Freaky Friday: Documents: Chester Anderson’s “Uncle Tim’$ Children”

Editor’s Note:  Recent ponderings on the place of drugs in the Occupy Wall Street encampments, plus our ongoing engagement with all matters psychedelic, has led Points to think about the counterculture.  As Dr. Dave Smith, founder of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, noted in a talk that we posted here a few months back, drug use and abuse was rampant in the high tide of the counterculture.  The steep human costs of that drug use are routinely omitted from that story–as is the fact that those costs were probably not distributed evenly, but fell disproportionately on the under-resourced and the young, on women and people of color.  Looking for some resistance to and critique of this destructive and predatory culture, we turned to Eric Noble’s online Digger Archives, an incredible resource for ’60s-era history.

For those not familiar with them, the Diggers (who appropriated their name from a 17th century British group of radical nonconformists) were a loosely organized anti-capitalist direct action organization active in the Haight between 1966-68.  Members of the Diggers served reclaimed food for free in Golden Gate Park, and were responsible for creating the Free Switchboard (which helped to locate resources for travelers passing through San Francisco), the Free Stores, and with Smith, the Free Clinic. 

Revolutionary Publishers (Digger Archives)

Less well-known is the Digger’s publishing project, the Communications Company (or ComCo), started by journalist Claude Hayward and novelist Chester Anderson.  An older (b. 1932) denizen of the Greenwich Village beat scene, Anderson was skeptical about many elements of the counterculture–commercialism and opportunism, predatory behavior, sex and gender politics–and he used the ComCo’s broadsides as vehicles for his criticisms.  Perhaps the most famous of these, a scathing commentary on the effects of the commercialized traffic in LSD on the social fabric of the Haight, is reprinted here.

ComCo Broadsheet, ca. May 1967

Pretty little 16-year-old middle class chick comes to the Haight to see what it’s all about & gets picked up by a 17-year-old street dealer who spends all day shooting her full of speed again & again, then feeds her 3000 mikes and raffles off her temporarily unemployed body for the biggest Haight Street gang bang since the night before last.

The politics & ethics of ecstasy.

Rape is as common as bullshit on Haight Street.

The Love Generation never sleeps.

The Oracle continues to recruit for this summer’s Human Shit-In, but the psychedelic plastic flower & god’s eye merchants, shocked by the discovery that increased population doesn’t necessarily guarantee increased profits at all, have invented the Council for a Summer of Love to keep us all from interfering with commerce.Kids are starving on the Street. Minds & bodies are being maimed as we watch, a scale model of Vietnam. There are people — Our people — dying hideous long deaths among us & the Council is planning alternative activities. Haight Street is uglyshitdeath & Alan Watts suggests more elegant attire.

What does it feel like to be one of the HIP Merchants? To know that you, personally, from the most cynical of greedy motives, have done this to all of these people!

Well, I’ll tell you: it doesn’t feel like that at all, because if that’s who you are, then you’re very careful not to notice what you’ve done. Even now, when the dying sprawl across the doorsteps & have to be swept off before you can open the store. The selectively expanded consciousness does not notice misery. Misery is not beautiful.

The HIP Merchants — the cats who have sold our lovely little psychedelic community to the mass media, to the world, to you — are blithely & sincerely unaware of what they have done. They’re as innocent as a busy-fingered blind man in a nudist colony. They don’t see hunger, hip brutality, rape, gangbangs, gonorrhea, syphillis, theft, hunger, filth. They walk in their own beauty down Haight Street & if they see the shit at all, they deplore it & say that Somebody should do something about it. Sometimes they complain about shoplifting.

They do not realize that they & Uncle Timothy have lured an army of children into a ghastly trap from which there is no visible escape. They do not see that they are destroying a whole generation of American youth.

And why should they? They are what they are: businessmen, salesmen, money counters. They see what businessmen see: business. Once you don’t have any more money to spend in their plastic paisley shoppes, they stop seeing you. You become invisible.

"Linda Buskirk and Darcy, Ages 20 and 5 Months, Belvedere Street" August 16, 1968 (Elaine Mayes, http://www.stevenkasher.com)

That is, they’re really good people in their way, but they have their limitations. $$$$$$$$$$$. That’s as far as they go.

They’re suspiciously careful never to go any farther, but I still think they’re basically good people. No, make that nice people.

Adolf Eichmann was a nice person, too.

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, & you want to see what the psychedelic utopia is like, go up to 1350 Waller & sit in the diggers’ office for a few hours. Listen to the stories. Look at the casualties. If you dare.

The HIP Merchants have lured a million children here recklessly & irresponsibly, & now that the children are arriving, more & more every day, the HIP Merchants are maintaining their irresponsibility with an iron-clad firmness that borders on criminal insanity.

Only the despised diggers are acting in anything like a responsible manner in this growing tragedy the merchants have imposed upon us, & you know what the merchants think about the diggers. When one of the diggers, exhausted as early as last February, asked the merchants to help feed & house the millions they’ve lured here, the holy merchants accused him of threatening to bomb their sacred stores. (This is the only full-scale lie I’ve caught them in — I was there & heard what was really said — but this is such a skillful one (it got in all the papers, underground & straight, in record time) that I’m sure they practiced beforehand.)

The closest the merchants have come to coping with the problem of the summer that is already upon us is a beautiful thing called The Kiva, which may open by September if at all, & which only deals with the merchants’ problems.

Why have none of the merchants undertaken to pay the rent on a pad where the dropouts they’ve seduced can crash? Why have none of the merchants volunteered to feed their victims? Why is it left to the penniless diggers to do this?

The San Francisco Oracle, 1966-68

The Oracle, I admit, has done something to ease life on Haight Street: it’s hired street kids to peddle the paper. Having with brilliant graphics & sophomoric prose urged millions of kids to Drop Out of school & jobs, it now offers its drop outs menial jobs. That’s hypocritical & shitty, but it’s something. It means that a few dozen kids who can meet The Oracle’s requirements can avert starvation whenever The Oracle comes out. Groovy.

And why hasn’t the man who really did it to us done something about the problem he has created? Why doesn’t Doctor Timothy Leary help the diggers? He’s now hard at work on yet another touring Psychedelic Circus at $3.50 a head, presumably to raise enough cash to keep himself out of jail, and there isn’t even a rumor that he’s contributed any of the fortune he made with the last circus toward alleviating the misery of the psychedelphia he created.

Tune in, turn on, drop dead? One wonders.

Are Leary & Alpert & Tsve & The Oracle all in the same greedy place? Does acid still have to be sold as hard as Madison Avenue still sells sex? What do those Nice People really mean by “Love”?

Yes, one certainly does wonder.

Meanwhile the diggers (who have their faults, as those hours in the office will show you) hardly ever talk about love. It’s a word you’ll hardly ever hear at the free store. They’re too busy doing it to talk about it.

“Diggers are what diggers do.” But not just diggers. People are what people do. By this standard, the HIP supersalesmen are fit to have lunch with the president.

Are you aware that Haight Street is just as bad as the squares say it is? Have you heard of the killings we’ve had on Haight Street? Have you seen the kids who’ve been beaten up? Have you seen dozens of hippies watching passively while some burley square beats another hippy to a psychedelic red pulp? Have you walked down Haight Street at dawn & seen & talked with the survivors?

The trouble is probably that the HIP shopkeepers have believed their own bullshit lies. They believe that acid is the answer & neither know nor care what the question is. They think dope is the easy road to God.

Robert Ross, Promotional Poster, "How to Use Your Head," New York, Town Hall, 1964

“Have you ever been raped?” they say. “Take acid & everything’ll be groovy.”

“Are you ill? Take acid & find inner health.

“Are you cold, sleeping in doorways at night? Take acid & discover your own inner warmth.

“Are you hungry? Take acid & transcend those mundane needs.

“You can’t afford acid? Pardon me, I think I hear somebody calling me.”

I don’t know what they’d say to the little girl who got gang-banged. They might not even believe it, since it’s a part of their religious creed that acid makes everybody automatically BeAuTiFuL, & therefore nobody would do that to a little girl. They might (as The Examiner certainly would) say that since the little girl had the clap before she was gangbanged, it’s obvious that she wasn’t gangbanged at all, but went through the whole ghastly business willingly, as if that made a real difference.

They would never believe that they are guilty of monstrous crimes against humanity. They won’t believe it after they read (& noisily complain about) this paper. They won’t believe it this summer, when the Street reeks of human agony, despair & death death death. If they were brought to court for their crimes, they’d be dragged to the gallows screaming perfect innocence.

Bill Graham Presents

The only man among them who’d believe it is Bill Graham, & only because he simply does not care.

Look: the psychedelic merchants are shit. Low grade deliquescent turds. Criminals. Murderers. Honorable thieves. They are The System, playing The System’s games in The System’s way, & they don’t give a flaccid fuck about you or me or any of their sheep. They’re interested in themselves, money & each other, in that order, and in absolutely nothing else. They have shirked every responsibility they’ve taken on. If there were anything like justice in this country, they’d be in heavy trouble, but there’s no such thing, so forget them. Do unto them as they are doing unto you.

Until they start doing something more constructive than selling beads & mandalas, they deserve from you neither respect nor honor nor honesty. Fuck ’em. Hard.

And that goes for Uncle Tim, too, who turned you on & dropped you into this pit.

Love, by all mean, but love People, not money, not those warped creatures who only love money themselves.

And if you want to see (& feel & touch & smell & taste & know) what love there actually is in this so-called community, go to the diggers, who aren’t as pretty or as clean as the merchants, but who are Real Men, not plastic flowers, & who can love & be loved like Real Men, & who think you’re something more than an easy source of fast bucks.

For all of their messy imperfections, the diggers are the only human beings in the psychedelic ghetto. They’re the only people here who aren’t out to pick your pockets. They’re the only people here who aren’t so full of moldy bullshit that they have to wear perfume to mask the stench. The diggers & the Radha Krishna Temple, & the diggers don’t even require you to believe in anything.

The merchants are going to scream at me for saying all this. They’re going to come storming up my stairs yelling all manner of unlovely words, threatening all kinds of loveless threats, being totally upset & shooting off in all directions. Fuck ’em. If they want to talk to me, here’s what they’ll have to say:

Free City Newspaper, ca. 1968

* If Timothy Leary contributes a few grand to the diggers (who else is there?) to open & maintain pads for psychedelic indigents, I’ll agree that maybe Timothy Leary isn’t full of shit after all.

* If The Oracle ploughs less of its money back into the paper & more of it into the welfare of the kids on the Street, I’ll grant the possibility that The Oracle may be something more that a poorly editied, sleazy, opportunistic rag.

* If any HIP merchant spends any appreciable amount of the wealth he’s coining off of you to alleviate the problems he’s seduced you into, I’ll admit that that particular merchant may well be a human being instead of prettified monster of moneylust, unworthy of any man’s respect.

* If the Council for a Summer of Love performs acts of love instead of polishing the Hippy Image & persuading The System that hippies are solid, hard-spending consumers like everybody else, I’ll concede that the Council is not the cheap commercial scam it currently seems to be.

* If anyone but the diggers undertakes to feed the hungry, comfort the sick, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked & restore some measure of human dignity to Uncle Tim’s children, I’ll be very much surprised.

* If any of these mercantile phonies proves me wrong, I’ll apologize in print in the grandest style imaginable.

But I don’t really expect to have to. The hucksters will find it easier to denounce me than to correct themselves, & that, oh my brothers, is exactly what they’ll do. But at least we all know now exactly where they’re at. Remember that.

Digger Free Store, New York City (Digger Archives)

One thought on “Freaky Friday: Documents: Chester Anderson’s “Uncle Tim’$ Children”

  1. Of those HIP merchants, it must be noted that the Thelin Brothers, Ron and Jay, whose “Psychedelic Shop” on Haight Street was the prototype for the ubiquitous “head shops” that appeared in every student ghetto and in obscure corners of towns and cities all over the US in the generation that followed, created a “quiet room” of carpets and cushions and soothing music in the back of the store as a refuge from the turmoil of the street. A calm space available while the store was open, overnight crashing wasn’t permitted, but it was a “give-back” to the community in heed of the diggers’ admonitions. In the next couple of years the Thelins also opened their house (“The Red House” in Forrest Knolls) to some of the digger core as they made preparations for the Great Diaspora that scattered us as we abandoned the City to build lives in various country locations.

    My eldest son, Haud Buck Hayward, was born on their living-room floor in May of 1969. Thelins still occupy that house, and I remain forever grateful for their hospitality.

    In writing the methamphetamine-fueled “Uncle Tim’s Children” in the front bedroom of my Communication Company flat at 406 Duboce Ave., Chester was riffing on Emmett Grogan’s righteous hard-core outrage at the situation on the Street.

    The current “Occupy” movement traces philosophical roots back to the SanFran Diggers and the Original Diggers as well.

    “In 1649, to St. George’s Hill, a ragged band they called the Diggers came to show the Peoples’ Will. They defied the Landlords, they defied the Law; they were the dispossessed, reclaiming what was theirs.”

    (hear this sung at the digger link above…)

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