San Francisco Diggers

From Anarchy In Action

In 1966, a group of writers, actors and theorists splintered out of a mime troupe and formed an anti-authoritarian collective named after the Diggers of the seventeenth-century English Revolution. With an emphasis on theatrical direct action, the San Francisco Diggers pioneered tactics such as radical puppetry and free stores. They printed the first issues of the Black Panthers' newspaper, and their free grocery service inspired the Panthers' famous Free Breakfast for Children Program.[1]

The San Francisco Diggers took inspiration from the Dutch anarchist group Provos. Historian Andrew Cornell notes, "Like their Dutch contemporaries, the San Francisco Diggers believed rebellious youth, specifically those congregating in growing numbers on Haight Street, might serve as a revolutionary 'base'. And like the Situationists and the Provos, the Diggers devised interventions in daily life that would challenge cultural preoccupations with status and accumulation. Digger Peter Berg termed these interventions 'life-acting'."[2]

The S.F. Diggers opened a store called Trip Without a Ticket, where everything was free of charge. They served free food every afternoon at Golden Gate Park, and they organized street theatre demonstrations with giant puppets and other props in the middle of city streets. One member Peter Coyote remarked, "Our hope was that if we were imaginative enough in creating social paradigms as free men and women, the example would be infectious and might produce self-directed (as opposed to coerced or manipulated) social change."[3]

The S.F. Diggers set up a printing press which printed the first issues of the Black Panther Party's newsletter. Also, the Panther leader "David Hillard credits the Diggers' free grocery service as inspiring the Panthers' free breakfast program for children."[4]

In addition to receiving donations from the Grateful Dead and other donors, the S.F. Diggers raised funds through theft and welfare checks.[5]

According to Wikipedia, prevalent sexism in S.F. Diggers effectively meant that men held a monopoly on decision making and women did most of the actual work. "For instance, in providing free food, male members of the group socialized and promoted the events, while female group members did most of the work of collecting food, cooking and serving it."[6]

  1. Andrew Cornell, Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the Twentieth Century (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016), 251-254.
  2. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 252.
  3. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 252-253.
  4. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 253.
  5. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 253.
  6. "Diggers (theater)", Wikipedia, accessed 7 February 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diggers_(theater).