many of their identities became known to a number of activists who would then publicize their photos and pseudo-names or even real names.
In the late June – early July 1973 edition of the OB Rag, the paper carried a center-spread about the Red Squad, entitled, “Watching Them Watching You!” The piece, complete with numerous photos of police spies and informers – (including one of Bill Kolender – who was seen watching an event called “the OB Festival” from a top of local apartments – who is now Sheriff for the County of San Diego) recounted how the San Diego Red Squad was well known for infiltrating local groups, how one agent, nicknamed “Nacho” was responsible for the arrest of “Los Tres” – 3 Chicano activists (one of whom, Carlos Carderon, had moved into the OB Rag’s Etiwanda front studio when he was publishing the San Diego Street Journal, during its last days), how the activities of another notorious agent named “Jay King” had resulted in the break-up of the San Diego chapter of the Movement for a Democratic Military – an antiwar group working with active duty GIs. The Rag continued:
Red Squad officers working undercover have been known to act as provocateurs suggesting illegal acts and in some cases even offering to provide the materials to carry them out (such as guns and explosives).
The Red Squad is also known to rely upon a system of informers for much of its information. … The use of informants allows the Red Squad to move its sensors further into the city while remaining undetected.
The Rag went on to complain that the Red Squad was used against the left, but not against the right, even the terrorist right – until the rightwing threatens establishment figures.
It is a well known fact that the Intelligence Division [real name of Red Squad] is governed by a certain set of political beliefs that greatly influence the work they do. For example, they did not have any official knowledge of the Secret Army Organization, the para-military right wing group believed to be responsible for the shooting of Paula Tharp, prior to the shooting of the OB woman earlier this year. Yet the SAO had been actively pasting up their “stop communism” stickers complete with Minutemen crosshairs, printing and distributing inciting material throughout San Diego, and openly maintaining a Post Office box long before the shots rang out. It took the authorities 7 months to finally solve the crime and the intensification in the investigation came only after an SAO bulletin, put out three months after the shooting, named prominent Mr. Peterson (big-wig with Southern California First, and Foodmaker Corp. ie – Jack-in-the-Box) along with Maureen O’Connor and her sister as “commie sympathizers” due to their efforts in setting up the Unconventional Center.
Overtime, the Nixon administration became tied down within its own contradictions, as revelations of the “dirty tricks” employed by Nixon operatives became known. The Vietnam War wound down; the antiwar movement wound down. The pressure from the feds to infiltrate peace groups greatly lessened. The Red Squads didn’t have as much work, their funding dried up to some extent. Pressures from liberal quarters within the City of San Diego, encouraged by the national sense of outrage of the Nixon excesses, gradually forced the local police department to reform some of its practices.
On the Ocean Beach front, it wouldn’t be until mid-1974 that Police Chief Hoobler was forced to meet with reform-minded OB Town Council members – who at that point – included several activists associated with an OB human rights group.
The Rag Becomes Sophisticated
The cover of the OB Rag for its first issue in its fourth year, the mid-September 1973 edition, was a large, 5 x 6 inch photo of Point Loma High students on the way to class — the photo, the masthead and all teasers on the cover were printed a in dark green. A long way from front covers of earlier Rags from just a year or two, the text-less cover spoke a 1000 words. The Rag had matured and now portrayed itself as a genuine community newspaper, not simply a radical propaganda broadside, published twice a month (or so). For a number of issues, the Rag’s look also had matured, as the “cover” was now a half-page image – giving it more a magazine-style cover. You would then open it up, and you would have a full page “front cover” – with usually a major article with large headlines.
This particular issue had a full page article about the coup in Chile that had occurred earlier that month. “The Chilean attempt to create a peaceful socialist change,” the unsigned editorial-like article analyzed, “has been halted in a violent military coup. The U.S. is undoubtedly involved in the coup, if not directly at least in helping to create the economic conditions necessary to ‘justify’ the military takeover.” Still typed from an IBM Selectric, and columns suffering from late-night editing and pasting, the article was typical Rag style. An opinion on the issue – this case the Chilean coup and US involvement – with factual context included, unsigned, giving an analysis not found anywhere else in the local media.
The Rag, of course, was correct. The US was definitely involved, but here the paper was giving that analysis out on a community level just weeks after the coup itself. But this was common for the Rag and for this generation of underground newspapers all across the country. Populist journalism. Alternative media. They published not just news, for that wasn’t their purpose. People relied, back then, on the major newspapers and a handful of television stations and networks.
Inside the front cover, was a half page “word from the staff”, entitled:
…going on four years
Well it’s September – a birthday month for Ocean Beach. The People’s Food Store is now a year old, the Community School is two, and the Rag is entering its fourth year of covering the news.
Over these three years the Rag has grown incredibly. We’ve gone from a two-paged leaflet to a real 20-24 page newspaper. Our circulation has quadrupled since we began (in the last month is has doubled.)
People who’ve studied the staffbox must have noticed that we’ve gone through changes there, too. Writers, artists, photographers, vendors, and other workers have come and gone, but the constant — the Ocean Beach People’s Rag — remains. And continuity has been provideded (sic) to that constant by the participation of some of our staff people who’ve been with the Rag for one, two, and three years.
The task of putting out the Rag hasn’t been an easy one. The struggle of our staff to work collectively and support each other, to relate in a human way to one another, has been difficult given the pressures of trying to put out a paper every two weeks. And all this is complicated by financial hassles – The Rag doesn’t make enough money to support our staff people, we have to find other sources of income for ourselves to survive.
Then there was the subtle pitch for financial support (apparently some central Rag staffers had been evicted recently
and the paper’s phone was temporarily disconnected):
We said above that the Rag’s circulation has grown astronomicay.(sic) Many copies are given away free or for really small donations to prisoners and community people without bread. We’ve only been able to do this because of the support you’ve given us, by digging deeper for that extra change, by not ripping off our vending machines or donations boxes, by buying ads, and by the kind words and smile that have helped us through the occasional hard times.
On this our third birthday, we want to thank you for the gift of your support and to promise that we’ll continue to try to provide good coverage of local stories, summaries and analyses of national news, and columns, poems, photos, drawings, and cartoons, that will help us all make it through the time ahead. We want to provide an alternative to the straight news, a paper that will supplement the news you see on the tube or read in daily papers — news that is controlled by and in the interest of the few that own the stations and papers, either directly or through advertising.
We want to tell people about the alternative institutions in Ocean Beach – institutions that are trying to build a new society, a new way of relating to each other. We want to report on what outsiders are doing to our community and efforts by our people to save OB, to keep it from becoming a community for the wealthy. We want to help make OB a good place for all of us to live.
Next, there was the signature radical show of solidarity – :
…Oh, by the way, it’s somebody else’s birthday this month. 28 years ago, the people of Vietnam declared their independence through their president, Ho Chi Minh. Since then they’ve fought the French, the U.S., and a few traitors that have tried to sell out their freedoms. Despite the horrors inflicted on the people and land, they’ve not given up.
The long struggle of the Vietnamese against exploitation has inspired us on the Rag to work hard to expose those that would exploit us and our neighbors. We hope that the Rag can help people take control of their own lives, as the Vietnamese have done, and make them happy ones, good for all the people and for the earth.
By now the staff box had exploded. There were literally 25 people listed – all by first name – but all actual persons, as opposed to “Marion Delgado, Thomas Paine” or “the numerous invisibles” of earlier staff boxes. As far as we can reconstruct, they included, in alphabetical order: Rich Cornish, Dennis Doyle, Kathleen Doyle, Kenny Eason, Bob Edwards, Bruce Gardner, Mari Gray, Jerry Lustig, Dickie Magidoff, Pete Mahone, Molly Maquire, Nora Nugent, Roger O’Malley, Jeanie Phillips, Chuli Sanchez, Miriam Shipp, Jim Terrell, Terry, Sean, Vick, Nita, June, Arti, Bill, and Doug.
Underneath the staff names and the newspaper’s address, this staff box had this addition:
Our recent eviction has caused our phone to be temporarily disconnected. So if you need us, leave a message in the Rag contribution box at People’s Food Store. Thanx.
The Staff box had been quite formalized by this issue, now always posted on the second page. And as always, this issue’s staff box area included:
The OB PEOPLE’S RAG is published twice monthly as a community newspaper serving the Beach Area of San Diego. The Rag subscribes to Liberation News Service (LNS) and is a member of the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS). Women staff members work in association with the Feminist Communications Collective of San Diego. The Rag welcomes any articles, photos, contributions (send them to our PO Box). The Production Staff reserves the right as workers to make final decisions collectively on and all material published.
(more to follow…..)