Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Backstage at The Beachhead!

I dug the Free Venice Beachhead from the day I moved here. An entirely volunteer operation, it has been in existence since 1968, celebrating the auspicious 43rd Birthday this December! Every community needs its newspaper, but a community like Venice especially does. People have come here from all over the world to seek and explore what the left-est edge of the country has going on, and the Beachhead has been documenting it all for decades.

I got involved myself when I would occasionally submit articles about things I thought were cool in the neighborhood (You can too! We love to hear from EVERYONE, and Venetians tend to have a lot to say. Don't be shy, that's silly) ... or uncool as the time I had my dear bike, Delores, stolen. I reacted by writing a story, basically a livid Bike Amber Alert, and the Beachhead Collective was nice enough to print it on the front page. Well, a month later I got her back, and wrote another - triumphant - story to share the unlikely news. That was the beginning of me taking a more active part in the paper, as Collective member, as Collective member, Greta, had been reading my blog about me and Venice (Hi), and extended an invitation for me to come to the Beachhead meetings, and see if I wanted to join the Collective. So I did.

Meetings are held each Monday evening at the "Beachhead House" in the heart of Venice. You duck through some thick foliage and enter the house to be met with shouts of welcome from the long wood table that serves as the Bridge on the Mother Ship of Beachhead operations. Protest posters from past and present, and original works by Venice artist friends adorn the walls, as, of course, does the visage of Che Guevara. A beautifully colorful Murano glass chandelier hangs above it all, as sort of a reminder of the original Venice.

It doesn't take long before someone usually opens up the first bottle of Charles Shaw, which helps to calm the nerves when talking about local and worldwide events that rile us up. We stick impressively close to the agenda each week, considering we are all vocal and tangent-prone contributors, but this paper has to get out! It takes a lot of work - by people that also have to actually work and maintain busy lives. And these people ... what a bunch. Each of us is so different from each other, but somehow it all works as a whole, and a mutual respect is maintained (save for the pretty uncommon outbursts of healthy disagreement) to make that so.

Jim is the true keeper of the Beachhead flame, having been involved with the paper for a good chunk of its lifetime. He is a deep and creative poet, and is also real good at cracking the whip on the gang to keep things moving along. Karl is the Professor of the bunch (of Chemistry), so he's our go-to source for all things scientific. He also writes great poems, and is great at reciting the poem submissions that come in in his actorly fashion. Mary is the poet on the Collective that makes me well up almost every time she submits, so touching and wise are her works. She's also the one that always catches my raised eyebrow or pointed glance, and exactly gets what I mean without even talking. A great lady.

Don is the most senior member of the Collective, and also the biggest flirt. He is out there, active and involved, every day of the week. He is never afraid to exactly speak his mind, and share his vast knowledge about pretty much all things. He is a true inspiration as to how to be of service and lead a full life. And he can make you blush. As can Greta. She is the Romanian spitfire of the group, and cracks me up every week. She is the supplier of the most double-entendres I've ever heard, and is as smart as she is funny (she is a school teacher during the day). I look forward each week to seeing what she'll wear, or what she might cook, as she'll often display her culinary skills for us, on top of her writing pointed and provoking articles for the paper. {She would laugh and shout, "ON TOP!" here}.

Roger is the grammatical stickler of the bunch, and we're lucky to have him, as even under his microscope, it's still not hard for typos and stuff to sneak by when proofing nights go late. Roger is a smart one, and a good debater too, as he's another one not afraid to speak his mind. No one is really, and that makes for super interesting discussions, and we hope, a better paper each month. There are new members, Ron and Annie, who are proving to be fine contributors, and both jumped right in with offers to get things done. There are more phantom members, like Alice, who can rarely attend meetings, but handles the finances of the paper, which is always a struggle (we'll get to that). Lydia, a very involved activist, sometimes makes an appearance, and always has great points to make. Krista is another lovely poet, who we don't see as much of these days, but are always happy when we do. Yolanda (and her sweet little dog, Joey) and Peggy are honorary members who inspire as some of the strongest, most activist women I've ever met - and also excel as great cooks and kombucha makers. It's always a treat when Suzy shows up, and even better when she pens one of her enthusiastic reviews.

These characters all sit around the big table and discuss distribution, who called which expired sustainer, who hit up who for ads, what events are coming up, what timely topics need to be addressed, how many more have died at war or been arrested for Occupying, current events, etc. Then we all take turns reading story, poem, letter and calendar event submissions. It's a democratic vote for each of them that winds up in the paper, and if only those walls could talk, they'd have volumes of thoughtful, interesting, important and funny things to say. I look forward to these meetings each week, as I always emerge a little more well-informed, and cheered that a diverse people really can come together and create something positive together. And that's a good lesson to apply to everything in life, right?

I try to make my contribution each month be a reminder of why we all want to be in Venice. I like to focus on the GOOD stuff - the art, the music, the events, the people and businesses that make this an intriguing - no, MAGICAL place to live. The more we know each other better, the better we'll be to each other, is my way of thinking. The more you know someone's story, the better you can identify with or learn from them. Which brings us to the point of a community paper ... knowing the stories of a time and place in history.

As I mentioned before, it's hard work, all done for free, with free minds and spirit and speech. (And you get it for free). We don't just tell the stories, we deliver the stories to you. We hustle to get ads and sustainers to keep the paper afloat - everyone's least favorite part of the deal. No one likes to ask for money, especially creative, activist type people. I know that a lot more people enjoy the paper than currently support the paper, and I think that could be improved upon. Simply based on the number of times I'm stopped and talked to about it in a normal Venice day is telling of The Beachhead's place in the hearts of locals.

So please consider being more active in your appreciation for a truly rare and original, Beat-originated and still inspired, cool LOCAL hard copy newspaper. Send us YOUR stories, thrilled or outraged. Become a sustainer (it's easy, you can just Pay-Pal it right up at www.freevenice.org!). Place an ad for your business. Announce your wedding or baby or graduation or party! Come to an event we sponsor. Volunteer to help lug papers. Do something awesome that we can write about!

Above all, THANK YOU! Thank you, Venice, for being so great to live in and write about. Thank you for supporting a free press, and a free spirit. For inspiring every day, and for the sense of FUN and community we all love, and love to document.

Happy 43rd Birthday, Beachhead! It's a real honor to celebrate both the history and the NOW with you! CHEERS (with something a little better than Chuck S. for the occasion!)!!!

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