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Power and Politics of Inkworks Press

Inkworks started in 1974 when Berkeley activists who had been learning offset printing at an alternative school set up a shop. The various streams of activism—against the Vietnam War, for international solidarity, civil rights, feminism, LGBT rights—were in full bloom, and there was a deep need for community-based media facilities. Learning to print was a political act. Other such pioneers of the New Left included David Lance Goines’ small shop for Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement in 1964; Glad Day Press in Ithaca, New York, and Peace Press in Los Angeles (1967); and Chicago’s Salsedo Press and Red Sun in the Boston area (1973). Of those, only Salsedo and Red Sun remain. Lincoln Cushing, writer and design historian, was a member of Inkworks press and edited its first anthology. I asked him to talk about Inkworks in lieu of its recent closing after almost 40 years. (A second anthology of the press’ work is available here.)

L-R: Visions2-Ch5-72-1 “No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us,” Micah Bazant, 2015; Visions2-Ch4-52-3 “Chicana Latina Foundation leadership institute,” Favianna Rodriguez, 2010

What was your role? I joined Inkworks in 1981 as a small press operator and left in 2001 as an estimator. I was also a graphic artist on the side, and during those years was able to create dozens of posters for a wide range of subjects, from Pete Seeger concerts to opposing U.S. intervention in Central America. I also initiated and edited our acclaimed 2007 book Visions of Peace & Justice: 30 years of Political Posters from Inkworks Press.

What were your most challenging messages? In retrospect, we were on the right side of history regarding most of the messaging we created. The majority of work we printed was designed and distributed by our huge activist client base, but some materials we took on as our own publishing projects. Inkworks printed thousands of stunning posters on subjects such as ending South African apartheid, support for GLBT and women’s liberation, and opposition to racist ballot initiatives.

Top L-R: Visions2-Ch3-51-1 “#Jacka$$,” Jon-Paul Bail, 2015; Visions2-Ch6-78-1 “First National Mobilization on Climate Change,” Cesar Maxit, 2009. Bottom row L-R: Visions2-Ch1-16-1 “Domestic workers lift up our families and our communities,” Rommy Torrico, 2015; Visions2-Ch3-39-1 “Undocumented Californians deserve health care,” Chucha Marques, 2015.

I understand Inkworks has closed. Why? And what’s next? Inkworks made the painful decision to close down as a consequence of the recession in the 2000s, a general shakeout in the printing industry, and an aging collective membership that deserved to retire. The cooperatively owned Community Printers of Santa Cruz has a strong link with the Bay Area and has been designated as our recommended successor for our clients. And other offset shops, such as Brooklyn’s Radix Media, continue this noble trade in other parts of the country. The graphic design department of Inkworks, which spun off in 2002, is now the Design Action Collective, a very successful visual communications business in Oakland.

More can be found here.

Cheryl DeYoung and Guillermo Prado, Inkworks, circa 1995. Photo by Lincoln Cushing.

Cover – Design Action, Oakland

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