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(en) Canada, Montreal, The Anarchist bookstore returns to the hands of the local community - The AEELI replies to the insinuations of the evicted Alternative collective usurpers

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 22 Aug 2004 10:39:21 +0200 (CEST)


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Saturday August 21, 2004 The AEELI (French acronym for
Association of Kinds of Free and Imaginary Spaces) is a
non-profit association that owns a building in downtown
Montreal. It was created by anarchists in 1982, and the building
housed a bookshop run for all these years by the Alternative collective.
Some long-time members of the moribund and troubled
Alternative bookshop collective have had their sights on taking
over the building project by selling it to another non-profit group
controlled by themselves in order to keep other anarchists and
anarchist projects out of the space; they failed to do so in a
take-over bid in 1995. After a year and a half of fruitless
exchanges and struggle by the Anarchist Distributors' Coalition
(Coalition des diffuseurs libertaires) along with members the
AEELI who agreed with the Coalition's agenda, the AEELI was
finally opened up in March to a number of groups and individual
comrades in Montreal. These groups, as disparate as they are,
represent the bulk of anarchist distribution and publishing in
Montreal: the Groupe Communiste Libertaire, Maikan,
NEFAC-Mtl, La Mauvaise Herbe, the Trouble, La Sociale,
RASH, as well as distributors from the ASE-UQAM.

When Alternative rejected the participation of members of the
anarchist milieu present at the assembly of 80 persons on August
5 2003, the member groups of the Anarchist Distributors'
Coalition removed all of their stock from the bookshop and
boycotted them. This spring, because those members who
agreed with the distributors' coalition were able to overcome the
stonewalling of the minority board, the AEELI was finally opened
up to all the groups of the coalition as well as several other
individuals. We were able to have a decisional general assembly
for the first time in over five years. Four Long-time members
close to Alternative collective were expelled from the association
in May for having falsified bylaw documents, for economic
sabotage, and for having behaved secretively and hierarchically
against the wishes of the majority. For anyone interested, we are
more than willing to explain and show proof of the substance of
these complaints that lead to their expulsion. We thoroughly
reject Alternative's claim that we justify our "takeover with a
series of serious but unproven allegations against four members";
these are well documented and long standing grievances (to read
more about the reasons of their expulsion, see the annex below).

Since a central objective of the AEELI is to mandate a
functioning anarchist book store, since last spring we have
turned our energies towards the founding of a new book store to
supplant the one controlled by Alternative. On August 12, 2004,
we informed Alternative that they would be replaced by a new
book store, and that until they had resolved the issue of debts to
us and the thousands of dollars owing to their distributors, they
could not remove their diminished stock of some 900 (nine
hundred) books. On the night of August 17-18, Alternative
removed all their stock and all the bookshelves and displays from
the space. We will assure that Alternative assumes all debts that
they have contracted, since they have left us no books for the
new book store. If Alternative does not continue their project
elsewhere soon, we ask that the stock of books and the
bookcases be made available to the anarchist milieu, because
they are presently held by individuals who did not spend their
own money on these items. These books are a community
resource.

We consider that we acted frankly with Alternative. They claim
that we did not respond to their invitation to discuss our
problems with them. Only one member of the AEELI was able to
make it to their hastily called meeting. They are poorly placed to
complain, since Alternative did not attend a meeting with us
scheduled last May, and they didn't attend the last general
assemblies.

Alternative writes that the AEELI has "ignored all
communication from the bookshop and refuses to confirm or
deny wheter or not it is responsible for removing the bookshop's
chequebook from the store" What letter has Alternative sent us
asking us if we removed their cheques? We deny having any
involvement in the loss or theft of their checks. Considering that
a number of their members opposed paying us anything that
would alleviate the project's hard-pressed finances, and that they
admit to having a high turn-over of members, with new ones
who are not well known in the anarchist milieu, Alternative
should perhaps look within its ranks.

We categorically reject Alternative's assertions that their
problems stem from our campaign against them. As many
anarchists in Montreal and Quebec City can attest, Alternative
has been a marginal and dysfunctional project for many years.
They have excluded many anarchists, functioned as a closed and
private group, attracted leftists who brought in maoist literature,
national-liberation struggle material, and other identity politics
documents while core anarchist material was neglected and
marginalized. We make no apologies for saying that we want an
anarchist book store, and not a "radical" or "anti-authoritarian"
one. This book store will also stock some works of relevance to
anarchism but that are not explicitly anarchist.

Alternative writes that we "refused several proposals that no
structural changes to the AEELI take place until after a neutral
committee had been set up to examine the foundation of their
charges" What is a "neutral" committee? What are these
"structural changes" other than opening up the membership and
electing a new treasurer and secretary? Why should the former
AEELI administrators have continued their fifteen year
stranglehold on the finances and administration? Also, we defend
the principle that the majority of an assembly can decide to
"refuse" a proposal. At a March 9, 2004 assembly, a proposal
from the treasurer of fifteen years to remain on in his functions
was rejected.

Alternative writes: "Jen, a bookshop member, quit the AEELI
after repeated written attacks and accusations" What exactly
were these written attacks and accusations? Would Alternative
like to detail some aspects of this conflict, rather than throw out
vague insinuations?

Alternative writes: "members of the AEELI have been spotted
going through documents in the bookshop after hours and
without consent" Who's consent? The space is the AEELI's, we
hold meetings and receive mail there. While we are on the
subject of documents, it is partly because long-time members of
Alternative and the AEELI confiscated certain key documents,
such as the bylaws, that they were also expelled from the project.

They write that we treat them "not as an integral part of the
building project but as the most hostile landlord would treat their
most defenseless tenant" It is Alternative that excluded anarchist
comrades for years, and refused to accept us in their bookshop.
They did not pull their weight in this anarchist project that is the
building. The Alternative collective behaved like a tenant, their
claim to autonomy was a talisman against us and the anarchist
milieu, and they expected us to ignore this and treat them like
comrades? When Alternative members controlled the building,
they acted as slumlords towards one community group and the
Rebelles collective, refusing these comrades a place in
management and unilaterally trying to raise their rent.

Alternative insinuates that some of our members "seem to be
employing similar heavy-handed tactics in order to manipulate
other anti-authoritarian political collectives" What is this all
about? Which other collectives in Montreal "seem" to be
manipulated by which "heavy-handed tactics"? Unless other
collectives have something substantial to say, Alternative is
engaging in vicious smears couched in vague, neurotic and
Kafkaesque terms.

Alternative writes that "the new AEELI has neglected the
building, and as pipes have burst and doors have been broken,
the bookshop has been forced to handle the problems on our
own" We respond that the pipes burst in January, while
Alternative was still in control. The wave of break-ins took place
in the fall and winter, and also affected the third floor tenant and
the neighbouring building. Alternative agreed to pay for their
door repairs, as it only affected their space. We have not
neglected the building any more than the encrusted Alternative
clique did; there simply is no money now; and Alternative knows
this. They have the gall to raise this problem when they engaged
in economic sabotage against us: We received an electrical bill
for nearly $700 this summer, compared to $200 last summer!
This increased consumption is due to radiators being left on all
summer. Earlier in the spring the former treasurer failed to give
over cheques to the newly elected administrators and without
notifying us, issued cheques totaling $1700. Better than anyone,
he knew that the AEELI was in a precarious financial situation.

Alternative writes that their "revolutionary potential has been
sucked dry by the capitalists and cops masquerading as
anarchists in the AEELI" We would like to know what, -- besides
their sheer bitterness at having lost exclusive control of the
building -- is the basis of such a serious and grotesque slander?
How was it less capitalistic when they ran the building? Since
when did Alternative's half dozen unknown dregs and deadwood
become judges of who's the real anarchists?

At this late stage, Alternative will try to "establish an outreach
committee to seek the support and participation of other
anarchists, anarchist groups, and militant radicals" We ask why
wasn't this able to happen a year and a half ago when this
conflict entered this terminal phase marked by the formation of
the anarchist distributors' coalition?

We are relieved that the crisis over the AEELI is likely over and
that the Alternative collective left when they did. We will assure
that their distributors are properly informed and hold Alternative
responsible for their debts. The new anarchist book store has
many challenges ahead, not the least of which are financial.
However we have a large number of experienced groups and
individuals who's enthusiasm, optimism and energy is
manifesting itself already.

The members of the AEELI, aeeli@northernhacking.org

Links for background information:

(Coalition, 30/10/03) Anarchist distributors boycott Montreal
bookshop http://www.ainfos.ca/03/oct/ainfos00620.html
(Alternative, 18/11/03) Montreal Alternative bookshop responds
to boycott http://www.ainfos.ca/03/nov/ainfos00372.html
(Coalition, 24/01/04) The Anarchist Distributors respond to the
Alternative Bookshop Collective
http://www.cmaq.net/en/node.php?id=15281 (Alternative,
19/02/04) Alternative's answer
http://www.cmaq.net/en/node.php?id=15568 (Alternative,
18/08/04) Alternative Bookshop - EVICTED!
http://www.cmaq.net/en/node.php?id=17876

Annex Why the AEELI expelled from our ranks four persons
associated with the Alternative Bookshop collective of Montreal

These four persons sent us a letter where they wrote: "we are
both eager and willing to defend ourselves against every single
one of the charges made against us". They have never
responded. Since we think there is nothing more legitimate than
the court of anarchist opinion, we openly present some of the
grievances against these individuals:

1- At the March 9 assembly, one of the expelled individuals
admitted to having modified (in hand writing) the minutes of a
1990 meeting that tried to amend the bylaws. These
amendments, had they been passed, would have favoured the
control of Alternative over the AEELI. Despite this attempt, we
are unable to find any meeting minutes with a bylaw change
stipulating that 4/5 of the board positions must be filled by
Alternative members. Given that the old clique had a direct
interest in proving the existence of such a change, we ask these
persons how do they account for the bylaws that they presented
at the big infamous assembly of August 5, 2003? If we have no
historical and material proof of these bylaw changes, is it not
reasonable to conclude that the bylaw document brought to this
big assembly was falsified and that 80 persons were
manipulated?

2- We would like to know why after numerous requests in the
last two years, the former treasurer refused to provide a copy of
the bylaws to the members of the AEELI?

3- How is it that a roofing expense for 5895$ in September 2002
was not the object of a decision of all the members of the
association? How was this decision made, and why was the bill
and guarantee for this huge expense never remitted to the
administrators of the project?

4- Why did the former treasurer deny at the August 5, 2003
assembly that there was any legal irregularity with the association
but then unilaterally engaged a lawyer to re-register and
regularize the association in January 2004? Why was such an
important change never revealed to the members at the March 9
assembly?

5- Why did the former treasurer spend about $1500 of the
association's money on a lawyer at the height of the conflict?
Other legal services are described in association documents, but
about $1500 in lawyer's time is not accounted for. Was this an
attempt by the board to fight off the offensive of the majority of
the members? Who authorized the misuse of this money, and
what business did this lawyer discuss in a meeting with members
of the Alternative collective at the time?

6- In an association that is supposed to be managed by
anarchists, why did the former treasurer refuse to convoke an
assembly when a majority of the members requested one in
January 2004? Why did he invoke the board's power to refuse
this when an assembly hadn't been held since 1998? Why did he
come to the March 9 assembly and inform us that the fact that he
continues to speak in the meeting doesn't mean he thinks the
meeting is valid and legitimate and that it was not convened by
the board, nor was the August 5, 2003 meeting convened by the
board (that's to say, by him)? Why does a so-called anarchist
insist on legalisms that manifestly favour his power over an
unaccountable board-in-perpetuity?

7- Why is it that after the former treasurer was replaced at the
March 9 assembly, he failed to inform the new board of all
outstanding cheques? He gave over a number of documents 10
days later, but certain cheques were missing. Later we discovered
that he issued two cheques totaling 1700$ on March 12, three
days after he was no longer the treasurer. One of the cheque
recipients was informed to wait until the end of the month before
cashing it. Had he heard that there would be a deposit made?
Why did he interfere with our efforts to set the finances right?

We do not think there can be explanations to excuse these
omissions and acts, and the former administrators have taken
refuge in silence as a form of damage control. Alternative failed
to ask these persons to respond to the detailed reasons we
presented for their exclusion. Alternative collective dismissed
these allegations as "unfounded accusations" without offering
the least detail or rebuttal. Instead, the Alternative collective
rallied behind the four cliquish members that the AEELI
expelled. Alternative finds it sufficient to echo what this former
clique maintains, namely that our control of the project is
illegitimate. Borrowing the old clique's focus on legalisms, they
called for an "independent" body to investigate the accusations,
and refused to deal with the substantive problems of this clique's
15 year strangle-hold over the project. Alternative has not
distanced itself from a position that it alone should own and
manage the entire building. Furthermore, it is historically false to
assert that the building was purchased by bookshop members
only and that it was only theirs and not an anarchist resource.
The original and founding members can attest to this.

To anyone who is interested, we will provide all material proof
we have of the above mentioned situations.


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