Rag Recollections

Former 'Rag' staffers remember the old days, when a Texan was in the White House and America was stuck in a quagmire war

Gavan Duffy (1969-1973)

I spent part of this period back in Houston, working with the prior (1966-1968) generation of Rag staffers at Space City! and/or at KPFT (Pacifica Radio). Mostly I participated in layout and sales for The Rag (sales often served as my sole source of income). I also wrote several articles, the most significant of which was a cover story – "Millennium '73" in the Nov. 26, 1973, issue – covering the Guru Maharaj Ji spectacle at the Astrodome. It argued that the Guru was a fraud. The success of this article meant much to me, as it provided me the confidence to pursue writing further, first as a journalist and later as a scholar.

Kate Braun (1968-1970)

The Rag gave me a place to discover more about myself. …

I tend to remember "oddities," and this Rag memory is one of them. It was a warm day, sunlight streaming into the Rag office on 23rd Street. I don't remember who besides me was there, we were all occupied with what each of us was doing – in my case, typing/justifying an article. The screen door opened and this guy came in. No one I knew, no one I noticed much. But the conversation he had with whomever he had it with remains a fond memory, and this is it:

Ragperson: Hi.

The Guy: Hi. Is Thorne Dreyer here?

Ragperson: No. He's out of the office right now.

The Guy: Well, how 'bout that Gary Thiher. He here?

Ragperson: No, he's out, too.

The Guy (triumphantly): I knew it! There's no such people. They're all made-up names!

And he went away, letting the screen door slam behind him. We laughed. I still get a good giggle out of this memory.

Alice Embree (1966-1973)

I was there at the beginning – typing, pressing down headlines, and hand-lettering mastheads. The first office was 2506 Nueces (where we plotted a women's sit-in at the draft office). The next one I remember was 910 W. 26th. I would "borrow" an IBM selectric from my straight job to type Rag copy into the wee hours of the morning. I didn't write an article until November 1967. Frank Erwin had canceled the UT Chilean Exchange program because of "that Embree girl," and I wrote my side of the story.

In the spring of 1967, Frank Erwin put six UT students on disciplinary probation for giving a speech in an unauthorized location (the West Mall). I was among the five who were both card-carrying SDS members and Rag staffers. The Rag provided the firsthand accounts of the free speech fight that ensued. …

The women's movement was emerging as a major political force. … The Rag, still the vehicle for political debate, had been transformed by the feminist movement. Women like Judy Smith didn't take a back seat to anyone, and everyone typed their own articles. I wrote one of my first poems after Janis Joplin died and it was printed in The Rag, then borrowed by Space City! and the Texas Observer.

In SDS, I was inspired by the concept of participatory democracy – the revolutionary idea that people should participate in decisions that affect their lives. This led to direct action and The Rag was an extension of this. If the straight media didn't cover the important cultural and political issues, then create new media. So, we did. The underground press was the connective tissue for what we called "the movement." It spread ideas. It was how Austin activists learned about the strike at Columbia, People's Park, the Black Panthers, Timothy Leary, and it was how the rest of the country found out about Gentle Thursday, Austintacious, armadillos, the Oleo Strut, and UT's excesses.

Dennis Fitzgerald (1966-1967)

The Rag was where my friends and I tried to figure out who we were. We were hardly more than kids, taking our own first steps into the "real" world, and trying to make sense of the fact that there was so much there that affronted our ideals. Things were a lot meaner and shallower than they were supposed to be. That wasn't anything we were prepared to conform to, nor, given our idealistic bent, anything that we could in good conscience ignore.

We were a group that found each other and clicked because we shared a common, albeit kind of fuzzy, notion about what was right and what was wrong and what was really important. But we didn't have a home for all that; we fit with each other, but we didn't seem to fit anywhere else.

The Rag was our owner-built home, a place of safety and purpose, where we could define who we were and get on with the job of saving the world from itself.

Hunter Ellinger (1968-1975)

While I felt quite at home in the Rag staff, I was atypical in several ways. I was a red-diaper baby, whose parents had come to Texas as union organizers in the late 1930s; I was a techie (physics and software); I was already in a well-paid nonstudent job; and I was a parent (four kids). This last distinction I shared on the Rag staff only with the mother of these kids, Mary Birdsong, who wrote city-oriented articles until she went off to medical school (after surprising people with a 40% vote in the 1973 City Council race).

The writing niche I found was "Last Week's News," which gave me a chance to concisely point out how complex and ephemeral events can be understood in terms of a handful of unified and enduring principles (very like science teaching, actually). …

My political trajectory after The Rag has been into co-ops (mainly Wheatsville), education (community college trustee and annexation elections), and grassroots Democratic Party politics. But this tame résumé does not reflect any repentance for leftishness, and I disagree with the often-expressed opinion that the most important current trends are rightward and that the generation-ago actions of which The Rag was a part didn't move things forward substantially. That's what a lot of people in the Fifties thought about the Thirties – until the Sixties hit.

David MacBryde (1968-1977)

"Through the Looking Glass: Confessions of a rather buttoned-down Yalie who read The Rag."

I came to Austin to study in John Silber's philosophy department. … Luckily I read The Rag. That opened me up. It "blew my mind" – out from grayness and into wonderland. I had studied a lot in New Haven, and worked with IBM and in radio astronomy. But it was reading The Rag that opened up vistas, of the wide world and within.

Of course it was not just reading The Rag. What impressed me was that there were real people, or people trying to be real, out and about in Austin working together (and not so together) and producing value. At 10 cents a cheap thrill, but of inestimable value creation.

One could argue about the value of any particular article or artwork as a journalistic enterprise, but it was indisputably the case that a "counter" reality was being created – as a journalistic product in an otherwise gray and unwise media landscape, and importantly as a real bunch of people really out there really trying, warts and all. …

And The Rag reflected not only the immediate production of The Rag but touched on, was touched by, all manner of (sometimes ill-mannered) efforts in Austin – e.g. an article on the creation of Armadillo Press ("The People's Friend, the Tyrant's Foe," an IWW print shop), and much much more, from gardens to the stars – from the Wilhelm Reich Memorial Pool up Barton Creek to the old Hunnicutt House, and beyond. For democracy and justice, and against terror in Chile and Southeast Asia. Just look back, in joy and sorrow, with successes and failures, at the rich variety of individual and community (better: communities) efforts down home in Austin.

Carol Neiman (aka Sarito, 1966-67)

The Rag was all about the people, for me. I washed up on the shores of the University of Texas in 1966 out of desperation – either accept the scholarship that arrived in the mail, and try once more to fit myself into the straitjacket of academia, or face certain brain death in a series of low-paid, girl-college-dropout jobs. Imagine my delight when I discovered I didn't have to do either!

The very first day I walked into the Chuck Wagon, I spotted all these interesting-looking people hanging out at a couple of tables. They had a kind of light around them, a sparkle in their eyes. Lots of hair, comfortable clothes. They laughed, they were animated. Their shoulders were noticeably un-stooped, apparently free of the excessive burdens of textbook slavery.

Before I knew it I had been swept off my feet by a Mad Hatter, stopped going to my classes, gone through the looking glass into a wonderland of intelligent, funny, creative, risk-taking creatures with a contagious passion for creating a totally new kind of world. A world where there were no boundaries and nothing to divide people from one another. I'd found my university at last.

Sharon Shelton-Colangelo (1967-1971)

I think it was the spring of 1967. Though I had studied journalism when I was in school and had worked for The Daily Texan, my main job at The Rag was as a typist. For those of you who never had that unique experience, let me explain that not only did we type up all the Rag articles on old Underwood manual typewriters, but we typed the articles twice. The first go-round, we left little x's after the last word on the line to fill the column. In that way, we could see how many spaces we needed to leave the second time we typed in order to have justified lines. Needless to say, this was tedious work and it was mostly done by women, though this had not yet become an issue.

Nevertheless, my Rag story involves what may have been my first moment of women's consciousness. During those days, we had a nude on the centerfold and when sales were down, we would put the nude on the front page. During one of our low sales periods, we were discussing who would be the nude that would be on the front page, and someone said, "What about you, Sharon? You haven't been the nude."

Well, I hadn't been the nude, but something inside me rebelled against the idea of taking off my clothes to sell The Rag. It wasn't that I was a prude. I certainly had gone skinny dipping, and I talked about the sexual revolution as much as anyone. But I did not want to pose for The Rag, and after countering accusations that I was being provincial (after all, I was from Wichita Falls), I heard myself saying, "Why not have a male? Why not a male nude?"

A male nude? Everyone laughed. That wouldn't sell Rags. What a ludicrous thought! But even as we all laughed (me included) I did exchange some meaningful glances with some of the other women present. Why was it our bodies that sold Rags? How was this different from what happened in the larger society? It wasn't much later that we had a women's meeting in SDS, an announcement which initially, by the way, drew similar laughter. That meeting, though, rapidly changed everyone's consciousness, men and women. But for me, the real transformation took place when that inexplicable no welled up inside me at the thought of posing nude on the cover of The Rag.

Today, my Rag experiences have helped shape the person I became. I currently teach Women's Studies to underserved students at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio, am actively involved with a group that is fighting a Wal-Mart on environmentally sensitive land in the Hill Country, and remain thankful that there is something in us that says no to injustice.

Alan Pogue (1969-1977)

My best friend in Vietnam was killed while I was in Tokyo on R&R. My whole company had aged 20 years in the 10 days I was gone. Their ashen faces with fine wrinkles stunned me. Their youthful "I can handle it" pose was forever gone. They were all in combat shock.

Intellectually and morally I knew we had no business in Vietnam, but the death of Bruce Anello flattened the last barrier I had to keep me from feeling the pain. When I got back to the U.S. I wanted answers just like Cindy Sheehan wants answers now. I read everything I could on the history of the war on Vietnam. I learned what a worthless education I had received and what little one could know from reading the usual newspapers and magazines. When I enrolled at UT I soon discovered the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and joined. At first, some of the rhetoric in The Rag put me off, but then I realized that only The Rag was telling the truth about Vietnam and many other political realities.

I had bought a good camera in Tokyo and had learned to develop film on my own. Steve Russell, Hiz Honor professor Russell now, asked me to photograph Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen for his review in The Rag. The Student Union was more student friendly back then, and I was able to use a darkroom there. I submitted the print and hung around for the chaos that was a Rag staff meeting: Maoists, street people, Progressive Labor, SDS of all stripes, every liberation front wanting its issue put first. There was no editor. Everybody had a voice and used it. The shy person in me was appalled. But deep down I realized there was the possibility of telling some truth here.

I worked on every issue from that day in 1969 until The Rag ceased to publish in 1977. I studied philosophy at UT, and I'm glad I did that, but The Rag taught me more than several universities ever could. I worked for all those liberation fronts, and they taught me how the world really works.

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