Celebrate 50 years of the Fifth Estate this weekend

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Political loudmouths of all stripes almost uniformly praise the Internet for allowing them to proclaim their opinions more broadly than ever. (Whether anybody reads it is another thing.) But there was a time 50 years ago when other technological innovations, considered crude today, allowed another flowering of expression.

In those heady days, it was called the “underground press,” and it consisted of countercultural publications such as The Berkeley Barb, The East Village Other, and The Rag. Over the years, this kind of small magazine found a niche, voicing controversial opinions and covering topics the major media wouldn’t. Alt-weeklies like Metro Times arguably grew out of that space the undergrounds created.

Most of the publications were fly-by-night affairs, publishing for a few years and going defunct. But one of those publications is not only marking 50 years this weekend, but kicking off a few months of celebration. It’s Detroit’s own Fifth Estate, an anti-authoritarian publication started by a 17-year-old kid in 1965.

That kid was Harvey Ovshinsky, and he was fresh off a trip to Los Angeles where he’d seen the Los Angeles Free Press, which some consider the first underground paper in the United States. The paper has gone through many different editors, teams of writers, and fine-grained political changes over the years, but has solidified over the years into an outlet for anti-authoritarian and anarchist writing.

An American underground publication lasting 50 years is very unusual. An anarchist one lasting that long is almost a singularity. (Arizona's The Match! is in line for that honor in 2019.) So a few months of celebrating may be in order.

Those festivities kick off this weekend with events on Saturday, Sept. 19, at MOCAD, where an exhibit called You Can’t Print That!: 50 Years of the Fifth Estate, will be free and open to the public 11 a.m.-5 p.m. all weekend in the Mike Kelley Mobile Homestead. There will also be a panel discussion (3-5 p.m.) and a staff reunion (5-7 p.m.) followed by drinks at Hopcat (8:30-10 p.m.) with a special performance by the Layabouts.

But that won’t be the only exhibit dedicated to the scrappy little rag. A concurrent exhibit is up at the Detroit Historical Museum called Start the Presses: 50 years of the Fifth Estate, and that runs until August 2016.

And what would a celebration of radical politics be without at least one protest? On Sunday, many of the people honoring The Fifth Estate will likely join in a protest march again the world’s largest trash incinerator. Interested? Meet at 1 p.m. at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, 315. E. Warren Ave., Detroit.

Tell ’em Harv sent you.

About The Author

Michael Jackman

Born in 1969 at Mount Carmel hospital in Detroit, Jackman grew up just 100 yards from the Detroit city line in east Dearborn. Jackman has attended New York University, the School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University and Wayne State University, though he never got a degree. He has worked as a bar back, busboy,...
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