Underground Newspapers of the 1960s: The East Village Other (EVO) and the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS)

Walter Bowart (left) and Allan Katzman (right) of the East Village Other.
Walter Bowart (left) and Allan Katzman (right) of the East Village Other. | Source

The creation of the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) by the East Village Other in the 1960s defined a journalistic movement whose birth would be felt for decades.

The beginning of the Underground Press Syndicate occurred when EVO's Donald Katzman (twin brother of Allan, pictured right) wrote an untitled editorial for the July 1-15 edition in 1966. The article called for a service among the underground newspapers that would unite them and promote their growth. The "service" acquired its official title accidentally. A Time magazine reporter, preparing the first national article on the underground press, asked EVO editor Walter Bowart what was going on in the underground. Bowart mentioned that they had just come up with an organization of underground papers. When asked what it was called, Bowart glanced out the window and caught the brown facade of a United Parcel Service truck traveling down Avenue A. He said, "We're... ah... UPS - The Underground Press Syndicate."1

The development of the Underground Press Syndicate was the most vivid example of EVO's concept of "reporting the news before it happened" because, when the article was published in the July issue, there was no Underground Press Syndicate. On July 29, 1966, the Time article appeared containing Bowart's reference to the UPS. EVO's staff was a bit perplexed by the publicity for the not-yet-existing syndicate. Bowart responded, "...by God, if Time magazine says there' an Underground Press Syndicate, then there's an Underground Press Syndicate."2

Katzman's article was vital in setting out the initial goals for the UPS, which would expand over the next four years and would be parent to the more extensive Liberation News Service. The Underground Press Syndicate would be a collection of avante garde, maverick, and independent student newspapers, dedicated to exceeding their limitations as community newspapers and reporting the news of the world. This was not the basic everyday news either. It was the news that was not being reported, "the news that the middle class press won't find or can't print."3 To facilitate the effectiveness of the UPS, several proposals were made for services between the various underground newspapers. Among those were: a teletype service between cities, and between England and the U.S., where EVO had its sister publication; a way to divide income between members; a "clearing house," so members could exchange columns, comics, and by-lines with each other; an advertising agency that would solicit advertising for all member papers; and an agent who would represent them and sell their news to API, UPI, television, and radio.

The East Village Other, August 1968
The East Village Other, August 1968

As a unifying service, the Underground Press Syndicate gave the underground papers political power. It meant that what they said would be recognized on a national level, not just a community one. News of the world meant that occurrences in Vietnam, Costa Rica, and England, were just as important as what was happening in the U.S. The article claimed that the mainstream media was not reporting the news accurately, and in some cases, not reporting it at all. It was important for UPS to tell the world what was happening and declare their importance through the unreported because "people who are ignorant of the news are like people who have lost the power of speech, and newspapers withouth news are newspapers 'full of sound and fury,' signifying nothing."4

For EVO, there was some larger force that was happy if the underground remained small. The threat to the establishment, from EVO's point of view, would be for the Underground Press to grow, become united, inform the public on a larger scale, and show the masses that there was substantial news the regular press was not reporting. The job of the underground press was to infect the establishment press with the concerns of the people. "Let us bother everyone; irk them, poke them, tickle them, sway them til they understand what bothers us bothers everyone."5

The first member newspapers of the Underground Press Syndicate were the Los Angeles Free Press, the Berkeley Barb, "The Paper" from East Lansing Michigan, Detroit Fifth Estate, and EVO. A good deal of EVO's staff devoted their time to organizing and running UPS, in addition to publishing their own paper, both out of the same office. Donald Katzman coordinated UPS along with Bob Rudnick until John Wilcock took over in March of 1968. A UPS office then opened up in Phoenix, headed by Tom Forcade of Orpheus. Forcade ran UPS until its demise in the mid-seventies. Forcade took UPS to its peak in the early seventies when UPS represented over two hundred underground newspapers and magazines worldwide.

The East Village Other, March 1971
The East Village Other, March 1971

UPS's most important role was as a service organization, maintaining many of the original concepts laid out in EVO. For a modest fee, UPS solicited advertising for its member papers, helped resist suppression and investigation, helped new newspapers get started, maintained a member network whereby any member could print an article from any other member publication, and maintained a library of underground periodicals, books, films, and other memorabilia.

The ideological significance of UPS was substantial. It made the first collective use of the word "underground," and it gave legitimacy to fledgling papers across the country. It united all "underground" papers and placed them in opposition to everything that was above ground.

The beauty of the term underground was that most of the editors could look at it and see something of themselves. To the political radicals it conjured up images of those dangerous and noble undergrounds that have always existed in repressive societies..."6

"Underground" implied mystery and the unknown to those who were unfamiliar with it, inviting them to investigate. "Underground," like the names "counterculture," "New Bohemia," and "New Left," was important for its anti-social connotations and for the publicity it attracted to the underground by those who saw it as a threat to established values. Joe Pool (D-Texas) called for a preliminary investigation of UPS, stating at the "Conservative Party of the Yale Political Union" on November 6, 1966 that

I have information that throughout the United States underground newspapers will be published as a nationwide underground press syndicate. The purpose of these newspapers will be to slander and libel everyone who opposes these traitors in their attempts to destroy American government.7

While Pool thought he was making an important social statement about the "underground," UPS and EVO knew before Pool did that he and his establishment cronies could never support an "underground." Thus, Pool's statement was self-defeating, as it was merely free advertisement for the underground press.

As expected, the criticism from the establishment right was equally harsh,

With the UPS inexpensively available to provide unlimited Marxism perversion, and nude photographs, almost anyone can now put together an Underground newspaper. And, such sheets are now fully operative in many of the nation's high schools under the encouragement of the Marxists Students for a Democratic Society - which just happens to be a member of U.P.S.8

What the attacks of the right and the left indicated was that the established political machine viewed the underground as a movement of subversives, as opposed to the underground's view of itself as reconstructive. But this was exactly the way EVO and much of the underground wanted it. It was the system that both the right and the left were a part of that did not work. The system was sending men to Vietnam to die, the system supported Lyndon Johnson and sent police to beat up peaceful protestors. It was this system that the underground opposed and the news that EVO and the UPS had to report.

While the rhetoric poured forth and the investigations began, EVO went about its way building the Underground Press Syndicate into the largest alternative voice in America. But even EVO's own baby would rebel against it. At the initial organizational meeting of Liberation News Service, on October 20, 1967, the day before the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam held its march on Washington, EVO met with some harsh accusations. As Ray Mungo and Marshall Bloom began outlining the goals of LNS, cheers emanated from the section of EVO staffers as Walter Bowart, adorned in Indian headdress, jumped up

to read a poem about the underground and to propagandize unashamedly for the Underground Press Syndicate, which at the time was run by EVO. Up jumped other editors to charge EVO with the embezzlement of UPS funds.9

"The charges were completely false. It was basically a power play to take over UPS," recalled Donald Katzman. Ironically, EVO would eventually be glad to reliquinsh the day to day operations of UPS. UPS had gotten too big for EVO to handle and it was diverting their attention away from their newspaper.10

The UPS occupied a small place in the overall history of The East Village Other, but its impact was as substantial as anything EVO ever did. It created a viable network for underground papers to connect and exchange information and get together when necessary. It was also the parent of the Liberation News Service, a more encompassing organization whose members were more directly tied to the student movement. But the creation of the Underground Press Syndicate was most important because it gave a name to a small group of underground papers, propelling them, and the papers who would join them, into a national movement representing alternative voices in America. Unforunately with their increased recognition, EVO and the underground press found themselves the subject of harassment, from local hate groups to the federal government, which would challenge their ability to run their newspapers successfully.

Footnotes

1 Abe Peck, Uncovering the Sixties: The Life and Times of the Underground Press. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), p. 39.

2 Janet Vrchota, "The Underground Press," Print. November/December 1967, p. 17.

3 "Underground Press Syndicate," The East Village Other, July 1-15, Vol. 1, #15, p.2.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Laurence Leamer, The Paper Revolutionaries: The Rise of the Underground Press. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), p. 41.

7 Federal Bureau of Investigations, December 22, 1966, p. 2.

8 Gary Allen, "Underground for Adults Only," American Opinion, December 1967, p. 15.

9 Leamer, p. 46.

10 Interview with Donald Katzman, March 31, 1989.

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