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Berkeley Tribe

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Subject: Youth International Party, People's Park, Underground press, Carlos Marighella, Berkeley Barb, Stew Albert, History of brassieres
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Berkeley Tribe

Berkeley Tribe
Berkeley Tribe, August 15, 1969 cover
Type Newspaper
Format Tabloid/underground newspaper
Founder Lionel Haines, James A. Schreiber, Stew Albert, Hank Dankowski, Matthew Landy Steen
Publisher Red Mountain Tribe
Editor-in-chief Matthew Landy Steen
Founded 1969
Ceased publication February 1972
Headquarters Berkeley, Calif.
Circulation 60,000 [1]

The Berkeley Tribe was a radical counterculture underground newspaper published in Berkeley, California from 1969 to 1972 formed after a bitter staff dispute with publisher Max Scherr split the nationally known Berkeley Barb into new competing underground weeklies. In July 1969 some 40 editorial and production staff with the Barb went on strike for three weeks then started publishing the Berkeley Tribe as a rival paper, after first printing an interim issue called Barb on Strike to discuss the strike issues with the readership. They incorporated as Red Mountain Tribe, named after a popular brand of cheap California wine.

Berkeley Tribe quickly positioned itself as more radical, counter-cultural and politically astute than Scherr's Barb; it soon became more successful, surpassing an initial press run of 20,000 reaching a high point of 60,000 copies by the spring of 1970, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The Tribe was published weekly from early July 1969 until February 1972; by that time the feminist-run newspaper went biweekly for its final issues, folding in May.[2] Like the Barb it was sold on the streets of Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco by hippie street vendors; all staff were paid weekly with 100 copies which they too sold. Tribe was a member of both the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) -- core staff were also involved with the start of UPS—and Liberation News Service.

The large body of participants included Stew Albert, Art Goldberg, James Schreiber (former managing editor of Berkeley Barb), business manager Lionel Haines, staff photographers Stephen Shames and Jeannie Raisler, Phineas Israeli, Judy Gumbo, Lee Felsenstein, Leslie Brody, Ted Richards, Bobby London, Jim Marshall, Hank Dankowski and co-editor-in-chief Matthew Landy Steen writing, editing and developing a new political frame and distribution network for the newspaper.

Original contributions included cartoons by Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and Spain Rodriguez; news covers and illustrations by Stanley Mouse, Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso and Gary Grimshaw; poetry and prose from Marge Piercy and Diane DiPrima; feminist writings by Jane Alpert and Robin Morgan; and original works by William Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Timothy Leary, John Sinclair and Baba Ram Dass.

Tribe reporters covered Bernadette Devlin's fractious fund raising tour on behalf of the Irish Republican Army; French New Wave film director Jean-Luc Godard's difficulties with his new film One Plus One about the Rolling Stones as well as his uncompleted film One P.M. and cinema verite; the world premiere of Woodstock in Hollywood; the gain of Native American pride with the seizure of Alcatraz Island by the American Indian Movement (AIM); the loss of hippie, flower child innocence at Altamont; the Yippie takeover of Disneyland; and the police murder trial of Los Siete de la Raza in San Francisco.[2][3][4] The Oakland trial of Huey Newton was a weekly story and, later, staff covered the deadly shootout at the Marin County Courthouse, that killed a judge and the younger brother of George Jackson.

The Other Fourth Estate: The American Underground Press

Reflective of the paranoid tenor of the times, early on in the paper's history, staff voted to remove the staff masthead for security reasons but not until after the paper's contributors became known to the FBI and local police. Berkeley Tribe's two editorial and production offices, located on old Grove Street, were firebombed and subjected to sniper fire on several occasions during its publication heyday in the late sixties. Tribe staff were forced into self-defensive measures, barricading its taped windows with double stacks of unsold issues to protect working employees. Other underground press around the country were in similar danger; in May 1972 the offices of The Great Speckled Bird in Atlanta were destroyed by firebombs[5] and Space City News in Houston was firebombed and raided by Ku Klux Klan members.[6][7]

At the same time Tribe formed, students and residents had started organizing People's Park [8] [9] The final issue of the Berkeley Barb publicized this new movement of Let a Thousand Parks Bloom, a play on Chairman Mao's dictum in The Little Red Book, over Scheer's objections and, in part precipitating the mass staff walkout. Tribe carried the public banner and cause of People's Park from that point forward. Collaborative work between students, residents and Tribe staff culminated in the planting of People's Park on nearby vacant University property. This expropriation of property was counterpoint to the earlier eminent domain process the University had initiated in 1967 as part of its campus expansion plans; bound with this novel dialectical approach to community-University relations were the continuing issues of free speech and neighborhood services (from which the community control of police election issue would arise). During violent confrontations with local police over the next few days, Steen and 128 other students were shot by police; one student, James Rector, was killed, and another (Alan Blanchard) blinded by a shotgun blast.[10][11][12][13] At one point, the campus was overflown with helicopters dispensing airborne tear gas.

Riots during the long hot summers of 1969 and 1970, along with the Kent State killings and shootings at Jackson State, assassinations of Black Panther Party members and growing national unrest over the Vietnam War consumed the editorial staff, who printed issue after provocative issue in reaction. It was after one polemical issue that Berkeley police used pepper gas on the offices of Tribe injuring staff members. The local sheriff, Frank Madigan admitted that some of his deputies (many of whom were Vietnam War veterans) had been overly aggressive in their pursuit of the protesters, acting "as though they were Viet Cong."[14][15]

As with many underground and alternative publications, Berkeley Tribe was graveyard-produced with new issues delivered mid-week. Political direction and advertising policy was determined by a three person editorial board who acted as co-editors-in-chief, rotating semi-annually by majority vote of Tribe staff. Many of the paper's articles consisted of wry commentaries on war, civil rights, politics, police and city government and other social justice issues of the day. Each issue averaged 36–48 pages (its largest edition) with about 55% of page space devoted to display advertising, the bread and butter of all newspapers, daily or weekly.

The newspaper published a weekly barometer of drug prices around the country and the world, which was syndicated through the Underground Press Syndicate, as well as recipes for molotov cocktails, later reprinted in Anarchist's Cookbook, and telephone hacking, also reprinted in Steal This Book. Interleaved with editorial diatribes, news reporting, drug prices and anarchist recipes were cartoons by Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton including serials from Zap Comics.

In late 1969, some record companies (Capitol and Columbia Records) began to cancel display advertising contracts and Berkeley Tribe started losing $7,000 in monthly revenue, making it more difficult to make $1100 weekly payments to their printer. In the meantime, a sharp drop in readership occurred with sales plummeting from a high-point of 60,000 copies to 29,000 in the space of a single month in November, according to Tribe business manager Lionel Haines.[4] This time period ushered in a new staff split, with about 14 of the more pacifistic, culturally oriented hippie staff leaving, after a fight with confrontational New Left staff who were pushing to make the paper more political, along the lines of the newly organized Weatherman. The regenerated staff included members of Weatherman (Steen attended the S.D.S. Chicago convention), who started publishing communiques from leftist underground groups, printing a special Black Panthers edition promoting the United Front Against Fascism conference in Oakland and finally, the Declaration of War by the renamed and gender-neutral Weather Underground. The original communiques were often slipped under the front door of Tribe's editorial office, after the paper was put to bed. Further staff splits were still to arrive as national tensions were to be ratcheted by Nixon, Reagan and Rhodes in Ohio the following year.

In its 6 March 1970, issue Tribe informed its readers in a collective editorial that the time had come to "pick up the gun" to combat police and military oppression, urging its Berkeley readers to buy weapons and form "People's Militia" units for self-defense. Staff, with the assistance of Richard Aoki and Black Panther Party members, started the International Liberation School and leased a gun range in the Berkeley hills. FBI surveillance vehicles were parked conspicuously near their offices on a daily basis.

In June and July 1970 Tribe first published a Weather Underground-provided centerfold expose of Larry Grathwohl, an FBI infiltrator; then the first North American English-edition of The Minimanual of the Urban Guerilla, written by Brazilian revolutionary Carlos Marighella, in its entirety;[16][17][18] and, finally, a highly controversial cover --Blood of a Pig—creating yet another schism and the departure of the majority of editorial staff in protest of the newspaper's new militancy, feminist tilt and pro-Weatherman stance. A few weeks earlier the newspaper's front page consisted of a single quotation in large type from Ronald Reagan (at that time governor of California): "If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with" and Governor Rhodes responded with bullets in Ohio.

Berkeley Tribe continued publishing through mid-1972 but, by the end, arcane North Korean style revolutionary political jargon had come to dominate the underground newspaper, alienating much of Tribe's former audience.[3] Similar ideological battles were ongoing with Tribe's sister newspapers at Rat Subterranean News, Sabot, Chicago Seed, Ann Arbor Argus and elsewhere throughout the country.

Marge Piercy, Diane DiPrima, Stew Albert, Stephen Shames and Matthew Landy Steen continued into new directions, contributions and communities. Lee Felsenstein left to finish his degree in engineering, becoming one of the many inventors of the personal computer.[19]

Radical feminism, male chauvinism and staff divisions

In early 1970, the first of several staff splits happened when the paper's female staff objected to the placement of sexist, offensive advertising to raise revenue to pay the printing bills. The issue was a full page ad by Jovan that portrayed women in a subservient role. It was at this point that many of the more chauvinist male staff resigned. Advertising was purified and revenue began shrinking. From then on, New Leftists controlled the direction of Berkeley Tribe. The Jovan ad was rejected and the feminists had won. Similar struggles were occurring in underground newspapers around the country, including Chicago Seed, Rat Subterranean News, East Village Other (created by a similar staff walkout from Village Voice) and Sabot. Across the Bay in San Francisco, Dock of the Bay made a decision to abandon its radical political views in favor of revenue from sex ads. This new sexist bent was quickly squelched when feminist members of Berkeley Tribe raided their San Francisco offices, stealing the next edition's production mock-ups and burning them, causing the Dock of the Bay to fold within the month. A similar action took place when another underground newspaper, San Francisco Good Times, decided to accept pornographic display and classified sex trade advertising in early 1970.


According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC),[20] Berkeley Tribe had a weekly circulation of 45,000 in 1969, which grew to a high point of 60,000 copies, the largest circulating underground newspaper in the country.[4] The printer was a stolid Republican who said he "firmly believes in freedom of speech, no matter the political content."[21] He later suffered a loss of printing business after clients switched printers in protest. Steen signed off on the ABC forms and was signatory to the original incorporation papers of Red Mountain Tribe, submitted to the California Secretary of State and Franchise Tax Board.

Red Mountain Tribe commune

Staff lived in a Berkeley Tribe commune on Ashby Avenue, including most production and editorial staff. The commune hosted numerous fellow travelers, bands, fugitives, film directors, and actresses including MC5, Jean-Luc Godard, Jane Fonda, Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Paul Kantner from the Jefferson Airplane, Pun Plamondon, White Panther Party co-founder with John Sinclair, and Hunter S. Thompson. Steen and Albert would work with Hunter, showing him some of the tools of participatory journalism during the People's Park riots in Berkeley; this style of news reporting, along with the Yippie approach to social change, would profoundly affect Hunter's future approach to media sensibilities, with his invention of gonzo journalism. The commune was a leased two-story residence above College Avenue, with a secluded backyard where the cover photo of the Tribe's well-known "Call to Arms" issue was staged. The commune was located cheek-by-jowl with tony neighbors and served as a way station for leftist political fugitives and the base of operations for International Liberation School, a self-defense weapons training center complete with a gun range in the Berkeley Hills.[22]

New Left radicalization of underground newspapers

During the spring and summer of 1970, 'Berkeley Tribe' became more radicalized, with the continuing war in Vietnam and assassination of black leaders. The paper earlier had published a Governor Ronald Reagan quote on its cover, If It Takes A Bloodbath, expressing his sentiment toward student radicals. Then Berkeley Tribe published the entire Mini-Manual of the Urban Guerilla written by Brazilian revolutionary Carlos Marighella and Tupamaros, the first North American English-language edition. After this, the paper published a centerfold expose on FBI infiltrator Larry Grathwohl, supplied by Weather Underground; Grathwohl, the following week, traveled to Berkeley and personally threatened to kill one of the editors, Matthew Landy Steen. Subsequently, the editorial offices of Berkeley Tribe were firebombed and staff were forced to barricade the taped front windows with stacks of old issues after shots were fired into the offices twice while the paper was in production. These incidents heightened the sense of paranoia then sweeping the country, fueled by the tactics of Nixon's COINTELPRO domestic spying apparatus[23][24]

Final staff split of Berkeley Tribe and feminist takeover

Among the next several issues published was the highly controversial photo Blood of a Pig, portraying a murdered Berkeley police officer in black and white, killed on University Avenue in South Berkeley the previous week, as a full-page cover. This caused the majority of editorial staff to depart the newspaper, leaving Steen the sole editor until his own departure with Weather Underground. It was at this point more than half of the staff and editorial board resigned in protest of the cover and the underground newspaper was taken over by the radical feminist faction; very few of the production staff left. Steen was responsible for producing these newspaper covers and for the earlier "Call to Arms" issue.[25] According to Steen, this decision was one of his few regrets for Tribe had denounced, in editorials, both the San Francisco Police Department Park Station bombing and the bombing of a church funeral in San Francisco for a slain police officer.[26]

Berkeley Tribe then began publishing original communiques from Weather Underground, including the Declaration of War written by Bernardine Dohrn and others claiming responsibility for the numerous bombings and arson attacks around the Bay Area.[27] The special Black Panther Party issue promoting the United Front Against Fascism Conference in Oakland[26] saw the departure of several staff members, including Steen, who disappeared with Weather Underground. With declining ad revenues to underwrite weekly $1100 printing bills, less issues were printed and circulation declined. Over time, the paper's news articles suffered, degenerating into diatribes but with still excellent graphics and layout. The Berkeley Tribe disbanded within two years, ending a provocative 4 year reign of underground newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area as one of the most prominent underground press weeklies, eclipsing the Berkeley Barb. The Barb would continue with Max Scherr, ending its publishing life as a sex trade publication in 1980.[28][29][30]

Participatory journalism

Participatory journalism offered a rare opportunity for cutting-edge journalists to crossover from the objective to the subjective, being directly engaged with "making the news". Steen, with Tribe and Weatherman was one of a handful of writers, journalists and academicians to make this leap around the new student world of revolution in the 1960s. Some others included Jane Alpert and Robin Morgan (briefly) in New York City with Rat Subterranean News; Tom Forcade in Chicago with Underground Press Syndicate; Susan Stern in Seattle with Sabot and Weatherman; Marilyn Buck with Newsreel in San Francisco and Black Liberation Army; Ulrike Meinhof in Germany with konkret[31] and Red Army Faction; French philosopher and Marxist theoretician Regis Debray in Bolivia with Che Guevara; Robert Comeau, history professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal with Front de libération du Québec; and Carlos Marighella in Brazil and Uruguay with publication of Minimanual of the Urban Guerilla and Tupamaros. Hunter Thompson, whom Steen had worked with in Berkeley and Los Angeles, would take this in a different Yippie-inflected direction with gonzo journalism, reporting on and partaking in capitalist, bourgeois excess as a form of political theater and cultural hijinks.

See also


External links

  • Liberation News Service
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