Anthony Castillo

Beachheads Write on the Beachhead

CJ Gronner

Every town needs a newspaper, and The Free Venice Beachhead has been the one for Venice, California since 1968. I joined the collective staff in 2009, after writing a story about my beloved bike getting stolen … and then getting it back! The fact that Beachhead readers cared enough – first to read, and then to ACT and get my bike returned to me – let me know that this was a paper by and for the special place that we’ve all chosen to make our home. Shortly after that, the Beachhead Collective asked me to join them, and I happily did.

45 years later, The Free Venice Beachhead has not only kept the original masthead and motto (“This paper is a poem!”), but the same fighting, community and celebratory spirit of Venice that the founders of the paper intended it to be about. As one of the nation’s oldest free presses, surviving on only donations and local ads, I believe the Beachhead provides an important service to everyone who lives or visits here. As a community paper, I’d like to see the community get more involved. EVERYONE is welcome to submit articles, photos, cartoons, letters, and yes, poems. Each item submitted is read aloud and voted on by the Collective staff. There are so many talented people living in Venice, and we’d love to hear from all of you. I’ve heard “I LOVE the Beachhead!” so many times, and we’d love to see that love in action. In addition to submitting content, we can always use help distributing the papers, volunteering at events, and of course, any financial support is always welcome – because as creative people all, the money stuff to keep it going is by far everyone’s least favorite part of the deal.

I’ve only ever wanted to write and tell stories. To have a home for these tales of our people and goings on in the paper of the town I love so much is a wonderful privilege, and one I take very seriously. I’ve had hate mail for calling things out, and I’ve had love mail for the same. In a time of so much change for Venice, it’s important to hear from all sides of every issue. We’re a lefty paper, started by Beat poets, and we’re proud of it. But that doesn’t mean that a Republican Tea Party member that hates hippies and weed (and poems!) doesn’t have an outlet with us too – you just have to submit your work and have it be interesting enough to print (It’s a real bonus if you know the difference between you’re and your/it’s and its, and know how to spell-check. I personally also love it if you submit via email so I don’t have to re-type your handwritten four-page, both sides story. But I still will – even if you voted for Bush. Ok, that’s a maybe). I strongly feel that the more we know about the people and places of our community, the more we care. I want to tell the stories of the folks that live here, the cool things that they do, and the fun that we have … and might also throw down the occasional “rant” if the need arises – and it does. As we hear a lot, never underestimate the power of the pen (or the keyboard, as it were).

The Collective staff is made up of a group of people that care deeply about Venice, and give of their own time, efforts, and selves freely. We discuss everything that goes in the paper, and there have been heated debates, but far more often, uproarious laughter, and even tears (that’s usually me – usually because of Mary Getlein’s poems). I didn’t know any of the staff personally before I joined, our paths had never even crossed, strangely. I now consider every one of them true friends. It’s an honor to work with and know them all – even during the lengthy busy work of proof-reading meetings.

It’s hard work to keep a print newspaper going these days, for sure. But every time I’m in a coffee shop or somewhere, and see someone reading the paper, knowing what they’re reading (every last comma of it), and getting to know the real Venice a little better, it makes it all more than worth it. I hope you readers feel the same way, and will contribute your own words and feelings whenever that Venice spirit moves you to. Thank you for reading for 45 years, and Happy Birthday to the Free Venice Beachhead!


Greta Cobar

I remember when I was just a Beachhead reader: I thought the paper was so smart. I remember going through the articles and thinking: “these guys are geniuses.” Then I saw Jim Smith and Karl Abrams sitting at the Beachhead table, at some event. I wanted the 40th Anniversary poster, designed by Earl Newman, but didn’t have money on me. So I called the number on the front page of the paper a few days later, and was instructed to go to 533 Rialto in half an hour.

I thought I was headed to some office to talk to some secretary, but instead I found myself in Jim’s house, with orange walls and a big, bright chandelier from Murano. His demeanor was so calm, and the house was so colorful and inviting, that I told him that I wanted to volunteer. And so I did.

Now five years later, we’re celebrating the 45th Anniversary with a new poster designed by Earl Newman. Everything else around the paper has changed, though. Jim and Karl have moved to Oregon, I progressed from doing just distribution to also doing lay-out, web design, lots of writing, and still doing most of the distribution. I just wish it paid the rent. My unemployment just ran out and I need to go back to the other kind of work, the work that pays money. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to still do all the work that the paper requires.

I started working when I was fifteen years old and later taught 9th grade Health for ten years, but the last year and a half of working on the Beachhead has been the toughest job I’ve ever had. I learned a lot of computer stuff and also learned how difficult it is to work with a group of volunteers.

The Beachhead is bigger than any one of us and it continues on. The most remarkable thing about the Beachhead is how much the community cherishes and supports it. The month-long efforts of putting the paper together and the sleepless nights spent doing layout are all well worth it when the paper comes out. I get on my fuzzy yellow bike with 300 papers at a time, and people grab the Beachhead out of my hands before I even get a chance to put it out. Later on in the month, when I do second, third, fourth or fifth rounds of distribution, people come up with a sparkle in their eyes and ask me if I got a new Beachhead. I show them which one I got, and they usually say: “I already read that one.”

It makes me happy when strangers say they read every issue. Often they say they read every article, cover to cover. I also get really excited when I visit people’s houses and the Beachhead is laying around. And all the thank-yous that I get, and all the excitement that the Beachhead generates in Venice.

I am grateful for being given the opportunity to be part of the Beachhead, and I cherish the work that I do. That old ego thing sometimes gets out of the bag and puts a damper on the experience – but some things cannot be eliminated, only down-played.

So here’s to a super brilliant and gorgeous 45th Anniversary, and to a whole lot more! Thank you, Venice, for supporting your local paper and for allowing me to be part of it.


Mary Getlein

The day I was asked to join The Beachhead was amazing to me. I had been sending in poems and was really happy when they would publish one. Seeing your name in print is a definite “rush”. It’s validation and recognition and I’ve had many people ride by me on their bikes and shout out – “Hey, I liked your poem!” That is what’s really great about Venice – people read your poems.

Being on The Beachhead staff gives you imaginary status – “Yeah, I’m on The Beachhead staff – I’m one of the writers.” This bumps you up in some peoples’ eyes.

Besides all that, it is fun. I’ve gotten to know and care about a lot of people I wouldn’t have known otherwise. There is a lot of humor and empathy at meetings. We don’t always agree, but most of us have a pro-underdog bias and an anti-corporation point of view. We have watched, with horror, great old buildings being torn down and ugly new ones put in their place. And watched people we know get displaced.

We’re in a time of great change for Venice and we’re here to tell you about it. I’m proud to be a member.

I handle the mailing and it makes me feel good to send The Beachhead to people in prison. The way our laws are now, with mandatory sentencing laws, a lot of people are unjustly behind bars. It’s such a waste of time and peoples’ lives, being stuck behind prison’s walls, instead of leading productive lives. I imagine them reading The Beachhead and feeling like somebody cares. We do. We care a lot.

The Beachhead has a tradition of speaking “truth to power.” We have joined many groups fighting the police state the powers that be would like Venice to be. We are still fighting the illegal law closing Venice Beach from 12:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. We fought the OPD movement three times and three times we have won. People move away from Venice and still feel like Venetians, because the love of the place never goes away. It has meant many things to many people, but mostly it has meant HOME.


Ronald McKinley

This paper personifies Venice, the real in your face Venice. Being a part of the Beachhead Collective has broadened my world view. The Collective has anchored me and schooled me.

For forty-five years, since December 1968, the Beachhead is the oldest free newspaper still in circulation. The Beachhead has kept the leftist voice alive.

The Beachhead is always looking for new blood, young, and old, pissed off, loving, and enlightened. We need you, and your money, free to read not to print. Please donate your time, your ideas, your love and support to the Beachhead.

This paper, this community is ours to nurture. Represent how you want to live. More than words, deeds make us human. The Beachhead has backed the righteous, the just. This is why I love the Beachhead.

Come to Beyond Baroque December the first, music, poetry, I will read some of mine, drinks and fun.

Celebrate forty-five years of a paper that is a poem.


Anthony Castillo

As the newest member of the Beachhead Collective (I’ve watched first-hand four issues come to life), I don’t have any anecdotes, stories of power struggles or deep insights to share about the Collective and its workings. But what I can tell all the readers is that the Collective is made up of a small, talented, feisty group of hard working folks, committed to keeping this very important local, alternative, independent, progressive voice alive.

For me personally, it’s knowing the importance of having as many independent progressive media outlets as possible that makes me feel good to be a part of this little giant of a newspaper. I’ve been a long time volunteer at KPFK 90.7 FM (the listener supported Pacifica radio station) here in LA. Since I’ve lived in Venice for now a decade, as well as work in Venice, I see the work of the Beachhead to be even more grassroots and vital. I was a fan of the paper long before I got involved with it.

If you’re a fan of the Beachhead like I was/am and value its grassroots, progressive, community perspective, submit an article or a poem, become a sustainer, buy ad space, or help out with distribution. Get involved like I did. Because in the end, the Beachhead is your paper as much as it is that of the Collective that scrapes by to produce it each month. Do what you can to keep Venice weird. Happy 45th Birthday, Beachhead!