Free Culture Lives!

Sunday at the West Fest, a free concert in Golden Gate Park, I threw a new line in my carny spiel: “Just like the SF Diggers gave it all away in the Summer of Love, our games are free. There ain’t no line, and it don’t cost a dime!” The SF Diggers have inspired me many times over with their mad, creative urge to make the word “free” the real deal. They gave food away to the wayward runaways that flocked to Upper Haight, inspiring the Food Not Bombs campaigns. They hustled landlords to get living space and then crammed in as many homeless teens as possible to get them off the streets, and the Huckleberry Youth Programs is a reminder of their work. The SF Diggers threw free concerts in the Panhandle, the West Fest was a quasi-unsponsored (they did have logos all over things) example of that legacy. Finally, the SF Diggers created free stores, where money wasn’t considered. The Really Really Free Markets and Clothing Swaps stand as 21st Century Examples of this idea.

The SF Diggers, for good or bad, were tied to the San Francisco Mime Troupe. On top of all that free culture listed above, there were also many puppet performances, spontaneous art happenings, and wild, tripped out parties. The Mime Troupe gave their shows away for free in parks across the City, and they had to fight for that right, inspiring the SF Diggers (and bringing on the hilarious arrest of some of their giant puppets). On the East Coast, Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet Theater also began to throw free performances in New York, Vermont, and beyond. And Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino also began free, radical performance from a Mexi-Cali Latino perspective.

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