ANALYSIS | Varied evolutionary pathways of 1960s activists

People active in the New Left and the anti-war movement evolved after the 1960s in many ways.

Ron Auerbacher and Jason Serinus reenact a 1970 photo (above) during exhibit at the
New York Public Library.

By Allen Young | The Rag Blog | February 25, 2021

ROYALSTON, Mass. — The recent death of 1960s anti-war and New Left activist Rennie Davis is the inspiration for this article. Without judgment or advocacy, I want to explore the varied shifts in consciousness that have taken place in the lives of several people who, like Davis, were peace and social justice activists during the Vietnam War era.

Only a short time before his death, at age 80, Davis received some media attention because of a new movie about the 1969 Chicago Seven trial. In an obituary written for The Rag Blog, my college friend, activist and professor Jonah Raskin wrote, “Rennie was a man with a deep moral consciousness who aimed to follow the dictates of his heart and his head no matter where they might take him.”

Jonah could not avoid one of the most impelling aspects of Davis’ life, namely this much admired Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) leader’s shift from the political left to the spiritual realm, specifically as a follower and promoter of the 15-year-old guru, Maharaj Ji.
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OBITUARY | Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021)

He was an insurgent poet, feisty publisher, lover of the written
and spoken word.

City Lights Book Store. Photo by Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | February 23, 2021

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif — He was a poet, a painter, a publisher, and a bookstore owner who helped to give birth to the writers of the Beat Generation, especially to the raucous work of Allen Ginsberg. Lawrence Ferlinghetti founded City Lights Books in 1953, along with fellow New Yorker, Peter Martin, who soon departed from San Francisco and returned to the East. Ferlinghetti died on February 23, 2021, at the age of 101. His Coney Island of the Mind has sold more than a million copies since it was first published in 1958.

Two years earlier, he published Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems, the best known book of American verse in the second half of the 20thcentury. In 1957, Ferlinghetti went on trial for obscenity. He was found not guilty. The judge ruled that Howl had redeeming social value. That verdict helped to open the door to avant garde and subversive literature for the next 50 or so years.
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Alice Embree :
POLITICAL CRIME | Ken Paxton and the Three ‘Enemigos’

Charting the flagrant abuse of power by Texas’ indicted Attorney
General Ken Paxton.

Three Enemigos: Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Collage by Alice Embree/ The Rag Blog.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | February 13, 2021

AUSTIN — Indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is getting star billing in the crime genre, but supporting roles go to Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. The Three Enemigos are all playing their part in voter suppression and poor pandemic planning. But, let’s turn first to Paxton’s recent reviews.

Every Republican official in Texas with a functioning conscience knows what should be done with our long-indicted, oft-accused, hitherto unaccountable Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton… Paxton should be scrubbed from the Office of Attorney General with the thoroughness one applies to disinfecting any other contaminated surface… Any number of disinfectants might work against the stains left by a man who has managed to avoid trial for five long years on securities fraud charges and finally last year saw seven of his own top aides at the AG’s office allege that Paxton committed bribery and abuse of office in his efforts to help a campaign donor.

– Editorial, Houston Chronicle, February 9, 2021

The disinfectant approach is new. Somehow I can’t get Sarah Cooper’s comedic rendition of Trump’s disinfectant advice out of my head when I hear the word used.
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Larry Piltz :
VERSE | Bernie Sanders’ Victory Tour 2021

Bernie with friends.

By Larry Piltz | The Rag Blog | February 11, 2021

It’s as if Bernie’s lifelong journey of devotion to betterment of all, and becoming over time a beloved benign dogged pursuer of equality and fairness, almost the coming to fruition of a spirit of the age when a true motion forward along the arc of justice and peace is being made, in the wake of a long moment in time when a threat to all that is good and kind hung over us, here now is the wisp of a cosmic reminder of the new moment we are entering, Bernie, his persuasion and example having had its cumulative effect, a rebound success, appearing relaxed sitting comfortably, at ease, swaddled in warmth though winter, his mittens representing the hands-on work he’s done on our communal soul, having the rest he has so well-earned, and in sweet repose he has been appearing all over the country, the world, in famous and anonymous places, in people’s living rooms, weddings, everywhere, placed by people he’s never met who in good humor and touched by a joy and with a hope for the better are coloring in the future with a tongue in cheek but also real homage to a man who believes in us all, believes in our better angels, and who risks being cranky and over the top in the service of people becoming more aware and empowered to uplift our world, which is what his image means as it is injected into so many corners of our lives, like pictures of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in millions and millions of American homes during the Great Depression and World War II, someone we wouldn’t want to be without, someone who has loved us and known us better than we sometimes know ourselves, understands our better instincts and our need for something better, someone who devoted his life to us and lived it true and truly for the people, at long last an honest man deserving the trust we are capable of, Bernie Sanders gets the victory tour only he could generate, sincere, whimsical, and an honest expression of thanks and admiration. We love you, Bernie.

[Larry Piltz is an Austin-based writer, poet, and musician.]

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OBITUARY | Rennie Davis (1940-2021): Not the boy next door

He was a man with a deep moral consciousness who followed the dictates of his heart and his head no matter where they took him.

Rennie Davis in 1973. Washington Area Spark / Flickr / Creative Commons.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | February 9, 2021

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. — Rennie Davis sometimes seemed like the all-American boy who lived in the house next door that came with a lawn and a picket fence. In some ways he fit the stereotype.

Unlike Abbie, Jerry, and Tom, Rennie’s roots were patrician. Born in Michigan and raised in Virginia, he belonged to a 4-H Club as a boy. His father worked in President Truman’s administration as chief of staff for the Council of Economic Advisers.

I remember him as boyish, with a certain naivete.

Still, the more one looked, the less all-American he appeared to be. Something was going on beneath the surface that even he didn’t recognize. The Vietnamese did.
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FILM | ‘The War at Home’

A review of Glenn Silber’s and Barry Brown’s timeless documentary.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | January 27, 2021

SONOMA COUNTY, California — As Austinites and their friends and comrades all across Texas know, the coasts, east and west, often get more media coverage than the heartland, and that part of the U.S. often described, unfortunately, as “fly over country.” Fly over it and much is missed. Dozens of books and films tell the story of Berkeley in the Sixties. Also, a great deal has been written about the many demonstrations that shook the nation’s capital to protest against segregation and the War in Vietnam.

Not to explore and recount the movements that roiled towns and cities from Madison, Wisconsin to Austin, Texas, is to omit a crucial part of the story. The War at Home, a documentary directed by Glenn Silber, a veteran of CBS and ABC, and Barry Alexander Brown — and narrated by veteran journalist Blake Kellogg — lovingly follows the demonstrators who marched, leafleted, and sat down in Madison, Wisconsin.

At the end of the decade, there was a big bombing at the Army Math Research Center on the campus of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, which resulted in the accidental death of physics researcher, Robert Fassnacht. Was the explosion a fitting end to the decade or unfitting? Viewers can decide for themselves.
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Roger Baker :
TRANSPORTATION | Is widening I-35 Austin’s biggest
boondoggle ever?

It costs too much and does too little.

Will it come to this?

By Roger Baker | The Rag Blog | January 14, 2021

AUSTIN — I think I can make the case that widening I-35 through Central Austin is the biggest boondoggle ever, because I’ve had practice. I wrote about it four and five years ago in The Rag Blog and also more recently. With time, the reasons to rebuild it as a much wider road have only gotten weaker, and the money needed to widen it has become harder and harder to get.

The I-35 widening proposal through Central Austin is now called I-35 Capital Express Central. This project is shown on page 62 in TxDOTs 2021 annual Unified Transportation Program as costing $4.9 billion, but it still lacks the $3.6 billion in Category 12 funding, which is about 73% of the total money needed to widen the road in this 12-mile part of I-35. “To date, funding has not been identified for most of the Mobility35 projects.”
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FILM | Watch this movie: Dorothy Dickie’s LNS

‘Under the Ground: The Story of Liberation News Service’ is definitely worth seeing.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | January 12, 2021

SONOMA COUNTY, California — Let’s cut to the chase. Under the Ground, the new 80-minute documentary about the radical alternative to the UPI and the AP, is definitely worth seeing. It’s worth seeing for people who lived through the upheavals of the Sixties and Seventies, and also for those who have come of age with #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, the Proud Boys, and the insurrection in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021.

Dorothy Dickie’s fast-paced movie — which can be seen free on demand  — is haunted by memories of the 1960s. It’s also as timely as today’s newspaper headlines. Armed with archival footage and buttressed by in-depth interviews with the likes of Ray Mungo, Allen Young, James Retherford, Alice Embree, Harvey Wasserman, and Thorne Dreyer, Under the Ground explores both the counterculture and the movement which overlapped one another and also went their separate ways.
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FILM | Exciting documentary about Liberation News Service premieres January 11

‘Under the Ground: The Story of Liberation News Service’ includes interviews with Austin-based underground veterans.

By Thorne Dreyer | The Rag Blog | January 9, 2021

NOTE: This article was updated at 10:20 a.m. (CT), January 12. We had originally included a link to stream the premiere of the film at Rhode Island PBS, but it turned out the access was geographically limited. However, the show can now be seen anytime through video-on-demand here.

AUSTIN — Under the Ground: The Story of Liberation News Service, an 80-minute documentary film produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker Dorothy Dickie for Rhode Island public television, will premiere Monday, January 11, 2021. It will be livestreamed and then can be viewed through video on demand (see links below).

The film includes interviews with Austin’s Alice Embree, Jim Retherford, and Thorne Dreyer (Dreyer was an editor at LNS in the late ‘60s) and populist commentator Jim Hightower is also featured in clips from a Rag Radio interview.

LNS was an alternative news operation that flourished between 1967 and 1981 in the United States, playing a major – and underrecognized — role in those tumultuous times. LNS distributed packets of news stories, features, and graphics to underground, alternative, and college newspapers and radio stations — content otherwise not available to these feisty but often-shoestring alternative publications that sprung up around the anti-war and student power movement and the ‘60s counterculture.
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Steve Russell :
POLITICAL HISTORY | Ranking Donald Trump
among the one and done

Donald John Trump had his papers graded and the voters failed him as decisively as he failed them.

Donald Trump. Caricature by DonkeyHotey / Creative Commons.

By Steve Russell | The Rag Blog | January 5, 2021

Those of us who consider history to be recreational reading started in on Donald John Trump before he had resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a year. Without the deep dive of a PhD dissertation, we seem to have a bias toward post WWII presidencies — or so it would appear from the conversations that have sadly become less frequent with the pandemic raging.

Even history buffs find it easier to know the wrinkles of administrations through which we lived or, at least, about which we heard our elders complain. Bush 41 and the Iran-Contra scandal. The price of gasoline under Jimmy Carter. I like to complain about when my second wife and I bought a home on a credit card — or so it seemed, when the interest rate was 15%!

When I say we “started in” on Trump, I mean on trying to compare him to other presidents. I cannot name another POTUS less qualified by education and experience. Trump adds to that an unwillingness to take advice or recognize expertise in others. One presidential term — four years — is very different from the eight years, two terms, that has become customary. Donald John Trump had his papers graded by the electorate at half time, and the voters failed him as decisively as he failed them.
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Steve Russell :
BOOKS | Martha Ture’s ‘Joe Walker’ should be a screenplay

Her prose is too visual to rest quietly on library shelves.

By Steve Russell | The Rag Blog | January 3, 2021

[Joe Walker, by Martha Ture. (Lulu Press 2007); paperback; 370 pages; $23.95 on]

SUN CITY, Texas — Author’s Note: This note comes to you from the author of the review rather than the author of the book. It’s only fair to admit that I have begged Martha Ture — with whom I’ve collaborated on social science rather than literature — to recast this story as a screenplay. An ulterior motive in publishing this review on The Rag Blog is the chance of catching the eye of one of the filmmakers hiding behind every tree in Austin not already taken by a poet or a picker.

She captured my love of a common sight here in the Texas Hill Country — a hawk riding the thermals, something that in our time can be presented on film from the hawk’s point of view — on the first pages.

The hawk “veered aslant the wind to scout a new position, her tail glowed orange in the sun.” Joe Walker would have made eye contact with the proud bird had she not been showing him her parts that Indians understand to have ceremonial uses.
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Joshua Brown :

Previous installments are archived at
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