Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

August 12, 2022

Tribute to Allen Cooper: Radio man battling for the people

Photo by Barbara and Peter Clark. Allen at Standing Rock, with Don Cuny of Oglala.
They were both at Wounded Knee.

A KUNM Volunteer and an Activist of a Thousand Battles

Allen Fairfax Cooper

August 10, 1938-August 7, 2022

By Kent Paterson

Censored News

Brash, outspoken, committed and passionate. Just a few of the words that describe Allen Cooper. The former KUNM volunteer passed away on Sunday, August 7, 2022, a few days shy of his 84th birthday. A sailor, political activist, VW mechanic, educator, laborer, private investigator, and radio-cablevision host, Cooper wore many hats in his long and storied life. Yet he was always fighting the powers-that-be and struggling alongside oppressed, marginalized and subjugated peoples and communities from New Mexico to Mississippi to Central America and other reaches of the globe-sometimes at the risk of his own life.

KUNM was an essential part of Cooper's life. As a young Navy veteran and UNM student back in the early 1960s, "Coop," as his friends frequently called him, first became familiar with KNMD, a small, student-run radio station that had just opened in the basement of the UNM Student Union Building and was heard only on campus. In 1966 the station got a transmitter, was granted an FCC license, and began broadcasting with the new call letters KUNM.

Starting in the late 1960s, Cooper contributed to KUNM as a volunteer public affairs host, news stringer and even gofer-whatever the occasion called for. He was one of the volunteer hosts who filled in at times for the late Cecilio Garcia Camarillo, founder of Monday evening's bilingual Espejos de Aztlan culture and public affairs program.

Allen at Standing Rock being interviewed by Democracy Now.

Spanning decades, Cooper's involvement with KUNM coincided with many pivotal times for the station, such as the 1987-88 volunteer strike over program format and governance issues. Cooper also hosted the NM IndyMedia Show on public access TV channel 27 when it was run by Quote-Unquote Media Center.

As an activist Cooper, who was a white man, worked on civil rights issues in New Mexico and the Deep South in the late 1950s and early 1960s, later collaborating with the Black Panther Party and United Farmworkers of America in California, and immersing himself in the anti-Vietnam war and student movements of the era.

He was expelled from UNM in 1970 for helping disrupt a campus speech by segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Coop figured prominently among New Mexico activists who experienced harassment and/or worse by local and state police, federal agents, university administrators and some state legislators.

In 1973, the Albuquerque-born activist joined a small group of white, Chicano and Native military veterans who traveled to Wounded Knee, South Dakota, to lend support to Lakota traditionals and members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) engaged in an armed stand-off with the federal government over sovereignty and corruption issues. Consequently, he was arrested and charged for his participation in the Wounded Knee confrontation.

Allen at Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice. On the left is Aaron Dixon, former leader of the Black Panther Party in Seattle. On the right is Lenny Foster, Dineh, of AIM who serves as spiritual adviser for Native inmates in prisons.

As gun-battles raged away in Wounded Knee, Cooper filed on-the-scene reports for KUNM. The FBI subsequently paid a visit to the station in a bid to acquire the original tape of the Cooper reports, but was rebuffed by the station manager who told the agents that they could only have what was publicly broadcast.

The KUNM episode was among others around the nation during the Nixon administration and the FBI's Cointelpro program (especially concerning the Pacifica radio network) when a repressive government leaned on broadcasters. 

A KUNM report filed by Cooper from Wounded Knee can now be heard on the recently established "official" archive of U.S. public broadcasting, the American Archive of Public Broadcasting spearheaded by the Library of Congress and WGBH-Boston.  

Listen to Allen Cooper's report phoned in to KUNM from Wounded Knee, South, Dakota, in 1973:

After Wounded Knee, "Coop" maintained his solidarity with indigenous causes. He attended Wounded Knee anniversary events and kept in touch with AIM; actively participated in organizations like the Mt. Taylor Alliance, a New Mexico coalition which opposed uranium mining on land sacred to the Diné and other tribes; and worked with the Big Mountain Support Committee, formed in Albuquerque to assist Diné residents fighting forced relocation in a large Arizona section of the Navajo Nation known as the Joint Use Area.

Cooper's involvement in Native American struggles profoundly shaped his worldview and sense of spirituality. Trips to Mexico, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Northern Ireland also greatly influenced his political outlook.   

As the years wore on, Cooper found no shortage of issues that piqued his interest and demanded his time- U.S. intervention in Central America, anti-nuclear movements, the Iraq invasion, to name a few. In recent years, he donated posters depicting many of these struggles to the Center for Southwest Research at UNM.

 Allen Cooper Papers, Center for Southwest Research at UNM

When his health deteriorated, the aging warrior was moved to the New Mexico State Veterans Home in Truth or Consequences, where he spent his last years. Once persecuted and prosecuted by the powers-that-be, Coop was ultimately honored by all nine members of the Albuquerque City Council in a proclamation that declared August 10, 2020, Allen Cooper Day.

Noting Cooper's roles in social movements, KUNM and community cable Channel 27, the proclamation declared that community members resolved to honor a "fearless and courageous Albuquerque resident who has given his heart and soul to the Movement in spite of  institutional harassment and surveillance from all levels of government, imprisonment, loss of jobs and other attempts to silence him."

Allen Fairfax Cooper is survived by a son, Malcolm Jamal Cooper.

Often, when I ran into Coop and asked him what he had been up to, he would turn to me, a wry smile and glimmering eyes beaming from his face, and inevitably answer with two words: "Fighting fascism."


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