[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #7 in December 2008]
The Alternative Press Centre (APC) publishes the Alternative Press Index (API), a unique and comprehensive guide to the alternative press in English, French and Spanish. The API provides access to articles from 300 magazines, newspapers and academic journals. The API has indexed 948 periodical titles since 1969, the year that:
*The Students for a Democratic Society disintegrated into the Progressive Labor Party and the Weather Underground factions
*The League of Revolutionary Black Workers was founded in Detroit
*The Trial of the Chicago Eight took place
*The Days of Rage occurred in Chicago
*Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was murdered by government agents in his Chicago apartment
*The radical feminist group RedStockings was founded in New York City
*German student leader Rudi Dutschke was shot in Berlin
*The civil rights movement in Northern Ireland began
*Huge demonstrations against the U.S. war on Vietnam’s National Liberation Front took place in Washington DC
*The Radical Research Center was founded at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota
1. Northfield, Minnesota
Student activists Robert Stigler, Sealy Anne Hicks and Bill King launched the Radical Research Center (RRC) at Carleton College with no formal support from the institution, though Dean Bardwell Smith gave the students office space.
Librarians were not involved in the founding. However, Sandy Berman and Jackie Eubanks were actively supportive after the first issues of the Alternative Press Index were published. Berman and Eubanks later became well known leaders in the American Library Association’s Social Responsibility Task Force.
The Alternative Press Index was a project of New Left activists. Its first issue included 72 titles – more than half of which were “underground press” publications such as The Berkeley Tribe, The Fifth Estate (Detroit), The Seed (Chicago). These newspapers grew remarkably during the late 1960s /early 1970s. Older left publications like The Guardian, IF Stone’s Weekly, Monthly Review, and The Progressive were also included. The RRC office served as organizing center for participation of Carleton College activists in the 1970 student general strike in response to the U.S. bombing of Cambodia.
2. Toronto, Ontario
Lack of institutional support forced RRC activists Kathy Martin and Art Jacobs to search for new space. In 1972, they managed to find a new home at Rochdale College in Toronto. However, before reaching Toronto the RRC was stalled in Detroit. Kathy Martin reported that Canadian immigration officials were concerned they may be connected to the Weather Underground.
The RRC was renamed the Alternative Press Centre. At Rochdale the collective found inexpensive office space on the 6th floor and living space on the 13th floor. Rochdale College was an attempt to develop a “free university” space and a collective living experiment. The Canadian government funded the construction of this eighteen story building at 341 Bloor Street. Rochdale’s founders were New Left activists and included Dennis Lee, to-be poet laureate of Ontario.
At Rochdale, not much publishing was accomplished, yet a wide network of volunteer indexers was developed. The number of titles covered reached 130. By the summer of 1974, a new collective, Peggy Asendorf, Michael Burns, and Chuck D’Adamo, moved from Baltimore to Toronto to join Martin, Jacobs, and Marti Scheel who were on their way out (some to a farm in north Ontario). Soon the new collective encountered a serious problem. Rochdale’s residents were now involved in a struggle with Toronto’s “city fathers” over the space. Rochdale College was losing ground and eviction was likely the next year. The new collective decided to move to the APC to Baltimore.
3. Baltimore, Maryland
The move to Baltimore had its obstacles. U.S. immigration officials in Buffalo impounded the entire truckload of precious periodicals. The APC’s collection was finally released through Customs in Baltimore after it was transported commercially. By 1975, the year the Vietnam War ended and Angola and Mozambique gained independence from Portugal, the APC was operating in Baltimore with computer support from the University of Maryland established through connections at its library science school.
In 1976-77, the APC opened its first independent library spaces and was situated in a neighborhood home to various New Left and feminist projects such as a coffeehouse, a feminist bookstore, a food cooperative, and the People’s Free Medical Clinic founded by the Black Panther Party. The 1970s retained revolutionary spirit and hopes and the APC was an employer of activists from the New American Movement (Gramscian Marxist), the Baltimore Women’s Union (socialist feminist), and the Great Atlantic Radio Conspiracy (social anarchist). The API was now indexing 153 periodicals including Socialist Revolution, founded in 1970 by James Weinstein and others in San Francisco. In 1976, Weinstein, dissatisfied with both NAM and SR, founded In These Times in Chicago, another API title.
In 1982, the APC (Peggy D’Adamo, Elizabeth O’Lexa et al) became an anchor in establishing the Progressive Action Center. This was the time after President Reagan busted the Air Traffic Controllers Union, giving a green light to U.S. corporate attack on labor, and martial law was implemented in Poland to constrain the independent labor union Solidarity. Despite these difficult times, a group of activists with roots in the movements of the 1960s and 1970s bought a former Enoch Pratt Library building and renovated it with much volunteer labor, creating a home for six activist projects.
Then the API was indexing 182 periodicals. The years at the Progressive Action Center were stable (modest rent) and productive. In 1994, A.O. Kuhn Library of the University of Maryland agreed to archive the APC’s expanding periodical collection. In 1995, APC began annual participation at the American Library Association’s national conference, developing links with the Progressive Librarians Guild and the Social Responsibilities Round Table. In 1999, APC co-published with the Independent Press Association the second edition of its directory on the independent, critical press which sold about 500 copies. In 2001, the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) agreed to publish the Alternative Press Index electronically with their FirstSearch databases. The API was then covering 285 titles and began offering interlibrary loan service through the OCLC system.
4. Chicago, Illinois
In 2007, there was a decision to sell the Progressive Action Center. Today, the APC is pleased to be in Chicago with our old friends at In These Times and our new friends AREA Chicago and the Chicago Underground Library. You can visit APC’s offices at 2040 N. Milwaukee Ave. on Wednesdays from 10 am to 6 pm or by appointment. The Alternative Press Index has indexed 948 periodical titles since 1969 and looks forward to linking with Chicago’s grassroots communities.
Alternative Press Centre
PO Box 47739
Chicago, IL 60647