Bye-bye, Miss American pie … Drove my chevy to the levee … but the levee was dry …
I picked up the CERC Museletter mail at our local post office, dropped it on the front seat of my car, glanced over to it while turning the key in the ignition, and noticed the front page headline of The New River Free Press: The Last Waltz.
It was an unusual title for the twenty-four year old peace and justice publication. I knew it wasn’t an editorial about The Band’s music, and couldn’t be referring to President Bush, no matter how much I wished it was. I let the car idle as I picked up the newspaper and read what at first seemed unthinkable.
This is the 275th – and final issue of the New River Free Press. What a long, strange trip it’s been, nearly a quarter century of advocacy journalism – speaking out against social and economic injustice, speaking up for peace, human rights and environmental protection, speaking back to the powers that be. And striving to speak the truth.
I first met the Free Press community of activists in 1986 when I was new to Virginia and when the Klu Kux Klan came to Floyd. I stumbled upon the march while downtown and was shocked to realize that the Klan still existed, still recruited, and held marches in broad daylight. Uncomfortable and trying to explain the event to my young sons, I was relieved to see a group passing out protest signs and flyers denouncing what the Klan stands for. They were faces from a neighboring town that I would come to know over the years.
As stated in the Last Waltz editorial, "the Free Press has been more than a monthly news publication. It has been a vehicle for social change: an activist organization, a resource center for individuals and emerging grassroots groups, a meeting place and work place and work space for student and community groups, a communications hub in the network of local, regional and national progressive organizations, a sponsor and co-sponsor of nationally and internationally known speakers and performers."
I’ve attended lectures and rallies sponsored by the Free Press, marched against the war in Iraq alongside familiar Free Press volunteers and supporters, written commentaries that have been published in paper, and helped to distribute it in Floyd. But first and foremost, I’ve been a reader. The Free Press has been instrumental in my education of local and world affairs, an active model and catalyst for my own activism.
Although The Museletter, Floyd’s own alternative homespun newsletter has been in print for nearly as long as The Free Press, our readership has always been only a slim fraction of The Press’s average of between 5,000 to 7,000. Still, as a Museletter volunteer I’ve always felt a kindred connection. I felt this especially when I saw photos of the Free Press cut-and-paste layout in a Roanoke Times tribute for the Press’s 20 year anniversary. Although on a larger scale, the layout scene didn’t look that different from how the Museletter is put together. I have gleaned information from the Free Press and reprinted it in the Museletter, and they have, on occasion, used the Museletter announcements for their community calendar page.
Soon after reading the Last Waltz announcement, I was led by Doug at Blue Ridge Muse to another article about the end of the Free Press and learned that I wasn’t the “last to know.” The July 20th issue of the Roanoke Times Current begins, “The New River Free Press kept its final scoop secret for months.” After the last issue hit the streets, Kim Kipling, Free Press volunteer editor and philosophy professor, called the other volunteers to let them know that, “Elvis has left the building,” the paper reported.
Citing changes in the printing press medium due to the internet and lack of new Free Press volunteers as reasons for ending the Press’s long run, Kim’s wife, Susan Anderson, a math teacher who was recently elected to the Blacksburg town council and is the longest serving Free Press volunteer, said, "It was better to stop the paper while we felt it was strong than to kind of limp out.”
Mostly I feel sadness about the end of an era, along with concern about the lack of alternative news coverage the loss of the Free Press will create. But I also understand that change is inevitable and retirement, particularly in this case, is well earned. I hope to attend the Free Press “open house” and book give-away, scheduled at their headquarters beginning at 4 p.m. on July 25th. I have a need to say goodbye, and to say “good job” to all those involved, especially to Kim and Susan, who both promise that, although the Free Press’s run is over, they intend to remain politically active.
Photos: 1. Kim and Susan, reprinted from The Roanoke Times coverage of the Free Press’s 20th anniversary in 2003. 2. Current and last issue of The New River Free Press (scribbled on by me). Read more about the Museletter HERE and HERE.