ALICE EMBREE | HISTORY | ‘Defending Dissidents: The Austin Law Commune’

They came to the aid of an ever-growing community of dissidents who needed to be defended in courts of law.

From left: Austin Law Commune partner Jim Simons (with radical filmmaker Dave Zeiger), and partners  Cam Cunningham, Brady Coleman, and Bobby Nelson. Photos on left and right by Alan Pogue / The Rag Blog.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | November 29, 2022

AUSTIN — In the midst of the national upheaval ignited by the civil rights and antiwar movements, Austin attorneys created a law practice devoted to the needs of the movement.  They defended movement leaders who were harassed on the streets or in their offices; they defended demonstrators when they were arrested, draft resisters facing charges,-and GIs at courts martial.  They came to the aid of an ever-growing community of dissidents who needed to be defended in courts of law.  They worked to create a statewide network with other like-minded attorneys, and they created a unique, collectively-run, model for practicing law.

Jim Simons operated as a sole practitioner taking on movement legal work in 1968.  He represented draft resister Enrique Madrid.  He represented 42 defendants arrested in May 1968 at Don Weedon’s Conoco station in Austin, as they protested a racist assault by the owner.  He also represented Austin SNCC organizer Larry Jackson, a founder of the Community United Front.  And he spent many hours giving legal advice and defending antiwar GIs and Oleo Strut staff in Killeen, Texas, home of the massive army base Fort Hood.  Jim Simons built the foundation for the Austin Law Commune with his movement practice as a sole practitioner.

On October 1, 1969, the Austin Law Commune was born.  First located in a small office on West 24th Street, they moved to an office at West 15th and then, in 1973, to an office on West 12th.  According to Time magazine, it was the third such commune in the country.  The Austin Law Commune closed shop in 1977.

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ALICE EMBREE | REMEMBRANCE | Scott Pittman: March 23, 1940 – July 31, 2022

A former UT-Austin activist, Scott settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he devoted himself to the teaching of Permaculture.

Scott Pittman in the later years. Photographer unknown.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | November 28, 2022

Many people knew Scott Pittman in Austin as a member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and contributor to Austin’s underground newspaper, The Rag. We mourn his passing.

Scott grew up in Seminole, Texas, and served in the Air Force in Turkey before he moved to Austin, joining the antiwar and civil rights struggle. In October 1967, he went to the massive Pentagon demonstration in Washington, D.C., and was stabbed in the leg by a soldier with a bayonet on the steps of the Pentagon. In an article in the October 30, 1967 issue of The Rag, Sue Jankovsky reported that Scott “was beat up, bayoneted, and then charged with assaulting a federal officer.”

Scott was arrested after being bayoneted at the Pentagon in 1967. Photo from The Rag.

Scott built a communal life in Arkansas after leaving Austin. Then, settling in Santa Fe, New Mexico, he devoted himself to the teaching of Permaculture, traveling the world. (Permaculture is a movement involving the development of sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural ecosystems.)
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ELAINE COHEN : STORY | An Austin tale of memory, reflection, and healing

I felt it a place of camaraderie, of a Mediterranean aesthetic that was familiar.

Palestinian Tejano Wedding

Palestinian-Tejano wedding. Photo by Elaine Cohen / The Rag Blog.

By Elaine Cohen | The Rag Blog | November 27, 2022

AUSTIN — I moved to Austin in the spring of 1997.   South by Southwest was in full swing when I arrived.  Soon I attended what I believe to be my first demo at the Capitol.  As it ended, I turned to a new friend and asked, “Where do people go now?  Is there some café or place to meet?”  He immediately responded, “Absolutely… we’ll go to the Marrakesh, right here, on Congress.  The owner, Samir, is Palestinian.”

While neither an observant Jew nor an apologist for the many violent practices of the Israeli state against Palestinians, I felt a moment of trepidation; would these Palestinians automatically distrust/dislike me for being a Jew?  I remember when I walked in with friends (Zapatistas, Wobblies, and peace activists) I felt it a place of camaraderie, of a Mediterranean aesthetic that was familiar, like cafes I’d known in Crete or Andalucía.
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ANNE LEWIS | VERSE | Remembering Danny Fetonte

Danny Fetonte and Barbaara Fetonte in Cuba, 2019. Photo by Roger Baker / The Rag Blog.

Danny Fetonte, lifelong activist, passed away peacefully on October 23, 2022, surrounded by his family.  Danny was born in 1950, in New York City.  He met and married Barbara Fetonte in Buffalo, New York.  A celebration of his life was held November 12th at the Texas AFL-CIO auditorium.  Stories of Danny’s skills as a union organizer, and his leadership and mentoring role within the Communication Workers of America (CWA) were shared with a standing-room-only crowd. Video interviews shed light on Danny’s family background, his immense devotion to family and friends, and his perseverance.  Until his final days, Danny could be found on picket lines protesting against Austin’s association with the Fayette County Coal plant and distributing yard signs for candidates. 

In 2015, Bernie Sanders said he would come to Austin if Danny could get a union hall and 200 people.  Danny got the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers’ union hall and over 500 people crammed into the hall to hear Bernie Sanders not long before Sanders announced that he would run for president.  Danny’s younger son, Tony, shared Danny’s unique approach to correcting bad behavior.  Rather than being grounded, Tony said, he might be required to read a book by Howard Fast and write a report.

Anne Lewis, a longtime friend of the Fetonte family and a union sister with the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU/CWA 6186) wrote this poem for the celebration of Danny’s life and read it on November 12, 2022.

For Barbara

Butterflies roost among the acorns
It’s too cold for them to fly
Mist lies heavy on flat ground
Weeds lit by dewdrops In a rising sun.
The dayshift men and women in work clothes,
swinging lunch buckets,
walk towards factory gates and mine portal.
On Saturdays, union halls fill.
The wages they pay us are a shame
Every war’s a rich man’s game.
We learned from the workers who sang
“I don’t want your millions mister,”
organized during a great depression
went on strike during a World War.
Joe believed revolution would happen in 1974.
He reached out a communist newspaper at the gate.
His fellow workers held him down
and broke his fingers.
Joe went on to become a hospital administrator.
Danny became a union organizer.
Nothing to lose but our chains and a world to gain.
The good ones were old when we were young.
They are as gone as peasants
who plowed with mules.
Country of consumption and hedge funds
Highways and development; capital flight.
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THE RAG BLOG | BOOKS | Honorees Thorne Dreyer, Alice Embree to make presentation at Texas Book Festival Nov. 5 in Austin

By The Rag Blog | The Rag Blog | Oct. 28, 2022

Thorne Dreyer, author of Making Waves: The Rag Radio Interviews and Alice Embree, who wrote the feminist memoir, Voice Lessons, will give a presentation at the Texas Book Festival on Saturday, November 5, 2022, from 3-3:45 p.m. at the Texas Monthly tent on Colorado and 11th near the Texas Capitol Building.  [It was previously announced as 2-2:45 p.m.] The talk, titled “The Rag: Activism, Resistance, and the Underground in 1960s Austin,” will be moderated by Texas Monthly’s Emily McCullar and will be followed by an autograph session.

Making Waves and Voice Lessons are both selections of the 2022 Texas Book Festival which takes place November 4-5, 2022, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Capitol Building and immediate vicinity. The Texas Book Festival is one of the largest and most prestigious literary festivals in the country. Almost 300 national and Texas authors will be featured and an estimated 40,000 visitors will attend. Here is the full schedule for this year’s Texas Book Festival and here are the festival’s authors and speakers.

Thorne Dreyer is the host of Rag Radio at KOOP-FM in Austin and editor of The Rag Blog. He was a founding editor of The Rag, Austin’s legendary underground newspaper. Alice Embree, who is a frequent contributor to both Rag Radio and The Rag Blog, is an Austin-based activist and writer. Making Waves and Voice Lessons were both published by the Briscoe Center for American History and are distributed by the University of Texas Press.

Thorne Dreyer, Alice Embree.

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ALICE EMBREE | BOOKS | Ellen Cassedy’s ‘Working 9 to 5: A Women’s Movement, a Labor Union, and the Iconic Movie’

The 9 to 5 group in Boston used daring theatrical tactics and dogged leafleting and more, and helped to inspire the movie, ‘9 to 5’ which is also discussed in this book.

Listen to Alice Embree and Thorne Dreyer interview Ellen Cassedy  on Rag Radio, Friday, September 30, 2022, 2-3 p.m. (CT) on KOOP 91.7-FM or stream it at

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | September 26, 2022

Well, I tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition,

‘9 to 5’ lyrics by Dolly Parton

I expected Ellen Cassedy’s book, Working 9 to 5: A Women’s Movement, A Labor Union, and the Iconic Movie, to be a lively history of clerical workers mobilizing.  I knew that the 9 to 5 organization she helped organize inspired the movie 9 to 5, with the hilarious combo of Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton cast as disgruntled office workers.  The lively beat of Dolly Parton’s title song became an anthem for women workers scrambling out of bed in the 80s. 

What surprised me about this book is that it is an organizer’s manual for organizing. The book tells the story of an enormously effective group of women who intended to transform the world of working women and did. 

In 1973, the Boston 9 to 5 group scraped together funds to send Ellen Cassedy, the author, to an organizing school run by the Midwest Academy in Chicago.

Cassedy eagerly shared the skills she learned with her Boston compatriots as they worked out of a small office in Boston’s “Y.”  They kept records of contacts, they used a simple order (pie and coffee) for lunch meetings with prospective members, and they made sure their meetings resulted in action steps.  They’d compare notes after every major event.  They asked a lot of each other and became an extraordinary team.

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BRUCE MELTON | CLIMATE | Sequoias burn: Ongoing collapse of the unburnable

The dead giants command a most unswerving attention.

Entry Monument to Sequoia National Park after the KNP Complex Fire in 2021. All photos by Bruce Melton.

By Bruce Melton | The Rag Blog | September 22, 2022

Bruce Melton will be Thorne Dreyer’s guest on Rag Radio Friday, September 23, from 2-3 p.m. CT on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin and streamed on

The National Park Service says sequoias reached a tipping point when 13,000 of 75,000 known mature sequoias burned in 2020 and 2021.

This year’s filming of the sequoia burn started out with 1,500 miles from Austin to the big trees in the Sierra Nevada. While we were driving across New Mexico, flooding rains closed Death Valley National Park. Only one campground is open there and more roads than not have been heavily damaged. The Park Service hopes to reopen all roads in the park by Fall 2023. The largest two wildfires ever recorded in New Mexico happened this year, totaling over 650,000 acres. The three largest fires in Colorado history happened in 2020. The eight largest fires in the contemporary record in California have burned in the last six years. China broke all-time records this year with drought and heat. It was Europe’s hottest summer ever.

We camped at Quaking Aspen Campground in Giant Sequoia National Monument, just south of the National Park. The National Monument is home to half of the 70 known sequoia groves in the world. They are all on the western slope of the southern Sierra Nevada and they started to burn in 2015.

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SHERRIE TATUM : MEMOIR | The Crying Game and Other Musical Memories

John Aielli created his daily alchemy of connections with the soul of the city for over 40 years.

By Sherrie Tatum | The Rag Blog | September 15, 2022

This is a story I wrote in 2008 as a memoir assignment for a writing class at St. Edwards University. After the sad news of John Aielli’s death at the end of July 2022, I sent it to a few friends and acquaintances who suggested I share it with the larger community of those in mourning for this treasured Austin presence who enriched our lives for over 50 years.

“So close no matter how far
Couldn’t be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
And nothing else matters . . .”

My stomach knotted up as I recognized the slow, beautiful opening guitar chords of one of my son Chris’ favorite Metallica songs. I had once again awoken with the hope that the last two weeks had been a bad dream, but the music reminded me that it was all true and my beloved 16-year-old son was gone. My entire world had changed utterly, never to be the same again, but a few of the old routines provided comfort. One was listening to John Aielli’s program, Eklektikos on KUT radio, but he had never played heavy metal music before. We had played this very song at the funeral and hearing its tender words this morning seemed to convey a message of solace to my wounded heart.

Since the funeral, I had been listening obsessively to all of Chris’ favorite music tapes. Many a night, unable to sleep, driving around, rewinding Fade to Black, I would find comfort and catharsis in the adolescent anguish:

“Life it seems, will fade away
Drifting further every day
Getting lost within myself
Nothing matters no one else
I have lost the will to live
Simply nothing more to give
There is nothing more for me
Need the end to set me free.”

When someone dies you think you will feel sorrow, but mostly all you feel is fear and anger.

“Broken is the promise, betrayal
The healing hand held back by the deepened nail
Follow the god that failed”

Why? What is the purpose of allowing us to feel such fierce love, only to lose it? I was grateful to Metallica for their anger. It was a release. But why was John playing Metallica on his program? I had to find out.

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THE RAG BLOG : BOOKS | Thorne Dreyer’s ‘Making Waves’ and Alice Embree’s ‘Voice Lessons’ chosen for Texas Book Festival

By The Rag Blog / September 8, 2022

Thorne Dreyer and Alice Embree are among a group of almost 300 American authors, many of them nationally known bestselling writers, who were announced at an “author reveal” event on September 7, 2022, by the Texas Book Festival. The authors were chosen to participate in the festival – considered one of the 10 most prestigious in the country — which will take place November 5-6 at and around the Texas Capitol building.

Here is the complete lineup of authors and speakers at the 2022 Texas Book Festival. Some of the featured authors include Janet Evanovich, Gabino Iglesias, Sarah Bird, Douglas Brinkley, Sandra Cisneros, Omar Epps, Sandra Brown, and Angie Cruz.

Thorne Dreyer, author of Making Waves: The Rag Radio Interviews, is the host and producer of the syndicated Rag Radio program that originates on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin and is the editor of The Rag Blog, published since 2006 to a national audience. His book includes interviews with cutting edge thinkers, artists, journalists,musicians, and activists including Dan Rather and his environmentalist daughter Robin, Bernie Sanders, Paul Krassner, Bernardine Dohrn, Tom Hayden, Fugs founder Ed Sanders, and monumental sculptor Bob “Daddy-O” Wade.

Alice Embree, a nationally-known activist for social justice and a frequent guest and co-host on Rag Radio, is the author of the feminist memoir Voice Lessons. Alice’s book was the 2021 co-winner of the Liz Carpenter Award given by the Texas State Historical Association for Best Book on the History of Women.

The books by Dreyer and Embree were published by the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History and distributed by the University of Texas Press. Dreyer’s book can be found here and Embree’s here.

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LAMAR W. HANKINS : CHURCH AND STATE | ‘In reason we trust’

Sen. Hughes posted on Twitter that the national motto ‘asserts our collective trust in a sovereign God.’

By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | May 18, 2022

Senate Bill 797, co-authored by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Harris County) and passed during the 2021 regular legislative session, says that school districts that receive a donation of a “durable poster or framed copy of the United States national motto ‘In God We Trust’ ” must display it in a “conspicuous place in each building or institution.”  Sen. Hughes posted on Twitter that the national motto “asserts our collective trust in a sovereign God.”

How much better would our public schools be if they followed the above title as a motto–”In reason we trust”–rather than the one promoted by the Legislature for our schools during the last legislative session?  Indeed, how much better would the Legislature itself be if it allowed reason to guide its actions?

Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to his nephew Peter Carr in 1787 that we should “Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”  Too many of our politicians have chosen piousness over reason to promote their own candidacies, which is a blasphemy of sorts to many religious people, save for many Evangelicals, who want to establish a theocracy in place of democracy.

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BILL OAKEY : ENVIRONMENT | Austin Energy’s rate case debacle: A stunning management failure

By Bill Oakey | The Rag Blog | August 12, 2022

This article first appeared in Austin Affordability and was cross-posted to The Rag Blog. It applies especially to the citizens of Austin but it might just strike home wherever you live.

Listen to Bill Oakey and Roger Baker discuss these and related issues Friday, August 12, 2-3 p.m. CDT, on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin or stream it on Just click the “Listen Live” link at the upper left.

Austin’s values turned upside down

A fiction writer couldn’t make this stuff up. Austin Energy wants to raise rates because you and I and our neighbors have become too energy efficient. Their plan would multiply the fixed monthly customer charge by 2 1/2 times, from $10 to $25. Why? Because “the current rate design is not as efficient as the customers, causing the revenue to be unable to keep up with costs.” That’s what Austin Energy’s vice-president of finance, Rusty Maenius, told the Community Impact newspaper last month.

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Larry Piltz : VERSE | my god is godzilla

GODZILLA – 3. umezy12. @Roppongi / Flickr / Creative Commons.

my god is godzilla

my god is godzilla
he too is a killa
gets some kind of thrilla
and makes a big dilla
of the whole magilla
by getting his filla
keeping it rilla
like an Attila
or rabid gorilla
calls it god’s willa
from up in his villa
though I think it’s real silla
for some Jack or some Jilla
to die on that hilla
to swallow that pilla
for someone’s godzilla
are we doing that stilla
if you don’t stop who willa
is your god a godzilla
who sends you the billa?
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