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(en) Canada, Alt. media, Edmonton Anarchist Bookfair - What's Red and Black and Red All Over?

Date Fri, 01 Sep 2006 07:19:57 +0300


Edmonton Anarchist Bookfair returns for a fourth year of inciting
revolution. Yes, there's a schedule. No, it won't be hard for them
to get up before noon on a Saturday. Yes, you have to pay for the
books. No, they didn't find the food in a dumpster. And yes, the
organizers of this weekend's Edmonton Anarchist Bookfair have heard it
all before. In fact, according to Desiree Schell, a member of the group
behind the annual gathering of all things anarchist, challenging popular
misconceptions is part of what organizers are trying to accomplish this
weekend. "One of the primary reasons for an event like this is to help
dispel some of the myths that are out there about anarchism," she explains.

"More than anything, I want people to have the perspective
that anarchists aren't just the people they see at
demonstrations breaking things," she says, sounding somewhat
exasperated. "I'm not making a judgment call on whether
that's a good thing or not, but what I am saying is that
there's a lot more to anarchist theory than what people see
represented in the mainstream media."

What anarchism is, Schell says, is a broad and complex
philosophy that has evolved and grown over hundreds of years
-- one that was distributing illegal contraceptives and
advocating for women's rights before the turn of the 20th
century and fighting fascism years before Winston Churchill
was paying any attention.

The term anarchism, derived from the Greek word meaning
"without rulers," was first coined by French philosopher and
self-identified anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in his 1840
book What is Property?

Dr Alan Antliff, the Canada Research Chair at the University
of Victoria and editor of the recently released book on
anarchism in Canada, Only a Beginning: An Anarchist
Anthology, says that while there are many nuances in the
theory and practice of anarchism, at its heart are ideals of
individual freedom and cooperation and a challenge to
illegitimate forms of authority and coercion.

"Anarchism is best described as a social system where there
is voluntary cooperation and all your needs are taken care
of," Antliff says. "What anarchism stands for is a more
intense democratization of the means by which we sustain
ourselves in society, so that nobody is left behind.
Anarchists call for a real democracy that is fully
representational and grassroots, so that you don't have
people who govern over you, you govern yourself."

"Anarchists feel that people have the right to have an
impact on decisions that affect them," adds Sean Boomer,
another bookfair organizer. "And anarchism is very much
about freedom of the individual, but freedom of the
individual that takes into account the community in which
they live."

It is a vision that created a worldwide working-class
anarchist movement in the late-19th and early 20th
centuries, and was met with fierce oppression from
monarchies and governments around the world.

The largest experiment in anarchism came in the 1930s in
Spain, where anarchists set up a network of collectives and
self-managed factories and farms in thousands of cities and
villages, and raised a volunteer army without officers in
1936 to fight the Spanish Civil War against the fascists led
by general Francisco Franco.

While its critics often malign it as being hopelessly
idealistic, Antliff says that the concepts at the heart of
anarchist theory are also at the very basis of our society.

"The fact of the matter is that we cooperate all the time
freely in our everyday interactions," he says. "That kind of
cooperation extends and permeates society. We couldn't
operate without it. Anarchists simply want to further that
level of cooperation and realize it within a system that is
non-coercive and voluntary."

And neither, insists Antliff, is anarchism a philosophy that
exists only in European history books. A strong anarchist
movement developed in Canada in the late 1970s with
periodicals such as Open Road having print runs of over
20,000 copies. In 1982, anarchism was front-page news in
Canada following the bombing in Ontario of Litton
Industries, which was involved in the production of the
cruise missile, by a group of Vancouver-based anarchists
known as Direct Action.

Antliff says that anarchism continues to have a major
influence on contemporary social movements, most notably in
grassroots environmental groups and the anti-globalization
movements seen in Seattle and Quebec City.

"The larger social movements have learned a lot from
anarchists in terms of their organizing techniques," Antliff
explains. "People who are activists are identifying more and
more as anarchists because that's how they want to organize."

Critical Mass bike rides, Reclaim the Streets, housing
squats, anti-poverty groups such as Food Not Bombs and
alternative media initiatives including G7 Welcoming
Committee Records, best known for bands like Propagandhi and
Warsawpack, are all examples of contemporary anarchist
organizing in Canada.

Even successful worker-controlled businesses based on
anarchist organizing models can be found today in North
America, including the Mondragon Café and Bookstore in
Winnipeg and South End Press and Z Magazine south of the
border, all of which are based on an anarchist theory of
organization known as participatory economics.

"You'll find anarchism wherever you find people who want to
ensure that things are democratic and egalitarian, and who
never stop thinking and just sign decision-making power over
to someone else just for the sake of it," according to
Marianne LeNabat, another member of the bookfair organizing
collective.

"There are also a lot of people who think along anarchist
terms without using that label. It's just a common sense and
very human approach to things," LeNabat adds.

To introduce people to this approach, this weekend's fourth
annual incarnation of the Edmonton Anarchist Bookfair will
include a range of workshops on issues as diverse as
anarchist governance and compassionate communication, and
two feature films exploring anarchist history and
lifestyles, in addition to a range of booksellers who
specialize in anarchist materials.

A number of the vendors at the bookfair, who are coming from
across Canada, as well as from the US and UK, are themselves
organized along anarchist lines. Haymarket Books is a
recently formed anarchist-collective bookstore from Calgary
and AK Press from Oakland, California is a successful
worker-run publisher and distributor organized around
anarchist principles, where all workplace decision-making is
made collectively.

Sean Boomer says that this combination of promoting
anarchism to a wider audience while supporting other
anarchist projects and demonstrating its possibilities is
important to the organizers.

"The bookfair is organized specifically to promote the
political philosophy of anarchism," says Boomer, "but it's
also organized along anarchist lines of voluntary
cooperation and mutual support, which is to say that the
people who organize the bookfair are all volunteers, and are
all people who work to assist each other to the best of
their ability to put this event on."

Antliff adds that the Edmonton event, like other anarchist
bookfairs that take place in cities including Montreal,
Calgary and Victoria, is an important continuation of an
anarchist activity that has gone on for generations.

"These kinds of educational initiatives have strong roots in
the anarchist movement. Very early on in the 1880s and
1890s, anarchists were founding institutions like free
schools, their own presses and so on to get their message
out," Antliff says. "It speaks to a value that goes to the
core of anarchism, namely that people are encouraged to
think for themselves, to educate themselves. A bookfair, of
course, is a means to do that."

Organizers are once again offering free childcare at the
bookfair, and will be serving free vegan meals throughout
the weekend. LeNabat says that it's all about making the
event as accessible as possible for anyone who is interested
in learning more about anarchism.

"It's something that is a very selfless thing," adds Schell.
"We don't expect anything from this. It's not to make money.
This is not even to change people's minds, it's just to give
them the opportunity to change their own minds."

While they are hoping to top the thousand people who visited
the bookfair last year, Boomer says that the success of the
bookfair will ultimately be judged by what people leave
with. "Hopefully people will go home and think about these
things and it will affect some of the decisions they make in
their lives," he says.

"These are culture-building events," insists Boomer. "And
they're culture-building in the sense not just of bringing
in books or people buying literature, but that it gets
people together and sparks conversations and friendships and
partnerships that can lead to amazing things."

Fri, Sep 1 (6 pm - 10 pm), Sat, Sep 2
(11 am - 7 pm) & Sun, Sep 3 (Noon - 5 pm)
Edmonton Anarchist Bookfair
Queen Alexandra Hall
(10425 University Avenue), Free
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