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(en) Canada, Toronto, alt. media, Rising from the left: Uprising's set to be Toronto's next activist longhouse

From "mick" <mick@nefac.net>
Date Thu, 13 Feb 2003 08:12:56 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

Rising from the left: 
Uprising's set to be Toronto's next activist longhouse 
BY DAVID BALZER http://www.eye.net/eye/issue/issue_02.13.03/city/uprising.html
Uprising, a new radical bookstore and collective at 685 Queen W., is just 
starting to get it together. Since July, they've been mobilizing their small 
space on the second floor, trying to build their zine and book stock, donated 
by the late Development Education Centre (DEC). Ultimately, they're hoping to 
provide a place where meaningful organization originates, and where activists 
can exchange ideas in hopes of making a cultural and political differnece in 
the city. 

If Uprising succeeds, it may be because of Toronto's considerable record of 
radical, anarchist activity: home to Emma Goldman in the 1930s (she once 
spoke at the Labour Lyceum in the lion-fronted building that now houses the 
dim sum/luggage store at the corner of Spadina and St. Andrew), and later, 
from 1996-2000, to a successful and influential collective bearing her name 
(Who's Emma?), the city has proved open to a host of culture-jamming 

At the same time, Toronto poses problems for collectives, according to the co-
founder of Who's Emma? and Trent professor, Alan O'Connor. 

"Toronto is an incredibly difficult place, and always has been, to mobilize 
radical activity. Part of that has to do with the geography: there are very 
few low-rent places in the city, whereas many American cities do have low-
rent areas. So, life in Toronto is not that easy, and many people are 
stressed out about money and rent and just plain surviving. We're also an 
extremely multicultural city and that sometimes makes it difficult to bring 
people together, because different communities are working on their own 

According to O'Connor, an exclusively anarchist bookstore has the further 
problem of confronting its own community, who may not see the project 
as "real activism": not to mention those who think anarchism's still 
predicated on violent President-McKinley-killing-WTO-Starbucks-window-
smashing extremism. To boot, Toronto has had a vast history of successful 
socialist movements, with their own more entrenched and less (for lack of a 
better word) punk establishments, co-ops like the Toronto Women's Book Store 
(73 Harbord), for example, or for-profit ventures like Another Story (164 
Danforth) and Pages (256 Queen W.). 

Despite the fact that Uprising maintains the Joe Flexer library, a bequest 
from the late Trotskyite labour and social justice activist, like any upstart 
radical or anarchist bookstore, it risks alienating, even eluding, people 
from the left, who tend to congregate at the tried-and-true (and increasingly 
blue-haired) places of yesteryear. 

Lamia Gibson, a member of Uprising, is aware of this; that's why the 
collective has chosen to call itself "radical" as opposed to "anarchist." 

"I get asked what we mean by radical all the time," she says. "I use the term 
because there's so much time spent talking about ... where people ally 
themselves. Don't get me wrong: I do think it's powerful to identify 
yourself. But Uprising is a place where people can learn and educate 
themselves and others, and a place from which people can jump to their path, 
whatever that path may be." 

If recent history's anything to go by, this bodes well for Uprising. Many of 
the most successful bookstore collectives in Canada have operated on that 
principle of inclusion, attracting non-activists through conjoined cafés, 
community centres, or record stores. Who's Emma?, for instance, drew crowds 
of suburban punk rockers as volunteers, most of whom were more familiar with 
the Dead Kennedys than Mikhail Bakunin. And anyone from Winnipeg or Vancouver 
knows about Mondragon and Spartacus, respectively, long-standing activist 
institutions that manage to draw a wide range of people who may not 
necessarily consider themselves revolutionaries. 

Mondragon, now in its seventh year, is one of those rare hubs of traffic in 
downtown Winnipeg, equally known for its tasty vegan cuisine as for its 
politics. Run on Michael "Z Magazine" Albert's participatory economics model 
(ParEcon for short), the café/bookstore shares space in the Old Market 
Autonomous Zone, a collectively owned and operated building in the city's 
Exchange District. 

Only time will tell whether Uprising will be as prosperous. But Graham Sheard 
of Spartacus -- an institution in Vancouver's leftie scene for a remarkable 
30 years -- thinks Gibson's radical-identified mandate is a good start. "I've 
seen almost all party-affiliated bookstores in [Vancouver] -- Maoist, 
Marxist, even Stalinist bookstores -- fail. Spartacus has had everyone from 
die-hard socialists to academic radicals to street punks helping us out. Of 
course, we have disagreement, but you need to make a safe space for that." 

Unfortunately, according to O'Connor, that's exactly what happened with Who's 
Emma?, which closed because of dissent within the collective. Punk kids often 
disagreed with the diehard anarchists, and the inevitable financial crunch 
was exacerbated by two major robberies. 

"In the beginning of any project there's a lot of high energy and that 
gradually dies down a bit. These kinds of projects have a rhythm and a life, 
and I think it's OK. It was no one's dream that Who's Emma? would even last 
for four years -- that in and of itself was amazing. When it was about to 
close I got some telephone calls from people saying, 'Alan, Alan, you have to 
do something about this!' and I thought, you know, maybe I don't. Maybe it's 
OK if it closes." 

Gibson can't see ahead to a time when Uprising will be free of financial 
worries. She can't even see moving out of their small space (which they share 
with non-collective businesses like Trailervision and Digital Winds). 

"Our main goals right now are to create awareness, to get customers and new 
stock based on their requests, to get volunteers and to get our accounts 
straight. That comes first before we start expanding anything." 

On that note, Gibson thinks there are good reasons you should come to 
Uprising instead of looking for Seven Stories or AK Press books at Book City 
or -- heaven forfend -- Chapters. "Essentially, volunteer-run places set a 
precedent. Revolution is a long-term project and building an oppositional 
culture is part of that. And if we want to change the system we're in, we 
might as well start by creating something we want to live with."

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