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Sunday, February 28, 2016

I was a stringer for the People's Daily World - Part 1

This is the first part of a short story and an excerpt from My Otto Biography which is the name of my autobiography, which is still a work in progress:

By SJ Otto

By the mid 1980s I had a journalism degree and I had landed a newspaper job in Osceola, MO at The St. Clair Courier, a county newspaper covering St. Clair County, MO.[1] It was a very small newspaper. When I first moved there a young man told me I was "starting out at the bottom...the VERY bottom." I agreed and at the time I really didn't care. About a year and a half later I changed jobs and worked for The  Clinton Daily Democrat.[2] It was a bigger newspaper in a bigger Missouri town. It was really a very nice job and at times I whish I still had it. But then things change and I had to move on.
When I was in high school there was an underground hippie oriented newspaper called The Wichita Free Press (KS). I also had read a lot of underground comics, such as Yellow Dog and Zap. So being in an underground publication really appealed to me. I was beginning to write cartoons at that time. We had a local publication we made for our high school called Jotto, a combination of my name and a guy named Jones and I sometimes had cartoons in it. But that wasn't a real publication, because it wasn't even mass produced. My politics at the time were more Yippie or anarchist. Then while attending Friends University (in Wichita, KS), I got a cartoon published in the university's fiction journal Nestor's Pocket Companion.[3] That was my first real published cartoon. The publication was primitive and did not have much following outside of the college. Then I attended Kansas University and while I was there I wrote an actual cartoon and article that I got published in a local left-wing underground newspaper, The Public Notice (Lawrence, KS).[4] That paper lasted about two years. At about the same time I published a cartoon in the Kaw Valley Comment, a radical leftist newspaper that only lasted one issue.  
By the 1970s I was becoming more political and less of a hippie. It was during my employment at The Clinton Daily Democrat that I started writing for The People's Daily World. By then I had a firm grasp of left-wing politics. I was really more of a Maoist and had little interest in supporting the Soviet Union. The newspaper was actually intended as a publication for the Communist Party USA. I was never a member of that party. I was aware of the many "new communist" parties of the 1960s and 1970s. There was the Communist Workers Party; the Communist Party (Marxist–Leninist), a US party recognized by China; there was the  Progressive Labor Party; and the Revolutionary Communist Party. By the time I stared writing for the PDW, all of those parties were gone except the Revolutionary Communist Party. 
I had been trying to write for the Progressive, Mother Jones and other left-oriented publications. It was hard to break into those markets. I could have tried for the Revolutionary Communist Party's paper Revolutionary Worker, but they didn't seem to have a format that went well with the type of articles I was trying to submit.
So I ended up writing for the PDW and it was a very prestigious paper.
While I never got paid for writing for the PDW. But it did give me some exposure as a writer and I was getting published in a well known leftwing publication. After all this was a publication read by people in the Soviet Union's leadership and Time magazine's reporters. So I found a certain notoriety from writing there. The CPUSA was the only communist paper that Time magazine and other bourgeois publications ever mentioned. They always referred to that party as "The Communist Party" as if there had never been any others. And while the publication did not have a large readership compared to Mother Jones and such others, it was read from coast to coast in the US. The paper was originally called the Daily Worker. That was way before my time. And if we consider that the other papers (the People's Daily World and the People's Weekly World) were merely the continuance of the Daily Worker, I have written along side the likes of  Robert Minor and Fred Ellis(cartoonists), Lester Rodney (sports editor), David KarrRichard WrightJohn L. SpivakPeter FryerWoody Guthrie and Louis Budenz, according to Wikipedia.[5] I had heard from a friend that the paper was available to people in the Soviet Union and was one of the few US publications that was.
Until the fall of the Soviet Union I went by the pen name Mark Milhouse. Milhouse was Richard Nixon's middle name and I guess I saw the name as a parody. After the fall of the Soviet Union I no longer saw any reason to keep using the pen name and reverted to my own name. By the end of the Cold War the paper went weekly and changed its name to the People's Weekly World.
One thing I liked to write about were the various activities I was involved in with local peace activists. One of the first articles I wrote for PDW was a peace march from Noster Park to Whiteman Air Force Base, in Missouri, in April of 1986;

"Peace activists, most of them members of religious organizations from Missouri and Kansas, met in Warrensburg, Missouri, from April 3-5, for a Faith and Resistance Retreat.
On Sunday afternoon, many of the activists participated in civil disobedience, crossing over onto Whiteman Air Force Base."[6]

As the article went on to say that 76 peace activists had been arrested for trespassing on the base, which housed nuclear weapons. At that time, and to some extent today, there are underground missile silos all around Clinton, MO. They are all surrounded by chain-link fences with barbed-wire along the top. At that time Faith and Resistance was a peace group that brought together political activists over the issues of a US arms build-up; US imperialist wars and related foreign policy; and world hunger. This article and many like it were used to get national attention for our actions, which were largely confined to the mid-west. I had contacts with several peace groups and members of Marxist parties in Kansas City, MO. That included members of the Socialist Workers Party and I had met one member of CPUSA from the Kansas side of Kansas City. I had a few friends there who were from the Socialist Party USA. There was a small group of people from the Communist Revolutionary Party living there, but I never met any of them.
Besides peace activities, I occasionally had an opportunity to cover other issues. For example:

"The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 576 is making a special effort to organize the workers of the Food-4-Less grocery store here. Last week they began a boycott of the store and set up informational picket lines. Workers from other union locals are donating time to picket in front of the store and encouraged people to shop elsewhere."[7]

This took place in May of 1986. When I first moved to Clinton, MO, I had no idea I could find as many political things to write about as I eventually did. The town was not very conservative as its counter parts in Kansas. But that didn't mean they were very far to the left. Many of the workers living there were apathetic to politics. But that was better than far to the right as the workers I was used to dealing with in Kansas. At least many were open minded to new ideas.

To be continued-->

This cartoon was published in Nestor's Pocket Companion.[8]
To see this clearly click on it.

[1] This was a small county in West Missouri, with a population of about 9,805. It was a weekly newspaper.
[2] This town was the country seat for Henry County and had a population of about 9,008. The paper was a small daily. It covered small town news exclusively.
[3] Nestor's Pocket Companion. Illustrated, no 3, pp. 3-4.
[4]  The Public Notice newspaper and leftovers from a file found in their abandoned office,
[5] Wikipedia,
[6] "76 peace activists arrested in Missouri," People's Daily World, (April 18), 1986, p. 3-D.
[7] Mark Milhouse, "Grocery workers fight for union,"People's Daily World, (May 14, 1986), P. 4-D.
[8] Nestor's Pocket Companion, Ibid.


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