Guerrilla: The Free Newspaper of the Streets was produced by the revolutionary poet and radical, Allen Van Newkirk, in Detroit from 1967 to 1968. It started as Guerrilla: A Monthly Newspaper of Contemporary Kulchur, a tabloid produced by a larger editorial team at the Detroit Artists' Workshop Press, but from the second volume it changed to 'broadside' format and became a vehicle for marginal countercultural expression including revolutionary poetry and provocative political rhetoric.
The broadside, a large single sheet, part poster and part flyer, usually printed on both sides, was a format closely associated with American counterculture. Guerrilla was distributed on the streets, had no set timetable for publication and was not commercially motivated. It therefore allowed uninhibited, free expression.
Van Newkirk tended to act independently and idiosyncratically. He staged spectacular one-off raids on any radical gatherings that he thought were not sufficiently revolutionary; he disrupted a conference of the Underground Press Syndicate by running down the aisle shouting and during a poetry reading he ran towards the poet on stage firing a pistol (loaded with blanks) declaring 'death to bourgeois poets' while others threw copies of Guerrilla to the traumatized audience.
Many aspects of Guerrilla are rhetorical and inflammatory: it borrows the style of protest banners or political propaganda posters and it carries provocative, often surreal, statements like newspaper headlines 'Poetry Demands Unemployment' and 'The Spirit of the People will be Stronger than the Pig's Technology').
Guerrilla borrows the graphic style of the Black Panther newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Black Panther Party, which also often mixed poetry and political statement on its pages, but to primarily political ends. Guerrilla printed revolutionary poetry by LeRoi Jones alongside political invective by one of the most militant of the Black Panther Party leadership, Eldridge Cleaver. At this time in their lives both LeRoi Jones and Eldridge Cleaver were Black Nationalists who distanced themselves from white culture. Both advocated armed resistance. Cleaver and the Black Panther Party were continuously at odds with the police and authorities and LeRoi Jones, in January 1968, was sentenced to two and a half years in jail for carrying arms. The Judge at his trial, before pronouncing sentence, read one of Jones's poems aloud in court. Many speculated that the harsh sentence was applied because the poetry was found to be offensive by the establishment. Whilst, in the Black Panther, Jones and Cleaver's words would be printed alongside other more varied voices in Guerrilla the radical were cherry-picked and placed in a primarily poetic context.
It is unclear whether Van Newkirk sincerely meant to give Jones and Cleaver a platform, or whether their inflammatory language for the revolutionary energy they provided. Van Newkirk had long been associated with those that would found the White Panther Party; notorious advocates of the total assault on culture by any means necessary.
As with Provo, the police played a strong role in shaping radical American counterculture. Groups that began in protest against the war in Vietnam, or in support of individual freedom, progressed towards resistance, and then to revolution. The White Panthers evolved from a non-political avant-garde arts movement. Clashes with the police were not the sole triggers for this radicalisation. The war in Vietnam continued despite years of popular protest; iconic dissenting figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated (in February 1965 and April 1968); urban uprisings in Watts, California (August 1965) and Detroit, Michigan (July 1967) turned into long bloody riots and caused curfews to be imposed on vulnerable cities. The change of climate has also been connected to the change from lethargic marijuana to hyperactive LSD as the popular drug of the counterculture.
The immediate spark for the foundation of the White Panther Party came from the Black Panther leadership which in 1968 began to seek alliances with white countercultural and left wing groups. The association was informal but the Panther name was used and gave the new party instant radical credentials.
The differences between the Black Panther and White Panther's manifestos (the Ten Point Program) are significant. Whereas the Black Panther Party's manifesto is a series of demands aimed to correct specific injustices (i.e. Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice And Peace) the White Panthers use the platform for non-specific, iconoclastic expression (i.e. the total assault on culture by any means necessary).
In 1970 Van Newkirk abruptly left Detroit and moved to the remote south eastern coast of Canada) where he set up the Geographic Foundation of the North Atlantic, an early radical ecological centre, and published poetry broadsides and pamphlets titled Root, Branch and Mammal.