Actions + Conversations + Intersections 2010: Second Annual Los Ángeles Anarchist Bookfair
Sunday, January 24, 2010
HOLLYWOOD - For the second consecutive year, Los Angeles anarchists organized a bookfair, which, in addition to facilitating exchanges between vendors and literature-hungry readers, also provided an array of panel discussions, workshops, and most importantly, quality interactions with fellow activists in the liberation movement.
Preparations began months ago, when members of the collective that organized last year's bookfair at the Southern California Library began holding meetings and seeking the input of other members of the community. The collective grew, and arrangements were made to hold this year's fair at the Barnsdall Art Park, a hilltop park with such amenities as a theater, an art gallery, and a grassy area with a sculpture garden. Potential speakers were discussed and contacted. A call was issued for workshop proposals, and applications came flooding in. Community events, such as film screenings and concerts were held to raise funds and awareness about the bookfair and about anarchism in general. At long last, the day arrived.
Rainy weather throughout the week alleviated worries about longstanding water scarcity issues drought to some extent, but raised concerns about the realization of the bookfair. Fortunately, however, Sunday morning saw crystalline sunlight and azure skies, a positive sign for a productive day.
Vendors and organizers started arriving at about nine, setting up tables, posting signs, plugging in extension cords, and tying up logistical loose ends. The dancers of Danza Azteca Cuauhtémoc began donning their headdresses and anklets in preparation for the opening ceremony. And the people started arriving: community activists, punk rockers, vegans, students, artists, parents, media activists, attorneys, indigenous people, travelers, and anarchists of all stripes.
The scent of copal filled the air as Danza Cuauhtémoc formally initiated the day's events with a ceremony traditionally associated with the planting of seeds, in hopes that the seeds of revolutionary consciousness would take root in the community. Thanks was given for the rain, and homage was paid to the indigenous caretakers of the land upon which we stood. Forgiveness was asked from the plants and animals for the human violations of their lives and homes. Finally, we were asked to share in the pain of the migrants who suffer and die as they brave borders, violence, and the elements in their quest for the dignity that should be guaranteed to us all. "These people are just like the hummingbirds, or the deer. They move also for economic reasons," intoned Judith, a leader among the dancers. "So we're no different."
Upon the conclusion of the ceremony, the crowd of spectators began milling about, some eager to attend the first workshops, others looking for food, while others began browsing the merchandise.
The first round of workshops included a talk on dual power and modern anarchism by Harjit and Adam W., a discussion on the German Autonomen movement, a pre-cursor of the black bloc, led by Raoul, and a presentation on anarchism and urban planning by Olympia, an urban planner. In the video room, the Revolutionary Autonomous Communities film We're Still Here, We Never Left, a documentary on the police attack on May Day protesters in MacArthur Park, was screened.
At the talk on dual power, to which other attendees contributed greatly, Harjit began by positing that, while anarchists ask the general population to abandon capitalism, we lack the infrastructure that would allow people to make that leap. Tom Wetzel of the Workers Solidarity Alliance went on to debunk some of the myths surrounding anarchist positions on power. "One of the weaknesses of anarchism historically was there was a lot of confusion about power. People say we're against power, but actually, the mass of people, the working class people, can't liberate itself without actually creating new structures of power to run things. To run the society, that's power. And I think the idea of popular power, power that's based on 'we're all equals,' self-managed kind of power, I mean, that's how I think of the replacement for the state and the corporations, and so on. But in terms of developping power now, it might be useful to distinguish between, like, social power that people build through movements that are engaged in confrontations, like shutting down workplaces. That means ordinary people are actually exercising power, some power. But it's power that comes about through struggle, through confrontation with the people that have power in this system. But if you're just running a collective, like of food distribution, that's not really power, that's collectively managing a resource. But I think that's different from social power. And the point you said about transition to the new society, we have to have things there that can make that transition, historically, that was part of the whole reason for syndicalism--you develop a working-class movement where we have in all the various workplaces, we have workers organized in revolutionary, self-managed workplace organizations or unions, so that in a transitional situation, they can take over the running of those workplaces and guarantee that we still have food and transportation and public utilities and so on."
During the next hour, the first of the panel discussions was held. Authors of anarchist texts, including Andrej Grubačić, the author of Wobblies and Zapatistas, Cindy Milstein, who penned the forthcoming Anarchist Aspirations, Mitchell Cowen Verter, editor of the Ricardo Flores-Magón reader Dreams of Freedom, and Gary Phillips, who produced The Jook, who shared insights about their works.
Meanwhile, a discussion was held about anti-fascist organizing in the Southern California area, which touched on the topics of recent Nazi activiy in the Inland Empire and current efforts to oppose the American Third Position Party, as well as issues of race within the antifascist movement and the historic anarchist opposition to fascism.
In the video room, a slide show of anarchist-themed posters from the holdings of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics was presented.
The next hour featured a panel presentation about political prisoners. Ojore Lutalo and Sherman Austin, both former political prisoners, shared the stage with Mapache, the moderator, Matt, an organizer with the Los Angeles chapter of the Anarchist Black Cross Federation, and Ben, who was discussing political prisoners in Latin America.
Before beginning the discussion, Mapache asked the audience to entertain a few questions as they listened. "Specifically for the white audience, do you view yourself as oppressed?" He based his definition of oppression on that of Julis Lester in the text Revolutionary Notes, copies of which were circulated amongst the audience. "Second question is for the entire audience, do you consider yourself a revolutionary or progressive?" Another pamphlet was distributed on this topic. "Third question, do you view drugs as revolutionary or counterrevolutionary?"
Ojore began: "I became politically active in the early 1970s after living a life of drugs and street crime. I went to prison, and I met the late New Afrikan anarchist Kuwasi Balagoon and other POW political prisoners. It was at least seven years later, then I joined the armed struggle, underground. I was captured in 1975 for an armed bank expropriation, engaging the police in a gun battle. Then I served 28 years in Trenton State Prison for my political activity, and I was released August 26th, 2009 by way of court order."
He continued with an update on the BLA: "Currently, the BLA is dormant, due to activities of COINTELPRO--currently Homeland Security. But you still have BLA prisoners in the prisons who aren't being supported who are in dire need of your support. For instance, Sekou Odinga just served 28 years in the federal system. He was transferred to New York State prison system several months ago. He is currently serving 20 years to life. His last hope for release is based on a pending action he has in court. He's in the process of trying to raise $5,000 to retain an attorney to assist him in his legal battle." He also discussed Sundiata Acoli, who will face the parole board next month, Herman Bell, and their need for support.
Sherman Austin, jailed for two years for being the webmaster of the revolutionary website raisethefist.com spoke next, discussing the tactics that were used against him. "It's kinda funny that it's the anniversary [of the FBI raid on his house] and it's the anarchist bookfair. I don't know if that was intentional, or just kind of happened to be. The type of tactics that were used were wiretaps, they monitored instant messenger conversations, e-mails, I had cars parked in front of my house, I was followed." He went on to clarify some of the common misconceptions about his case and the USA PATRIOT Act. "After all this went down, there was a lot of talk about how our civil liberties were being eroded because of the USA PATRIOT Act, but the fact of the matter is that all this stuff had been going on a lot longer before my case even started. The PATRIOT Act just put it out there and said, the government said, and the FBI said, 'We're just gonna do it, but we're not gonna do it under the cover anymore, we're not gonna do it under the rug, we're gonna do it out in front of everyone's face and there's nothing anyone can do about it.'"
Matt then spoke on the difference between oppressions faced by working-class whites and communities of color, quoting Stokely Carmichael: "Whites are exploited, but other communities are colonized." In this sense, it is incumbent upon whites in the movement to realize, as he put it, "this is our movement as well." Nonetheless, he pointed out, it is important to recognize how easy it is for whites to make use of their white skin privilege in order to avoid the consequences of their involvement in revolutionary politics, whereas people of color have no such recourse.
Sherman elaborated on the situation, explaining that the FBI's interest in him was the result of a young white man who failed to take responsibility for placing bomb-making instructions on a website that was hosted on Sherman's server. In addition, people involved in the movement that had bruited about the need for revolution were the first to become informants once state pressure was brought to bear upon them. "When we turn our backs on each other, that destroys our movement," he summarized.
Ojore shared that faced a similar situation in 1982, when a former Black Panther with a drug problem became an informant, which led to Ojore's apprehension by the FBI and his subsequent incarceration. He continued with an analysis of drug use, concluding that it is a counterrevolutionary form of self-oppression and that revolutionaries should not use drugs, and those that do, should seek the help of revolutionary substance abuse programs.
Mapache then challenged the audience, who had been pondering the question of the distinction between progressivism and revolution, to support political prisoners, since they are the ones who have taken steps that others were unwilling or unable to take and are now suffering for it. Matt shared the story of Thomas Warner, an incarcerated Black Panther who committed suicide in prison. "Part of the reason why he committed suicide was because of the fact that he didn't have support. He felt alone. This is somebody that was a political prisoner, that every single political prisoner support organization had on their list, but not a single one of them knew who this guy was. We found this out two years later after he died. Two years later. And it makes me think that if there were more people out there doing political prisoner work, maybe one more letter would've gotten to him, and it might've changed his mindset just a little bit."
Ben then shared some highlights from a report on political prisoners in Latin America provided by Rodolfo Montes de Oca, a Venezuelan comrade of the LA bookfair collective and a member of the editorial collective of El Libertario. For one, Latin America is the region of the world with the greatest number of anarchists assassinated by both state and para-state actors. There has also been an upsurge in anarchist activity--primarily to denounce the pseudo-socialism espoused by the left-wing governments currently dominating the continent, which has faced severe repression and resulted in numerous political prisoners. Among them are Diego Sebastián Petrissans, Leandro Sebastián Morel, Cristián Cancino, Marcelo Villarroel, Freddy Fuentevilla, Axel Osorio, Asel Luzárraga, Matías Castro, Pablo Carvajal, Víctor Hernández Govea, Emmanuel Hernández Hernández, Abraham López Martínez, Fermín Gómez Trejo, and Sabino Romero, all of whom are in need of solidarity and support.
While the political prisoners panel was being conducted, Kaley, a member of the Anarcha-feminist collective Anarcha-LA and the coordinator of childcare at the bookfair, gave a workshop on radical parenting, and elsewhere, a film on abuses of immigrant workers in the sheep industry was screened. On the balcony, Tom Wetzel and other members of the Workers Solidarity Alliance introduced curious attendees to their organization. Outside Barnsdall's Junior Arts Center, a talk on veganism and health was attended by more than thirty people. "I got to talk to an anarchist vegan dietician who let me know the perks of the diet, and making sure that I'm eating correctly and I'm not gonna end up doing harm to my body, and that was really cool because he answered a lot of my questions," said Francisco, a student from Santiago, Chile who recently unenrolled due to the high cost of tuition.
The next hour saw a packed theater for the panel on indigenous resistance. Simultaneously, Cindy Milstein shared space with Andrew, a member of the Institute for Anarchist Studies and anarchist archives, a film on the criminalization of the participants in the Oakland rebellion was screened, and there was a chat about anarchists and radicals in the health professions.
The panel was made up of Professor Andrea Smith from the Cherokee Nation, Alex Soto from the Tohono O'odham Nation, Mark and Jamie, traditionalists from the Diné Nation, and Klee Benally, also of the Diné Nation. Topics included the centrality of indigenous rights to any struggle for liberation, the border wall, cultural genocide, the Táala Hooghan infoshop.
Outside, Andrew spoke on the importance of anarchist archives, showing examples of materials from the Anarchy Archives in Claremont. He emphasized the need to preserve our own history and to support the work of archivists the world over who conserve the evidence of our struggle. His talk dovetailed neatly into Cindy on the Institute for Anarchist Studies. She encouraged those present to apply for the grants that the Institute issues to writers and translators.
The film concerned the rebellion that took place in response to the New Year's Eve police murder of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. The trial of Grant's murderer, Johannes Mehserle, has been moved to Los Angeles and local media activists are closely following the trial in order to facilitate the achievement of justice for Grant and his family.
The final panel, which was on worker and student occupations, took place during the next hour. Sirena spoke about workers' occupations in Argentina, while Chris, Eowyn, Gifford, and Paul took part in the discussion, most of which centered around recent efforts to oppose budget cuts in the California public education systems and to reclaim student spaces.
Outside, Ned led a talk on radical queer politics, which deconstructed the "-isms" experienced by queer and trans people, while Toi and Rebecca led a workshop on autonomous birthing.
The last set of workshops included the Earth First! roadshow, a screening of a film on strikes and occupations, a workshop on prison abolition led by the Los Angeles chapter of Critical Resistance, and a look at radical feminist anatomy by Pati, a doula.
Throughout the day, spontaneous conversations and impromptu workshops were held. At a makeshift bicycle garage, lessons on repair and maintenance were given. Illogic, a Canadian hip-hop artist from the raised fist collective and partner in rhyme of Testament, gave a self-defense workshop. The Long Beach chapter of Food not Bombs served food provided by the Los Angeles chapter, and when that ran out, the guerrilla chapter showed up to feed those of us who were still hungry or had not gotten any of the vegan sopes being sold by Mariana and her family. An intrepid environmentalist, not to be let down by the absence of tree-climbing promoted on the flyer, decided to simply take matters into his own hands. A graf artist set up a canvas and did live painting. At some point, goods donated by vendors and comrades were raffled off, elating the prizewinners. Rebel folk musicians inspired children and their parents to dance. And everywhere, people chatted, got to know one another, traded contact info, and of course, shopped.
As the events began dying down, a microphone was set up. The Outspoken Wordsmiths, another Canadian hip-hop group who is touring with Testament and Illogic to promote resistance to the 2010 Olympic Games, which are to be held on the occupied Salishan territories known today as British Columbia, performed, and then beatboxed under the freestylings of various members of the audience. After the performance, members of the bookfair collective gave thanks to the attendees, vendors, and guests, particularly those who came great distances, and opened the microphone up for announcements. These included messages regarding RAC's programs, the upcoming March for Zapata in East Los Angeles, and an after party/concert held at the Tribal Café. Finally, a request was made for clean-up support. Everyone did their share, lent a hand, and packed up the tables in no time at all.
If we can reorganize the society in the same way we organized the bookfair, then we can surely build a new world from the ashes of the old.