By Delores Hanney
Singing with the promise of passion, these five simple words composed the opening sentence of the Free Venice Beachhead’s inaugural issue, of which 10,000 copies were let loose upon the realm on December 1, 1968. It was the golden age of the “underground” press, those years of love-ins, groovy music, psychedelics and flower power, of peace marches, draft dodgers, student uprisings and Democratic National Convention snarling; when fevered activists so raucously made their anti-establishment sentiments public.
And doing so changed everything!
The Berkeley Barb (1965-1980) may have been the earliest, the loudest and indubitably the most prominent, but no other counterculture rag – mainstream press either, come to that – could brag of such a strong poet’s contingent as the Beachhead; not to imply that a vigorous dissident factor wasn’t fully engaged. Nor was any other alternative press cooked up on a completely volunteer basis as the Beachhead was and is, governed by a fluid “collective” staff of equalitarians.
The first four-page issue commenced pretty gently: defining its purpose, “to create community;” inviting participation, “the next poem you read may be your own;” recounting, briefly, the beginning of Venice-of-America. Thus warmed up, it made good on its claim of an establishment-challenging persuasion with articles about police harassment, opposition to a Master Plan that took no account of whom the planning was for and cheerleading for secession from Los Angeles. Binding it together – like duct tape – was a scattering of local ads with downscale, wild-child panache.
Steve Clare climbed aboard the Beachhead brigade with the second issue. Additional high profile concerns, during his three-year tenure, were (of course) the Vietnam War and rallying support for the objectives of the Peace and Freedom Party.
Community organizing under the banner of “Free Venice” – an aim not necessarily synonymous with advocating succession – the Beachhead successfully promoted into existence the Free Venice Food Co-op, and the Venice Survival Committee, to provide people with information about their rights. Backing “Save the Canals” activities brought about a restoration on East canal that became a community center, embellished with a terraced bank of cheery flowers, housing a community switchboard and a communal vegetable garden.
During this era, Clare recollects, the Beachhead partnered with Echo Park’s, Common Ground, to have their separate publications printed as one – since it was cheaper that way – taking bimonthly turns to de-mingle the amalgamation for distribution. For this task or to review submissions – with a bias towards showcasing the community’s creativity and diversity – or to lay out the next issue, collective members gathered at the Peace and Freedom office in front of artist Earl Neuman’s studio. In 1970, the legal aid office became their meeting spot, thanks to a new connection with its director, Marge Buckley. After duties were dispatched, they repaired to the Saucy Dog on Pacific for a bit of collectivee bonding.
With a stint at The Great Speckled Bird – the alternative newspaper out of Atlanta – already a mark of merit upon his curriculum vitae, Larry Sullivan moseyed into town to join up with the Beachhead, an affiliation running through the 1980s. Development was a major concern during this period, especially the threatened development of the Ballona Wetlands, the critical rest stop for migrating birds that may have traveled hundreds of miles before dropping in for a snack and a snooze.
He remembers many successful Beachhead fundraising events, often organized in cahoots with kindred groups like the VOP Food Co-op, or the Venice Community Housing Corporation. But perhaps mostmemorable, ironically, was the dance party at The Church of Ocean Park, one Valentine’s Day, when just four folks showed up due to a rain storm of record-making proportions.
In his self-appointed role as institutional memory keeper, Sullivan has arranged for the archiving of his collection of 20 years worth of the Beachhead, along with a bunch of years of The Great Speckled Bird, within the non-civil rights portion of the progressive archives at Georgia State University.
Today, idealism leaking from practically every syllable, between 8,000-10,000 copies are printed each month, depending on the budget, to be dispensed by subscription and at approximately 125 pick-up points around Venice. Confronting issues such as the threat to the WPA-built post office or the attempt by the City of Los Angeles to impose a midnight curfew on the beach and Ocean Front Walk, the Beachhead still radiates sass and righteous anger. Its tone remains urgent. Poets and poetry and passion retain their positions of eminence.
By Delores Hanney