How Quirky was Berkeley: The social justice posters of the Red Sun Rising collective

The Red House collective was at Parker St. This poster of the collective was made in 1972.
The Red Sun Rising collective was a commune in Berkeley in the 1960s and 1970s. It was located at 2239 Parker St., although not all of the members lived in the house.  This painting of the collective was made in 1972.

To the Berkeley of 2015, the Berkeley of the 1960s and early 1970s seems a long-gone relative. Some of us remember what it looked like, but it is a distant memory. Even so, the Berkeley of then informs both the perception and reality of Berkeley today. The intact collection of the social justice posters of the Red Sun Rising collective is a powerful reminder of those days.

Berkeley was filled with communes and collectives in the late 1960s and early 1970s, intentional communities in which New Left politics and counterculture values and behaviors coexisted in a way that they never had before or have since.

Red Sun Rising existed for several years on Parker Street. It was, along with the Red Family on Bateman and several others, at the radical end of the spectrum. Several other collectives called Parker Street home, including the Cholima Collective (Chollima was a 1956 state-sponsored movement in North Korea intended to promote rapid economic development), and an anarchist collective that embraced the philosophy of Nestor Makhno, an anarchist/communist Ukrainian revolutionary who led a rogue anarchist army during the Russian Civil War.

PAR01023

The musicians who would become Red Star Singers were frequent visitors on Parker Street and sang at the different collectives. The drawing on the album cover was made by Jane Norling, and depicts the back of the house in the Haight in San Francisco where she was living at the time.


RSR-Leaflet

The Red Sun Rising collective existed beyond the walls of the Parker Street house. Several collective members did not live at the house, and when one spoke of Red Sun Rising, it meant a collective, not just the people living collectively on Parker.

2239 Parker Street.  Photo: Tom Dalzell
2239 Parker Street. Photo: Tom Dalzell

The house on Parker Street was vibrant, full of life, and full of mischief.  Today, it offers no hint of its revolutionary and countercultural past.

As was the custom of the time, the collective’s walls were filled with social justice posters. The dozen collective members were united by intensely anti-Establishment, New Left politics. They embraced many causes, and the art celebrating those causes. They dabbled in poster-making themselves, and were close friends and comrades in arms with the East Bay Media workshop, which, under the guidance of Frank Rowe, produced many notable posters between 1971 and 1973.

Lincoln Cushing, archival consultant of the All of Us Or None collection of social justice posters at the Oakland Museum of California, says that “posters are among the significant ephemera of the long 1960s. They were densely packed with cultural viruses capable of transmitting such abstract concepts as ‘solidarity,’ ‘sisterhood,’ or ‘peace’ all over the world.”

Speaking of the “modern political poster renaissance,” Cushing says that “two key vectors were crucial — the means for making the posters and the means for distributing them. Both existed in the Bay Area; drawing from the rock and counterculture posters from San Francisco, and the visually radical new imagery from Cuba, the new social justice posters became vibrant public documents that promoted a wide range of social issues.”


Somewhat miraculously, the Red Sun Rising collective’s entire poster collection was preserved by a collective member, giving an up-close-and-personal look at the social justice art of one intense, whimsical, passionate Berkeley collective. About a dozen of the posters are presented here, while all are presented in this Quirky Berkeley post.

Police

The poster shown above needs no words. The police were the enemy. Everywhere. The image here is of Oakland police at the 1967 Oakland Army Terminal demonstrations. The demonstration turned into something of a battle.

Oakland-Seven-486x300

Seven demonstrators were indicted for their actions – Mike Smith, Steve Hamilton, Frank Bardacke, Reese Erlich, Terry Cannon, Bob Mandel, and Jeff Segal. They were acquitted.

Kent-StateKent State was a defining moment for a generation. On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard shot 13 unarmed students at Kent State. Some were walking to class, some were observing the protest, and some were protesting the American invasion of Cambodia which President Nixon had announced on April 30. Four died. Of the wounded, one was paralyzed for life. It was a time of horror for the country. The media focused on the victims, while the Left focused on both the victims and the killers.

Coral-Sea

As the Vietnam war dragged on, morale fell among U.S. troops in Vietnam, and with the falling morale open defiance of authority increased. Outright mutiny was rare, but did happen and it did happen a few miles from Berkeley on the U.S.S. Coral Sea. The Coral Sea was docked in Alameda in the fall of 1971, scheduled for a tour of bombing duty in Vietnam. A core of crew members launched a petition-drive that built into a movement known as “Stop Our Ship” or SOS. The petition said: “We the people must guide the government and not allow the government to guide us! The Coral Sea is scheduled for Vietnam in November. This does not have to be a fact. The ship can be prevented from taking an active part in the conflict if we the majority voice our opinion that we do not believe in the Vietnam war. If you feel that the Coral Sea should not go to Vietnam, voice your opinion by signing this petition.” The Left in Berkeley rallied behind the sailors and SOS.

Bank-America-Isle-Vista

We think of the University of Santa Barbara as quiet and party-friendly, yet it was not always thus. On Feb. 25, 1970, students/protesters pushed police out of town and burned the Isla Vista branch of the Bank of America at 935 Embarcadero Del Norte. Issues at play in Santa Barbara at the time were the April 1969 Union Oil offshore spill, the firing of popular assistant professor Bill Allen of the Anthropology Department, and growing opposition to the Vietnam War.


The burning of the bank was seen by the young/New Left as a glorious blow against the empire. In 1979, retired FBI agent Crillon C. Payne II wrote in Deep Cover that FBI agents embedded in the student community in Santa Barbara had acted as agents provocateurs and incited the bank burning, a classic Counter Intelligence Program action.

Kezar

The rally advertised in this poster took place in 1972. The Chronicle reported that 25,000 to 30,000 attended. Robert Scheer, a good friend of Red Sun Rising, was a speaker at the rally. He led a chant of “Support the Seven Points!” The Seven Points were found in the Peace Proposal of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Viet Nam, dated July 1, 1971. Dick Gregory spoke, as advertised, and announced that he was starting a 40-day fast.

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This 1972 poster was probably the most successful poster printed by East Bay Media. Doug Lawler designed it. It was the policy of East Bay Media not to identify the artist, or even itself as the print shop. Collective members included Peggy White, Harold Lucky, Stephanie Jones, Suzanne Korey, and others. They first operated out of a garage on Regent Street, and then, when the Berkeley Tribe ceased operating, they moved into the Tribe office at 1701 Grove.

War-Tribunals

This poster is unusual in that it does not reference a specific event or group or issue. Created by Bruce Kaiper of the East Bay Media Project in 1970, it suggests a war crimes tribunal. The words in the lower left are those of Edward Teller: “In our conflict with the powerful communistic countries which strive for world domination, …. the flexible power of clean nuclear explosives would put us in a position where we could resist aggression in any part of the world, practically at a moment’s notice.” Teller had recently advocated using nuclear weapons against Hanoi, as we are reminded by the headlines in the newspaper shown in the poster.

A former Red Sun Rising member explains the campaign: “The War Crimes Tribunal was actually the idea of Tom Hayden and Red Family to protest Berkeley faculty’s direct complicity with the war including scholars such as Richard Scalapino, a southeast Asia expert who worked with the National War College and the Pentagon. We audited his class but several students were suspended for disrupting it. At that time many social scientists, from anthropologists to political scientists, directly worked with CIA/military.”


The five identified as war criminals were all nuclear physicists or chemists who took played key roles in development of America’s atomic weapons – Glenn Seaborg, Edwin McMillan, Robert Oppenheimer, John Lawrence, and Edward Teller.

Wanted-by-Thieu

This is a Red Sun Rising production. Nguyen Tang Huyen was a Vietnamese student studying psychology at Cal. He came to the United States in March 1968 with a scholarship from the Agency for International Development. He graduated in honors and in 1972 had been accepted for graduate work in clinical psychology at Case Western. Because Huyen spoke out against the war, the Thieu regime in Saigon asked the US government for his immediate return to Vietnam. Our government terminated his scholarship and initiated deportation proceedings.

Berkeley radicals accepted Nguyen Tang Huyen as one of theirs. He campaigned for asylum from his apartment on Dana Street. Congressman Ron Dellums sought political asylum for him. A committee was formed to support him, the National Committee to Defend the Rights of South Vietnamese Students with a Berkeley post office box address.

Prison-Conference

The image in this poster is from the Attica Prison Uprising/Riot (what you called it revealed your politics) of September, 1971. Over a four-day period in which prisoners controlled the prison and then were subdued, 33 inmates and 10 guards and prison administrators were killed.

Many on the Left, especially in California, and more especially the Bay Area, were inspired by the self-proclaimed revolutionary ideology among California inmates. They remembered Marx writing that prisoners were capable of “the most heroic deeds and most exalted sacrifices.” They were especially inspired by Ho Chi Minh’s saying that “when the prison gates fly open, the real dragons will emerge.” The Left embraced the San Quentin Six and provided support for their legal defense on many levels. After a 16-month trial, one was convicted of murder, two of assault, and three were acquitted. The radical prisoner movement rose in the early 1970s and largely subsided by late in the decade.

Presidio-March

The Presidio 27 were prisoners at the Presidio stockade in San Francisco. On Oct. 14, 1968, the 27 (plus one who backed down) engaged in a sit-down strike and ignored orders to disperse. Walter Pawolski read their demands – improve prisoner conditions and end the war. They were charged with mutiny. The first defendants to go through court martial proceedings received sentences of 14-16 years of hard labor.

Presidio-SFX

Their resistance drew national attention. Anti-war GI’s organized a march to the Presidio on April 6, 1969; that was before most members of Red Sun Rising matriculated at Cal, making this poster a historic relic even at the time that it was on the collective’s walls. In 1970 the Court of Military Review voided the long sentences and imposed instead shorter sentences for willful disobedience of a superior officer. Most prisoners were released that year. Three had escaped to Canada.

The Red Sun Rising collective disbanded in 1972. The women in the collective were drawn to second-wave feminism, and there are persistent rumors about the role that counterfeit tickets to the June 1, 1972 Rolling Stones concert in San Francisco may have played in the collective’s demise. The collective is gone, but the posters remain. They both informed and reflected the values of an element of young, radical Berkeley in the early 1970s. The Free Speech Movement, as a marker,had  produced no posters. A few years later, the floodgates of graphic expression opened.

Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,600 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means.

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