About the Sonoma County Free Press
In the fall of 1986, law enforcement officers in helicopters and full military gear laid siege to the small community of Cazadero in western Sonoma County in California. This Rambo-like operation was launched to capture a handful of small-time marijuana growers. In an unexplained 'coincidence', seven of the nine people arrested were social justice and environmental activists. While most of those arrested chose to take the easier "diversionary" route, two of those activists, Carol and Michael Miller, spent their hard earned money and time in an unsuccessful attempt to challenge the search and seizure in court. Although the battle was lost, the dialogue generated by their effort brought the issue of marijuana cultivation, including cultivation for medical use, to the attention of the activist community.
At that time "Granma Nudge," Mary Moore's editorial column, was a regular feature in the Sonoma County PEACE PRESS, a publication of Santa Rosa's Peace and Justice Center. When Mary reported the chain of events that had been playing themselves out in the hills of Cazadero, she was shocked when the editorial collective of the Peace Press informed her that the column would not be printed because a frank discussion of marijuana cultivation would "alienate" readers. Many local activists had been concerned for some time that no real forum existed in Sonoma County for the discussion of 'controversial' subjects within our community. The pot issue was just one of those at the time. A concerned 'angel' approached Mary Moore with $1000 and said "go start your own paper". We did. After much discussion it was decided that our main objective was to provide a general forum for dialogue in our community, as well as to educate about progressive issues.
We did that for the next ten years.
It is very fitting that at the end of those ten years California activists enjoyed a landslide victory with Proposition 215, the Medical Marijuana Initiative. Sonoma County, and especially the western part of the county, weighed in heavier than the rest of the state with its vote in favor of compassionate use. It is no little irony that this very issue was the catalyst for the creation of The Sonoma County Free Press.
Inside the Free Press?
The FREE PRESS has been more than just a forum for pot politics. In the past ten years we have seen a variety of issues fade in and out of local significance; from the corporate oligarchy to infighting among the left, from prison reform to the roots of depression, from toxic racism to cultural genocide, we have given each the best and most comprehensive coverage we possibly could. Our current cadre of columnists are experts in their field each strongly committed to social justice as a concept. Their regular columns keep readers informed about nuke and pesticide issues, gay and lesbian politics, race and gender, the death penalty and prison reform, Cuba, the corporate and government colluders, movement history, public radio updates, world music, and most importantly the day to day struggles and dialogue necessary to build a movement and keep it strong. Like everyone else involved in the Sonoma County Free Press, from dedicated bulk mail volunteers to graphic artists, our columnists have happily donated their expertise in order to keep this publication alive for ten years, 60 issues, and almost 1000 pages.
& Into the Internet
Now that the time has come to take this show on the road to cyberspace, it is with deep regret that we recognize the end of a paper version of The Sonoma County Free Press. As a group, this collective agonized over the economic injustice that makes cyberspace as distant and unobtainable as the mythical Shangri-La for most of the working class. Computer terminals are few and far between in the homeless shelters and tenements of this country. As a grassroots forum for the invisible underclass, we believe that everyone deserves a voice . . . even those without internet access. Is abandoning our paper version equivalent to abandoning our commitment to providing that forum for the poor, the disenfranchised, the homeless? How can we continue to provide a grassroots forum while limiting access only to those with the money, education, and will to surf the net? Each member of this collective has struggled with, and hopefully made their peace with, the elitist nature of the Internet. This is the uncomfortable reality at the heart of the ethical question: should we abandon the paper version of this publication?
What has become painfully apparent in the last year is that, as printing and postage costs go up and up, the job of beating the bushes for money to keep this paper in "paper" form has become more and more difficult. While we have had many loyal subscribers and advertisers, it has become a matter of economics and energy. The internet provides a cheaper and quicker way to reach people. There are a thousand other good reasons to go online, but it was the bottom line that decided the online question.
Gets It? Who Doesn't?
The ethical question remains. All the benefits of cyberspace don't help those readers who are unable to access the internet for financial or personal reasons. Even though computer industry predictions claim that the user population will grow exponentially, this collective is not willing to wait for the day when there will be a modem in every bedroom the issues that will profoundly affect that particular vision of the future are being decided today. Our hope is to ignite a national awareness of the elitist nature of the internet among those who daily browse its pages, and inspire each of you to do what you can to make this information tool available to the disenfranchised of YOUR community RIGHT NOW whether you live in Sonoma County, California, or Soweto, South Africa.
In preparation for our own plunge into cyberspace, columnists researched, published and distributed a listing of public low-cost or free internet access sites in those communities where the paper version was formerly distributed. It was real short. When we are more comfortable in this brave new world, perhaps we will do more to help create a more egalitarian online community. For the time being, we novices can only urge those more savvy activists around the nation to offer expertise to their local activist organizations, to libraries, to homeless shelters. When internet access is as easy as picking up a free newspaper, this forum will truly become the world village we think it already is.
In addition to our original purpose (to provide a forum for the diversity of viewpoints on social and political issues in our community), we hope to accomplish three things:
draw national attention to the struggles of local activists,
to introduce a national perspective into those same struggles, and
to solicit enough financial support for this publication to get it back into print for the people who need it most.
Our annual printing, production and mailing costs have exceeded our advertising income for several years now. The generosity of a few local individuals has enabled us to continue printing long past the time when we would have folded on the basis of ad and subscription dollars alone. By appealing to a national audience, we hope to find a few more caring souls, whose commitment to the alternative press extends all the way to their checkbooks.
Sonoma County Free Press Home Page
Sonoma County Free Press, P.O. Box 296, Occidental CA 95465