Tag Archives: alternative newspaper

Vintage Washington Area Spark comes back to life: 1971-5

13 Oct
spark-1971-11-19-vol-1-no-3-1

November 19, 1971 – Spark’s third issue.

Updated October 25, 2015 – 3rd and final year of Spark & complete On the Move now online:

This new online tool for researchers and those interested in the period of radical activity in the Washington, D.C. area from 1971-75 is now relatively complete.

The third year of Spark marked its complete transition from a student-oriented radical newspaper to one based among the Washington, D.C. area workforce while still retaining its campus distribution along with a few bookstores and other news outlets.

The tabloid’s circulation peaked in the third year at around 25,000–up from its first issue circulation of 500.

While the newspaper’s politics began aligning more closely with a Maoist group called the Revolutionary Union, it still retained its independence and published articles and covered events that were sponsored by other groups and broader coalitions.

However, internal and external pressures caused it to cease publication two issues into its third year. Printing prices skyrocketed while a number of key members of its volunteer staff left for personal reasons. The financing, writing, production and distribution took its toll and the tasks began wearing on the core volunteers that had been performing the various functions without compensation for nearly two years.

In addition, the newspaper’s turn toward the politics of the Revolutionary Union alienated some contributors and distributors.

The newspaper was reincarnated as On The Move six months after Spark ceased publication. On the Move looked much more like the several dozen local newspapers that sprung up across the country in this period that were closely aligned with and largely staffed by members of the Revolutionary Union. The focus was on worker militancy and actions sponsored by the RU or groups aligned with it. Articles were republished from Revolution (the RU’s national newspaper) as well as from other local RU-oriented newspapers.

On The Move’s circulation was primarily at worksites around the city and distribution never went higher than around 1,000 copies per issue. Each issue looked less like it’s previous incarnation as jargon increased and coverage of local news decreased.

On The Move ceased publication after one year largely due to the same reasons as Spark–overburdened staff and even weaker finances. The impact of the paper was lessened by increasingly sparse local content and poor circulation.

There were several unsuccessful attempts over the next several years to revive the newspaper, including the publication of one issue of an RU-oriented Baltimore-Washington Worker. 

Links to the third year of Spark and the first and only year of On The Move:

3rd year of Spark:

Vol. 3, No. 1, October 11, 1973
Vol. 3, No. 2, November 24, 1973

Complete On The Move:

Vol. 1, No. 1, April-May, 1974
Vol. 1, No. 2, August, 1974
Vol. 1, No. 3, November, 1974
Vol. 1, No. 4, December, 1974
Vol. 1, No. 5, January, 1975

Updated Oct. 18, 2015 – 2nd year of Spark now online

The second year of the Washington Area Spark monthly tabloid is now online. Vol. 2, No. 8 published in March/April 1973 is missing. If you have a copy, please contact us at washington_area_spark@yahoo.com. A full twelve issues were published in the second year of the paper.

The second year of Spark was marked by clashes with the new student government, the administration and even the trustees of Montgomery College. The previous student government had allocated funds for publishing Spark, but it became a race to spend the money before it was cut off. The last student funds were spent in December 1972 and the newspaper declared its independence from the campus in January 1973.

The second year also marked an expansion from its Montgomery County roots to a Washington, DC area-wide newspaper. The paper struggled to find a replacement for the student funds and came to rely on a mix of limited advertisement, sustainer contributions and staff contributions.

The politics of the newspaper also changed. It declared itself to be guided by Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung Thought. This turn to the left occurred at a time when the base of the newspaper–student activism began to fade with the end of the draft and the winding down of the Vietnam War.

The iconic Spark bomb shrunk in size and then disappeared. As the newspaper became more political, both advertising and distribution centers dropped as small business owners rejected the paper’s politics. This in turn changed the format of the newspaper–adding an extra fold–so that it was easier to hand out at workplaces.

Content also changed with an increasing focus on economic and work place issues. However, unlike many self-styled Maoist newspapers of the era, the Spark continued to carry different viewpoints, continue to give space to counter-cultural events and cover other groups, including demonstrations sponsored or strongly influenced by the Young Workers Liberation League /Communist Party USA and the Workers World/Youth Against War and Fascism group that had Trotskyist roots, black liberation groups and anarchists.

Links to the second year of Spark:

Vol. 2 No. 1 – September 6, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 2 – October 4, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 3 – October 31, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 4 – November 19, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 5 – December 20, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 6 – January 20, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 7 – February 21, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 8 – unavailable
Vol. 2 No. 9 – May 11, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 10 – June 12, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 11 – July 11, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 12 – August 17, 1973

Original post:

We are finally getting around to scanning and posting the original Spark and its successor On The Move. Five of the first six issues are posted (one is missing) and represent the first year of publication. More will be posted in the coming weeks. They have been posted unedited meaning the discoloration of the aging newsprint is captured as well.

We hope this resource will add to the rich alternative publication history in the greater Washington, D.C. area and provide researchers with additional information on left-leaning activities in the early 1970s in this region.

Spark began as a Montgomery College student publication after a group of radicals calling themselves the Montgomery County Freedom Party won several seats in the student government and obtained funding for the publication. The other official student newspaper, The Spur, continued to publish during this period as well.

The volunteer staff used a typewriter and press type to lay out the tabloid. Photos that required half-tones had to be done by the printer for the offset press process.

The eclectic tabloid published six issues in its first year (the publication year mirrored the student year) and included inflammatory language about police and revolution, but focused on student and county issues with a smattering of articles about local and national issues related to left-leaning causes. The politics of the contributors included feminists, anarchists, liberals, pacifists and revolutionaries.

The publication dates are a little confusing. At times they represented publication date and at times they represented the end of the period prior to what was expected to be the next issue’s publication.

By the last issue of the year (Vol. 1 No. 6), the newspaper began to include expanded coverage of county-wide issues and was distributed at a few locations other than the college.

Vol. 1 No. 1 – unavailable
Vol. 1 No. 2 – October 25, 1971
Vol. 1 No. 3 – November 19, 1971
Vol. 1 No. 4 – December 10, 1971
Vol. 1 No. 5 – February 29, 1972
Vol. 1 No. 6 – April 15, 1972

Do you have a copy of the first issue of Spark? If so, please e-mail us at washington_area_spark@yahoo.com