[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #7 in December 2008]
“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”—A. J. Liebling
The Chicago Seed was an underground, biweekly newspaper published in Chicago from 1967-1971. It, like many other independent publications of the era, was organized in response to the mainstream media’s disregard for opinions valued by the countercultural movement. Cultural and political activists sought an alternative media through which to promote their views and found resources through membership with both LNS (Liberation News Service), and UPS (Underground Press Syndicate). Both organizations were affiliated with The Seed, supporting the paper that, begun as a celebration of peace, love and drugs, had, at the end of its four year run, become a politically engaged compilation of social commentary and appeals for revolutionary involvement, easily accessible at bookstores across the city.
The Seed’s design mirrored its politics. In contrast to the strict black and white columned format of typical newsprint, The Seed favored a more expressive aesthetic, reflecting the sense of upheaval spreading throughout the city. Article text does not adhere to justified margins, but instead flows around and across the colorful graphics and illustrations accompanying most articles. Shading effects blur and confuse the distinction between feature articles and the paper’s advertisements, as The Seed creates a maze of text, with articles jumping from page to page without warning. This chaotic design reflected the sense of revolution and cultural and political turbulence of the time, but such creativity came at a price, as articulated by one reader in a Letter to the Editor—the Seed is the most imaginative paper ever printed, but its content is often nil” (Volume 3, No. 5).
The paper also included a Movement Scoreboard, dedicated to reporting updates on the actions and developments of revolutionary groups. The style was as straightforward as the box scores in your typical Sports section (Volume 3, No. 13). Including briefs on the Black Panthers, Young Lords, Young Patriots, SDS, White Panthers, and Dopers, the Movement Scoreboard informally detailed sentencing information, arrests, and trial announcements. One week the paper reported that nine Seed staff and contributing members were arrested for conducting a “small recreation of the convention.” The accompanying article cited the injustice of the arrest but focused more on rallying readers in support of their Seed editors, pleading “We go to trial October 20 at 321 North LaSalle, come and see us there […] We need money […] If you can help with the money or were a witness to any of the arrest, call or write us at the Seed.”
Incorporating the revolutionary spirit and energy of the movements of the sixties and seventies into both the presentation and content of the popular underground newspaper, The Chicago Seed took the issues and struggles of value to the countercultural movement, and brought them to light and to the people. With design straying as far as possible from the rigid, monochromatic columns of mainstream papers, The Chicago Seed’s spreads reflect the spirit of insurgency ripe in Chicago. Engaging readers on a personal level and adopting a tone of familiarity, at times even crudeness, writers and editors of The Chicago Seed made the radically political content of every issue accessible from a streetwise perspective, further echoing a move towards collective revolution. With this approach, The Chicago Seed became an essential resource pointing the community towards action and providing the community with activists. ◊