Rising Up Angry

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #7 in December 2008]

“We’re outlaws. Dig it. Right on, brothers and sisters,” was how the Chicago area activist newspaper Rising Up Angry described itself, “a group of people who work together to back each other up. We do a lot of things together, building for the revolution.” Published between 1969 and 1975 with the slogan “To Live We Must Fight” emblazoned on the cover beneath a clenched fist, which on some issues was raising a rifle, Rising Up Angry surveyed local topics and national politics in this turbulent era. One of its founders Michael James, now proprietor of the Heartland Café in Rogers Park, explains,

“The idea was pretty much to educate to liberate, that we had to popularize revolution, promote it, fan the flames, and so we started a paper that we took all over Chicago and then beyond to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Waukegan, Philadelphia, New York, and St. Louis. It was happening, and the paper was an entry into various communities: ‘Hey brother have you seen this paper? Check it out.’ ‘All power to the people!’ ‘The pigs been harassing you guys, what’s going on in your neighborhood?’ ‘You’re back from ‘Nam? What do you think about that?’ ‘You’ve got to treat the sisters with respect’ ‘Hey, black people are alright, you know, you’re wearing the same clothes as they do, you’re listening to the same god damn music, what’s the deal?’”

“What You Don't Know, Learn.” Rising Up Angry broadside. Courtesy Chicago History Museum.

More than just a newspaper, Rising Up Angry was a coalition of activists. Many of those who founded Rising Up Angry, such as James, had worked with community organizations in Chicago such as Jobs Or Income Now (JOIN) in Uptown in the 1960s [see James Tracy and Amy Sonnie’s contribution to this issue of AREA for more information on this history -ed]. “We’d found success in working with poor white southern women, and poor, mostly southern, white young people… [and] wanted to take that experience that we had in Uptown …more city-wide. We went around and started just meeting people…We were always looking to build an organization, a network of people, and looked to the American labor movement, guerilla movements in China, Vietnam, Cuba, and pan-African ideas.” With a cover price of 25 cents (free to GIs) and a new edition arriving each month, Rising Up Angry contained advice about what to do when encountering “pig patrols,” condemned “fat businessmen,” and criticized public figures such as Illinois State’s Attorney General Edward Hanrahan.

“The initial target audience was ‘greasers,’ white working class youth with their Ban-lon shirts or A-1 Stay-Pressed pants,” says James, and “the key was a thing called Stone Grease Grapevine, vignettes on what was happening in individual parks, schools, clubs, gangs or neighborhoods. In the early issues there was also a lot of stuff about cars, a movie review of Bullitt, talk about the GI rebellions. People liked the content. They liked the music, the culture, it was happening. The police were definitely hard on kids in the neighborhood, but the key I think was the photographs. We’d go around and get photos of everyone throwing their fist up in the air. We started with a group of little kids hanging out at Clark and Devon in Rogers Park.”

Issues of Rising Up Angry bristled with anger and frustration at the state of the United States and soon reached beyond the audience of “greasers.” Columns gave the latest news about activities throughout Chicago of the Young Lords, Students for a Democratic Society, the American Indian Movement (AIM), the Black Panthers, the Young Comancheros Organization and a whites’ group, the Young Patriots, amongst others. With profiles of figures such as Malcolm X and Fred Hampton, John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, reviews of the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder and The Wild Bunch, Rising Up Angry mixed political and cultural commentary with cartoons, montages, discussions of motorcycles and custom cars, with histories of labor activism and guerrilla warfare. One issue featured an image of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s face as the bull’s-eye on a dartboard; another gave advice on the practical use of handguns versus rifles and shotguns. The subject of women’s rights was central and the newspaper reported regularly on events like International Women’s Day and the successful lawsuit at Curie High School which gained female students equal gym access and sports facilities.

At times, today’s news echoes that presented in Rising Up Angry. In a 1969 issue, for example, an anonymous contribution asks: “So, what’s this crazy Asian war about? It’s about people. It’s about space. It’s about people living their lives in that space. It’s a war we shouldn’t be fighting,” and then demands, “The Viet Cong should win. Not by killing more American soldiers—but by American soldiers leaving Vietnam for the Vietnamese and bringing their guns back home.” Other issues described where to find contraception and abortion services in Chicago, challenged the displacement of low income communities by luxury development, recounted efforts to stop student activism at Senn High School, criticized public school reforms that worsened conditions for low income children, and discussed high food and fuel prices, U.S. policies towards Iran and Latin America, police racism and prisoner abuse allegations. “It’s like nothing’s changed really,” comments Rising Up Angry’s Michael James. “We’ve made some steps forward. We don’t have the war in Vietnam, but then we went on to the Iraqi wars and now we have this volunteer military, with better pay, that trick you into getting signed up. We’re in worse shape in a lot of ways than we were.”

Closely connected with Right On Books and, by the mid-1970s, office space at 1215 W. Belmont, Rising Up Angry was more than just a newspaper. The group’s “Serve the People programs,” comments James, saw Rising Up Angry follow the Black Panthers in providing breakfasts to children. “We also had a legal program, buses taking visitors to prisons, even free rabies shots for dogs and cats… the Fritzi Englestein Free People Health Center at the Church of the Holy Covenant at Diversy and Wilton became pretty much a Rising Up Angry program, and there was Friends of Angry which was the outreach to younger people, pulling them together for meetings, movies and dances.” Promising at these centers and clinics that “no one is turned away for lack of money,” by the mid-1970s Rising Up Angry was endorsing Young Lords founder Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez for alderman in 46th Ward, an area that covered what are now the considerably less mean streets of Lakeview and Wrigleyville.

Rising Up Angry was current, urgent and radical. Today it is still worth reading. Indeed, it is perhaps ironic that forty years later, copies of Rising Up Angry can be found in the Special Collection of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Library, which is named after one of the newspaper’s favorite targets: Richard J. Daley.

Trick Bag (1975) a 21 minute documentary that interviews Chicago residents discussing race relations in the city, produced by Kartemquin Films, Rising Up Angry and Columbia College, can be seen on-line at: http://www.heartlandcafe.com/media/ 

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