CONFESSIONS OF AN UNREPENTANT MAOIST: Hundred Flowers, 1970 (continued) The power of the press

BY ED FELIEN

We rented The Depot (the Greyhound Bus station downtown converted to a rock and roll night club) for a Sunday afternoon for a benefit for the Venceremos Brigade and the North Country Freedom Camp.  Spider John Koerner and other West Bank favorites played.  The Hundred Flowers Surf Jazz Band Orchestra played a set of my songs and rock-a-billy favorites like “Down in the Boondocks.”  Dickie Dworkin played a mean set of drums.
The Venceremos Brigade was a group of lefties who were going down to Cuba to help with the sugar cane harvest.
The North Country Freedom Camp was my idea.  We lived in the inner city and there were many kids who couldn’t afford to go to summer camp, so when we heard about this deserted logging camp up north owned by a leftist sympathizer, we decided we’d use it for a week and give our kids a nature break.  We got about 20 kids in assorted cars and vans and left the city.  After a couple days Tony Salvatore, one of the adults, asked if we had insurance.  Of course, we didn’t.  After discussing the problem, Tony talked us into breaking up the camp and returning to the city.  A few weeks later someone in the Honeywell Project told us they had gotten their FBI files and found out that they had an informer in their group, and the only person who had been to all the recorded meetings was Tony Salvatore.  Tony stopped hanging out around the left after that.
We did special editions on women’s liberation, organic food and gurus—with a laughing Jesus on the cover and a photo of Meher Baba (“Don’t worry.  Be happy.”) as the centerfold.
A feminist group took over the paper one week and insisted they get four pages for women’s liberation.  We were sort of in favor of that, so we were happy to work with them.  One of the articles was about tearing down some sexist posters at the Electric Fetus: “Power Failure at the Electric Cock.”  I said, “Do you think we could tone down the title?”  They absolutely insisted on their original.  When we took the paper to Shakopee Valley Printers, the head printer took us back into his office, and there was Ancher Nelsen, the congressman from that district.  He asked to look at our layout pages.  He went through them carefully, one by one, until he got to the Women’s Liberation pages and stopped short at “Power Failure at the Electric Cock.”  He closed all the pages and said, “No, I don’t think so.”  I took the pages and the layout box, marched to the door, turned back, and in my most indignant voice said, “As John F. Kennedy said, ‘When you make peaceful revolution impossible, you make violent revolution inevitable.’”
We had been refused printing at about 20 web-fed photo-offset presses.  One cover was a map of Minnesota with 20 pins showing the bourgeois hypocrisy of a “free press.”  Finally, we were printed in Milwaukee by the same printer who printed the Chicago Seed.
We missed a week because of the printer problem so we had to combine the gay liberation issue (if we let the women’s liberation group take us over, then why wouldn’t we allow the gay liberation group to do the same?) with the State Fair issue.  That was a colossal mistake, as I found out trying to sell the issue at the State Fair.
At the request of Susie Shroyer, we published a half page ad that looked like embroidery saying, “Wash Your Own Dish” which she tacked up over the sink.  Keith and Susie were living with us with their new baby, Lief.  They took charge of getting enough food to feed the regulars and visitors. Keith arranged to buy 50 pound bags of flour and brown rice, but it was difficult to store such large quantities in our house, so they convinced Diane Odermann to allow them to store big bags of flour, rice and other foodstuffs on her back porch.  We chipped in $50 out of our meager treasury.  Diane’s porch became People’s Pantry.  It was self-serve and on the honor system.  You came, measured out your portion and paid a reasonable amount.  Eventually the Pantry moved to Riverside Church and then it became North Country Co-op—just at the time we had published our North Country Liberation Front Program.
The North Country Liberation Front Program was the brainchild of Brian Coyle.  We printed it and inserted it into one of our editions.  We thought it did a good job of summing up the political program of the counter culture.  Brian promised to go around and meet with people to discuss it.  I don’t think that ever happened.  There were crossed guns at the sides of the masthead, suggesting we were ready to take up arms.  I objected to that, but Brian was always titillated by violence.  After I told him about my experience on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley earlier that year, he insisted on writing an article “Gonna Smash in all Your Plate Glass Windows” about the legitimacy of revolutionary violence.   He later became quite respectable and served on the Minneapolis City Council from 1984 until he died of AIDS in 1991 at 47 years of age.
One night while I was working on the paper, a local D J on a popular rock station said he’d “swear on a stack of Hundred Flowers” that something was true.  That was probably the nicest thing anyone ever said about us—that we were the alternative Bible of the local revolutionary culture.

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