Bay State Banner
February 15, 1967
Avatar Forces the Issue
By Susan E. Davis
In less than a year of publication the Avatar has been denounced by Gov. Volpe, hauled into the courts, and has reached a circulation of 20,000.
The Avatar is a bi-weekly newspaper published by Fort Hill residents and distributed in hippie communities across the nation. It is often called the highest-quality underground newspaper in the country.
Avatar contains feature articles on self-knowledge, drugs, politics, astrology, and sex. The writing is highly intuitive and insistently honest. Drawings by Eben Given, a recognized artist, and photographs by George Pepper, an accomplished film maker, liven each issue.
While most of the articles are direct challenges to the reader to "know himself," other articles reflect the satisfactions the Hill People find in their lives. In particular, one senses the delight they take in their children.
Only eight months old, Avatar has been locked in a struggle with Cambridge officials for the last several months. Policemen have arrested over fifty vendors for "selling obscene literature." The arrests began as part of the Mayor's efforts to subdue the hippie element in Cambridge.
Avatar's attorneys entered an injunction to prevent vendors from being arrested. The Cambridge court threw out the injunction, and bound the arrest cases over to the Middlesex County Superior Court. The obscenity cases are in the process of being tried.
Avatar lawyers are preparing a number of suits against "all visible officials" in Cambridge. Their main charge is damaging the reputation of the paper.
"Cambridge officials have harassed us because they though we were weak and that they could force us out of publication by making arrests," said Ed Fox, an editor. "We have good lawyers and we're going to clobber them in court with counter-suits."
To the Hill people, the Avatar has been an important test for the community. "When the paper became successful, we had a tough decision, said Lew Crampton, chairman of the Board of Editors. We could just be a nice liberal paper, and avoid trouble with the courts on the obscenity issue. But we declared war instead. If we hadn't they would probably have attacked us on the hill next. So we had to become activists."
The Avatar's declaration of war came out in the issue after the first arrests. A celebrated centerfold spewed out four-letter words in a colorful and bold design.
"We're revolutionaries," Crampton explained, "and we have to be granted a certain amount of extremity. The swear words brought together the forces to change in this city like it's never happened before."
"The newspaper isn't pornography," Crampton continued. "Can you imagine running into the men's room with the Avatar?"
Recently Gov. Volpe made headlines by his voluble condemnation of the paper after seeing the famous centerfold. The next issue of the Avatar carried a picture of books on sale in Cambridge with lewd covers of women caressing each other. The caption read "Hey Gov. Volpe look!"
Last Thursday a compromise was reached by Avatar and Cambridge officials. The agreement stipulates that police will cease their arrests of vendors, that the Avatar will limit its Harvard Square salesmen to its chosen number of 7, and that the question of obscenity will be pursued through the courts.
The paper's staff hailed the agreement as a victory. "Now, finally, the paper will be judged on its own merits," said Crampton.