It has now been over three months since AVATAR was first taken off newsstands by subtle pressure from City Councillors and other authorities in Cambridge. After that came the long line of arrests, totalling well over forty in Cambridge, and eight or ten in Boston; street vendors were arrested for "selling obscene printed newspapers," "selling indecent, obscene, and impure material which tends to corrupt the morals of youth," and "selling newspapers without a permit". AVATAR waited for the matter to be finally cleared up in court (as all past decisions on similar matters had been). When it seemed that the ordinary workings of the courts would be too slow to prevent the continual harassment from financially destroying the paper, (at least one, and in most cases, ten or a dozen people, were arrested for each issue) AVATAR's lawyers filed an injunction to see if some quicker relief could be had. But when the injunction had been under consideration for three weeks without a decision, and when Cambridge had filed a motion to throw it out which would delay it for at least two more weeks, all of us at AVATAR began to wonder if we could ever manage to get out from underneath the burden of repeated bail expenses and court appearances. Then, on February 3, five staff members were arrested in front of Harvard's Holyoke Center before they could sell a single paper. Later the same day, four others were arrested, including two Harvard students. After excessive bails were set (my bail, for example, was originally set at $5000, later lowered to $1000), we began to realize that we had no time left to wait for judges' decisions or injunctions - we had to have immediate relief or the paper itself, as well as the Fort Hill community which puts out and depends upon AVATAR for money, would be in serious trouble. It was certain that the police were no longer acting in good faith, and, in a way, it had even stopped being just a question of free speech - it had gotten to the level where we, as Americans, were being denied even that cherished American right of earning a living. Our only choice was to fight back. Immediately we went to work.
It was obvious that AVATAR all by itself, was not powerful enough to thwart the police, and so we sought allies for the struggle. At two o'clock Sunday morning word went out over Uncle T's Freedom Machine show on WBUR-FM that AVATAR had declared war on Cambridge, and that volunteers willing to spend a night in jail should call us and join us in massive sell-in demonstrations in Harvard Square. By Sunday night, I had written a pamphlet called "Common Sense Is Not Enough" which was to encourage people to join us in a fight for what ought to have been guaranteed us by the first American Revolution. That same night we met with several students at Harvard who we knew would support us, and made arrangements for a small but highly committed group of salesmen, including several of our staff members, four or five Harvard undergraduates, and members of the Resistance, to meet in front of Holyoke Center at one o'clock Monday afternoon.
At the appointed hour, we gathered in Harvard Square. As fourteen dedicated friends began to sell issue No. 18 in open defiance of the police crackdown, I nervously sat on the sidelines, while Joey Goldfarb, our Astrology columnist, made movies of the whole scene. I had wanted to be in the middle of it, but my two previous arrests were an almost certain guarantee that any bail set on me would be far beyond what we could afford to pay. So, I was elected to make certain everything went smoothly.
An hour or so went by and no police appeared. Nervous jokes were cracked. AVATAR sold like hotcakes. Someone suggested calling the police and making a complaint about all the smut sellers in Harvard Square. Jesse Kornbluth, a Harvard senior who has recently collected an anthology of works from the underground press for Viking Press, muttered that he had to get arrested, he needed an epilogue for his book.
Then, almost from nowhere, Mutt and Jeff (officially known as Killen and McNulty, the Cambridge Vice Squad's most highly respected smut-squashers) stepped from their car and arrested Eben Given, AVATAR's chief artist. Next was Jesse Kornbluth. Then Steve Lerner, former Executive Editor of Harvard's daily, The Crimson, and AVATAR's Ed Fox and Bob McQuaid. As word went around the Square that arrests were being made, everyone selling ran to join the crowd of a hundred or so witnesses, and began making sales right under the noses of the police. The wagon arrived, and each man, a total of fourteen, was marched in and locked up. Later that night, most were told that they could be released on personal recognizance (a bail commissioner's fee of three dollars). All fourteen refused to be bailed.
It was an impressive show the next morning in court, when one by one they stood beside each other in the dock to answer to charges of "selling an obscene printed paper." Fourteen pleas of not guilty were entered. All the Harvard students were released on personal recognizance, the rest were held on a total of $3100 bail. The students turned to the rest and said they would stay in if the bail money could not be raised, but it was decided that we needed as many outside for the second day of the sell-in as possible. Finally we raised the money and everyone was freed. The reaction to the previous day's arrests was even better than we had expected. The Crimson that morning, along with mimeographed announcements of another sell-in Tuesday (I don't even know who printed them) brought about fifty people out to sell AVATAR, all of them willing to go to jail. The scene was incredible. We ruled the day. It was impossible to tell who was selling and who was buying. AVATAR was everywhere. It replaced hello as the day's common greeting. By the end of the afternoon we had raised more than $600 in sales and donations, just about enough to cover our bail expenses from the last week. Single issues had been sold for as much as twenty dollars.
But where were the police? Had they gotten smart and decided not to arrest? Almost. Word came from someone that Chief Grainger would like to discuss terms with us. We met him at his office, where he sat with Philip Cronin, the city's attorney. He looked as though he had had enough, or, as Eben said, he looked sick. With us was our attorney, Harvey Silverglate. An agreement was reached. AVATAR wanted seven street vendors in Harvard Square. We got them. We wanted our confiscated papers back. We got them. We wanted arrests to stop. There will be no more street arrests. From now on, the city solicitor, not the police department, will decide if Cambridge wishes to prosecute. If they should, and hopefully the city solicitor knows more about the law than the cops, then salesmen will only have to give their names and addresses. Later, they will politely receive a summons.
We were amazed. We had been ready to go on for weeks, and it was accomplished in less than forty-eight hours. My pamphlet didn't even have time to get printed. It may not stop prosecutions, but it does make the whole process more civilized. More important, it gives us time to wait for our innocence to be proven in the courts. It means that within forty-eight hours, we had won what we needed. And it shows how far away from home America is, when its people must still fight for a free press two hundred years after the American Revolution.
It's hardly all over. More than fifty court cases remain to be settled. Oh, yes, we just heard that a Boston bookstore clerk was arrested today for selling AVATAR and it looks like we'll have to start over again in this city. All we know is that AVATAR people, united with college students, managed to stand close enough together to force the city of Cambridge to respect the basic rights of Free Americans. And if necessary it will happen again and again.Wayne Hansen
- In the future, City Solicitor Cronin - and not the Cambridge Police Department - will decide whether the city will prosecute for obscenity. This puts the decision in the hands of a competent lawyer who is aware of the recent Supreme Court decisions on obscenity and he will consult with our lawyers in the process of making his decisions. AVATAR is furnishing the city of Cambridge a complimentary subscription.
- In the event the city decides to prosecute AVATAR, there will be no arrests or harrassment. AVATAR will be informed if Cambridge wishes to prosecute and will arrange for the police to purchase the issue from a salesman. The policeman will take the salesman's name and enough copies of the paper to serve as evidence. A complaint will be filed against the salesman in court and the salesman will receive a summons and appear in court for a ruling on the alleged obscenity of the issue in question.
- Summary arrests and harrassment are ended and it has been agreed to move the battle over the paper's alleged obscenity from the streets to the courts. AVATAR has agreed to ask its vendors to refrain from "overaggressive" selling of the paper.
- Approximately seven street sellers will be sent to Harvard Square by AVATAR each day. This number was arrived at independently by the AVATAR staff (any more would be an overabundance) and Chief Grainger indicated that his department would not be too "rigid" in its interpretation of this point.
- AVATAR will make every reasonable effort not to sell to anyone under eighteen on the streets of Cambridge. AVATAR will fill all requests for all issues at its offices in Boston, either in person or through the mail.
- Chief Grainger has assured us that the police department will no longer confiscate issues of the AVATAR and that back issues previously taken from us and in the hands of the police department will be returned.
- Chief Grainger has informed us that his door will be open to representatives of the AVATAR at any time. We, in turn, cordially invited the chief to stop by and see us if he has a problem.