The Diggers were a radical community-action group operating from 1966-8, based in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. Their politics was such that it has sometimes been categorized as "left-wing," but more accurately they were "community anarchists" who blended a desire for freedom with a consciousness of the community in which they lived. They were closely associated with and shared a number of members with a guerrilla theatre group named the San Francisco Mime Troupe.
They deliberately took their name after consulting unspecified history books relating to the original English Diggers (1649-50), led by Gerrard Winstanley, who had promulgated a vision of society free from private property, and all forms of buying and selling. During the mid- to late 1960s the San Francisco Diggers opened stores which simply gave away their stock; provided free food, medical care, transport and temporary housing; they also organized free music concerts and works of political protest art. Some of their happenings included the Death of Money Parade, Intersection Game, Invisible Circus, and Death of Hippie / Birth of Free.
The Diggers provided a free food service in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park in Haight-Ashbury every day at four o'clock and generally feeding over 200 people who had no other source of food. They served a stew made from donated and stolen meat and vegetables behind a giant yellow picture frame, called the Free Frame of Reference. On one occasion, at a free concert in the park people who came for the food were given a two-inch-by-two-inch frame to hang about their neck, called the portable Free Frame of Reference. The Diggers also popularized whole-wheat bread with their Digger Bread, baked in coffee cans at the Free Bakery.
They opened numerous free stores in Haight-Ashbury, in which all items were free for the taking or giving. The stores were funded by money from local merchants afraid of, or supporting the Diggers, who paid a one percent tithe to the Free City Bank. The stores offered items that had been discarded, but were still in usable condition. Though these were used mainly as a front for the distribution, for free, of stolen goods. The first free store was called Trip Without a Ticket and was later superseded by the Free Frame of Reference on Frederick Street. They also opened a Free Medical Clinic.
They threw free parties with music provided by the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and other bands, sometimes with such sights as trucks of naked belly dancers driving through the neighborhood in the afternoon with black conga players, wine, and marijuana. Their publications, notably The Digger Papers, are the origin of such phrases as "Do your own thing" and "Today is the first day of the rest of your life". The Diggers fostered and inspired later groups like the Yippies.
The Diggers fell apart for a variety of reasons, including allegations of heavy drug use, with at least one member of the troupe known to have been a heroin addict at that time. Grogan, who was often named as the leader of the Diggers by those outside of it, had also previously dealt with a heroin addiction. Perhaps more significant in the disintegration of the diggers was the breaking down of the 'peace and love' scene in San Francisco, an increase in police and media interest in the diggers, conflicting egos among its members and a desire to be involved in more high profile guerilla theatre work rather than the practical day to day hard work involved in feeding the poor of San Francisco.
- Sleeping Where I Fall: A Chronicle by Peter Coyote 1998 ISBN 158243011X
- Ringolevio (A life played for keeps) by [[Emmett Grogan]. - Little Brown & Company, 1972. Library of Congress No.78-186970. (The story of the revival of the Diggers in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, California and New York during the mid-1960s. Grogan was one of the leaders of this revival. He sang backup with Ramblin' Jack Elliott on "Mr. Tambourine Man", written by Bob Dylan.)
- Ringolevio: A Life Played for Keeps by Emmett Grogan, Peter Coyote (Illustrator) 1990
- "The Theater is in the Street" by Bradford D. Martin 2004 ISBN 1558494588
- "Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age 1945-2000" by Martin Torgoff 2004 ISBN 0743230108
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