After writer Ken Wachsberger was released from jail for the first time in 1970 during his senior year at Michigan State University, he was a changed man and had emerged a radical.
“Jail changes you; it gives you a whole new perspective," said the 61-year-old from Ann Arbor, who was one of 132 students arrested in 1970 at MSU for being in the MSU Union after hours. "Going to school wasn’t relevant anymore, with (the Vietnam War) going on and people being drafted and dying for no reason."
This experience transformed him into a vocal anti-war protester and he dropped out of college (he did return to finish his bachelor’s degree at MSU and later got his master’s degree, also at MSU). He became a fixture in the underground journalism movement and was a mainstay at the Lansing-based independent newspaper called Joint Issue.
According to Wachsberger, the underground press was the independent, anti-war press of the Vietnam era that told the true story — which the corporate and mainstream newspapers suppressed — of what the U.S. government was doing to the Vietnamese people behind Americans’ backs, in the name of democracy and with U.S. tax dollars.
These underground newspapers became the impetus of a four-volume set of books, “Voices from the Underground.” Originally, this set of books was supposed to be an article.
“I was asked by the editor of the Lansing Star, which was a successor paper to Joint Issue, to write a history of the local underground press. Nobody on the Lansing Star had been part of Joint Issue except me, so I was asked to write the history.
"Because I was so close to the event — it was such a major part of my life and such an exciting part of my life — I wasn’t able to write a history condensed into 1,000 words.”
Wachsberger had too much to tell in too little time and space.
"I worked on it real hard, and by deadline, I wasn’t even near done. So I said to the editor, ‘Take what I’ve got so far and call it Part One. I’ll continue to work on it and finish it up next week.’”
However, as it turned out, he still wasn’t done by the next deadline: What he submitted was Part Two. It subsequently became a three-part series of articles.
“It was an exciting story,” Wachsberger said. “For the first time to put down the history of the underground press — and it was a very intense history — the Lansing area has a really exciting history from the 1960s period. This was the first time we were able to put down the underground press history on paper.”
Flash-forward to the early 1990s: Wachsberger activated his old network of people who were part of the underground and compiled/edited the first volume of “Voices from the Underground,” which was first published in 1993 through an Ann Arbor publishing house called Incredible Librarian Books. However, the book went out-of-print early on; what has recently been published is a revised, updated and expanded edition.
“I wasn’t able to get it back into print for financial reasons until now," he said.
"People loved it. I struck a chord, way more than I ever anticipated."
The revised edition features forewords by Abe Peck, who wrote for the Chicago Seed, an underground newspaper; the late William Kunstler, a self-proclaimed “radical lawyer”; and Markos Moulitsas, founder of dailykos.com, a progressive blog site. In fact, Wachsberger pointed out, blogs such as Moulitsas’ and The Huffington Post are successors to the underground journalism movement.
“With our country bankrupted by two wars, the timing couldn’t be better to read these stories,” Wachsberger said. “Markos’ foreword connects yesterday’s underground press generation with today’s blogger generation.
"It’s time to listen again to the poets and visionaries of the independent, alternative press. It’s a spiritual connection between the two generations. Many have no idea about the underground press; it’s a high point of American journalism. Bloggers look at the book and pay attention to it and, frankly, blow it out into the blogosphere.”
7 p.m. Thursday. Everybody Reads Books and Stuff, 2019 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing. Free. (517) 346-9900. kenwachsberger.wordpress.com