a workers collective 1967-1987, Los Angeles & Culver City, California

"Political power comes off the impression cylinder"

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The story of Peace Press
By Irene Wolt (Peace Press worker, 1971-72)

What do Timothy Leary, Huey Newton and Brian Wilson have in common? They were all clients of Peace Press, a unique Los Angeles institution where alternative politics and art intersected for 20 years. The Press operated from 1967-1987 — a long time for a political collective, a very long time for an anti-war group, and an extraordinary length of time for a print shop whose founders did not know how to print.

Those founders were anti-war activists from SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), VDC (Vietnam Day Committee) and the Resistance, who were looking for a way to print materials about the Viet Nam War. Like many organizations in that pre-digital, pre-Xerox era, the three groups, sharing an office in Westwood, depended on a mimeograph. But mimeo machines produced fuzzy copies and could only run limited quantities. Commercial printers were not a viable option; they needed long lead times, cost too much, and they often refused to print the organizations’ anti-establishment, anti-draft materials.

SDS/VDC activist Jerry Palmer, then a UCLA physics graduate student, had envisioned a ‘Peace Press’ for the movement ever since he visited a commercial shop to print some peace seals he had designed in 1965. The box of offset press parts that he brought back to the SDS/VDC/Resistance office one afternoon in 1967 gave first life to that dream. Jerry assembled the small press, learned how to run it, and he and others began printing the organizations’ mobilization leaflets and the thousands of flyers that Resistance members handed out at the local induction center every morning. Sometime later, the Women’s Strike for Peace, frustrated in their efforts to find a shop to print their “Draft Law” booklet, became the first of many organizations to bring their materials to be printed.

In those early years, the Press changed location frequently, as the FBI, local authorities and right-wing landlords took notice of their activities and had them kicked out. For some time it operated out of two garages. By then Peace Press was becoming a distinct entity of its own, separate from the organizations that had spawned it.

That evolution peaked in 1970, when the Press purchased its first large press and set up business on La Cienega Boulevard . Soon, other young activists looking for “meaningful work” joined the staff. Within a year there were almost a dozen workers, earning subsistence or no wages, committed to offering low-cost printing to the community. In the process, they forged themselves into a collective that worked and studied and played together.

Unlike traditional print shops, Peace Press involved community groups—often women and people of color—in the production of their printing work, teaching skills such as layout, paste-up, and camera work, as well as how to run the presses. Hundreds of individuals and organizations brought their jobs to the Press during this time, including the Black Panther Party, Chicano Moratorium, Free Angela Davis Committee, Teamsters United Rank and File, Free Venice Collective, Malcolm X Committee, National Association for Irish Justice, Harriet Tubman Bookstore, and many peace and justice coalitions. The Press became the hub of print production for the full spectrum of alternative social, political and cultural organizations in the area.

Then, on the night of January 9, 1972 , a fire swept through the Press, destroying its equipment and supplies. Amazingly, the Press was back in operation after only one day, due to an outpouring of community support, including invitations to share facilities and equipment.

Almost a year later, with insurance benefits in hand, Peace Press moved into its last, most permanent, home in Culver City. During the Press’ 15 years there, as the Viet Nam War ended and the issues of the times changed, the Press also went through a metamorphosis. It evolved into a business printing high-quality commercial work —primarily from rock promoters, artists, musicians, and local theaters. Anything considered racist or sexist, though, would be rejected, no matter how lucrative it might be. The Press also added a publishing component, which produced almost 50 books —including Timothy Leary’s writings, alternative energy and healing arts manuals, a guide to growing marijuana, and a history of nonviolence in the U.S. Workers, at one time as many as 28, now tended to be more skilled. Even lunch preparation, which had been shared by staff, became more professionalized with hired cooks, usually unemployed artists.

Still, the Press continued to print at low or no cost for virtually every progressive cause taken up in LA. The Pentagon Papers Defense Committee, the United Farm Workers, Alliance for Survival, American Indian Movement, Earth Day Committee, and various groups advocating solidarity with Central America all had posters and leaflets printed at the Press. The shop, structured as a worker-owned collective, also served as an ongoing laboratory of socially-responsible business practices, with most decisions still being made collectively and everyone getting equal wages regardless of skill or job position.

Peace Press closed in 1987, but its legacy continues. The materials it produced continue to speak to the issues of today. Once again our government has involved us in an unpopular war; environmental degradation is escalating; and human rights for women, people of color, and gays and lesbians still need defending.

The unique history of the Press continues to resonate as the government attacks today’s anti-war movement, the arts and free speech. In this era of increased corporate media disinformation and news-as-entertainment, there is something vital to be learned from the model of alternative information production created by committed activists more than 30 years ago. Though the tools or technologies may change, injustices continue to be fought, and dissenting points of view need to be expressed and safeguarded.


Updated April 13, 2005

Documentary film
PatriotS Act...Peace Press: the People's Printing Collective
The documentary film PatriotS Act...PEACE PRESS: the People's Printing Collective premiered at the 9th Annual Dances With Films Festival at Laemmle's Fairfax Theatre in Los Angeles on Saturday July 22, 2006.  Peace Press, a worker owned, democratically managed printing and publishing company, produced posters, books and other printed matter for virtually every progressive cause in LA from 1967-1987. The film, created by a crew from LA Valley College, documents the history of the Press through interviews, photographs and film, and covers an exhibition of Peace Press posters in March 2005. It also highlights the work of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, which helped produce the exhibition.
The festival website, www.danceswithfilms.com, described the film.
Dissent is not disloyalty but rather an expression of 1st Amendment rights. Art can be both commercial and a weapon. From 50 hours of interviews, artwork, newsreels, home movies, personal photos, comes the who-what-why of a unique group of L.A. activist-artists who created an “alternate everything” printing/publishing business which sprang from college-age Viet Nam War protesters. From 1967-87, this counter-culture collective had over 300 clients from rock music to civil rights, the environment to women’s issues. What “Woodstock” was to a film generation, the Peace Press was to graphic arts. The times have changed but not the causes for which “PatriotS Act.”

The film can be viewed in four parts online on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSzrLYJ2YwY