By Carol Fondiller
This is a re-print from the April 1978 100th edition
The Free Venice Beachhead. My funny Valentine. Your columns not so straight. Shaky grammar. Earnest, pompous, sincere, mistaken, precise, and homey.
One hundred issues. Who’d uv thunk it! Who’d’ve thought that The Free Venice Beachhead would be cherished and needed enough by the community to survive all the staff changes, world events, fashions, to still be put out, month after month. This December will be the 10th year of the publication of The Free Venice Beachhead.
Let me see now, 1968. The Pacific Ocean Park Pier was still up. And the Metro Squad, the elite corps of the Los Angeles Police Department, was busy “getting the garbage out” in their own inimitable fashion. Long hair, beards, beads, and bells were looked upon with suspicion and fear.
The City of Los Angeles had unleashed the Master Plan on Venice. It involved upgrading the community to the extent that no one who earned under thirty thousand dollars a year could afford to live by the Ocean. The Canals were to be widened and dredged, and the surrounding property owners would be assessed for the building of a yacht harbor for, according to the architectural renderings of the project, very thin, tall, blond people who wore white deck shoes.
The Ocean Front Walk, to the joy of Werner S. Scharf, one of the largest property owners in Venice, was to be turned into a Miami Beach, complete with limited public access. To the City Fathers upgrading the community meant degrading the poor; “Be realistic. Venice is the only undeveloped beach near an urban center in the Southern California area. Be realistic.” When we would trot to City Hall, we would be threatened by some of the property owners and speculators.
My God. Nearly ten years! Flashing the peace sign, the finger, picketing the police state, being misrepresented in the press and media, People’s Park, anti-war demonstrations, Acid Rock, Hard Rock, Granny Glasses, incense, Day-Glo psychedelic posters. “What sign are you?” “Spare Change” “Far Out” “Bummer” “Power to the People” “Let it flow” “Why are you turning me down?” “If you’re interested in Women’s Liberation you have to believe in free love!”
The Peace and Freedom Party originated in Venice, an alternative to the Demopubs and the Republicrats, it became an umbrella organization for various community efforts.
The Venice Defense Committee would patrol the Ocean Front Walk to monitor the police who were busting hippies for playing music without a license. (They were wearing bells.) The Free Venice Organizing Committee was bent on being able to survive and surmount the pressures of government and real estate interests to get us out.
I never thought I’d ever say “Let’s see, was it ‘68 or ‘69? No, it was the year that the cops busted the L.A. Free Press Love In. How time flies ! Never thought I’d say that either.
After trying to get the newspapers and the media to print a straight story without too many quotes taken out of context, after choking down bile after hearing our side misrepresented, and seeing television cameras focusing only on braless bosoms and bare feet while making snide remarks, people decided to put out a community paper, so at least the neighbors would hear another side besides the Chamber of Commerce.
The Free Venice Beachhead was assembled by volunteers. Everyone who worked on the paper had a say. I remember seeing the paper fresh off the press. I’d never smelt anything as fresh and clean as the smell of that first newspaper. The print rubbed off in my hand.
Local business people put ill ads. People sent in articles. It just kept going. I was always surprised when we met again to put out another issue. People began asking when the next Beachhead was coming out. “I didn’t get mylast Beachhead!” “Get that filthy rag out of my yard!” The Beachhead became a part of Venice.
At one of the innumerable pilgrimages to Los Angeles City Hall, Councilman Arthur Snyder, vexed at those Commie Hippies who opposed his pro-development pals, waved a copy of the Free Venice Beachhead, alleging that this was put together by outside agitators. He went on, turning bright red: “This pamphlet is not financed by these people” he said, waving the ‘pamphlet’ at us . “It’s paid for by interests outside Venice! Outside the City! Outside the state! Outside the nation! It is paid for by MOSCOW GOLD!”
I was standing next to John Haag in the back. of the chambers. I bellowed out: “The shipment’s a little late this month, Art!” Never let it be said that I let a cheap laugh at someone else’s expense go by. I knew then that the Free Venice Beachhead had attained credibility. It had been slandered by a politician.
But it’s strange. How many leaders, politicians, and movers and shakers so distrust the people whose votes they seek and whose interests they pledge themselves to protect. They can’t comprehend that amateurs, volunteers, will work on something without any hope of getting paid – in money.
I remember the meetings of deciding what to call the paper, whether or not we should give it away free, should we apply for government grants. Yes, everyone should be able to get it, and government grants meant bein’ watched by the government. So that idea was mixed. Not that we aren’t watched anyway.
Sometimes split by ideologies, sometimes disorganized, I remember one time after leaving the Beachhead for awhile, I came back and new people were running it. I came to the meetings, and went to the place where the layout of the paper was to take place. No one was there. No note or explanation was on the door. After finding out where they were, I went there and was greeted by closed, hostile faces. I repeated my endeavors for awhile, but the meetings were kept from me. I stopped going. I found out later I had been purged because I was not a Marxist-Leninist. Well, at least I found out what I wasn’t.
There were clashes, re-organizing, but the Beachhead kept on. Charlie Manson and his family came to Venice. Tye die clothes came and went. Nehru Jackets went into the free boxes, posters of Che, Huey, and Angela were put on walls and taken down, Nixon interpreted the War on Poverty to mean kill the poor. Reagan applied Lysenkian logic to the problem of the farm workers. And the Beachhead kept printing the stories of what would happen if the City of L. A. got what it wanted. It also gave extensive coverage to the trials of Russell Means and Skyhorse Mohawk. The community newspaper went on. An underground community newspaper.
Nothing has made me feel so proud as to be involved with this newspaper and this community. And in today’s U.S.A., being involved with the destiny of a community is a rare occurrence, unfortunately.
What really excites me is that I, Me, am a part of history. Written History. I stayed in a place long enough to be remembered. I tried to change things. And some things have changed. A little.
No, the millennium has not come. There’s still poverty of mind, hunger of body, and soul, there are still people who’d walk all over you to get more than their fair share, and developers are still trying to slide by without enough parking space. Women still get called vile names and raped. Blacks and Chicanos still bear scars of racism on their souls, and taxes are now forcing out the middle class. And artists come to Venice for the ambience and shut themselves away from it.
People come from Woodland Hills and they bring their fences and their 3,000 square feet of living space along with them, and the neighbors be damned, and they never go out to the beach and they live behind their fences.
And the condominiums are filled with rich trash who blast their stereos just as loud as any of the “undesirables” they replaced, leading lives of quiet desperation while counting their gold chains. But the idea of a mixed income community is not equated with spitting on the flag.
And there are a lot of people who are asking if the highest and best use that the beach can be put to is a Howard Johnson Hotel on the Ocean Front. Many people are even questioning whether real estate developers and speculators have the right to displace a community for their own gain. Is that really the American way?
When I hear of the gentrification, as the English call it, when the bright white young middle class move into an urban area and renovate the old houses and start moving out the old tenants, I get a bitter satisfaction of saying Yes, I told you so. I said that when I wrote the invasion of the Afflu-Hip.
I remember how the Evening Outlook used to report any picketing or rallies called by the Free Venice Organizing Committee. They always said it was non-violent with such surprise.
But they never mentioned the people who were threatened by Hettig Realty, illegally evicted by Hettig Realty, or the threats made by Mr. Dufay or Mr. Monroe to various people at many meetings.
And some of the far-out radical ideas that have been talked about in the Free Venice Beachhead have at least gained respectability as rational ways to solve problems, such as public access to beaches that are paid for by public funds, low-moderate income housing, decent health care for all. So there’s still a need for this community paper.
Thanks, Beachhead. Keep on Truckin.
This month marks five years
since the death of Carol Fondiller,
one of the Founders of the Beachhead
who, with a few short breaks,
was a Collective member
from 1968 until her death in 2010