The First Circle
(continued from “Summer 1970“)
The Etiwanda House
This was the local and national context when the first Rag was published. The initial circle of the paper consisted of Frank Gormlie, a local who had grown up in Point Loma, who had surfed in OB in his youth, and a recent graduate of UCSD – the Rag had been Gormlie’s brainchild as he saw it as a handy way to do community organizing in OB; the circle also included Bo Blakey, fresh from the campus battles at UC Berkeley and another graduate with Gormlie of Pt. Loma High; the two had agreed along with their significant others to set up a small house collective at the Etiwanda address earlier that Summer; and it included John Lyons, San Diego native, and veteran of the UCSD radical scene, who lived in his mobile step-van parked in the driveway at Etiwanda; as the resident artist, Lyons used Gormlie’s ideas for a masthead logo, and drew the first “OB Rag” design – a version of which is still in use to this day.
Despite the differences among this first core staff – supporting different wings of SDS, for example, the initial group became lasting friends, enduring those initial months of raw, underground publishing efforts. Any differences were glossed over by the camaraderie, their similar backgrounds and current “revy” stance, plus their clear propensity for political action over rhetoric.
The OB Rag appeared in Mike Wallace’s 60 Minutes program in a section
on underground newspapers titled “Notes From the Underground.”
Here, staff member Bo Blakey is shown on national television distributing
issues at the foot of Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach.
This initial publishing core of the Rag – and every core that followed – were of the volunteer activist mold. They never received any salary or monetary compensation for their journalistic work, other than a few dollars made while peddling the paper. This was the standard for that era of underground newspapers.
Staples and Mimeograph Machines
These first issues of the OB Rag were printed on both sides of 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper — to be soon enlarged to 14 inch, stapled together, printed first on mimeograph machines and then on an old web press. It was distributed around Ocean Beach on street corners and in front of markets – all for a donation of 25 cents. Throwing mainstream journalistic techniques to the winds, the early Rag was used as an organizing tool, as it took on greedy landlords, the police, and the local town council, using a particular flamboyant and irreverent journalistic style, employing the jargon of the street.
Inspired by the first editions, a number of people joined the core: John Porter, another UCSD student who moved into the Etiwanda House (who eventually moved on and earned a doctorate in math); Marilyn Maquire, an early local supporter (who later became an RN and went on to organize nurses at area hospitals); Nora Nugent, an early espouser of gay rights (who would go on to work within government as an open lesbian); and Ruth Astle, a grad student from UCSD that Gormlie met while both lived with their spouses in the married student apartments on campus (who later became a judge in the Bay Area).
Often the process of putting out the next issue of the paper involved late-night scenarios, sweetened by incense and the new FM radio stations, where Gormlie worked on his articles, Lyons penned his graphics, and Blakey – who took on a late shift at a local factory – would come home and finish up his assignment. Occasionally a police car would slowly drive by, brushing the house with it powerful search light. Meanwhile, the typewriter clattered into the night.
Personal Changes At Etiwanda
The original idea of a house collective had started off well, and a garden was dug in the back yard –which was one of Susan’s areas. But after the death of Chris’ heroine, Janice Joplin, she became disillusioned; hers and Blakey’s relationship fell apart, and by September, she had moved back to the Bay Area. Almost as soon as the Rag started publishing, Gormlie’s marriage also fell apart. The couple decided to separate, and Susan moved into one of the studios on the large lot. The boys were finding that their personal lives and political lives were not meshing. But with the influx of a few new people, the energy to keep the Rag going was renewed.
One of the first issues that the Rag took on was the authoritarian rule of the local Town Council by its gavel-handed president, Dick Rideneour, a staunch Republican. Rideneour and his allies had slandered the community’s hippies in a series of public pronouncements. After several counter-attacks by Gormlie in the Rag, liberals on the council, in an effort to strike a compromise, offered Gormlie — pony tail and all – a seat on the board, which he accepted on February 18, 1971. But at one of the very next meetings, Rideneour struck back, and had him removed through a technicality in the bylaws. The OB Town Council’s first hippie had been elected and kicked off in the space of a couple of weeks.
After that, Gormlie’s attention was temporarily taken up by declarations and plans by the Black Panthers that they were going to hold a “Revolutionary Peoples Constitutional Convention” in Washington, D.C. that November. He decided he was going, not only to participate but to report on the events for the paper, and hooked up with a carload of LA people and drove to the Capital. Despite thousands showing up from all over the country, Nixon administration threats to cut off federal funds to the colleges who were sponsoring the convention were successful in bringing the event to a quick close. With the convention a bust, Gormlie looked up an old friend from college days who was from Massachusetts, Liz Brody, and got a tour of the city. Over a year later, Brody was to move to OB and join Gormlie, Blakey and the other boys at Etiwanda, and work on the Rag.
For the Rag’s first seven months, Gormlie led this initial core, and he tried to have the paper serve the community by combining neighorhood news and issues from a radical perspective with larger events and politics. But there wasn’t enough time in this, the paper’s first cycle, and the goal of using it as an organizing tool was more rhectoric than real – other than around issues such as Collier Park and the OB Town Council. Other issues, such as landlord problems and child care were highlighted, but no serious organizing occurred.
Meanwhile changes were occurring at the Etiwanda compound; Susan had departed for La Jolla and the remainder of her schooling. The front studio on the lot became empty, and a small crowd that was then putting out The Street Journal – by then only a shadow of its former self – moved in; they included Kathy Kelch – a classmate from Point Loma High with Doug Porter, and sister of Gormlie’s classmate, Patrick Kelch, and Carlos Calderon — a Chicano activist, and Jose Lopez, recently from Texas (Calderon would later become one of “Los Tres” – Latino activists targeted by undercover police and arrested, and made into a cause celebre).
The Chicano Moratorium
At the end of January 1971, Blakey and Gormlie jumped into a van filled with other activists from San Diego and headed up to East LA to join thousands in the second of a giant and massive protest by the Chicano and Mexican community, called the Chicano Moratorium. Months earlier a similar protest had been met with a massive and deadly display of force by LA County Sheriffs — that was the event where Ruben Salazar, a LA Times reporter, was killed by a police projectile as he tried to hide in a bar from the rioting outside.
Bo Blakey (in checkered shirt and headband) attempts to assist wounded
protester at Chicano Moratorium, Jan. 31, 1971, East Los Angeles.
This time, after the Rag staffers and their friends had joined the huge rally in a park, the crowd began pouring into the business district – only to be met with County Sheriffs — once again. Rocks were thrown and answered with buck shot. Scores were wounded, and one young man from Europe was fatally shot. In the midst of the riotous commotion, Blakey threw himself into a squad of people attempting to carry a protester who had fallen after being shot. Photos of his effort were to show up on the front page of the next issue of the LA Free Press, the grandparent of all underground newspapers. Gormlie was actually hit by buck shot, but besides suffering holes in his breast pockets, he was not injured.
F. Gormlie (headband and beard, middle of extreme left) watches as
the rescue effort involving Blakey collapses.
(continue to “Collier Park“)