New England Anarchist Bookfair Report FWD

Tom Boland (
Thu, 20 May 1999 17:05:34 -0700 (PDT)

FWD 13 May 1999   CC Replies To: Mark Laskey <>

A report from the first-ever New England Anarchist Bookfair...


-- taken from the May 14-20, 1999 issue of the Boston Phoenix.

[accompanying photo of two members from the Anarcho-Punk Fedreration, and
another featuring the covers of four seperate issues of WE DARE BE FREE]

(The Boston Phoenix, for anyone who is not familiar, is Boston's answer
to NYC's Village Voice or London's NME, sort of an "alternative"
pop-culture-type weekly, with fairly "progressive" news reporting and
coverage. If I am not mistaken, they have a press run of about 50,000
each week.)

For a city that once gave rise to a revolution, Boston has become a
rather tepid place for political agitation. Radicalism, for the most
part, is dead. A typical political protest these days rarely involves
more than a frizzly bullhorn and a few hundred picket signs. If the rally
makes the 11 o'clock news, it's considered a rousing success.

So if you were in the vicinity of Copley Square last Saturday afternoon,
you might have done a double-take and dropped your double Frappuccino if
you'd noticed the sandwich board outside the Community Church of Boston,
on Boylston Street, advertising the first-ever New England Anarchist
Bookfair. Anarchists congregating in Boston? It sounded too radical to be

But it was true. For eight-plus hours, several hundred real-live
anarchists, near anarchists, and anarchist wanna-bes gathered inside the
church's cramped second- floor space, where they bought and sold radical
manifestos ranging from the collected works of Emma Goldman and Howard
Zinn to lesser-known treatises such as Alfredo Bonanno's trenchant
"Critique of Syndicalist Methods." Here, one could drop the state's coin
on anything from a "McMurder" bumpersticker to tape recordings of Noam
Chomsky's latest homilies to a t-shirt reading: FIRE YOUR BOSS.

Between sips of free coffee (no cream; soy), it was possible to listen to
a handful of speakers, including Montreal-based anarchist Patrick Borden,
who delivered a lecture titled (no joke intended) "Anarchist Organizing."
You could have signed your Peter Kropotkin to any number of petitions
condemning the likes of NATO, Home Depot, and FleetBoston (rechristened
"FleeceBoston"); you could have made donations to anarchy-friendly groups
such as Food Not Bombs which distributes food to the homeless; you could
have registered for the mailing lists of radical organs such as the
Anarcho-Punk Federation, Queer Revolt, and the Atlantic Anarchist Circle.

If the most radical thing you'd done recently was to order curly fries
with a ceasar salad, this was an opportunity to take a bold step.

"This is a place for people to network, to come together face-to-face and
find out what's going on," said Frank Richards, a cabinet-maker from Long
Island who serves as an editor of the Atlantic Anarchist Circle's
newsletter. "It's a way to take the tempreture of the anarchist

After lingering for more than a century on America's political fringe,
anarchy is apparently enjoying a bit of a youth movement. Richards, who
is 44, said he and his greying anarchist colleagues on Long Island now
find themselves outflanked by young punk rockers and various
alterna-hipsters, and this development was very much in evidence at the
bookfair. Most of the people in attendance were in their teens and 20's;
many of them were decked in de rigueur punkish outfits of black boots,
patched jeans, and hooded sweatshirts. Tattoos and piercings abounded, as
did Converse high-tops, bike-messenger bags, and buttons touting local
and regional hardcore bands.

"Anarchism is pretty much the only revolutionary movement left," said
Angel, a nose-ringed anarchist from Baltimore who heads the East Coast
group the Anarcho-Punk Federation, which places information tables at
various punk shows. "All the other socialist movements have pretty much
been failures."

It would be easy to dismiss youthful anarchism as fashion, a kind of
shock-value political philosophy good for putting a scare into your peers
and parents. But there's bona fide passion here, not to metion a genuine,
budding mistrust of the establishment. Consider the cases of Ethan Wolf
and Heather LaCapria. Both 20 years old, they were on hand at the
bookfair representing a group called Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade,
or CAFT. Even by animal-rights-activism standards, CAFT is so bold that
it makes organizations such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals (PETA), which is routinely blasted for being too aggressive, look
like the United Way.

Three weeks ago, Wolf and LaCapria spent part of their Sunday afternoon
being buzz-sawed out of the entrance to Macy's in Downtown Crossing,
where they had used metal rods to lash themselves to the doors in order
to protest fur sales. It took police several minutes to cut through the
rods, where upon Wolf and LaCapria were arrested and charged with
disorderly conduct. Both were sentenced to five hours of community
service, and were forced to sweep floors at the city courthouse.

It's hardly what you'd call faddish behavior. "We tried to get them to
make us clean up the MSPCA, or Food Not Bombs," LaCapria said, "But they
said it would be a conflict of interest."

To those whose idea of questioning authority is wearing to work on
Thursdays, anarchy can sound pretty menacing. But the anarchists at
Saturday's bookfair were more of the smart-ass, merry-prankster kind than
the lets-lob-a-homemade-bomb- into-the-state-capitol type. That's not to
say that, if pressed, you couldn't have found someone to show you how to
mix a rather effective Molotov cocktail. But the general attitude seemed
to be: smash the state, or at least have fun trying.

To some, in fact, the lure of anarchism is as much social as it is
political. Blaine Atkins, a 45-year-old software engineer from Lynn,
recalled his days in the Boston Anarchist Drinking Brigade, a now-defunct
group known for its sudsy sessions at local watering holes like the Green
Street Grill in Cambridge. Atkins once attended an anarchist clambake.
"Probably between 50 and 60 people showed up," he said. "It was a good

Of course, among its partisans, there is no absolute agreement on what
anarchism is. Atkins loosely defined it as a "lack of a state, and the
lack of hierarchical structure." Author Lorenzo Komboa Ervin, in his book
"Anarchism and the Black Revolution," defines anarchists as "social
revolutionaries who seek a stateless, classless, voluntary, cooperative
federation of decentralized communities based on social ownership,
individual liberty and autonomous self-management of social and economic

Unattainable utopia? Perhaps. Whatever the case, it's fair to say that
many anarchists feel dicked around by the establishment, be it cops,
corporations, or bureaucrats. Some are square pegs who've never felt
comfortable in any mainstream political persuasion. Some devotees start
out as your basic left-leaning progressives, but turn to anarchism after
growing frustrated with the pecking orders and power grabs found in
mainstream political movements. "They get turned off," Atkins said.

If there's one thing that many of today's anarchists can agree on,
however, it's the inability of other political reformers to seize the
day. In their minds, today's crusaders don't know the first thing about
shocking the system. One of the bookfair's main organizers, Mark Laskey,
said he was disillusioned by the scene he encountered at a recent rally
in Philadelphia for death-row convict Mumia Abu-Jamal, where the fare was
straight out of the anti-war era playbook of speeches, songs and marches.

"People need to get more creative," said Laskey, who is an editor for WE
DARE BE FREE, a local anarchist newspaper, and volunteers at the Lucy
Parsons Center, the radical bookstore that recently resettled from
Cambridge to the South End. "People don't care about numbers [of
protestors] anymore."

On this very day, in fact, some of the bookfair attendees stood outside
the Community Church's front door and watched an anti-NATO protest
unwinding in Copley Square. The cause (stopping the war in Kosovo) was
something that anarchists could endorse; the methods, not so much. The
event was fairly formulaic: lots of picket signs (IF YOU CAN'T SPELL IT,
DON'T BOMB IT), a bullhorn or two, and a few tired, albeit impassioned,

"See that boring demonstration out there? We don't want that kind of
demonstration, ever." Patrick Borden, the Montreal anarchist, told the
crowd sitting down to hear his "Anarchist Organizing" lecture.

"It's boring for the people who participate, as anyone who's ever held a
sign on a cold day can attest," said Borden, a thin raconteur with long
brown hair who has been thrown in the clink on more than one occasion.
Rather, he focuses on finding original approaches; he often tries to
convert typical rallies into Brazillian-style carnivales, telling
marchers to spend a few bucks on party favors before arriving.

Recently, Borden and his colleagues in Montreal made waves when they
interrupted a hotel buffet luncheon for city leaders by removing the
buffet table and taking it outside to feed local homeless people. The
move showed some panache, he said, and local anarchists received some
unexpectedly positive media coverage.

Call it anarchism's warm, fuzzy side. The youthful anarchists seated
around Borden nodded their pierced heads in approval.

"Today, when the [Montreal] media use the word 'anarchist', they use it
the way we mean it," Borden said. "It's because we have created a
beautiful thing."

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