In Your Neighborhood

History [and news] is not what happens, but what you don’t know

A new documentary on the Liberation News Service, which premieres this week on RI PBS, seeks to tell a story that connects the lineage between the underground press and the MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements

Photo courtesy of Dorothy Dickie

Dorothy Dickie, left, and Alice Embree, a former reporter for The Rat Subterranean News, one of the founders of SDS at University of Texas in Austin and The Rag, an underground paper in Austin which still lives today online as the Rag Blog.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 1/10/21
A new documentary about the Liberation New Service premieres on RI PBS this week, produced and directed by Dorothy Dickie.
Why is there such a disconnect to what happened with the development of the underground press and the alternative press and our current history? How does the alternative universe of facts propagated by Fox News and others make it difficult to have political conversations? How many people have ever read Harvey Wasserman’s History of the United States, with a foreword by Howard Zinn?
Interviewing Dorothy Dickie about her new documentary proved to be a more difficult task, because I knew many of the people featured in her film, and also knew many of the back stories about what happened and why, from a personal vantage point. The lack of continuity in our own stories and our personal histories reflects on the need to keep telling stories and sharing stories, as a way to engage with people, not with political rhetoric, but with conversations about our lives and the choices we make.

PROVIDENCE – On Monday, Jan. 11, at 9 p.m., RI PBS will premiere a new documentary, “Under the Ground: The Story of Liberation News Service,” directed and produced by Dorothy Dickie, who recently joined the news team at RI PBS as a director and producer.

What prompted Dickie to do a film documentary about the Liberation News Service, as she explained in a recent interview with ConvergenceRI, was her bafflement when someone mentioned the Liberation News Service – and she had never heard of it, had no idea what it was, and she wondered why.

The film examines the origins of the Liberation News Service, begun in 1967 by Marshall Bloom and Ray Mungo, who found themselves reporting on the news and then disseminating it to a burgeoning network of underground and alternative newspapers, often from the perspective of being a participant in the news story itself.

“I also wanted to emphasize the relationship between the underground press and LNS; I don’t think you can have one without the other,” Dickie said. “In the film, there are lots of interviews with people who were either supplying the news for LNS, or LNS was supplying news to the underground press.”

From the 1967 March on Washington protesting the Vietnam War to the 1968 student uprising at Columbia University, which attempted to halt the school’s development plans in neighboring Morningside Park, the Liberation News Service created a network for distributing news content across alternative platforms – decades before the Internet and personal computers.

Then, in 1968, a splinter group of LNS, moved to a farm on Chestnut Hill Road in Montague, Mass., using the receipts from the opening of the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine,” in New York City, to finance the move and buy the farm. One of the hard lessons they  learned was the reality that ink froze on the printing press when the temperature dropped below zero.

“Under The Ground” tells the story of what happened, allowing many of the Liberation News Service “veterans” to share their own stories, as they tried to navigate the tumultuous terrain of the 1960s and the cultural and political upheaval – as well as the interpersonal divide between the back-to-the-landers and the more political ideologues.

Although the territory has been covered by the non-fiction account, Famous Long Ago, written by Ray Mungo, this is the first film documentary about LNS, according to Dickie.

In Dickie’s recounting of the history of LNS, she said that she focuses more on the political rather than cultural side of the story.

[For transparency purposes, for a number of years, I lived in Montague Center, Mass., and interacted with many of the folks who were part of Liberation News Service family, including Harvey Wasserman, Sam Lovejoy, Anna Gyorgy, Steve Diamond, Chuck Light, and Dan and Nina Keller, among others.]

Here is the ConvergenceRI interview with Dorothy Dickie, RI PBS director, talking about her documentary, “Under The Ground,” which seeks to connect the dots between the underground news network created by the Liberation News Service and many of the current political movements today.

ConvergenceRI: What is your official position at RI PBS?
DICKIE: I am a staff producer, but I produced the documentary before I even joined them. And, I offered it to them if they were interested in picking it up, and they did. They are the first broadcasters of the program, which is wonderful.

ConvergenceRI: Can you describe your role in producing “Under the Ground?”
DICKIE: I did everything on it, everything a producer does. I found the people, I interviewed them, I shot it, I edited it. I did everything, except the graphics. Everything else was me.

ConvergenceRI: What does your current work entail at RI PBS?
DICKIE: I am a producer, working on documentaries. such as this one, and also one on women – it’s on women and New England politicians, it’s called “X-Factor,” and it aired on Jan. 1. I am also working as a producer on “A Lively Experiment.” Those are my two jobs so far.

ConvergenceRI: Are you familiar with who I am and my work with ConvergenceRI?
DICKIE: I picked up a little bit about ConvergenceRI, and I understand that you knew people from Montague, is that right?

ConvergenceRI: I used to live in Montague.
DICKIE So you know Harvey [Wasserman].

ConvergenceRI: Yes. I knew most of the folks who lived at the Montague Farm – Harvey Wasserman, Anna Gyorgy, Stevie Diamond, Sam Lovejoy, Dan and Nina Keller.
DICKIE: Did you know Marshall [Bloom]?

ConvergenceRI: I never knew Marshall; he died before I lived in Montague. But Ray Mungo was somebody I met; did you interview Chuck Light?
DICKIE: Yes. [Editor's note: Dickie clarified her comment; she met and talked with Light, but did not "interview" him.]

ConvergenceRI: Chuck used to pitch for my Montague softball team; I was the catcher. We played in the Montague fast-pitch league. At one point, Ray Mungo even kept score for one of our games.
DICKIE: I love Ray. He’s great.

ConvergenceRI: What made you want to do a film about the Liberation News Service? What made it an important story to tell?
DICKIE: I guess it was because I had never heard of it. Now, full disclosure, I am Canadian. That would make a difference, for sure. I was working for Vermont PBS on a documentary series called “Beyond Bernie.” And, in it, I profiled a number of “back to the landers.”

Some were from Total Loss Farm, and one was [the poet] Vernadah Porche. And, she told me about Liberation News Service. And, I thought, this is crazy, I have never heard about it. And nobody I knew had heard about it, either.

I began to do some digging, and I thought, this would be a great idea for a documentary. This was my very first documentary [as a producer], so it was a huge learning curve for me, not so much with the story-telling party, but every thing else – trying to get it sold, trying to raise money, which was really tough. That’s why I am so indebted to Rhode Island PBS for helping me out and getting this thing to broadcast.

This has been a labor of love for two and a half years. I thought it was a very important story, one that has huge ramifications today. People say in the documentary that LNS was the precursor to the modern-day Internet, and I believe it.

The arc of Liberation News Service itself is fascinating. Even after many of the original LNSers left – Marshall and Ray and Verandah and Harvey and Steve Diamond, it continued until 1981. They also instituted some wonderful, progressive requirements, in that there had to be two-thirds women to one-third men in any kind of staffing.

The story resonates with so much of what is happening today; I thought it was an important story that had to be told.

ConvergenceRI: The Montague Farm and its origins with LNS also helped to spawn the anti-nuclear movement in America. Chuck Light and Dan Keller using the Bloom Institute for Media Studies, or BIMS, to produce “Sam Lovejoy’s Nuclear War,” which they then marketed to school film libraries across the country. They were also involved with Musicians United for Safe Energy…
DICKIE: But that didn’t really impact the Liberation News Service; I didn’t see the overlap with Liberation News Service.

ConvergenceRI: Many of the same tactics that they learned in creating the Liberation News Service were used to create an alternative network to spread the word about the No Nukes movement.
DICKIE: I know that Harvey [Wasserman] was huge into that. He told me a little bit about that. I was at the 50th anniversary of the farm, which was in 2018, down at Montague.

ConvergneceRI: What was the biggest surprise for you in doing your research?
DICKIE: I guess, in broad strokes, the fact that the people who created LNS were very young, they were 18, 19, 20.

It was a very tumultuous time in history; it all started because of the Vietnam War.

I think I was surprised by the dedication of these two guys, really, Ray and Marshall, who started LNS. They were so young; when you see them in the film, they were like almost babies.

You do see that now, with the Black Live Matter movement, and with the MeToo movement, with young people getting involved. They did amazing things, I thought, with very little; it was really by their own wits; they had to scrape and claw things together. It was very inspiring.

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