Some Alternative Press History

Text of Talk for Panel on the Alternative Press at ALA 2003 Toronto
By Chuck D'Adamo
Alternative Press Center

In 1969, the Alternative Press Center was originally founded as the Radical Research Center at Carleton College in Minnesota. Carleton College never really supported the Center institutionally so the Collective, then including Kathy Martin and Art Jacobs, later joined by Marty Scheel, moved the Center to Rochdale College in Toronto in October 1971. It was renamed the Alternative Press Center. There the collective found inexpensive office space on the 6th floor and living space on the 13th floor. Rochdale College, as some in the room may remember, was an attempt to develop a "free university" space and a collective living experiment. The Canadian government funded the project, something we would rarely see in the United States.

In the summer of 1974, a new collective, Peggy D'Adamo, Michael Burns, and myself, began the move from Baltimore to Toronto to publish the Alternative Press Index. We applied for "landed immigrant" status and two of us worked from Rochdale College for a period of time. A serious problem developed which was that Rochdale's residents were involved in a struggle with Toronto's "city fathers" over the space. Rochdale was losing the struggle so the APC collective decided to move to Baltimore.

If you walk by 341 Bloor Street, you can see the 18-story building that was once Rochdale College. Now it is the Senator David A. Croll Apartments, a senior housing project under private-public management, I believe. As I remember, the City considered Rochdale a haven for drug users and US draft-dodgers. However, Rochdale's founders included among its members Dennis Lee, the poet laurette of Ontario who, I imagine, must not have been strung out on drugs in the Rochdale days, but doing some creative writing. His book "Aligator Pie" is one of the top 100 books of Canada.

Now this story is one of many social movement stories connected to the 1960s anti-war, student, and, potentially anti-systemic movements. And there is a link between this piece of social movement history and alternative press history from which I'll try to relate to other examples. The basic, and obvious idea, is that the history of the alternative press is directly related to the history of social movements.

Please note that I am not Paul Buhle, who would have had more learned things to say on this subject.

A democratic society is impossible unless citizens are engaged in active discussion of public policy. Such discussion requires controversy between well-informed citizens.

At least since the French Revolutions of 1789 and 1848, class-based groups, ethnic groups, and social movements of all kinds have had their own newspapers and magazines. Even in the depoliticized United States, there have been times when the numbers of social movement publications were extensive. In 1912, there were 323 socialist newspapers or magazines, many published in foreign languages. And by the end of World War II there were about 200 African-American newspapers. Most constituency-based periodicals were partisan and controversial, working for democratic social, political and economic change.

While mainstream newspapers and magazines often publish articles which help citizens to intervene in the political process, it is usually the independent, critical periodicals which generate the innovative reporting important for progressive political intervention. "Project Censored" and the "Alternative Press Index" are documentary sources here.

Many editors of the alternative press take it as their mission to move readers beyond information to action. Indeed, the independent, "alternative" press has been organically connected to social movements. Publications rise, fall or subsist in circumstances that parallel the movements they represent. Such periodicals serve as forums for debating strategic approaches, for finding common cause among seemingly disparate, often geographically diffuse, constituencies, and, in hard times, for critique (1).

More examples in US history:

*In 1862, writing in the "Douglass Monthly," Frederick Douglass argued that slavery had become an obstacle to preserving Union, helping to persuade Abraham Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.

*Ida Tarbell and other muckraking journalists exposed the nastiness of American capitalism in the pages of "Colliers" and other magazines, helping to facilitate the passage of some of the Progressive era's important regulatory reforms.

*Writing in "The Revolution" in the 19th century, Susan B. Anthony developed a critique of gender discrimination that catalyzed the movement for universal suffrage.

*Second-wave feminists writing in "Feminist Studies," "Off Our Backs," and "Women: a Journal of Liberation" expanded feminist analysis to include violence against women, the poverty of single-mothers, sexual harassment, and, more generally, the politics of the personal.

*From the 1950s through the early 1970s, criticism in the pages of the "IF Stone Bi-Weekly," "Monthly Review," "The Guardian," "Latin American Perspectives," "NACLA," "The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists," "The Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars," and other periodicals informed the social movements which worked to change US policy on nuclear weapons, Vietnam, and Latin America.

Throughout the twentieth century, oppositional and minority movements, including workers, welfare mothers, people of color, gays and lesbians, and disabled persons have used the alternative press to develop the vision and power their struggles have required. From "The Nation", founded in 1865, to "The Progressive" (1909), to "Science & Society" (1936), to "Monthly Review" (1949), to "The Black Scholar" (1969), to "In These Times" (1976), to "Z Magazine" (1988), to "Counterpunch" (1993), to the Independent Media Centers of the new century, the independent critical, press reports the news, analyzes the social relations, and nurtures the oppositional movements whose interests are in direct conflict with those of the liberal capitalist oligarchy.


The Radical Research Center, later the Alternative Press Center, was founded in 1969 "to increase awareness of the so-called underground, or critical, press in the United States." Its original--and continuing--project, the "Alternative Press Index", originally appeared with the subtitle, "An Index to the Publications, which amplify the Cry for Social Change and Social Justice." In 1969, the range of the voices making this "Cry" was becoming increasingly diverse. Consider a few of the 1960s events that the APC began to document through the Index:

*The murder of Fred Hampton and the intense pursuit of other Black Panther leaders by the FBI and other government agencies *The Trial of the Chicago Eight

*The publication of "The Bitch Manifesto, "The Red Stockings Manifesto" and other events catalyzing the increased radicalism of many feminists

*The disintegration of Students for A Democratic Society

*The introduction to US readers of the works of Western Marxists, such as Herbert Marcuse

*The increasing determination of the antiwar movement in the face of the Nixon administration's commitment to pursue and intensify attempts to destroy the National Liberation Front in Vietnam.

Only a handful of stable independent left periodicals, all with limited circulation, including "The Guardian", "I.F.Stone's Bi-Weekly", "Monthly Review", "Liberation", "The Nation", "New Politics", and "The Progressive", were documenting these events and analyzing them from a left perspective during most of the 1960s. But, by 1969, the world of alternative periodicals was expanding. The APC undertook the project of making the range of these reports and critiques accessible to students, scholars, journalists, and other researchers.

In 1969, the "Alternative Press Index" began indexing 72 periodicals. Only 20 of those titles indexed from 1969-71 are still publishing today. However, the Index now covers 300 titles and, since its founding, the API has indexed more than 900 titles. Over the past three decades the APC's collective has tried to follow people active on the left, whether they have settled into academia, community organizing, or single issue advocacy, and to document the publications they are writing and reading. Coverage, thus, has always been wide-ranging, including from the inception of its indexing project titles as diverse as the North American Congress on Latin America's "NACLA Report", initially a newsletter, the academic "Review of Radical Political Economics", and Toronto's, "This Magazine", originally titled "This Magazine is about Schools", now "This: Because Everything is about Politics". Theoretical perspectives surveyed include feminism, Marxism, critical theory, structuralism, poststructuralism, critical race theory and queer theory. API titles have documented dozens of political and social movements, including the efforts of women, people of color, rank & file workers, environmentalists, anti-apartheid student groups and Latin American solidarity supporters.

Almost all the radical weeklies and bi-weeklies of the 60s and 70s are gone--Atlanta's "Great Speckled Bird", the "Ann Arbor Sun", the "Portland Scribe", New Orleans's "Nola Express", the "Berkeley Barb", New York's "The Guardian" and its negation, the "Liberated Guardian", the "DC Gazette". (A few remain such as Vancouver's "Georgia Straights" and Detroit's "Fifth Estate", though the latter now only publishes quarterly). This partly relates to the waning of the 1960s movements and the lack of development of institution-building skills, but also to the decision of the Underground

Press Syndicate to be open to advertising in member newspapers, changing its name at the same time to the Alternative Press Syndicate. "New Times" from Arizona surely benefited from this changed policy as it eventually bought out other alternative weeklies from various cities. Its publisher, Mike Lacey, has justified this by arguing that because of this "New Times" has been able to develop resources for investigative journalism (2). I don't know. Maybe the jury's still out on this.

However, the analytical journals continued to publish and the work of their writers has likely influenced a new generation coming of age in the 1990s and the new century. From the radical caucuses in the academia sprang "Critical Asian Studies" (formerly the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars), "Critical Sociology" (formerly Insurgent Sociologist), "Feminist Studies", "New Political Science", "Radical History Review", "Radical Philosophy Review", "Review" of the Fernand Braudel Center, "Review of Radical Political Economics", and others. Of course, the general journals of the New Left continued but with changes--"Arena Journal" from Australia, "Capital & Class" from Britain, "Le Monde Diplomatique" from France, "Monthly Review" from the US, "New Left Review" from Britain, "Socialist Register" from Britain, "Studies in Political Economy" from Canada. While 1960s activists tended to refer their critique to "The System" or "Advanced Industrial Society", relying as they did on maverick scholars who wrote under the pressure of the conservative 1950s, activists in today's alternative globalization movement, many "social anarchists" of varying tendencies, simply say "It's capitalism, stupid."

Two media organizations with which the APC has affinity are Project Censored and the Independent Press Association.


Project Censored was founded in 1976 with the purpose to advocate and work to protect First Amendment rights and freedom of information in the United States. It essentially serves as a national ombudsman by identifying and researching important news stories that are underreported or censored by the mainstream media. The Top 25 Censored Stories and their media guide are key resources for activists. Typically, 80% of the stories that win the awards are from the periodicals that the API covers.


In March 1996, a group of independent, progressive, magazine editors, reporters and publishers gathered at the Media and Democracy Congress in San Francisco to discuss the challenges they had in common. Within a few hours of meetings, their shared need for technical assistance, advocacy and fundraising resources moved them to found an organization to work in their interest. The resulting Independent Press Association (IPA) had its inaugural board meeting in August 1996 and, with the help of a few broadminded foundations, hired staff and began operations in September.

Board members have represented a wide range of alternative titles, including "Extra!," "Mother Jones," "Social Policy," "In These Times," "City Limits," "Third Force," now "ColorLines," "Teen Voices," and "Curve". Seeking to make the organization both inclusive and responsive to all publications with a social change vision, the IPA board developed a mission statement dedicating the IPA "to promote and support independent periodicals committed to social justice and a free press" by providing "technical assistance to its member publications" and by acting as "a vigorous public advocate of the independent press."

Publications that share IPA's mission can join the organization for an annual membership fee depending on circulation. Direct services include a members-only listserv, free technical assistance manuals, a quarterly newsletter the "Ink Reader", various discounts, and access to a variety of specialized services. The IPA staff operates a Revolving Loan Fund to help members with direct mail marketing, a bookstore magazine distribution service called Big Top, an ethnic press project in New York City, and offers ad hoc technical assistance in a wide range of areas. In addition, the IPA began in 1999 to display member publications, sometimes in collaboration with the Alternative Press Center, sometimes with "Counterpoise," at American Library Association conventions.


The first Independent Media Center was founded to cover the Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization in November and December 1999. This first IMC created an environment for independent media makers of all types (audio, video, print, Internet) to work together covering the protests in a democratic and collaborative manner. It took three months for the Seattle IMC to get organized to provide grassroots coverage of the Battle of Seattle. It turns out that this was the beginning of a global independent media movement which focuses on reporting on the world-wide struggle against neoliberal capitalism and a range of local issues. There are now over 100 IMCs around the world. I happen to be involved with Baltimore Indymedia. Besides local coverage, we've written on the activities in the streets at national protests in Washington DC and New York City. Baltimore IMC also collaborates with APC staff providing a small, but growing, database of links to articles of the independent, critical press. Most members of our group are activists with social movement experience, and this is true of other IMCs.

In a sense, the current Indymedia movement is like the radical weeklies of the 1960s and 70s. Both are or were urban-based. Both have or had high levels of activist involvement. Both report or reported the advocacy of radical social change. Both express or expressed a commitment to independence and free speech. The IMCs, being Internet-based, are less costly. However, even in the IMC network there's recognition of the crucial value of print periodicals. The New York IMC's "The Indypendent" has recently moved to twice monthly publication and aspires to a weekly publication schedule.

Now the "global" parallel I am making between the 1960s radical weeklies and the 2000s IMCs is one which notes the social movement-alternative media connection; broad-based left libertarian politics connecting with a similar media movement.

It is also interesting to note how independent media changes over time within a single periodical's history and how this changing connects to changing social movement activity.

Thus, there is a thread from "Studies on the Left", the 1950s origin New Left journal influenced by C.Wright Mills and William Appleman Williams, intellectuals who challenged mainstream sociology and history to the 1960s origin "Socialist Revolution" where we see the influence of revolutionary Marxists like Hebert Marcuse and Antonio Gramsci--SR published the first version of Carl Boggs's studies of "Gramsci's Marxism", a text well used by cadre of the 1970s New American Movement--to the 1980s "Socialist Review" responding to the success of right wing Reaganism with a slide back to social democracy and a slippage into the politics of identity in the 1990s to the latest version "Radical Society" which attempts to bring strategic thinking and left intellectualism to contemporary global justice concerns. To quote from the journal, "Our inspirations are both old and new--from "The Masses" and Emma Goldman's "Mother Earth" to the Harlem Renaissance and the Paris Commune, from the end of the cold war to the beginnings of a new global justice movement."

There are at least two other threads from "Studies on the Left" expressive of various trends in the social movements:

One is from "Studies on the Left" to "Socialist Revolution" to "In These Times". The defining thread here is James Weinstein's project to develop a strategy similiar to the old Socialist Party, but in a new context. Weinstein's recent book, "The Long Detour: the History and Future of the American Left," tries to make his case systematically, I assume as I've yet to read his book.

Another is from "Studies on the Left" to "Socialist Revolution" to "Kapitalistate" to "Capitalism Nature Socialism". The defining thread here is James O'Connor's attempt to develop a neo-Marxist understanding of the capitalist state with strategic intent. The first version of O'Connor's "Fiscal Crisis of the State" appeared in "Socialist Revolution". He then helped to organize an international group of thinkers around "Kapitalistate" to explore state theory and socialist strategy. Later O'Connor argued that capital's destructive relationship with nature constitutes a "second contradiction of capitalism", the first, of course, that of capital and labor. Thus, "Capitalism Nature Socialism" focuses on case studies of the environmental movement as well as theoretical work providing analysis valuable for an eco-socialist project.

Similar shifting threads of influence can be seen with the independent Left periodicals "Socialisme ou Barbarie" in France, "New Left Review" in Britain, and "Arena" in Australia.

Taking the case of "Socialisme ou Barbarie" we see a development to "Informations et Correspondance Ouvriere" to "Echanges: Bulletin du Reseau Echanges et Mouvement" and the related U.S. periodical "Collective Action Notes." The thread here is that of the council communism of original "Socialisme ou Barbarie" collective member Henri Simon.

And there is the development from "Socialisme ou Barbarie" to "Textures" (France) to "Thesis Eleven" (Australia) to "Democracy & Nature" (Greece/USA). The thread here is that of Cornelius Castoriadis's critique of Marxism and attempt to develop theoretical basis for a libertarian socialist alternative, which he later described as "autonomous society," defined as "self-management of production" and directly democratic "self-government."

I understand that this panel was to address the past, present, and future of alternative materials in libraries. Well, many states in the US are experiencing budget crises. We are losing some subscriptions to the Alternative Press Index as a result. And I expect some small circulation alternative magazines are being cut as well. Thinking of the connection between the alternative press and social activism, it seems to me that the role of those librarians who are advocates of the independent, critical press is dual. One role is to fight as a professional worker to maintain and expand library collections of alternative/independent press; the other is to fight with other groups effected by budget cuts as activists to move forward a left libertarian agenda. Thus, librarians must not only be professionals, they must also be activists working in the social movements.

1. Parts of this text draw on "The Independent Critical Press and Democratic Tradition" by Beth Schulman and Charles D'Adamo published as the Introduction to "Annotations: A Guide to the Independent Critical Press."
2. Response of Mike Lacey to questions on a panel at the Second Media and Democracy Congress in New York City.

Selected Bibliography:
Alternative Press Index, 1969-present. Alternative Press Center.
Buhle, Mari Jo, Paul Buhle, Dan Georgakas (editors). Encyclopedia of the

American Left. University of Illinois Press, 1990.
Jones, Marie F. (general editor). Annotations: A Guide to the Independent Critical Press. Alternative Press Center and Independent Press Association, 1999.
Lewis, Roger. Outlaws of America, the Underground Press and Its Context. Peligan, 1972.
Peck, Abe. Uncovering the Sixties: the Life & Times of the Underground Press. Pantheon, 1985.
Phillips, Peter & Project Censored. Censored: The Top 25 Censored Stories. Seven Stories Press, annually.
Samek, Toni. Intellectual Freedom & Social Responsibility in American Librarianship, 1967-1974. McFarland, 2001.

Selected Entries from the "Encyclopedia of the American Left":
"Appeal to Reason" pp51-52
"Black Panther Party" pp96-98
"Daily Worker" pp178-82
"Dissent" p195
"Freedomways" pp244-45
"In These Times" pp350-51
"International Socialist Review" pp374-75
"Liberation News Service" pp422-24
"The Masses" pp452-54
"Month Review" pp483-85
"Mother Earth" p492
"National Guardian and Guardian" pp502-04
"New International/New Politics" p516
"New Left" pp516-23
"New Masses" pp526-27
"North American Congress on Latin America" p538
"Partisan Review" pp556-58
"Peoples World" pp573-74
"Progressive" pp596-99
"Radical Economics" pp621-23
"Radical Professional & Academic Journals" pp636-38
"Ramparts Magazine" pp639-40
"Science & Society" pp679-80
"Socialism and Feminism" pp707-11
"Southern Exposure" p737
"Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee" pp755-57
"Students for a Democratic Society" pp757-58
"Stone, I.F. (1907-1989)" p 751
"Studies on the Left" pp758-59
"Underground Press" pp791-93
"Women: a Journal of Liberation" pp831-32
"Women's Studies" pp842-44