The Rag Once Again

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GOP Convention Ratchets Up Tension Between Police and OB

Despite the seeds of alternative institutions being sewn in OB, events surrounding the community were threatening to undermine its usual peaceful tranquility. In late 1971 and early 1972, the Republican Party was still planning to hold its August ’72 convention in San Diego. In response to anticipated demonstrations, anti-war activists from all over the country moved to San Diego, in hopes to be part of history and to push the issue of the war on those responsible. Many of them ended up in OB.

These activists had teamed up with locals to form the Counter-Convention Coalition to map out demonstrations and plans for thousands of protesters to converge on the city. Then in reaction to the Coalition’s plans to demonstrate, law enforcement on multiple levels – local and national- adjusted to their confrontationist perceptions that the protests meant disruptions of the convention, which they did by building up their anti-protest hardware and equipment (vests, non-lethal weapons, ramming vehicles, etc.) and by attempting to infiltrate the groups planning to protest. “Infiltrate” meant sending in undercover officers and informants, after winning the confidence of protest leaders to learn details of the plans. These efforts to infiltrate were well-known throughout the activist community, and indeed, many saw them as attempts to actually manipulate the demonstrations, and even cause violence – which would justify harsh intervention by police.

Over time, a number of these “spies” were discovered and exposed in one of San Diego’s main alternative newspapers, the Door, as well as in pages of the Rag. And eventually, the Republican Party had to cancel its San Diego convention due to the exposure of high-stakes collusion between the GOP and some of its major corporate sponsors, and move their shindig, or more critically, their coronation of Richard Nixon, to Miami.

In the meantime, while infiltrating the anti-convention and other anti-war groups, police stepped up their harassment tactics against activists within these groups. One favorite was to raid homes of organizers without warrants under the pretext of some emergency. Because many of these activists lived in OB, the seaside neighborhood would see more police vehicles and activity, something quite common already in the community. [For a July 2007 Union-Tribune article about CIA spying on the Convention protesters, go here.]

Harassment of the OB Rag

From the beginning, the Rag house had weekly and even nightly ‘drive-by’s’ by police, with search beams washing the Etiwanda house with light. After the Collier Park Riot, the Etiwanda house was raided at least twice. In addition, there was the October 21, 1971, raid of a Rag staff house, noted above. Then in the mid-June 1972 issue of the Rag (Vol. II, No. 12), the paper reported that still in anticipation of the GOP Convention in San Diego, members of the District Attorney’s Office had questioned various printers used by the different alternative newspapers in town, including the Rag. Questions asked included: “How many copies are printed?”; “What is the cost?”; “How is payment made,” and “What banks are checks drawn from?” The Rag article concluded: “It is believed that this was part of a plan to get a court injunction to freeze the funds of groups that ‘might make trouble during the convention.'”

Due to the mounting pressure on activists from what they perceived as an over-reaction to their protest plans by authorities, tension was mounting – and in January 1972, two activist houses experienced police raids and arrests. On Jan. 17, a Muir Street residence of anti-war organizers from a group working with military people was raided, and a week later, the “Voltaire Collective” was hit – a house of community school and OB Rag staffers.

Such tactics by the San Diego Police Department may very well have been encouraged by the position of the local OB Town Council. Everyone knew about the planned convention and about the planned demonstrations. In late December, the president of the town council, Bob Miller, wrote a public letter to the mayor – then Pete Wilson – decrying the rumors of “unknown hordes of demonstrators and dissidents” coming to town that summer:

We don’t want them! There are sufficient numbers of that type already in San Diego and Ocean Beach. The San Diego Convention and Tourist Bureau and City officials should be pointing out to the rest of the nation that there won’t be any facilities available in August during our tourist season and the Republican National Convention.

Ocean Beach does not want any relaxation of restrictions on beach usage to accommodate those who would overtax our facilities just to cause havoc. We don’t see the necessity for negotiations with irresponsible elements.

Miller’s letter caused outrage among OB locals. Immediately, a press conference was held by an instant group “Concerned Citizens of Ocean Beach”, and Miller and the attitude he reflected condemned. Others were so shocked by Miller, that there became a renewed effort by moderates and liberals on the council to isolate him and his allies.

Gormlie and Kozden hold banner that reads,
“Tell the OB Town Council To Go Fly a Kite!”
in the annual Ocean Beach Kite Festival. March, 1972

With local police content to merely stage raids and send in spies, national law enforcement agencies played with more dangerous techniques.

Right Wing Terrorist Group Strikes In Ocean Beach – Shoots Into Activists’ House

During the early seventies, an extreme right-wing terrorist group, the Secret Army Organization (SAO) had surfaced and staged a number of offensive actions. On January 6, ‘ 72, a car drove by the Muir Street residence of a whole den of anti-war activists and shots were fired into the house. Paula Tharp, a one-time OB Rag staffer and activist with the Counter Convention group was wounded in the elbow. Another activist and leader of the group, Shari Whitehead, missed a bullet in her temple by several inches. It was later speculated that the bullets were meant for Pete Bohmer, the San Diego State professor, who had had threats made against him. The car was traced to the SAO. And it later turned out, the car was driven by an FBI informant. (For a fuller rendition of the Secret Army Organization and more details of their San Diego actions and demise, see World Prout Assembly’s article.)

Seven months after the shooting, the Rag reported on the arrests of SAO members (Vol.2, No.13), including William Yakopec and George Hoover, among others. It had taken that long despite the fact that the government informant was involved in the shooting.

Informed of the arrests, Paula Tharp told the Rag that she was really surprised. “I don’t think it’s because the police were politically unbiased. I think it has more to do with the fact that the SAO started threatening straighter organizations. It took them this far for an arrest, but if it had been the [Counter-Convention] Coalition or another group that shot at an SAO house, arrests would have been made immediately.”

War Escalation Rejuvenates Anti-War Movement

The anti-Vietnam war movement burst into the open – once again – in May 1972 upon President Nixon’s major escalation of the air war against the Vietnamese. And once again, anti-war protests rocked the city from city council chambers to the streets of Ocean Beach. Hundreds of demonstrations swept into the Chambers of the San Diego City Council, demanding that the Council pass a resolution against the war. At one point, the demonstrators had a 4 to 4 tie, and then Councilwoman Maureen O’Connor cast the fifth “no” vote, rejecting the resolution. The crowd, now angered, returned to the streets, hung Maureen O’Connor in effigy and about 150 people poured onto Interstate 5 at the downtown on-ramp, and blocked freeway traffic for miles. A number of arrests were made during that incident, including a former Rag staffer.

That night in Ocean Beach, hundreds of protesters marched down Newport Avenue. Part of the crowd blocked Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, and a fire was set in the middle of the intersection.

Later that month, protests continued against Bank of America’s role in the war, with the Newport Avenue branch being targeted by OB activists. One demonstration ended with a “sleep-over” in front of the bank.

Another large demonstration was held up in Del Mar, near the set of train tracks. 300 people rallied, and then a bon-fire was lit on top of the tracks, with a train scheduled to transport war supplies into San Diego being blocked. A number of arrests were made, and one set of defendants – including two prominent OB activists – would take their case to trial over the months ahead and become a cause-celebre.

Other anti-war protests were held during that May of ’72. Several hundred demonstrators rallied against the departure of the Ticonderoga, an aircraft carrier bound for Vietnam. A massive crowd confronted Democratic Presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey when he arrived at the El Cortez Hotel during his campaign. Another protest was held at Balboa Bowl on June 3rd. Country Joe sang, and Jane Fonda spoke.

(continue to “In Full Swing“)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Settor87 October 10, 2009 at 8:40 am

Rarely do they analyze young leaders, especially youth who are not publicly recognized, but who are engaged in creating social change in their communities. ,

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Avatar Madeline Lopez September 22, 2011 at 10:26 am

I know it has been a few weeks since the loss of power in San Diego but I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in Chris’s Deli on Sunset Cliffis & W. Point Loma Blvd. They were selling ice for $4.00 per bag from the regular price. We refused to buy it at that price considering that is IPrice Gouging”. They also raised the price on many other things and we were out of there. I will never enter that store again and some friends and neighbors will not also. In a time of need there is no reason to be so greedy and take advantage of others. I called Chri’s deli the next morning and being lucky I actually talked to the owner. I asked him if he was aware of the price of ice anf other things and he told me yes he was very aware and did not feel bad about it at all. Again i was so dissapointed. Thanks for taking time to read my e-mail…
M.T. DiGiacomo-Lopez

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