Free the Food: The Diggers

All Watched over by Machines of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.
I like to think
. . . . . . . .(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.
I like to think
. . . . . . . (it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Take another look at the poem, above. No, nobody around here wrote it, and somehow I doubt most people today would describe their computer as a “machine of loving grace.” It was a part of The Digger Papers, published in August of 1968 in the San Francisco publication, The Realist.

The Diggers, an “anarchist guerilla street theater group”, put this together in an effort to describe what was going on in San Francisco at this time. It contains a lot of philosophy and poetry and nearly incomprehensible hippie prose. However, what does come through clearly is an overwhelming sense of what this culture was all about: No, everything?s not okay, and yes, there is something we can do about it. Their ways were a little un-orthodox, but still interesting.

They took their name from the English Diggers, utopian communist farmers who gave the Commonwealth landowners a run for their money in 1649-1650. While different in their methods, the San Francisco Diggers believed that they could change the status quo with similar ideas. Basically, that “money is an unnecessary evil.” In the Quintissential Digger Manifesto, “all responsible citizens are asked to turn in their money. No questions will be asked.” Everybody is simply assured that if they turn in their money to their local Digger, it will be re-distributed to all and its energy will be released and everything will be lovely.

It sounds pretty suspicious, right? Here’s the thing though — they actually did it. Their most famous activities revolved around distributing Free Food every day in Golden Gate Park, and distributing “surplus energy” at a series of Free Stores (where everything was free for the taking.) They organized “Be-ins (whatever that might entail), and started saying things like “Do your own thing” and “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Aside from coining some cliche and having an overly optimistic view of computers, though, they did change art and literature. For them, the theater was not a world apart from the everyday masses with memorized lines and faked emotions. They called themselves “life actors” and made a point of performing at the drop of a hat. Theater became a much more accessible and imaginative medium when they decided it was “a space for existing outside padded walls.” Theater of the Absurd had already decided that a protagonist did not have to be logical, or indeed even present (as in Beckett?s Waiting for Godot, where Godot never actually shows up), but the Diggers decided that a protagonist might not even be necessary.

Their visions of a utopian society, where money has become obsolete might seem naive and childish to us, but it all shows a willingness to care and faith in humanity that doesn?t seem to be “cool” today. Strangely enough, all of this really seemed to upset the old people.

(As the Diggers also didn?t believe in copyrights, the complete Digger Papers, along with a lot of other material, can be found on-line at the Diggers archive.)

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!