HIPPIE DEFENDS SELF: The July 1967 trial of David Simpson of the Diggers

For one week in July 1967, the San Francisco Chronicle gave continuing day-by-day  coverage to something novel: a surprisingly eloquent and good-looking local hippie — David Simpson, a Digger — somehow able to competently defend himself in court, before a jury, against public nuisance charges…

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July 18, 1967 San Francisco Chronicle

 

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July 19, 1967 San Francisco Chronicle
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July 20, 1967 San Francisco Chronicle
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July 21, 1967 San Francisco Chronicle

 

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July 22, 1967 San Francisco Chronicle
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July 27, 1967 San Francisco Chronicle
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Aug. 3, 1967 San Francisco Chronicle

 

“Diggers Just Don’t Dig Money” (UPI, March 20, 1967)

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Diggers Just Don’t Dig Money

Desert Sun, Volume 40, Number 195, 20 March 1967

SAN FRANCISCO (UPI)-A man touches a match to a $10 bill and watches it burn with no regrets.

“We don’t always burn money,” he says. “Sometimes we eat it.”

He is a Digger, a special breed of the Hip crowd dedicated to the proposition that money is an unnecessary evil.

The Diggers also frown on working at conventional jobs, which they consider to be a bore and dehumanizing. Their home is that area of San Francisco known as Haight-Ashbury and populated by thousands of Hippies whose tastes run to weird dress, LSD and marijuana.

“Not wanting money—wanting to be poor—and giving everything away blows everybody’s mind,” explains a Digger.

The giving takes the form of free hot meals served daily to all comers in Golden Gate Park, edging on the city’s fast-changing Haight-Ashbury district, which seems to have become the Hippies’ national capital.

If you don’t have a place to stay, the Diggers will take you to mattresses scattered on floors of their low-rent flats in the district’s Victorian homes.

The Diggers, who materialized after the San Francisco race riots, are predicting the Haight-Ashbury will be overwhelmed this summer by up to 50,000 jobless sympathizers.

Their expectation stems from the district’s growing fame, enough to attract sight-seeing buses and cause hopeless traffic jams.

And so the Diggers are spreading the message that the newcomers will need to be cared for—by the Hippies.

The task is not easy for such a loosely organized group as the Diggers, named after 17th century English farmers who tilled wastelands and gave away their surplus.

Actually, the present-day Diggers accept some money gifts, but only in small amounts and to meet an immediate need. Then, they say, it always comes.

Food and clothing is obtained by begging, which the Diggers hold to be an ancient and honorable endeavor.

Their fruit and vegetables are leftovers gathered in the produce market. Bread and meat is panhandled from various stores.

Use of an 80-acre farm has been acquired in the Sierra Nevada, and some “victory gardens” are being cultivated in the city.

From these sources, supplies come for several hundred free meals a day. At San Francisco’s recent “Human “Be-In,” a Hippie happening which attracted 15,000, Diggers passed out 5,000 free sandwiches.

The Diggers live in crowded communal flats crowded with unequal numbers of boys and girls, mainly aged under 25. All things are shared, including sexual favors. Their dress is as bizarre as other Hippies’—girl-length hair and beards on men, earrings and boots on women, and odd garments of the 19th century. The attire declares the wearer’s rejection of the whole “straight” world.

“Our principal goal is to show people how to live together,” says a one-time Hell’s Angel and reformed robber. “The atmosphere of peace is the first thing that hits people when they come to the Haight-Ashbury. It’s a psychedelic trip.”

The speaker thinks his experimenting with LSD has done him more good “than 10 psychiatrists.”

To all this, San Francisco’s established community has mixed reactions, mostly unfriendly. Some church leaders are envious of the Diggers’ good works, and ladies in Texas have mailed them marmalade.

But most police regard the Diggers as just another aspect of the exasperating Hippie problem. They are frustrated by their inability to do much to stop the near-universal use by Hippies of LSD and marijuana.

“The hippies are pushing the colored people of the district,’ says police Lt. John Dolan. “The colored people have no hostility, but they figure the Hippies are trash.”

To discourage a summer population explosion, Dolan’s men are systematically arresting youths who sleep under the stars in the 1,017-acre Golden Gate Park.

When police complain about crowds plugging sidewalk traffic, Diggers quietly offer suggestions as, “Your officers could utter simple mantra (Buddhist) prayers, which we will teach you and which we will respect.”

Or, “Let’s close down Haight Street on Sundays to cars. We’ll run a shuttle bus—free.”

And then, there’s the proposal to change the name of Haight, pronounced “hate,” to Love Street.

Another kind of reaction to Hippies comes from “the drinking editor” of Sunday Ramparts newspaper here. Addicts of his favorite poison, he thinks, should be shamed into action similar to the Diggers’.

So he proposed that his fellow tipplers offer free booze in the Haight-Ashbury to Hippies—who steadfastly shun alcohol, their parents’ favorite relaxer.

And all is not totally relaxed between Diggers and some other Hippies. Some Diggers, for example, have criticized the volunteer Hippie Job Agency and 25 or so youths who operate Hippie stores.

The merchants, it is argued, should contribute their profits— garnered from conventional shoppers—to help feed and house the expected summer influx. The store operators reply they aren’t making that much.

But the Diggers, who probably number 400, don’t speak as a group. Their meetings invite everybody “who thinks like a Digger.”

They also have no formal leadership. Each Digger becomes a leader when he gets others to undertake some project, such as sweeping Haight Street or setting up a shelter for run-away teeny hoppers.

The two most influential Diggers, Emmett Grogan and Arthur Lisch, both artists, keep tight-mouthed about themselves and their part . Most Diggers, preferring anonymity, use only nicknames.

Their operations are but one of the Hippies’ organized activities. Others include the Artists Liberation Front which provides free public entertainment, the Avalon and Fillmore Ballrooms where rock bands and whirling light patterns draw thousands, an effort to set up a Happening House where college professors may conduct discussion groups, and the Sexual Freedom League which holds classes—and demonstrations—in the arts of seduction and sexual intercourse.

Yet San Francisco’s “love generation” is best typified by the Diggers. And it is the Diggers who are sending missionaries to other cities, notably Los Angeles and New York.

The missionaries are capitalizing on the message preceding them in the Hippies’ irreverent buttons, mod clothing, unique poster art, hair styles and music.

“The Beatles are saying it all,” says a Digger. “We’ve got all the weapons on our side.”

What they are saying is that present institutions— helpless in halting war or solving any major problem—are ridiculous.

In such a crazy world, political protest is seen as absurd, and Diggers deadpan that their hero is George Metesky, the Mad Bomber of New York, who carried “protest to an absurdity.”

Better than to hold demonstrations, Diggers say, is “to live your protest” by devising new standards of individual conduct and new kinds of social organizations—for the entire world.

“Poetry Bust: Police Crush Diggers’ Read-In at City Hall”/”Poetry and Outrage: Hippies Make Faces at City Hall” (May 1968)

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San Francisco Chronicle: May 8, 1968

Police Crush Diggers’ Read-In at City Hall

by Jerry Burns

A month of peaceful noontime poetry readings on the steps of City Hall ended abruptly yesterday with the arrest of five persons on charges ranging from uttering an obscenity to wearing a mask in public.

The arrests came as hundreds of city employees and passers-by stood waiting for a clash between the 25 assembled police officers and the 20 to 30 assembled Diggers.

Before the arrests began, however, the attorney for the Diggers and several of their leaders all in regulation Haight-Ashbury clothing held a scheduled press conference on the stairs.

Their press conference had been called for noon, but was delayed for 20 minutes while a group of pretty girls in bunny-type costumes and Police Chief Thomas J. Cahill in his full police uniform posed for pictures to publicize a Guardsmen charity event.

POLITELY

The Diggers press conference began politely after the chief left, but in his place where four or five squad cars and two paddy wagons.

Terence Hallinan, attorney for the group, charged that meetings between the Diggers and Michael McCone of the mayor’s office had produced no results.

“We want to help the mayor make this a better city,” said Hallinan. “The mayor says he wants to help everyone do his thing, but we’ve had no real response to any of our proposals.”

Instead, he added, since talks with McCone started, police have told produce markets not to supply the Diggers with free fruit and vegetable anymore and have ordered the noon poetry readers off the Polk Street stairs of City Hall.

“I’m amazed,” said Hallinan. “We’re not asking for something we’re not entitled to. My clients are talented people who offer to do things for the city for free.”

The five-point program offered by the Diggers asks that they be allowed to restore empty city-owned buildings, in redevelopment areas, for people to live rent-free, that surplus food be distributed through ten neighborhood free stores, that presses and trucks be made available for dissemination of “free news,” that neighborhoods be provided with resources for celebrations of “the city, the planet and their own free beings,” and that permits no longer be needed for using parks and other public spaces.

The apparent leader of the Diggers — a young man identifying himself as Peter or “William Bonney” — said that San Francisco can “burn, or turn into a model for the rest of the cities to follow, with radical alternatives to riots and all those corny numbers.”

POEM

With the press conference over, another member of the Diggers climbed atop the granite side of the stairs and began to read a poem on America.

He was wearing a shirt either made out of an American flag or from a print resembling a flag.

In either event, police moved in and took him off the stairs. He was put under arrest for Section 614D of the Military and Veterans Code, which makes it a crime to “publicly mutilate, deface, defile or trample” the flag.

Also arrested, a moment later, was another young man who shouted a four-letter word — meaning, to make love. He was charged with profanity.

WATCHING

Police and the remaining Diggers then stood around, watching each other. Hundreds of others, many on late lunch hours or early coffee breaks, watched the watchers.

Then Municipal Court Judge Albert Axelrod wandered up to a Digger wearing a colorful red bandana as a mask and asked him why.

“I have a right to conceal my identity,” the young man replied. (Earlier he told reporters: “I wear a mask so I can intellectualize my fantasy, which is to be free.”)

Axelrod told the man he didn’t have that right and cited Section 650a of the Penal Code, which says it is a crime for any person “to appear on any street or highway or in other public places…with his face partially or completely concealed by means of a mask or other regalia or paraphernalia, with intent to conceal his identity.”

EXCEPTIONS

(The law exempts persons wearing masks “in good faith for the purposes of amusement, entertainment or in compliance with any public health order.”)

The young man attempted to walk away from Judge Axelrod, but was grabbed by police. He struggled briefly and was wrestled into a second paddy wagon.

Another Digger, with close-cropped hair on the top of his head, a pig-tail and a robe-like garment, grabbed his masked friend around the legs and he, too, was put in the police van.

The final person arrested was a young lady. It was not immediately certain what the charge against her was.

CROWD

After the fifth arrest, police continued to stand around for 15 or 20 minutes. Then they left and the crowd broke up and went back to their desks.

Many of the same young men and women have been entertaining — and often infuriating — lunch crowds on the City Hall steps with their poems and music.

They have also handed out free food. Yesterday, it was apples, but on other days it has included oranges and even strawberries.

Until Monday, police had not bothered them. Most of the listeners had appeared to enjoy the poems of anti-middle-class outrage and the young Digger girls with an aversion to underclothing.

By coincidence, Monday’s first roust came at a time the mayor was out of the city.

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May 9, 1968 San Francisco Chronicle

 

“The liberals talk about it. We do it.” (Jan. 23, 1967)

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Collage of photos by Chuck Gould of the interior of one of the Diggers’ Free Stores in the Haight, circa 1967, possibly the one mentioned in this column.

Excerpted from “A Free Frame of Reference,” Ralph J. Gleason‘s “On the Town” column for the January 23, 1967 San Francisco Chronicle. The unnamed Digger spokesperson quoted at length is probably Emmett Grogan.

Two guitar cases stood against the wall of the front room at 520 Frederick street, headquarters of the Diggers. A thin young man in a blue peajacket sat on the floor in the corner softly strumming another guitar.

In the store-front window a TV set sans case, screen to the street, its naked electronics towards the room. Several youths squatted and lay in the window watching it from the inside while a handful stood on the street and looked at it from the out outside. In the back room, a rock ‘n roll station came through low but clear on a radio and in a corner, near two men munching from loaves of bread and sipping soup, another man played a recorder.

The Diggers, the monks of Haight-Ashbury, were getting ready for a meeting. Actually, it was billed as a meeting “for everyone who thinks he’s a Digger,” since looseness is the essence of the Digger group.

The Diggers (the name comes from the group who, in early Cromwellian England, took over the fields and till them, giving surplus food away) have been in existence since the week of the San Francisco Riots. Every day they give away food in the Panhandle at Oak and Ashbury. “Take it, it’s yours,” they say and they feed any and all who show.

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It’s 4pm. The Diggers are giving out food in the Panhandle. Photo by Jim Marshall.

Starting from that (the Diggers were born when the Ashbury merchants put signs in their window on the riot weekend telling everyone to get off the streets and go home), the Diggers have expanded into the 520 Frederick clubhouse, a garage and a multitude of plans.

“The Diggers represent the gap between radical political thought and psychedelia,” a spokesman said (“Don’t print my name. Sometimes I speak for the Diggers, sometimes others do.”) “We just live the culture of poverty.

“We just do it. If we need more food, we get it. We’re getting a bus, we’ll run it as a free bus on Haight Street. We’re going to get sewing machines, six of them, in the basement so the girls can make clothes. HOW we do it, that’s where the magic comes in.

“This place, this ‘Free Frame of Reference,’ is for you,” he said to a group who had just come in.”Do what you want in this room. Paint, play music, put your photographs on the wall. Do your thing. But when you leave at night, it goes with you. This room is changed every day.

“And keep it clean,” he added. “The bum syndrome is over. I’m not a bum. You’re not a bum. That went with Keroauc. We have cooks in the kitchen from 9 to 9. If cooking’s your thing, ok, but don’t hassle the cook. We’re starting classes in dance, in music theory, in juggling here. We’ll have poetry readings, too. Ginsberg was just here for three hours chanting. If we need more food, we’ll get more food.

“We believe in the power of autonomy,” he said to me. “The power of standing on the street corner just because you want to.

“The liberals talk about it. We do it. You have to get totally out of the system. We see the futility of either entering or protesting the system.

“When the warm weather comes, we’ll live in the Park. Like Indians. We’ll have rock bands in the Panhandle at night and the Avalon and the Fillmore Ballrooms will have to come out here. Art is free. Let’s keep art free…let’s MAKE art free!”

In the corner a young man with a guitar case looked up. “I came here from New York because I heard of the Diggers,” he said. “I’ve been here four days. What do I do?”

“Come around tomorrow morning and help us put in the new stove,” someone said.

Where do they come from? All over. Where do they get their food? People donate it, like the woman from Texas who sent five jars of marmalade “for the Diggers.”

“We’re at the Panhandle at 4 every day. Come on by,” the Digger spokesman said, “and eat. It’s yours.”

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