A Small But Powerful Voice Turns 50

by on September 18, 2020 · 1 comment

in Health, Ocean Beach

Poster from Bob Edward’s history display at the OB Library.

Originally posted September 18, 2020.

Editordude: The following post by Scott Stephens of Liquid Blue was written for another publication but we decided to publish it as well. He’s very kind. There is a brief bio of Scott at the end.

by Scott Stephens

A legendary local publication has turned 50 this week. The OB People’s Rag was first published on September 17, 1970. OB stands for Ocean Beach, the small, rugged beachfront community which is part of the city proper of San Diego. The “Rag” represented the rebel spirit that OB became known for and led the charge on several progressive social fronts.

OB is different. Many original ’60s hippies still reside here. There is no McDonald’s and very few large corporate retailers. It was in OB that a local food co-op was started (with many of the OB Rag staff involved), which would later evolve into California’s second health food store, Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Market in 1972.

You won’t find any high-rise hotels or apartments here either. Newport Avenue, the town’s main street, is the very antithesis of Rodeo Drive. Its oldest tenant is “The Black,” which has managed to survive since 1968 and was named one of the Top 10 Legendary Headshops in America in the December 2018 issue of High Times Magazine. Voter rolls show OBcean’s votes for third-party candidates in a higher percentage than anywhere else in San Diego County.

With its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, OB hippies share space with surfers, fishers, bikers, bohemians, artists, musicians, and a large homeless population. The Ocean Beach Pier was opened in 1966 and is the largest concrete pier in the entire world! The Ocean Beach Farmers Market has operated since 1992, featuring homemade arts and crafts, and live music right by the beach.

The culture that led to this artsy, progressive-minded community was spearheaded by Frank Gormlie and his OB Rag staff. They were (whether they admit it or not) the town leaders, and because they had a vision and the loudest voices, Ocean Beach is one of the most colorful and unique places not only in California but the entire country.

I can’t claim to be one of the OB “old-timers” but certainly, a longtime fan. I first heard about Ocean Beach while making a lunch stop at “Follow Your Heart Market” in Canoga Park (LA County), which opened in 1970, just a year or so before OB People’s Market was established.

Over the years, I heard story after story about this “hippie capital” of San Diego and set out to relocate there. That wouldn’t happen until 2013 when I purchased a home right smack on the borderline of funky Ocean Beach and ritzy Point Loma. I had a local artist paint a colorful ocean mural around the three-foot wall surrounding the front half of the corner lot home and launched a small recording studio.

A longtime OB Rag columnist, Judi Curry, coined it “the hippie house.” The unique house created a small uproar amongst residents of the elite town of Point Loma but not surprising, was well received by OB residents. In 2015 I sold the “hippie house” and relocated to “central OB” on Narragansett Ave, created a new and even more colorful “hippie house.”

The tale of the OB Rag harkens us back to an era when progressive optimism reigned.

The early 1970s was a time of much positive social change. The political movements that started in the ’60s were sprouting new offspring that were even more focused and determined to create real, lasting change in society. While many said flower power died in 1969 marked by the violence perpetrated at the Stones free concert at Altamont, what really happened was the “hangers-on” fell off the bandwagon, and the core activists, who started the movement, stayed on and continued to move their objectives forward but with even more focus and experience.

These motivated citizens worked to slow nuclear proliferation, to improve our environment, for women’s rights, gay rights, and much more. The EPA was founded in 1970, as was the first Earth Day. This decade of the 1970s was the closest we’ve ever come to a state of real democracy.

While Nixon disgraced our standing in the world, his pending impeachment and eventual resignation showed us that justice could be served even to the most powerful.

It was a time of great hope and optimism. It seemed that the most powerful nation on the planet was showing a humble, softer side. This seemingly open political landscape inspired more activism not only in the US but around the globe. It was in this environment that the OB Rag flourished.

But not everyone was pleased about the way society was changing. Conservatives began to huddle quietly and form of right-wing think tanks, funded by billionaires, that continue to wield a powerful influence over the political landscape today. In 1980 they engineered the election of Ronald Reagan, which was the singular most significant turning point and victory for the right. Thus, on January 20, 1981, the pendulum of democracy began to swing to the right, following a nearly 25-year run in the opposite direction.

In just a few years, there would be a massive change in our media system, bringing us right-wing dominated radio and Fox News. The election of Bill Clinton provided a slowing of the fast-moving pendulum, but Fox and others were able to stifle his progress to a virtual standstill based on one extramarital affair (imagine that).

On January 20, 2001, the pendulum again swung swiftly to the right as the Supreme Court installed a president who had lost the popular vote. In 2008 hopes were renewed as the country elected our first minority president, but this also exasperated racial tensions. Eight years later, another president was inaugurated who had failed to win the popular vote. Instead of electing our first female president, we ended up with a reality TV star who had a history of bankruptcies, draft-dodging, tax evasion, and a litany of corruption. Where things will go from here is anybody’s guess.

Eugene, Oregon

Today the bright future prevalent across the nation at the birth of the OB Rag has been replaced by pessimism and fear. Our democratic system has regressed rapidly in the new century. Looking back now, in September of 1970, when this small community newspaper, with minimal financial backing, was able to engineer so many significant changes within their small California beachside town, we can only marvel.

The OB Rag was just one example in a long list of progressive media outlets that helped our democracy thrive and achieve a status that citizens from around the world still aspire to reach in their nations. Trustworthy local news inspires local activism.

For those who are old enough to recall this history, the mountains now seem higher and harder to climb, and the waves appear larger and more daunting. The good news is that 50 years later, the OB Rag is still here and fighting the good fight. We must do the same.

A self-proclaimed world-citizen, Scott Stephens has traveled the globe with an inquisitive nature and open mind, hoping to discover the best qualities in every culture. He has traveled to more than 700 cities within 125 countries. He recently authored a best-selling book entitled, “ROLLING THUNDER.” – The Golden Age of Roller Derby and the Rise and Fall of the LA T-Birds. His extensive time spent living in the Philippines, Costa Rica, Australia, China, India, Alaska, and his home state of California has offered him first-hand experience on how good governing (or lack of it) impacts a society. Scott is currently a resident of three nations. These unique life experiences have provided an informed, distinct perspective on national and world affairs. His companies, Liquid Blue (band) and Planet Blue Publishing, are members of 1% for the Planet. Learn more at Scott-Stephens.com



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editordude September 19, 2020 at 9:41 am

Diane Bell, a U-T columnist, had some nice things to say about the OB Rag in her column today, Sat., https://enewspaper.sandiegouniontribune.com/desktop/sdut/default.aspx?edid=4e163768-dfd6-46db-a22b-f48efb05d788


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