Yatta Yatta Yatta
James Retherford is an Austin (TX) activist, writer/editor,
and graphic artist with background in both mainstrean
and alternative journalism. A graduate of Indiana University
(English and Journalism) with two years of postgraduate
study in the aesthetics-oriented School of Letters, he
worked at two major Midwestern dailies, the Cincinnati Post
and Times-Star and the Indianapolis Star; where his writing
and editing were cited for national awards by the William
Randolph Hearst Foundation, the National Headliners Club,
and Maurice J. Early Fellowship Foundation.
In 1966 he was co-founder and editor of one of the earliest
Sixties underground newspapers, The Spectator, a publication
cited by then Radical America editor Paul Buhle as “the most
intellectually provocative” of the emerging alternative
publications. In 1967 Retherford was targeted and jailed
in an FBI COINTELPRO operation, indicted on trumped-up
Selective Service charges but actually put on trial for alleged
sedition. He was summarily found guilty by a rightwing
federal judge and sentenced to six years in prison. Then his
appeal petition was rejected on specious technicalities, and
he was remanded to jail for several months in the summer
and early fall 1968. For all intents and purposes, he was a
political prisoner in the tradition of dissident colonial-era
editor John Peter Zenger.
Famed New York movement lawyer Leonard Boudin came to the rescue, and Retherford won his right to appeal and was released from jail. A year later, the entire conviction was overturned by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, and the three presiding judges issued a sharp rebuke to the federal prosecutors for wasting the court’s time and taxpayers’ money pursuing a case originally rejected by then Attorney General Ramsey Clark, whose orders had been ignored by zealous FBI operatives and politically ambitious Indiana prosecutors.
Retherford also edited alternative publications in New York City (Right on Times) and Houston, TX (The Mighty 90 News, affiliated with the Pacifica Foundation and radio station KPFT).
He taught writing, cultural studies, and graphic arts at Indiana University, the New School and the Alternate U (NYC), and Austin Community College. He is a founding member of Liberation News Service, Alternative Media Project, and New York Revolutionary Media Coalition and a former member of American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Graphic Artists Guild, and the Society of Professional Journalists/Sigma Delta Chi. His writing and award-winning graphics appear in anthologies and are in collections at the Center for American History, Perry-Castañeda Library, Congress of Visual Communications, and the Greek sports ministry in Athens.
The YIP-pie Years
In 1969 Yippie co-founder Jerry Rubin asked Retherford to conceptualize and ghostwrite his first book. Retherford brought noted McLuhanist art director Quentin Fiore to the project, and the result was a bombshell New York Times best-seller, Do It! Scenarios of the Revolution. (Click here for a look at Do It!)
In October 1969 Retherford was in Bloomington en route back to New York City from Chicago where he had attended the Chicago Conspiracy trial and visited with Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and the other Chicago 7 defendants. While he was there, he had the opportunity to participate in a unfolding cosmic/comic convergence when Rubin, a former Berkeley Free Speech Movement activist, came to Indiana to address a Vietnam Moratoriam rally at the very same time former UC Berkeley university president Clark Kerr was to headline an academic conference on campus. Kerr was widely remembered as the first college president to call cops onto a campus to beat and arrest student protesters, one of whom was Retherford's compadre, Jerry Rubin. Retherford sensed a impending moment of what Marxists call historical significance — though his own Marxist perspective was inspired not only by Brother Karl but also by those other Marx brothers, Groucho, Harpo, and Chico. So he brought together a group of co-conspirators to plan an evening of theatrical hijinks to celebrate Kerr's career of neoliberal repression. The result was a two-act guerrilla performance.
<more to come>
A portrait of the artist as a Stone Age relic