Red in black and white:
The New Left printing renaissance of the
1960s – and beyond 
Essay by Lincoln Cushing in Peace
Press Graphics 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change
Catalog for 2011 exhibition at the University Art Museum,
California State University, Long Beach
Exhibition curated by Ilee Kaplan and Carol A. Wells, Center for the Study
of Political Graphics
Also see: Bay Area radical printshops
information officers of the New American Left have rediscovered an
ancient political ally: print power.
All over the country, radical and "movement" organizations have spawned
their own print shops run by their own pressmen to churn out an
increasing number of posters, pamphlets, handbills, and flyers. Whether
it's to mobilize a march on Washington, explain the advantages of "Free
Speech” for GIs, or advertise courses at "Omega U. - an alternate
university," the rebel presses are rolling. By the thousands, their
folded-and-stapled brochures, decorated with crude graphics, are being
given away at hastily set up campus tables or sold in the standard
subculture outlets: Barbara's Bookshop in Chicago, the Granma in
Berkeley, the Militant Labor Forum in New York, and scores of others."
movement needs a voice, and ever since Gutenberg systematized the
concept of movable type radicals have put ink to paper to create
multiples of inflammatory documents. It’s also true that, as
iconoclastic journalist A.J.Liebling wrote, “Freedom of the press is
guaranteed only to those who own one.” 
But at the end of the Second World War the Old Left (primarily the
Communist Party, but also including other forces for change, such as
the Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW) was hammered down so far
by McCarthyism that political presses went into hibernation. Producing
public political documents could lose you your job and your family.
The advent of relatively
low-cost office spirit duplicators and mimeograph machines 
democratized the lowest end of printing, and made it possible for
unions, churches, and community groups to produce crude flyers composed
on typewriters. But the trickier and larger jobs were still in the
domain of professionals who had the skills and equipment. Occasionally
a sympathetic shop or press operator could slip out a surreptitious
tract, but for all intents and purposes public printed agitational
documents like posters vanished from the landscape. It’s a remarkable
fact that the Civil Rights movement and the Free Speech Movement of
1964 relied on almost every medium but posters.
broke the ice for posters were the free handbills produced for the San
Francisco rock concerts starting in 1965. All of a sudden, people
realized what they didn’t know they were missing – vibrant, powerful
graphics they could put on a wall. And the underground newspapers were
doing crazy things with graphics. Cultural forces preceded political
ones, which interestingly was happening about the same time in Cuba.
The majority of posters produced by government agencies after the 1959
revolution had been relatively stiff and boring until visionary
publicist Saśl Yelin at the Cuban Film Institute transformed the entire
concept of a film poster. He encouraged a style where the graphic art
emphasized the film’s content rather than the film’s stars, and dozens
of idealistic and talented artists applied their professional skills to
this new enterprise. The other Cuban propaganda agencies took note.
That happened here too.
first glimmer of the new generation of activist print shops started in
1964 in the heat of Berkeley's Free Speech Movement (FSM). Their
newsletter was first printed on a 14'' x 20'' Multilith 2066
by in the basement of a home later demolished to make
People’s Park. The press was owned by Dunbar Aitken,
publisher of the occasional science journal Particle,
but Dunbar was evicted by his landlord for printing
“communist papers.” When FSM activist and
Newsletter editor Barbara Garson got involved, the shop was being
managed by an old Trotskyist printer named Marion Syrek.
Barbara describes the scene:
a speed freak who was handy with equipment, got [the old
press] running… We printed five or six issues of the FSM
newsletter. The press did movement printing at cost.
That was in the day of marches and demos with huge print
runs of leaflets. We also took in commercial business
at normal prices. But it was understood that in a political
emergency the political jobs would come first.
shop moved several times until eventually becoming the Berkeley Free
Press, then Berkeley Graphic Arts, and is currently the site of
FSM veteran and master printmaker David Lance Goines’ St.
saw the first generation of shops blossom. In addition to Peace Press,
several other shops dedicated to social change began inking their
Glad Day Press
was founded in Ithaca, New York as a spin-off from the local peace
center. The name was from William Blake’s 1795 painting, where Da
Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” is liberated from his constraining circle and
square, beaming with an inner energy – an apt metaphor for the
transformative feeling of the mid-1960s. They bought used equipment,
learned to print, and served as a model for an independent activist
shop. Although their initial priority was opposing the war in Viet Nam,
they weathered shifts within the movement, including the disintegration
of SDS and the end of the war in 1973, and continued to produce
materials for a wide range of issues including Cuba solidarity, Native
American occupations, and support for liberation movements in Southern
Africa. They charged a sliding scale and produced many self-published
projects, including posters and books. As they began to take on more
commercial printing to sustain the shop, they relied less on volunteers
and cross-trained a core group of skilled collective members, and
proudly displayed the militant union label of the IWW.
in 1967, in Madison, Wisconsin, local publisher Morris Edelson donated
the profits from his production of Barbara Garson's satirical play MacBird
for the purchase of a used Multilith 1250 duplicator. This became the
first movement press in the area, known variously as “Connections” or
the “DRU (Draft Resistance Union) Press.” It only lasted two years, but
served the movement
well in printing numerous handbills as well as several multi-color
posters and the left magazine Radical America.
News Service (New York City), although technically not a movement shop
(rarely did they print for outside organizations) was a movement
resource that ran its material out on two little Chief 15’s. Started in
1967, LNS sent twice-weekly news packets of articles, graphics, and
photographs to member underground publications.
also among the first of the “new” generation independent political
print shops was Baltimore’s Liberation House Press, created by civil
rights activist Walter Hall Lively (1942-1976) and subsidized by the
Cummins Engine Foundation. It began around 1968 as a training ground
for the young black men Walter drew to his various programs, and
eventually offered a full range of printing services at cut rates to
"radical groups."  In 1968
the New England Free Press in Boston began a 13-year run in movement
job printing and publishing. They also took on that Achilles heel of
all propaganda – distribution. Among their more significant titles was
the feminist self-help classic Women and Their Bodies (1970),
renamed Our Bodies, Ourselves in 1971, which sold 250,000
Press was an early San Francisco Bay Area shop, which mostly catered to
the counterculture but very often that community included political
work as well. In 1969 Thomas Morris was one of several people in that
informal band, operating out of a funky warehouse on the
Berkeley-Oakland border. This story expresses the precarious and
serendipitous nature of many community print shops:
night, just as I finished cleaning the press, the hair on my arms
actually began to rise off the skin, and the air smelled
electric. Opening the door into the rest of the old warehouse, I
spotted flames in the back of the building. Looking into this
incredible shop that we had built out of nothing, I grabbed the only
possession that I cherished at the time, my leather coat, and made it
to the front door on my hands and knees under the smoke, just as the
fireman’s axe came crashing through the door. Word spread quickly
(we had two communal houses nearby), and my friends all gathered, as we
watched the building burn to the ground.
but not undaunted, we moved the equipment into a storefront on old
Grove Street (a few doors down from the Black Panther headquarters),
and began peeling back the melted rubber and rust. As the
restoration work neared completion, we were approached by a women’s
collective who proclaimed that they were “liberating” the machine. It
was their turn to unleash the magic and power of that printing
press. I believe it ended up in a building filled with poetry
groups near the Ashby BART station. The small Multi 1250,
remained in the storefront area at that location, where we had rooms
in the summer of 1969 the Print Co-op started at the University of
Illinois Champaign-Urbana campus. The core members would later go on to
found Salsedo Press in Chicago, but the reason for starting this first
shop was typical – the need for unrestricted media access. As
Chris Burke remembers:
decided to do this after the nearest printer, who was in an Air Force
base town 30 miles away, began arbitrarily censoring our underground
rag The Walrus (removing photos--typically naked people--and
words---usually obscenities about Nixon) that he didn't agree with. I
clearly remember our first self-produced issue having coverage of
People's Park and the SDS convention. 
shops were followed by a whole generation of movement shops that sprang
up in almost every major city. Madison’s second shop, RPM Print Co-op,
got its start in 1970 with a grant from the Wisconsin Student
Association to buy out an existing commercial printer. Salsedo Press
incorporated in Chicago in 1973. The next year saw the triple birth of
Red Sun in the Boston area, Resistance Press in Philadelphia, and
Inkworks Press in Oakland (later Berkeley). Other shops of this vintage
include New York City’s Come!Unity Press (a 24-hour open access print
shop run by a gay anarchist collective), Fanshen in San Diego, People’s
Press in San Francisco, and Northwest Working Press in Eugene, Oregon.
Most of these shops embraced a
distinct set of qualities:
- An articulated political position;
- A sliding scale for fees and specific mechanisms for
- A commitment to hiring people not usually in the trade
(women and people of color);
- Membership in a trade union;
- Organization in a non-hierarchical form, such as a
collective or co-op.
Press, an “old” shop still in operation (as are Salsedo and Red Sun),
is a good example. It was formed in 1974 by several members who had
been learning offset printing at an alternative school and wanted to
create a movement print shop. The various streams of activism – against
the Vietnam War, for international solidarity, civil rights, feminism,
LGBT rights – were in full bloom, and there was a deep need for
community-based media facilities. From the beginning, the shop planned
to be self-sufficient, which would be accomplished with a blend of
commercial and political work charged on a sliding scale. As a
mechanism to institutionalize revolutionary politics, the shop became a
non-profit (though not tax-exempt) corporation with a collective
structure in which everyone owned it together – no one owned any
individual share, as is the case with co-ops. Over the years, the
collective has sought to be a model of ethnic and gender diversity, and
many members came from other movement shops from around the country and
Canada. In its early days the collective developed a Political Points
of Unity to define where the shop stood and whom it served. Inkworks
has tried to be an inclusive facility serving the broad progressive
community. As a way to assure reasonable working conditions and align
with the labor movement, Inkworks became a union shop (International
Printing and Graphic Communications Union, now part of the Teamsters)
After the end of
the Viet Nam War, much of the wind was taken out of the sails for
movement printing. But American capitalism and imperialism lumbered on,
and a whole new set of movements emerged that also required printing.
dedicated Central American solidarity print shop was New Americas Press
(1981-1985), one of many such shops in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Press operator Adam Kufeld remembers:
were mobilizing for a particularly large and important demo. Kissinger
was coming to town and we really want to “welcome” him. So, we decide
we needed 25,000 fliers for the Bay Area. That’s a lot of fliers on two
twenty-year old presses. And we decided it needed to be two colors, for
impact. Well, long story short, in our stupor of printing day and night
we forgot to unmask the date and time of the demo. And, well we were
just going to have to run them all back though again, another 25,000
times, now that’s 75,000 impressions, in printers terms. It’s sort of
funny now, but then, well it was less funny. But everyone pitched in,
and we did it…
emerging women’s community also flexed its printing wings. The San
Francisco-based nonprofit Women’s Skills Center set up the Women’s
Press Project (WPP) in 1974 for vocational skills training in the
printing trade. In addition to the important task of helping women
enter a traditionally male trade, the collectively run WPP also
produced paid work to support themselves. They became a union shop in
1983, and were joined by sister shop Up Press the next year. They
eventually closed down due to the departure of several key members,
coupled with the challenge of serving as a training facility also
producing commercial work.
unique challenges for women entering this traditionally male trade were
huge, but the rewards were worth it. Here is one contemporaneous
assessment of the situation by Jean Engle, co-owner of Ink Well Press
in Youngstown, Ohio:
are the lesbian and feminist printers? We range in our politics from
lesbian-separatist to commercial job shops. We are organized as
collectives, cooperatives, partnerships, and proprietorships. Some
lesbian and feminist printers work in relatively large collectively
owned shops such as Iowa City Women's Press; others of us run small
enterprises singly or with other feminists. Some are part of "movement"
press collectives that specialize in printing for liberation and social
movements. And a great number of lesbian and feminist printers struggle
to maintain their politics in the varying climates of male-owned
commercial shops. We are not only press operators - we are engaged in
all aspects of print and "print prep" from typesetting and layout, to
camera and stripping  , to
all other lesbians and feminists, our work comes into conflict with
patriarchal, consumer values. For example, feminist-owned shops are
usually working with "outdated" equipment that slows our production and
restricts the range of what we can produce. Why don't we do as the
male-owned shops do - borrow money and purchase new, better equipment?
There are several reasons. First in importance is that most of us have
chosen, by the very act of being lesbians and/or feminists, to seek
alternatives to the capitalist, patriarchal business institution. We
are looking to focus more of our energy on the process of production,
not the product itself. That means taking time to discuss, work out
hassles, reach consensus: it means trying to integrate our "work" lives
with our "personal/political" lives. If we refuse to let money and
production run our lives, we are going to be very wary of tying
ourselves to enormous debt (and printing equipment is expensive). It is
a choice about values.
The future of movement shops
the 1980s on, new shops continued to appear with decreasing frequency.
Some carved out a niche, such as letterpress work or Latin American
poetry books, but the trade was fundamentally changing. Personal
computers and “desktop publishing” replaced skilled typographers;
inexpensive flatbed scanners and Photoshop now accomplish in seconds
what used to take hours and cost a fortune. Printing on paper itself is
an endangered craft, although it’s far from dead. Scale matters.
The Web can’t compete with a simple flyer to get local citizens fired
up about a neighborhood struggle. Tangibility matters. People will
still pay something for a nice booklet or poster to take home and keep.
New to the trade is Lantz Arroyo, pulling together the brand-new (2010)
Radix Media print shop in Portland, Oregon. He describes his rationale:
to print on an offset press has been really empowering. It’s really old
technology. When I load a plate onto the press and start running it,
I’m doing the same thing as someone a hundred years ago was doing.
There are differences, sure, but the technique is the same, and that’s
really exciting to me. My main goal with Radix, from the very
beginning, has been to make beautiful propaganda. I consider it a form
of activism, but it’s a factor that many times gets overlooked. Humans
are very visual; if something doesn’t look good, people just aren’t
going to pick it up, and they’re definitely not going to digest
whatever message you’re trying to send. 
as sister Engle put it, it’s all about values. The primary reason
anyone engaged in the craziness of running a community print shop was
to serve the people. Peace Press, and all the others who
chose that humble path did so for the most noble of reasons – to
support an informed and active citizenry. Long live the
ran his first Multilith 1250 in 1971; he later co-founded the
University of California San Diego Print Collective (1974-1978) where
he ran an AB Dick 360. He was a member of the Inkworks Press collective
for 19 years and is currently an archivist and author. See his book All
Of Us Or None: Social Justice Posters of the San Francisco Bay Area,
about the political poster renaissance of the 1960s and 1970s. You can
see more at www.docspopuli.org
thanks to Carol Wells, Ilee Kaplan, and the staff at the CSULB Art
Museum for producing this important exhibition and catalog. This essay
first posted 9/16/2011, revised 10/1/2011.
For a British essay on a similar theme, see "Free Radicals"
by Jess Baines.
of San Francisco Bay Area political and countercultural screenprint and
1. “Viet Nam Shall Win," artwork by Rene
Mederos (Cuba), poster published by Glad Day Press for N.Y.C.
Medical Aid to Indochina, 1972.
2. “Glad Day’s biggest press, a Chief 126.” Photo from “Left Profile:
Glad Day Press” in Liberation Support Movement News, Winter
3. Liberation House logo, from International
Women's Day poster circa 1969.
4. Kathy Mulvihill operating Liberation News Service press, photograph
by Anne Dockery, 1970.
5. Come!Unity Press logo
6. Peoples Press logo
This essay only begins to capture the rich and neglected story of
radical presses in America. This research is a work in progress, and
space here only allows a limited treatment of the subject. A phrase in
the 1975 booklet Sing a Battle Song: Poems by Women in the Weather
Underground Organization expresses the challenge of compiling this
sort of history:
“One thing I know
all truths come close, are never
the final verity…”
Any corrections, amplifications, criticisms, or
suggestions are welcome by the author.
“Young Radicals Rediscover and Use the Power of the Press,” by Lynn
Sherr, Associated Press; This version from the Spartanburg (South
Carolina) Herald-Journal, July 8, 1970.
Liebling, Abbott Joseph. 1961. The press. New York:
Ballantine Books, 30.
more on this technology, see “Cranking It Out, Old-School Style: Art of
the Gestetner," by Lincoln Cushing
The Mimeograph: A Tool for
Radical Art and Political Contestation
compiled by Alt Gar Bra, Bergen, Norway, 2016. A wonderful compilation
of essays and articles from all over the world about the use of
mimeograph and Gestetner machines for political propaganda - and
produced in a limited edition on a Gestetner!
“Largest U.S. Collector Takes You to Madison: Poster Country” The
Bugle American, Vol. 7, No. 15 April 23, 1976, by J. Wesley Miller.
Hall Lively (1942-1976) Civil Rights Activist & Black
Liberationist,” by Rudolph Lewis, ChickenBones: A Journal for
Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
interview with Thomas Morris, 12/8/2009
correspondence with Chris Burke 1/12/2011.
Kufeld, "http://cispes30years.org/1980/10/founding-of-cispes" [no longer posted]
Several of these skills no longer exist in the current digital world –
typesetting was the preparation of raw text into printable format,
cameras were used to shoot that physical artwork, and stripping was the
assembly of that film in a way that plates could be burned.
“Why Feminist Printers?” by Jean Engle, in Feminist Collections,
published by the Women’s Studies Library Resources in Wisconsin, Vol. 4
No. 3, Spring 1983.
Interview in the veganism and animal rights weblog No Fucking Whey!
Last updated 8/15/2021