The Amerikan government was on trial for crimes against the people of the world. We now find the government guilty and sentence it to death in the streets.
Pretty catchy stuff, huh? It's from an Orange County alternative publication. It's also from 31 years ago.
OC has changed tremendously over those years, becoming hipper, more diverse, more politically balanced. Back then, you couldn't buy a latte to save your life. It was a conservative bedroom community, with Birchers looking under every one of those beds for Commies. It was stiff. It was straight. It was strict. It was also more radical.
There were walk-outs, love-ins and teach-ins. Students for a Democratic Society chapters agitated local campuses. There were so many protests in March 1970—against Timothy Leary's Laguna drug bust; in support of a doctor in the same town being tried for performing abortions; in solidarity with Vernon Williams, a black man who was strangled to death by OC Sheriff's officers (whose defense was essentially “Oops!”); in support of Arthur League, a Black Panther charged with murdering a Santa Ana police officer—it's amazing they could keep track of them without a Palm Pilot.
Someone blew up an Irvine Co. earthmover or two. There were head shops and underground radio stations. And, most incongruously, there was a more or less Marxist underground paper called From Out of Sherwood Forest published from a bookstore on the Newport peninsula.
I still have my old copies—those that weren't confiscated by my high school bus driver. People on the Right have a tendency to define freedom in precise terms, namely as the freedom to be just like them. Everyone from the county superintendent of schools on down to my bus driver was so concerned about this paper polluting our little minds that they didn't care if a few rights were abrogated in the process.
If you conservatives today think our Weekly writings are the weevils in your Wheaties, you should read this old stuff. I mean, the Sherwood Forestwriters couldn't see Jefferson Airplane at the Anaheim Convention Center without it also being a trip through “the bloodless plastic heart of Amerika.”
How's this for a balanced lead: “The creaking mindless wheels of our decaying governmental system continued to crank out its own peculiar version of justice at Cal State Fullerton last Friday, March 20. The Student-Faculty Judiciary Committee met in secret to decide what type of punishment is appropriate for Bruce Church and Dave McKowiak. Their crime? Telling Governor [Ronald] Reagan to get fucked.”
How about a record review: “Why should you pay more than $3 for an album? You pay for a name that is fabricated out of proportion. As long as the present economic system remains, people will continue to get screwed.”
When the Ortega Hot Springs were fenced in, they saw it as a pattern of “the land barons” crushing every meeting place freaks had, including concerts and pop festivals, and warned, “Soon we will have nowhere to go but the streets, and the residents of Isla Vista know what happens there! So if that's what must be, so be it.”
Isla Vista, for those who only know of it as the UC Santa Barbara party zone, was the site of violent confrontations between cops and students protesting the war, with the final tally being a torched Bank of America and a shot-dead student or two. In my house, my dad was apoplectic because a student had been killed trying to prevent other students from attacking the bank. “Those cowardly #[email protected]%*! hippies!” When it came to light later that the kid had been killed by an off-duty cop firing into the crowd, my pop refused to talk about it again.
Sherwood Forest ran handy hints on how to “off” parking meters by jamming soda-pop pull tabs into them. In November '69, they printed an editorial, stating, “Stealing from companies which are stealing from the people is not dishonest. Profit is theft. . . . Stealing is a small and unimportant way of striking back, but as fun and financial assistance, it's certainly justified. Don't do anything when other shoppers can see you, though they're usually so unconscious they probably wouldn't see you anyway.”
Not surprisingly, the paper didn't have many advertisers.
I was 15 then, so my favorite feature was a column written by “Princess” called Sexeconomy, in which virtually everyone except the author was written-off as sexually repressed. One long, anti-police screed ended with the olive branch: “Let the Newport Beach Police Department sit in a circle sucking each other off. Maybe that will help. But don't let them keep us from building a new life, from saying what we believe or from showing them up for what they are.”
Another week, Princess viewed homosexuality though the bifocals of Reich and Marx and determined it to be an anti-revolutionary aberration that would disappear if we were all truly free. Refuting a lesbian spokeswoman who claimed that women could best pleasure one another, the author parried, “That only testifies to the apparent fact that the writer of this leaflet has never encountered stiff-penised men who can hold an erection and that she is not capable of the sort of surrender of ego necessary for vaginal orgasm.”
Between that and the pages of drab party-line cant in each issue, you've scant chance of finding such absolutely self-righteous people, who were so uptight about being free, or who needed so much theory just to blow their cookies.
In December 1970, the ostensible owner of the bookstore and editor of the paper, Don Elder, was arrested by Newport Beach police on 10 felony counts of conspiracy to solicit burglary (based on the paper's pro-shoplifting article) and contributing to the delinquency of a minor (based on I know not what, but I'm guessing the cop suck-off had something to do with it). I never heard the outcome of the trial, and I lost track of the paper not long after the store—the Bird in Search of a Cage Bookshop, 2307 Balboa Blvd.—was evicted and moved to Santa Ana.
If anyone can put me in touch with someone from the paper, I'd love to hear what became of them. Are they still boosting Doritos and bologna from Albertson's? Or did they buy into the system like so many of us did?
Given the vantage of time, one can laugh at this stuff, along with the very notion of a publication opposed to private property being based in Newport Beach. Silly hippies: how easy it is to rip off “the man” rather than to create something yourself; how convenient to scoff at the “unconscious” zombies in the aisle next to you rather than to see a fellow human just trying to make it through life.
Something that's easily forgotten, however, in this time when youth is co-opted, anesthetized and raised in a climate of overriding cynicism, is just how betrayed one felt then to be in that first generation who discovered that everything they'd been raised on was a lie. We'd been taught that Indians were the “Indian givers,” not the white man; that the U.S. was never the aggressor; that our way of life was based upon truth and our foreign policy upon the spirit of selfless giving.
It was vertigo-inducing to stand at the irreconcilable gap between the way things were and the way they should be, to find that we were the treaty-breakers and slaughterers, the ones whose taxes went to prop up despots and overthrow democracies, the ones who were fed propaganda and bloated body counts by our government to further a foul war. It became hard to live alongside people who could see obscenity in a word but not in our napalming Vietnamese villages or raping the environment.
Thank God that's all ancient history. Hey, didja hear how President Bush is going to solve our energy crunch by reversing his pledge to join the rest of the civilized world in adopting carbon-dioxide regulations? The ones scientists say we must adopt in order to forestall killing the world our own children will live in? I'm outta here to go buy some utility stocks!
One Reply to “Clear-Cutting Sherwood Forest”
Dear OC Weekly Staff,
Imagine my surprise to be searching the web and then find your article about “Sherwood Forest”, OC’s early alternative newspaper. It was a treat to discover and read your article from 18 years ago about our newspaper from 49 years ago.
I was one of the people who envisioned, created, and published Sherwood Forest. It emerged in a time that was full of chaos and change — political, cultural, economic, international, generational, and personal — not unlike the times we live in now. And Sherwood Forest reflected the turmoil of those times. We were trailblazers – brash, radical, and as you point out, uncensored. As you also point out, though some things have changed for the better, many of the fundamental issues that plagued us then are still with us today.
Many of us from those days are still around. And unlike the ‘Big Chill’ effect that you speculated might happen, most of us kept to our core values — for equality, justice and the dignity of human life. In fact, many of us went on to dedicate ourselves to better our world. And yes, we also grew up, got jobs, raised children, and learned to function within the system.
If your author is still on the staff, or if any current staff members would still like to discuss those days and what became of the Sherwood Forest folks, I’d be happy to participate and possibly recruit other friends from those days to also join in.