Frequently Asked Questions

I want to write an article for Slingshot – what tips would you have?

Thanks for asking. We love getting unsolicited articles. You can send email or regular mail. Many topics are of interest — we suggest you write about stuff you’re involved with, know about, or are passionate about. Because we only come out every two months and it tends to take a while for an article to go from the author to getting distributed, the best Slingshot articles are analysis, not pure news updates. Analysis is a process that examines and discusses news events and facts and reaches conclusions. It is different than an opinion rant — just spewing about what you think. While sometimes pure opinions are interesting, you’ll increase your chances of writing something publish-worthy by going beyond just ranting. We also like funny articles that make political points in a funny or interesting way. We like first person articles where appropriate much better than dry articles with no “heart”

Below is an article we published that gives some suggestions on writing articles. Certainly not every article has to be like this or have all these qualities — we would go crazy if they were all like this. But this may give you some things to think about:

Media That Inspires Action

PB Floyd

When you’re running a project, it’s good to re-think its purpose from time to time. The Slingshot collective spends a ton of time, energy and money to publish this paper every two months — there are already tons of folks publishing papers everywhere and lots of stuff to read on the internet — what is special about Slingshot that justifies all this work?

One big purpose of Slingshot is to go beyond just providing information and analysis about social issues and provide some inspiration. Every day the mainstream press is full of articles about problems. The alternative press is at its best when it goes beyond just talking about problems and instead points to solutions — areas available for struggle, the development of new and creative tactics, hopeful stories about people who are changing things. Lets face it — a lot of people know we’re facing problems, but usually, this awareness just makes people feel hopeless and trapped — paralyzed. “Well, if the world situation is fucked, I may as well forget about it and enjoy myself while I still can.” The most important thing alternative press can do is figure out how to move people from disempowerment and resignation to action!

In figuring out how to inspire and motivate, the alternative media needs to figure out who to talk to, how to talk to them, what to say and how to say it — what is the audience? Slingshot has no formal “party line” on these questions or any others, but generally, the most important audience is not people who are already inspired and motivated to act — it’s folks who could potentially be sympathetic and active, but haven’t yet made the step from critique to action. Folks who were active at one point, but who’ve become discouraged or withdrawn is another important audience. Politically, the most crucial audience are folks who are concerned about single issues or skeptical about the social direction, but who haven’t developed ideas about answers — what could be done, what would a new society look like, how can people organize to create change? Radical media can point out connections between seemingly distinct issues and social problems — a lot of problems and solutions come down to a critique of authority, hierarchy, power, dehumanizing structures, economic and technological systems. Folks who were raised as liberals — with some faith in the government and the system — but who are realizing the flaws in these systems should be a key audience for radical alternative media.

How to address an audience, what to say, and how to say it are crucial questions. For me, an ideal radical article contains four parts. First, it ought to contain an analysis of a particular aspect of social reality that looks at the problem or phenomenon from a new angle or in a way that goes beyond “common wisdom” about the issue. Second, the article should suggest solutions, not just point out how fucked up things are. Third, the article should inspire folks to actually do something. Just understanding an issue and knowing a theoretical solution is not enough. Each of us has numerous opportunities during our lives to change, grow and struggle. A great article will connect solutions to these opportunities. Finally, the best articles have heart and are personal. Increasingly, this society is functioning like a huge computer in which each of our lives is harnessed to perform limited operations within the machine — going to work, consuming, reproducing, playing by the rules. We need media that goes beyond an academic, cold discourse and touches what is really human, precious and unique about each of our lives.

It is so disappointing when alternative media attempts to use the master’s tools of rhetoric and style. We can never smash an inhuman system by conforming our lives, ideas, or language to its standards. The society we seek is one in which people do it ourselves — full of art and chaos. Media that is so computerized that you have to read it carefully to see that it is talking about revolution doesn’t feel very revolutionary. Some activists want our media to look professional, clean and orderly, but a professional, clean orderly world is what we seek to smash. People feel inspired when they see a fully human, messy, chaotic world represented on paper. Alternative media at its best, and hopefully Slingshot, help provide such inspiration in these scary times.

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I want to turn in some art for Slingshot – what would you suggest?

We love to get art. We use everything from simple doodles to deeply meaningful cover submissions. We like lots of different styles, but keep in mind that we print in black and white, not color. Stuff that is shaded (say with a charcoal pencil) is harder to publish than stuff with nice clear black and white — cartoons with a sharpie, stencils with black paint on white paper, or wood block cuts, etc.

If you’re sending a cover for the paper, the ideal size is exactly square, not either vertical or horizontal. The final size will be 7.75 X 7.75 inches.

If you want to do an organizer cover, contact us for size suggestions.

Any size graphic can be used inside the paper or organizer – send us a copy of your scrapbook.

In terms of content ideas for graphics, we generally like graphics that are about action and change: people getting together and building new participatory structures or toppling the old, oppressive ones. But of course we need drawings of everything — subway trains, mushrooms, collapsed buildings, trees, barbed wire fences, upraised fists, food not bombs tables, bicycles, farm animals, car junkyards, bats, tofu, etc.

Because we’re not computerized, it is generally better not to email or send us CD-ROMS of art or photographs. Instead, make a nice clear photocopy on nice clear white paper and mail it to our address: 3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA 94705. If you’re sending a photograph, we’ll have to screen it (i.e. break it down into little dots) to publish it, so sending us a black and white print is nice. If a photograph is taken with a digital camera, it may be better to get it to us electronically because using a mechanical transfer process like we would for a black and white photo print won’t work very well.

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I want to become a local distributor – what should I do?

We send out hundreds of free packages to local distributors all over the USA right after each issue gets published. Just send us your mailing address and we’ll add you to the list. Please let us know if you move or if you want to stop getting future issues. Folks use the papers for tabling at shows or Food Not Bombs, put them out at local cafes, bookstores or libraries, or hand them out at school or to friends.

Let us know how many pounds you want of each issue between 1 and 6 pounds; note that 1 lb is about 7 to 9 copies.

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Hey, you didn’t print a particular historical date in this year’s organizer. Don’t you care about that historical date?

We have a huge list of historical dates for each day – about 10-30 per day. We thus don’t have room to print each date each year. Also, we like to print different dates (and informational features) each year so the organizer isn’t precisely the same each year. So, if we missed a date in a particular edition, the chances are we printed it the previous year or the year before that. Or maybe we don’t know about it . . .

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What is the history of the Slingshot collective?

Slingshot published its first edition on March 9, 1988. The first issue was just one sheet of 11 X 17 white copier paper, folded in half. It was raw and militant, with handwritten headlines and hilarious seditious graphics. Slingshot looked like it was put together in the backseat of a getaway car after some really cool revolutionary act.

During the first few months, Slingshot published weekly zines, all photocopied on white paper. Publishing weekly was an amazing rush. We would get together in the afternoon, figure out who should write what, write it, and be done with layout that same night. The next morning at 7 a.m., the paper would go to the copy shop when it opened, and be printed by noon. At noon, we would sit around Sproul Plaza at the university in Berkeley and fold the 1,000 copies by hand. As soon as they were folded, people would eagerly come along to take them and read them. Usually, all 1,000 copies were gone by 5 p.m.

We were able to do it like that because there was such a wonderful and active movement on campus in those days. We published weekly because every week, there were protests, building occupations, arrests, riots, squatted houses, trials — stuff was going on.

We were able to do it because we were young and relatively privileged.

Slingshot completely severed its ties with the university scene in the early 1990s. For a while after everyone had graduated, we kept our office and mailing address on campus and used the university mailing permit, but eventually the whole process of finding “front students” to sign everything got to be more trouble than it was worth. The university, reacting to the campus anti-apartheid movement in the mid-80s, kept making new rules to prevent students and off-campus radicals from cooperating. The university finally banned people without student IDs from coming into many campus buildings. This tactic worked — since then, there hasn’t been much contact between the shrinking student radical scene and radicals living in town.

Just at that moment, in the spring of 1993, the Long Haul, a movement space for meetings that started in 1979, was facing eviction. We rented an office at Long Haul and joined the struggle to stop the eviction.

Up to this point, it wasn’t clear if Slingshot would keep going or not. After publishing weekly for a while, it started publishing monthly. Then in 1990 publication got less and less frequent. Renting an office was a declaration of sorts that Slingshot would keep going and transition to a new phase. Most people in the collective were a little older and were working more hours by then, so the project had to adjust.

We decided to publish quarterly, doing most work on the evenings and on weekends. There would be a deadline for articles and then everyone in the collective would read the articles — a process we call collective editing. Then, on the Friday night before doing page layout, we would have an “all night meeting” during which we would decide what articles to print and which ones to cut, and which pages to put articles on. Then people in the collective would volunteer to layout one or more pages. All this would get written on chalk boards. The all night meeting is a long meeting fueled by bags of chocolate chips with tons of political debate and struggle, sometimes bitter arguments, often howls of laughter and eventually total exhaustion and frustration. After staying up way too late Friday night, we would get up on Saturday and proceed to spend every waking moment of the weekend putting the whole paper together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. On Monday, mentally and physically spent, we would take the paper to the printer.

Most of the traditions developed at that time persist to this day.

Another amazing thing about Slingshot that has permitted it to persist all these years is our defense of a participatory do-it-yourself culture. Somewhere early on, we collectively concluded that efficiency wasn’t the most important goal of the project. Mainstream western society always holds efficiency as its highest value, even where the pursuit of efficiency creates human misery or environmental destruction.

Slingshot has always tried to promote participation over a division of labor in which a small number of experts do all the mental work, with the physical work left to peons (or, increasingly, machines). Instead, everyone who works in the collective generally does every job there is to do — or at least this is our goal. To this day, we almost always have new collective members who’ve never designed and laid out a page before do pages right next to people who’ve been doing layout for 20 years.

This is one reason we still insist of using what some consider primitive publishing and distribution practices. We still do all our layout by hand with scissors and glue instead of with computers because everyone knows how to use a pair of scissors. Using fancy computer programs quickly creates a class of experts, and a disempowered class of people slower or less capable. The process of doing layout by hand is more joyful as well as being more participatory. We don’t spend our whole weekend in front of a computer — we spend it pasting tiny slips of paper together like an insane collage.

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What is the history of the organizer?

The first issue of the Organizer (1995) was photocopied on 8 1/2 X 11 sheets which were cut in half, collated by hand, and bound with rubber bands. About 400 copies got printed. No financial records exist to indicate whether it made money or not, although since most of the photocopies were stolen, it probably was a financial success. It sold for $4.50 a copy. In the introduction, we hoped someone else would take on the project for the next year. But it didn’t happen.

In 1996, after getting complaints that there wasn’t enough space to write (which is still our most major complaint), we tried copying on 8 1/2 X 14 sheets (legal size) and then cutting them in half. But there were even more complaints, because that year, it couldn’t so easily fit in your back pocket. It still got collated all by hand. It was still photocopied — that year we paid for the copying so the price went up to $5.50. We printed 400 copies. That year, each copy also had a “free prize” in the back. There were a bunch of funny stickers, some punk patches on canvass, and lots and lots of free condoms. We taped something onto the back inside of each cover with masking tape. It all took a long time — folding, collating, taping the free prize, putting on the rubber band, etc.

It seemed like me and my girlfriend (we jointly coordinated the project that year) spent the whole month of December sitting in front of the fire folding organizers and putting on rubber bands and prizes. We could have done it in our sleep. At the end of the month, we took the Green Tortoise bus up to Eugene to go to Christmas, and took along a box of organizer materials to fold and rubber band on the bus. But, we made the mistake of eating some pot cookies before getting on the bus. It was a brand new batch I made for the bus trip, and I hadn’t tested to see how strong they were. Anyway, we knew the cookies were way too strong and we knew that we were way too stoned when we could no longer figure out which way to fold the pages and why we put the covers on the outside, rather than on the inside. We almost got thrown off the bus for laughing literally all night long up in one of the sleeping lofts after we rearranged some of the free prize stickers to make a sexually suggestive design. (See figure 1.)

The 1997 edition had many of the features, organization and layout one sees today, although it was still bound with a rubber band. By then, it looked like the project would stick around a while — people expected us to do it. We gradually started selling more and more copies. It became a more “official” part of the collective process that year, although its always been a different group (although with overlap) doing the Organizer than does the paper. That year we started trying to sell more of them outside the Bay Area.

For the 1998 organizer, we decided all the folding and rubber bands were just too much damn work, so we changed to the kind of binding we use now for the pocket size book. It’s called “perfect” binding, but of course its far from perfect. That year, one of us worked for a printing company and he printed the whole thing for free (except the cost of paper, ink and offset printing plates) in the middle of the night. It was insane – it took him over a month and so we were late getting them out. He printed 1,200 copies. That year we used color ink on the cover, with the paper color for all of the organizer the same color (i.e. white). That meant that everyone’s organizer looked the same — big mistake! Since then, we’ve printed the covers on many different colors of paper.

For the 1999 organizer, we paid to print and bind the organizer and increased the print run again — it started seeming like a little, all-volunteer cottage industry. That was the first year we used color (i.e. not black) ink for the insides. The calendar was dark blue and the phone page letters were bright red. The calendar pages featured a flip book cartoon — if you flipped the pages you could watch a penis piss on a police car, which then flipped over, and then a circle @ flag rose up behind the over-turned police car. We got lots of complaints about having a penis in there, plus the flip book was jumpy.

The 2000 organizers were stored in a garage and mailed from a dining room. We published the first “drawn for the organizer cover art” which was drawn by Jennifer, who did the covers several years in a row after that.

By the 2002 organizer, the number of organizers was getting huge, so we fixed up a room in the basement of one of our houses as a permanent shipping and packing room. That year we printed and sold 10,000 copies!

The 2003 organizer was the first one in which every day in the organizer had different boarders. Up until then, every page had certain common design elements with the rest of the book. Going back to the first organizer, different artists paste up each month by hand.

The 2005 organizer we published in two sizes for the first time: the pocket size and a new, experimental spiral bound version. That year we printed 3,000 of the spiral size. We initially printed 16,000 pocket sized books, but by November we were already running out so we decided to do a quick second printing of another 5,000. It was a mistake and we ended up having extra copies of the 2005 organizer pocket size, the first that we had every had extra copies. (Bonus fact: while we have back issues of every copy of the paper we’ve ever published, we do not have back issues of most of the organizers because we sold every single one.)

As this is written, we’re distributing the 2007 organizer. We have distribution points in more than half the US states plus Canada, England, Germany, Japan and Australia! Thanks to everyone who has made the Organizer such an interesting ride.

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Why don’t you have a mission statement?
We have purposefully avoided having a political “party line” because to do so would imply that we have figured out the answer — we’re skeptical that anyone ever really knows what to do. Also, it would make everyone who agrees in the “in” group and relegate everyone else to the “out” group. We would rather work with many individuals — who hold many different opinions — on issues where we agree, rather than figuring out the issues we don’t agree on and then refusing to work together on anything based on those disagreements.

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How do you make decisions?
We are flexible — we don’t seem to strictly practice consensus but we do sit in meetings and discuss stuff and try to find a point that everyone is comfortable with.

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How does someone “join” your collective?
About a month before each issue we have a “new volunteer meeting” which is advertised in our paper. Anyone can drop by the meeting to plug in. Each issue tends to be its own project and whoever comes to the first meeting can ride it and see where it goes. Our collective isn’t very formally structured.

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Who does your printing?
We print all our stuff with local printers and we encourage you to do the same — we don’t want someone in New Jersey to run their zine at a printer in Berkeley just because we do and then ship paper all over the place in big polluting trucks. Folger Graphics prints the paper on a web press (i.e. a press that is fed from huge rolls of newsprint.) (It used to be FP Press in Union City, Calif. but they no longer exist.) ¬†Web press printing is cheap and fast — about 1 hour to print 23,000 copies of the paper. There are web press printers everywhere in the USA. We print the organizer at Mercruio Bros. Press in Berkeley. They use sheet fed offset presses. The binding is done by On-line Bindery in Richmond, CA. We pick out crazy organizer cover paper stock at Kelly Paper in Walnut Creek. We like all our printers and binders and paper suppliers — they think we’re a bit odd.

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How does one start a zine, anyway?
This is actually a very frequently asked question! There is no secret — we didn’t know how when we started out, and we still don’t know now. Basically, figure out what you want to say, write it up, figure out how you want the publication to look, make it look that way, print it up and give it out. Anyone can start a zine with just an idea and maybe a few dollars for photocopies.

We recommend starting small and growing organically — we started with photocopies. 1,000 copies cost $70. It would have been absurd to start out publishing 15,000 copies and spending $3,000 per issue on printing and postage! In terms of money, Slingshot used to take donations and host punk shows to make money. It can be frustrating trying to get people to pay you for the publication — we tried for years and it never paid very well. Having said that, we know some people who break even selling copies. You have to keep in mind that you won’t get paid for a good number of copies you send out . . .

We recommend starting out by doing a publication, rather than spending too much time having meetings to talk about structure, mission statement, etc. first. By doing a publication, you’ll figure out a lot of what you need to decide, and you’ll also figure out the things that you don’t need to decide (because they won’t come up.)

The ideal situation is not to make any project like Slingshot larger, but for everyone to start their own local alternative media.

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How do I subscribe to the paper?
Subscriptions are free in the USA – if you have $ and want to send us some, we suggest a $1 donation per issue which covers our costs. We publish about 4-5 issues per year at the moment. You can email us or send a card or donation to 3124 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705. Let us know how many issues (or years) you want to be on the mailing list.

If you are outside the USA, email us to request a free subscription, or you can send $3 per issue.

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