Interview with Osha Neumann: Up Against the Wall Motherfucker and the 60s Counterculture


Osha Neumann, son of Franz Neumann and stepson of Herbert Marcuse, member of the Motherfuckers; lawyer, artist, and author of the book Up Against the Wall Motherf**ker. A Memoir of the ‘60s, with Notes for Next Time. Interviewed by Adrian Mengay and Maike Pricelius in 2010, first published in datacide fifteen in 2016.

AM: In the 1960s you were a member of a radical political group called “Up against the Wall Motherfuckers” based in New York City. Could you explain what the Motherfuckers were?

ON: The Motherfuckers were a small group that formed on the Lower East Side in 1967. The Lower East Side of New York was a predominantly Puerto Rican ghetto at this point. It had been the entranceway for immigrants for many, many years. It had been a Jewish ghetto before the Puerto Ricans moved in. We have been called many things. Some people called us ‘a street gang with an analysis’. Ben Morea, who was one of the key figures, was identified as an anarchist. Others of us did not particularly identify either as anarchists or as Marxists or in any of the traditional political categories. We considered our base to be what the media called hippies – dropouts, freaks, countercultural youth who swarmed into this ghetto around the time when we were forming. It had been a place where the beatniks had been before the hippies, and then the punks came afterwards. It had cheap, cheap rents. There were squatters mixed in with the Puerto Rican population. At that point our base was, as I say, these hippies primarily, although attached to us at various times were groups of young Puerto Ricans, who would come to our events and our demonstrations.

AM: How was life in the Lower East Side? And what exactly did you do as Motherfuckers aside from organizing demonstrations?

ON: We lived largely communally, in crash pads or houses we had. We put on free nights, we gave out free food, we had feasts, we had a free store where people could come and give away things for free, and various other institutions. We published lots of – at that point – mimeographed flyers and then some pages in an underground newspaper that was published in the Lower East Side. After only a couple of years, actually, the situation began to change, both internally and externally, and the Lower East Side, the counterculture, although subject to the stresses of survival and repression from the police, had been still more or less free and joyous. But it got a harder edge. The drugs changed from pretty good acid to heroin, crack and speed. Gangs moved in – biker gangs – to contest with us for the turf, and also our rhetoric changed.

MP: How was the interaction between the Motherfuckers, the black community, and the Puerto Rican community on the Lower East Side? [Read more →]