Atlas Obscura, “This 1960s Anarchist Group Believed Food Should Be Free”

For the Diggers of San Francisco, stew was subversive.

By Wren Awry, October 3, 2023

IN 1968, THE POET DIANE di Prima moved from New York to San Francisco. She wanted to work with the Diggers, self-identified community anarchists who performed street theater and organized mutual aid projects, from free stores to free housing to the dissemination of produce, hot meals, and bread.

Shortly after her arrival, Di Prima’s Volkswagen van was enlisted to help with the Diggers’ food distribution efforts. For Di Prima, who had come of age during McCarthyism and the FBI repression of the 1950s, the opportunity to turn her ideals into action was thrilling. “Suddenly to be able to be out in public, delivering food, having be-ins,” Di Prima said in a 1999 interview, “it just took a weight off your heart about having kept your mouth shut too long.” Over the next year, her household delivered fish and vegetables to over 20 different communes weekly.

The San Francisco Diggers formed in the fall of 1966, nearly two years before Di Prima arrived. The group started when it split off from anti-establishment Artists’ Liberation Front for ideological reasons—the ALF thought it was okay to sell goods at their street fairs while the Diggers, who believed everything should be free, did not. The Diggers’ formation was further catalyzed by the Hunters Point Social Uprising, a response to the police murder of Matthew Johnson, a Black teenager, which drew attention to the systemic racism that permeated the city.

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