Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Publishing the Public Voice Part 1

This is the fist part in a series on my old alternative newspaper, The Wichita Public Voice. This is the paper I put out in Wichita, Kansas.The is an excerpt from my new book; How a left-wing journalist survives the Bible Belt. It is an autobiography on my career as a writer. 

By SJ Otto
With all that tabloid paper experience I got from the Public Notice, the paper I worked for in Lawrence, KS,  it was easy for me to start up my own paper when I moved back to Wichita, KS in 1980. I organized and put together a tabloid newspaper of my own, which I called The Wichita Public Voice.
Some of the things I learned I would later discard. For example, the attitude at the Public Notice was to focus on local news only. That was suppose to allow us to focus on issues we could actually work on for change.
As for foreign news, I was told that the daily news paper, The Lawrence Journal World (in my home town it would be The Wichita Eagle) carried national news and there was no way we could compete with that. Years later I change my mind. For one thing The Wichita Eagle did not always cover important international news. A good example of that were articles about the Shining Path (Communist Party of Peru or PCP) guerrillas. By the end of the 1980s the Shining Path was winning a people's war effort in Peru. But a lot of mainstream newspapers didn't cover much of it. That was especially true if the articles showed a direct involvement from US troops. The Wichita Eagle didn't cover that war but just 52 miles away was the town of Hutchinson and The Hutchinson News DID print articles about Peru. In a later news paper I ran almost 10 years later, I reposted what the The Hutchinson News printed in a news paper I was running at the time, the South Hutchinson Post Dispatch.[1] After the 1990s I was getting a lot of information and articles from political parties across the world. I was able to get articles that foreign people and political parties wrote about their own political struggles. So I realized that a news reporter or a journalist/editor/publisher can post articles about foreign affairs that the local mainstream paper doesn't and won't cover. We CAN compete with The Wichita Eagle (as well as Time, Newsweek and others) after all.
As for the politics of the Public Notice, it had a left-wing slant, but was not openly Marxist. It had more of a liberal slant, although some of the supporters and workers on this paper were openly Marxist. I wanted to print articles from a moderate left position. I didn't want the paper to seem far left. I wanted it to look like a homey local news paper, and that is what it looked like.
I typed it on an old Manuel typewriter. I was living at my parents home so I worked in a corner of the basement. As with the Public Notice I also used rub on letters and old pictures from magazines. At first I tried to sell it at first, but I realized that would hold me back real bad. So I gave it way free, had a subscription list and I sold ads to try and pay for it.
From time to time I had several people work with me, both as reporters and layout people. As with the Public Notice, I focused on some local issues and the first main one was Wichita's "Annexation Boom!"[2] I was following the anti-growth message carried by the Public Voice. One problem I had with that was that a lot of liberal people, I would later get to know and make friends with, all wanted to annex wealthier people, whom they wanted to pay their fair share of city taxes. And many of the people I was allying myself with where actually conservative land owners. I had not written up a comprehensive anti-growth position to explain why I was so against the city expanding itself.

I had another article on that subject, DEVELOPERS: Go WEST.
Also in that issue we had an article about a self help clinic, a letter about human rights, an article about Martin Luther King and an article about the Wichita Wings, a soccer team in Wichita. The issue included a cartoon of the Rev. Dr. Cabbage, an ongoing cartoon serious about a religious right character that I came up with, based on the Dr. Carroll from the movie Reefer Madness.[3] In that movie Josef Forte plays Dr. Alfred Carroll, a fire and brimstone character who narrates much of the film. There Was also some humor as in an ad for "Bonzo's School of commercial broadcasters." It featured a picture of Ronald Reagan and the slogan "no talent or acting ability necessary you too can be president."
There was also a picture of a man with a cartoon balloon: "I read Public Voice, and another of a catfish that said; "Me Too."

The second addition had some adds in it. I was able to sell a few. We covered the local elections for city commission, 1981.[4] In that article we struggled to find issues. The real issue of that election and those that follow up until today is that these elections are really just a routine practice by the local real estate and land developers to chose THEIR candidate for office. Also covered in this issue was the closing of the Dubuque beef industry plant. We covered the Bel Aire election since it was a new town, we covered a group calling itself the Commission on the Status of Women. We wrote against a fire works ban, we wrote about cameras in the court room and blasted the US government for lifting of controls on the CIA. I did a review of The Russian Anarchists, by Paul Avrich. We did a humor column called "Who Shot Andy Cap."

By our third issue, we had focused on a leftwing liberal organization within the local Democratic Party called the Progressive Democratic Quorum.[5] It was a group that focused on liberal issues. It was a fun group. I took part in many discussions on politics as well as writing up what we did in the meetings. The meetings were held at a Machinist (Union) Hall, in south Wichita.
We had some local Democrat Party officials from various offices they held in the Kansas Legislature. A lot of the discussions were on the rights of working people and how those rights were being trampled on by our elected Republican Party officials. It is not a surprise that Republicans back then were as nasty to working people as they are now.
We also covered some other topics including a Consumer Coalition for Health. We had an article on nuclear power, the harassment of a student at a Goddard Kansas School for wearing his hair long. We had a humorous look at ecology movement we called "The New Ecology." The joke was that instead of protecting disappearing species, we wanted to protect lawn meters and telephone poles. We also had classified ads.   
Our forth addition had another article about Wichita's urban sprawl, "City Moves Out West."[6] We also had a large article on Local Wichita Attorney Jim Johnston, who spoke at the Progressive Democratic Quorum. Johnston made rhetorical attacks on then President Ronald Reagan. We also had an article on the National Organization for Women.
We started volume 2 in August of 1981. Again we focused on the City of Wichita and its expansion west. We also included an article on WomenFair, WomenArt, an even held at Century II that included lots of events put on by local feminist groups. Booths were allowed in the hallways, so that artists and political groups could set up tables and promote their various causes. That year we had a presentation called "Renaissance Women--1981" emphasizing a spirit of renewal, rebirth and re--dedication during this long battle for equality.[7] Also in that issue was an article on a Coalition for Health, another article on NOW, an article on Kansans for Peace and Justice and an article about the Mojahedin of Iran, a left-wing Muslim group that opposed the Islamic Republic. The last was an example of an article we received from some Iranian students, from Wichita State University. This is an example of articles a local paper can get that is relevant and it is different from what the city newspaper, which in this case was The Wichita Eagle. We also printed some poems by the Palestinian poet, Mahmood Darweesh. We had an article condemning a city-wide ban on fireworks. Because I hinted at the idea of making our own fireworks, I used the pen name, Mark Milhouse. I used that pen name later, mostly when writing for the People's Daily World, during the cold war years. We carried another article of satire, on economics, by my brother Chris Otto, "the New Economics: more for less."  We posted a review of a concert of Jefferson Starship. I had posted an article called "Left" Religion's" which carried on the topic of separation of church and state, but this article defended left-wing religious tendencies that would come under the topic of Liberation Theology. For much of my early life I had some leanings towards Liberation Theology, so this article was somewhat important to me at the time. I later changed my mind and gave up entirely on Christianity.
The last paragraph of that article articulated my beliefs at that time:
"Members of the religious new right tend to make the claim that "God is on their side," but, as I am reminded by an old song by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, "I was told the very same thing so you know somebody's lying."[8] 

[1] I published a few articles about Shining Path/Communist Party of Peru, Steve Otto, "Some Countries Overlooked," South Hutchinson Post Dispatch, June 1990, Vol. 2, No 6, p. 3 and Steve Otto, "Commentary- Drugs And War," South Hutchinson Post Dispatch, October 1989, Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 3.
[2] "Annexation Boom," The Wichita Public Voice, February 1981, Vol. 1 No. 1 p. 1,3.
[3] Reefer Madness, 1936,
[4] Steve Otto, "Election Time," The Wichita Public Voice, March 1981, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 1,2,6, 8.
[5] Steve Otto, "Progressive Democratic Quorum," The Wichita Public Voice, May 1981, Vo1. 1 No. 3, PP. 1, 3, 6.
[6] Steve Otto, "City Moves Out West," The Wichita Public Voice, June 1981, Vol. 1 No. 4, pp. 1, 3.
[7] "WomanFair- WomanArt," The Wichita Public Voice, August 1981, Vol. 2 No. 1, pp. 1,7.
[8] Steve Otto "Left" Religion's," The Wichita Public Voice, August 1981, Vol. 2 No. 1, p. 5.


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