Through Rising Up Angry, our message, influence, and notoriety ricocheted from kid to kid in neighborhoods across the city and beyond.
[In this series, Michael James is sharing images from his rich past, accompanied by reflections about — and inspired by — those images. These photos will be included in his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James’ Pictures from the Long Haul.]
I spent from 1966 to 1975 working as a radical community organizer. In 1969 I co-founded Rising Up Angry, a newspaper designed to build an organization. And what an organization it built — Rising Up Angry came on the scene with a burst of energy and enthusiasm, with a style that captured imaginations.
Our message, influence, and notoriety ricocheted from kid to kid in neighborhoods across the city and beyond. RUA expanded rapidly, a radical band of greasers and longhairs, rebels, ‘Nam vets, and organizers, all of us encouraging rebellion and calling for revolution. Our mantra “All Power to the People!” was usually followed by the forceful “Dig It!” We raised the fist more often than we flashed the peace sign.
Pictures from the Long Haul
We wanted to represent “the people” everywhere. We were bent on changing situations: our own and those of others, the poor and working people doing hard work, taking shit and tired of it, ready to take a stand.
I wrote the opening salvo for the first issue in July 1969.
It’s been a long time coming, but here it comes — RISING UP ANGRY. It’s our people; RISING UP ANGRY is about our people, by our people, for our people. It comes out of Chicago — hard, low-down-dirty, straight-on Chicago. Right on! Our people! Dig it!
Our people have a lot of energy, and we’re moving fast about changing things — making them better, more human, more real. Our people have to decide, too! Many of us are still sitting on the fence, tempted by the gold-tinted glitter that will make us mortgage off our lives… We’re everywhere. We’re guys and girls, greasers and hippies, whites, blacks, Latinos, and Indians. We’re on the streets, in the parks, on the corners, in pool halls, in bowling alleys, and at rock concerts. We’re in the schools and in the army. We’re working jobs, like in restaurants, factories, at gas stations, stores and offices.
We’re in the jails, prisons, and courtrooms seeing probation and parole officers. We’re in drive-in restaurants and at hot-dog stands. We’re sitting in kitchens, talking with brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, cousins and all that. We go back and forth between towns and cities, between different states… We’re on the North Side, South Side, and West Side… We’re everywhere… seeing and talking, doing a lot of listening, sometimes fighting, but growing close, because we’re becoming one. Dig it! ONE!
We’ve been angry and tough for a long time. We’re hungry, hungry for life. We drive fast, crazy, run, argue, push, shove. We’re fighters. Yeah, we strike out, and we hit. Too often we’re not sure what moves us, what drives us, and we’re not sure where we’re going. Sometimes we hit at the wrong things, ‘cause we’ve been confused, made to be confused. Dig that!
But that’s changing. We’ve had no place to take our anger, our energy, our love — all those human things. For a lot of us it gets cut off, and our life changes, and we’re made to grow old. Not old too fast, just plain old, and we don’t want that ‘cause we’re about being youngbloods in heart and mind forever. We’re gonna learn where to take it, ‘cause we’re gonna build an organization, a giant tribe, a people’s liberation army. Our energy is gonna begin to have a direction.
Like the songs say: “There’s a new sun RISING UP ANGRY in the sky.” But “There’s something happening here/what it is ain’t exactly clear.” Well we’re gonna find out. We’re RISING UP ANGRY, and we’re not “underground.” We’re straight on, we’re about hard, low-down-dirty, straight-on Chicago; and… we’re gonna… take it back and make it ours! SPREAD THE WORD, EVERYWHERE. GET IT ON, DO IT, ‘cause people got to be free. So we’re gonna be free, and when we see who tries to stop us, then we’re gonna fight. All Power to the People!
Changing our own situation meant solidarity with others.
Changing our own situation meant solidarity with others, so we stood with those engaged in many struggles, and encouraged others to understand and support them, too. We stressed similarities and points of unity across racial, ethnic, and gender lines. We countered images of poor and working whites as racist, backward, and ignorant. We had a tough style and we didn’t take shit from anyone. We stood up to authority and the police. The masthead on the paper included Frank Cieciorka’s iconic clenched fist with the words, “To love we must fight.”
During the summer of 1969 a group of Angry people went to the Kickapoo Creek Rock Festival. Their failure to return for the weekly meeting raised issues of seriousness, commitment, and organization building. Some early members became part of a looser tribe, while others got more serious about revolutionary struggle.
We structured an organization with a regular newspaper, programs, and political education classes. We bought a two-story building at 1215 W. Belmont that housed our office, Right On bookstore, a darkroom, a newspaper production room, and a meeting hall. It was well fortified against police or right-wing attacks. Rising Up Angry became a real political force for working class people and radicals around the city.
Like the Black Panther Party, we organized and involved people in the struggle through “Serve the People” programs. The Fritzi Englestein Free Peoples Health Clinic was located in the Church of the Holey Covenant at Wilton and Diversey. Volunteer doctors and others practiced preventative medicine. Open two nights a week, we served the community; some who volunteered went on to become doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators. Our position: “Good health care is a human right.”
The RUA Legal Program enlisted volunteer lawyers who took up police, housing, and welfare issues.
The RUA Legal Program enlisted volunteer lawyers who took up police, housing, and welfare issues, helping people who otherwise could not afford a lawyer. The Vietnam vets in the organization worked with other veterans, as well as prisoners in the Marine brig at the Glenview Naval Air Station.
We held a demonstration of several thousand in Foss Park next to the Great Lakes Navel Training Center with large banners proclaiming “SOS — Stop Our Ships, Save Our Sailors.” Friends of Angry held informational meetings on the war and the police, showed films like Salt of the Earth and Battle of Algiers, took people to demonstrations, and for months picketed Jewel grocery stores in support of Caesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union.
At this time the main man in Chicago’s revolutionary scene was 20-year-old Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party. Steve Tappis and I took a group of young Uptown guys to the Panther office on West Madison. We rang the bell and stated who we were through an intercom. When the door opened we headed upstairs to the second floor; a metal door opened, we were met by armed Panthers and — following a pat-down security check — were introduced to Chairman Fred.
He talked to us about the Party and what it stood for. Fred said he didn’t like white people much, then added “but you don’t fight fire with fire, you fight fire with water; and you don’t fight racism with more racism, you fight racism with solidarity. Black power to black people, brown power to brown people, red power to red people, yellow power to yellow people, and white power to white people — All Power to the People.”
We left fired up, ready to fight “the Man” and to Serve the People.
We left fired up, ready to fight “the Man” and to Serve the People, an enthusiasm not dampened when we discovered my ’56 Chrysler convertible was dead in front of the Panther office. Nor was it dampened the next day when Jim Fite of the SDS National Office and I were arrested.
We had just jump-started the ragtop when the “pigs” showed up, searched us and the car, busted us and took us to the Fillmore lock up, charged with possession of burglary tools. The so-called burglary tools: a wrench and a screwdriver in the trunk. Two guys from the Chicago Police Department’s notorious Red Squad showed up to grill us.
The Red Squad and police followed and harassed a lot of radicals in those days, and in the case of the Panthers they were extra mean, extra vicious, and more vindictive. This was true all the way up to Washington, D.C., and the FBI’s J. Edger Hoover. He devised the U.S. Government’s COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program), designed to smash the Panthers and prevent the rise of a “Black Messiah.”
Fred might have become that guy. Young, strong, smart, and inspirational, he was flat-out something else! So they assassinated him and fellow Panther Mark Clark in their beds while they slept. Read about it in The Assassination of Fred Hampton, by Jeffery Haas, one of the Peoples Law Office lawyers who challenged the police story in court and won. Fred’s blatant murder by the police is a true Chicago story and unfortunately, a recurring American tale.
The assassinations were a heavy lesson about the government’s unconscionable abuse of power. So very close to home, they left no doubt about the deadly serious nature of the opposition facing movements trying to make the world a better place. For a few years the Rising Up Angry masthead added a Hi Standard riot pump shotgun to the clenched fist and “To Love We Must Fight” on the front of the paper.
We visited the shooting range at Ma Bell’s on Mannheim Road in Franklin Park. Though never a fan of guns, I had been around them and had picked up my first gun, a 38 pistol, in Idaho while on a speaking tour for SDS in the Northwest. I later added a shotgun and a Browning 9 mm to my arsenal, but was relieved when they were stolen from my crib.
The thieves turned out to be a Chippewa warrior acquaintance and a close Native American friend who a short time later confessed that the arms were intended for the American Indian Movement ‘s (AIM) 1973 occupation at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. I never heard how they fared, but am pretty sure they never got past Wisconsin.
During the Rising Up Angry days I was a pretty effective outreach guy: I spread the message, broke the ice, made and followed up on contacts. I recruited. Days and nights found me out and about, hanging out, exploring new ground, always talking up Angry and the revolution, selling our paper and cooling out fights. I did lots of talking. I rapped with people (a la SNCC’s Rap Brown) about getting along and working together, about treating the sisters right, about the “bullshit” war, and about the horrors of capitalism and imperialism.
In pre-gentrified Lincoln Park there was a greaser gang called The CORPS (as in Marine Corps). It was a coalition of groups named after local streets — the Hudsons, Mohawks, and North Parks who would hang out in a small park across from the Gas for Less station on Armitage near Lincoln. Many of them were with me, Tom Malear, and Patrix Sturgis in October 1969 when we checked out the SDS Weatherman’s “Days of Rage” rampage in Lincoln Park.
As we followed well behind their “Bring the War Home” romp through that Near North Side bourgeois ‘hood, a guy in a trench coat grabbed Tom’s leg on Surf Street. In the process of freeing Tom, I scuffled with the attacker, who turned out to be a Harris Trust banker. Then thugs wearing Carhartt work jackets jumped me. At first I thought they were the pro-war “hard hats” of the time. I got tangled up with one who was hitting me on the head and heard him yell, “He’s got my fucking blackjack!” Plainclothes coppers.
Patrix and I were busted for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, aggravated action, and unlawful use of a weapon.
Patrix and I were busted for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, aggravated action, and unlawful use of a weapon: a roll of quarters in my pocket, pay from the grocery delivery day job. I spent the night handcuffed to a gurney at Cook County Hospital. A sympathetic doctor gave me my first Darvon to kill the pain from my gashed head.
We were transported to a bullpen at Cook County Jail, then brought to court, and ended up spending years dealing with this case. During that time I became close to our lawyer, Dennis Cunningham of the Peoples Law Office. Facing 90 days in jail with a guarantee of 2-8 years in prison if we violated parole, we eventually showed up and found a different judge, who in short order gave us 90 days’ probation and a $100 fine. That was after we declined to take an ex-Marine-fix-it guy’s $5,000 deal at an earlier court date.
Schurz High School was a regular stopping place. Schurz had lots of greasers who hung out at lunchtime in and around two hot dog stands on the corners across from the school. They smoked, copped a toke, shot the shit, smacked, pushed, jumped on, and chased one another during lunch break and after school. Footage of guys and girls there talking about conditions with the police appears in Trick Bag (Kartemquin Films), a film I helped Peter Kuttner make.
I will never forget the day I was heading up Milwaukee Avenue to Schurz and heard on the radio that Salvador Allende had been assassinated. Allende, a socialist and the democratically elected President of Chile, was killed in a Henry Kissinger inspired and U.S. backed right-wing military coup d’état.
To cover expenses during those days I got a part-time job loading trucks in Bridgeport, and then a job teaching at Chicago’s Columbia College. I called my course Organizing for Social Change. While teaching about people’s struggles and organizations I developed a theory of a “mini-Red” or progressive economy.
I was influenced by socialist experiments like New Harmony in Indiana and Christian communal sects like the Amana Colonies in Iowa, as well as programs of the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims). I read Mao on the Red Army’s base areas in China, and the importance of building an economy. I read about the role credit unions played in the Kenyan Independence struggle.
In the classroom I spoke about an interconnecting network of small businesses that would serve the people: bike and auto repair coops, record stores and recording studios, newspapers, day-care centers, gyms, galleries, bakeries, and restaurants — you name it, whatever the people needed or wanted.
From the start RUA mixed music and revolution, talking about “a people’s music” and a cooperative music scene.
From the start RUA mixed music and revolution, talking about “a people’s music” and a cooperative music scene. Our first People’s Dance was held in the old Wobbly (IWW) Hall on Lincoln Avenue. By 1974 we were producing cultural events under the name Cooperative Energy Supply, aka ESP — Energy Supply Presents.
On the mezzanine and entire second floor at the Midland Hotel we pulled together a diverse crowd of kids from across the city. Rock and roll in the “Great Hall of the People,” jazz, folk, theater, and poetry in “The George Jackson Joint,” and films in the “Lolita Lebron Theater.”
Entertainment at these events included Fast Eddie, Wilderness Road, Rokko and the Hat, Wacker Drive, Killin’ Floor, Weapons of Peace, bluesmen Bob Ready and Jimmy Dawkins, XIT (crossing of Indian tribes), Bran’ Spankin’, Bob Gibson, David Hernandez and Sonidos de la Calle, Ana Castillo, Bread & Roses Theater, Taxi, and many more. Blessed Realm did the light show and I shared MC duties with Righteous Bob Rudnick. And we started serving up good food along with the music.
In 1972 Jack Traylor, whom I had met in Mexico in 1962, invited me to San Francisco. He was a high school teacher who had a band called Steel Wind. At San Jose State Jack had taught Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane) to play the guitar. Now he was in Wally Heider’s Recording Studio finishing his album for Grunt Records. I hung out with Jack and some of the Airplane and checked out the scene, where I had my first hit of cocaine.
Around this time Elliot Wald of The Chicago Seed newspaper informed me that I was mentioned in a new book by David Meggyesy, the football autobiography Out of Their League. I found David in Berkeley and had a moving visit with him and his wife Stacy. They turned me on to my first fast: three days of vegetables followed by three days each of fruit, juice, herb tea, and lastly, water.
Back in Chicago I began what became an obsession with running. I did the fast. Figuring out how to break it I discovered Paul Bragg’s book The Miracle of Fasting in a health food store on Broadway near Diversey. And on a trip to Columbia, Missouri, to speak to the University of Missouri, I hung out with Richard Catlett, an older Quaker guy who later told me he could cure cancer through diet.
He took me to a diner. Then, while we both chowed down on strawberry shortcake he said, “You shouldn’t be eating that” to which I replied, “You’re eating it,” to which he responded, “But not all the time.” Afterwards he took me to his health food store. I returned to Chicago with a shitload of vitamins, a case of pineapple juice “not cooked at too high of a temperature,” kelp, brewer’s yeast, and more.
My vision of a society based on cooperative notions, my new-found interest in healthy eating, the return to my athletic roots, producing events with Cooperative Energy Supply, along with disbanding of Rising Up Angry in the spring of 1975, led me further along the path of Serving the People, Body and Soul. By May 1, 1976, after another trip to the West Coast and a psychedelic experience with Katy Hogan in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, I was hard at work on the next phase: the creation of Sweet Home Chicago’s Heartland Café.
Written Easter Morning 2014.
Find more articles by Michael James on The Rag Blog.
[Michael James is a former SDS national officer, the founder of Rising Up Angry, co-founder of Chicago’s Heartland Café (1976 and still going), and co-host of the Saturday morning (9-10 a.m. CDT) Live from the Heartland radio show, here and on YouTube. He is reachable by one and all at email@example.com. ]