The Diggers and our Interview Project

Perhaps the best description, to my mind, of who the Diggers were historically comes from Eric Paul Noble, who is the keeper of the Digger Archives. Eric, an extraordinary researcher and historical commentator, is in a unique position to interpret the contribution today of a history that now encompasses nearly fifty years.

I had the pleasure of presenting a paper/power point show at a conference convened by the University of Le Havre titled The Woodstock Years. The only non-academic on the panel, from being there as a Digger from the mid-60’s on, and as a community organizer and bioregionalist myself, I presented my observation on how the countercultural Diggers morphed into bioregionalists. This work, hatched by Peter Berg and Ray Dasmann and a several others referenced below, during the mid-70’s, has had powerful applications on the ground, from Peter Berg and Judy Goldhaft’s work in Green City and in Ecuador, to David Simpson and Freeman House’s model project in salmon restoration and environmental restoration on the Mattole River in Humboldt County, to my work on the Susquehanna River. Others among the Diggers returned to acting and writing to continue their contributions. None that I know of consider those years and that philosophy of our youth to be in the past; to paraphrase the immortal phrase, this past isn’t even past but rather informs our actions today.

Over the past several months, we have been preparing a series of interviews conducted by Laura Greer and edited by myself and Judith Thomas on new work Diggers have been producing, both in print and on the stage. With so many young people entering into their adulthoods with communal living, farming, alternative medicine, and earth-based practices like birthing and dying at home, the ground we plowed as Diggers has even more relevancy today.

Eric Noble has talked about the core values and impact of the Diggers during the time of the Sixties counterculture. May I introduce his words to give context to the work being done today by Diggers, not as a phenomenon that has passed but rather the evolution of work today, sourced from that time?

“The Digger Archives is an ongoing Web project to preserve and present the history of the anarchist guerrilla street theater group that challenged the emerging Counterculture of the Sixties and whose actions and ideals inspired (and continue to inspire) a generation (of all ages) to create models of Free Association. The Diggers were one of the legendary groups in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, one of the world-wide epicenters of the Sixties Counterculture which fundamentally changed American and world culture. Shrouded in a mystique of anonymity, the Diggers took their name from the original English Diggers (1649-50) who had promulgated a vision of society free from private property, and all forms of buying and selling. The San Francisco Diggers evolved out of two Radical traditions that thrived in the SF Bay Area in the mid-1960s: the bohemian/underground art/theater scene, and the New Left/civil rights/peace movement. The Diggers combined street theater, anarcho-direct action, and art happenings in their social agenda of creating a Free City. Their most famous activities revolved around distributing Free Food every day in the Park, and distributing “surplus energy” at a series of Free Stores (where everything was free for the taking.) The Diggers coined various slogans that worked their way into the counterculture and even into the larger society — “Do your own thing” and “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” being the most recognizable. The Diggers, at the nexus of the emerging underground, were the progenitors of many new (or newly discovered) ideas such as baking whole wheat bread (made famous through the popular Free Digger Bread that was baked in one- and two-pound coffee cans at the Free Bakery); the first Free Medical Clinic, which inspired the founding of the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic; tie-dyed clothing; and, communal celebrations of natural planetary events, such as the Solstices and Equinoxes. First and foremost, the Diggers were actors (in Trip Without A Ticket, the term “life actors” was used.) Their stage was the streets and parks of the Haight-Ashbury, and later the whole city of San Francisco. The Diggers had evolved out of the radicalizing maelstrom that was the San Francisco Mime Troupe which R.G. Davis, the actor, writer, director and founder of the Troupe had created over the previous decade. The Diggers represented a natural evolution in the course of the Troupe’s history, as they had first moved from an indoor milieu into the parks of the City, giving Free performances on stages thrown up the day of the show. The Digger energy took the action off the constructed platform and jumped right into the most happening stage yet — the streets of the Haight where a new youth culture was recreating itself, at least temporarily, out of the glaring eye of news reporters. The Diggers, as actors, created a series of street events that marked the evolution of the hippie phenomenon from a homegrown face-to-face community to the mass-media circus that splashed its face across the world’s front pages and TV screens: the Death of Money Parade, Intersection Game, Invisible Circus, Death of Hippie/Birth of Free. The Diggers broadcast these events, as well as their editorial comments of the day, pronouncements to the larger Hip Community, manifestos and miscellaneous communications, through broadsides and leaflets distributed by hand on Haight Street.”


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