What do British communists, San Francisco hippies, and free stores have in common? The name ‘diggers,’ among other things.
In 1649, British communists called themselves diggers and tried to create Utopian, moneyless societies. Mainly small agrarian communities, these died out by 1651, in part because of efforts against them by the King’s Privy Council.
A group of performance artists in San Francisco, founded by Emmett Grogan,took the name ‘diggers‘ in the 1960s . Riding on a wave of hippieness, the movement grew as they too tried to create a moneyless society. They put on performances in the parks and streets, making San Francisco their stage. They spawned the first free stores in the United States, and have also been credited with the spread of whole wheat bread in America. Going back to the agrarian roots of the movement, these diggers baked bread in 2 pound coffee tins and gave it away. Recipe here.
This led to a free store on 10th Street in Manhattan, where according to a New Yorker Talk of the Town article from 1967, the shop was “crowded with Negro and Puerto Rican children, old women speaking Middle European dialects, barefoot runaways with glazed eyes, stumbling winos, and gaily ornamented hippie couples, all picking through boxes full of used shoes or fingering racks of soiled clothing or burrowing under piles of miscellaneous junk spread out on rough wooden tables, which line the walls.”
Has the digger movement entirely died out since then? If you remember the New York Times article from last summer, not at all. Dumpster diving was exposed as part of a freegan community. The ‘freegan‘ lifestyle was (dubiously) celebrated as “scavengers of the developed world, living off consumer waste in an effort to minimize their support of corporations and their impact on the planet, and to distance themselves from what they see as out-of-control consumerism.”
Sounds like the 1960s diggers and 1650 agrarians have found their modern day equivalent. You’d think free would sell itself in the most practical way, yet these groups all developed a socially conscious ethos that supported their anti-establishment view of the good life.
Peace and Love.