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(en) US, Medison, [Infoshop News] On the Road to the Midwest Anarchist Bookfair

From Chuck0 <chuck@mutualaid.org>
Date Thu, 13 May 2004 08:09:16 +0200 (CEST)

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The Republican Party of Grant County, Wisconsin is on my shit list.
I was driving a carload of anarchists down the crowded, rain-slicked
highway just south of Platteville, Wisconsin when we came upon a little
patriotic display of flags along the side of the road that had been put
out by local Republicans to greet President George Bush in his campaign
trip through the region on Friday. Despite the thunderstorm at the time
and the traffic that had been forced onto this rural highway because of
a detour, I pointed out and ridiculed the stupid patriotic display to my
comrades in the car. Now it hadn't been easy to pilot this boat of a car
in dry weather and it wasn't easy to drive this old 1978 Dodge Monaco on
a wet highway.

All of a sudden I looked up to see that the cars in front of us had
foolishly stopped on the highway to gawk at the display of American
flags and "Welcome President Bush" signs. I slammed on the brakes and
managed to get the car stopped before it plowed into the carload of
gawkers ahead of us. We were just trying to get to the Midwest Anarchist
Bookfair--also known as "Pencils and Pandemonium"--in Madison, not
participate in some regional celebration of a presidential war criminal.
Like I said, I now have some issues with the Republicans in southwestern

Our road trip this past weekend took a carload of anarchists from Kansas
and Missouri to the Midwest Anarchist Bookfair that was being held in
Madison, Wisconsin. As a former Madison resident and activist, I was
looking forward to this weekend. I was planning to table at the bookfair
for Infoshop and Practical Anarchy zine. Making the new issue of
Practical Anarchy available at the bookfair was special for me because I
had started the magazine in Madison back in 1991. The weekend also
included several events that celebrated the 15th anniversary of Rainbow
Bookstore, a progressive bookstore which I had volunteered at back in
the early 90s.

The Madison Anarchist Bookfair (organized by the Madison Infoshop) was
like many other anarchist bookfairs in that it was more than just about
a roomful of tables with books, magazines, patches, zines, and Food Not
Bombs bowls. The anarchists in Madison put together a rather busy
weekend. It snuggled up to several other relevant events, including the
Rainbow Bookstore party and a big birthday event on Saturday night which
celebrated 95 years of The Progressive magazine. This latter event
featured Howard Zinn, Molly Ivins, and a performance by Steve Earle.

Pencils and Pandemonium geared up on Friday afternoon with several open
houses at several of Madison's many worker-owned collectives. We missed
this part of the event since we were dealing with those pesy Grant
County Republicans. On Friday night, Rainbow Bookstore held a party and
reception to celebrate their 15th anniversary. I had the pleasure of
catching up with some long time volunteers and met some newer ones.
Infoshop News interviewed two current Rainbow volunteers—that interview
will be posted here in several weeks. A poetry reading by Brooklyn-based
poet, Martin Espada, followed the reception.

On Saturday, the bookfair kicked off early in the morning in a church
basement on Madison's south side. The basement was just big enough to
accommodate tables for everybody to show up to table. I tabled with my
friends from the Lawrence Anarchist Black Cross. Rainbow Bookstore was
selling all kinds of books, as was Boxcar Books from Bloomington,
Indiana. Other tablers included Yellowjack Distro of Mosinee, Wis.
(publishers of "Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs), Anarchist Skins and
Punks (ASAP) of Chicago and Madison, Arsenal magazine from Chicago,
Communicating Vessels zine from Madison, the IWW from Madison and
Milwaukee, Vets for Peace, Radical Momma Distro, and the Just Seeds
collective from Chicago (publishers of those cool posters). Food Not
Bombs provided lunch. Workshops were held throughout the day that
included one on prisoner support and another on the "g-spot and female
ejaculation." I didn't make it to any of the workshops or other events,
as I rounded out my day by having dinner with friends and going on a
tour of the city.

There were more events on Sunday, which included a pancake breakfast and
workshops at a nearby farm. Our crew didn't make any of these events
because we had a long drive back to the Kansas City area, but we managed
to visit Rainbow Bookstore. The bookstore is a worker-owned cooperative
that is located a block off of State Street, the main shopping street in
downtown Madison. Rainbow recently completed an expansion project which
doubled the size of the store and gave them more breathing room in their

My impression of Pencils and Pandemonium is favorable, although I think
that this bookfair faced some of the same problems that I've seen at
other bookfairs. The organizers put together an ambitious schedule that
featured a wide range of events that provided many options. I like how
they showed off Madison's many radical institutions with the afternoon
of open houses. It's also good that they picked a good weekend for the
bookfair—Madison was in the middle of spring and there were other
progressive events happening around town that you could attend. While
the venue for the bookfair seemed adequate this time, I hope that the
organizers manage to find a downtown location if they do the bookfair
again. As a publisher and anarchist organizer, I always want to see more
people attending these events, especially folks who aren't anarchists. I
think that bookfairs should avoid having concurrent workshops, since
this tends to turn the event into a conference for the usual suspects
instead of a public event where we can talk to working people about our
ideas. The annual bookfair in San Francisco doesn't do workshops, but
they put together a series of speakers, mostly authors, which I think
fits in better with the bookfair mode. Workshops also tend to take
people away from the actual bookfair. My impression has been that too
many anarchist bookfairs (and zine fairs) try to host a conference and a
bookfair at the same time, which just doesn't work if you haven't put in
months of work. And time spent on organizing workshops often takes away
from time that could be spent on outreach to get folks interested in the

The folks who put together the Madison Anarchist Bookfair shouldn't view
these comments as being directed solely at them, since they really did
an excellent job. But I wanted to share my thoughts on the reasons why
our bookfairs aren't better attended. These reasons usually boil down to
location and publicity.

Madison is a city that is becoming a victim of its own reputation.
Madison has become a gentrification disaster that vividly demonstrates
how progressives and liberals represent the left wing of capitalism. I
toured the city with some friends on Saturday night and was dumbstruck
at how much development was ruining downtown and the many things that
make Madison attractive. Not only have condo and apartment towers been
built all around the downtown, but new condo towers are going up all
over the isthmus. If the Madison Convention Center (the "Mistake on the
Lake') wasn't bad enough, the city got over $100 million to build an
expanded arts center which has totally ruined the block which is now
encased in glass and aluminum. It was a sad commentary on that project
when I spotted a note on the door of a nearby bookstore that read:
"Going out of Business. Enjoy Your Art Box." The University of Madison
is being overrun with new buildings financed by rich donors who want to
make the university a friendly place for big corporate science. And
Madison has suburbs that are sprawling all over the place. When Money
magazine names you city the top "most liveable city" you had better get
ready for the developers and their liberal friends to run your city into
the ground.

I would like to thank the organizers of the Midwest Anarchist Bookfair
for putting on this weekend of events. I'd like to thank my wonderful
friends who hosted me during my stay and I'd like to thank my Kansas and
Missouri comrades for making our trip possible. And no thanks go out to
the Grant County Republicans.


Madison Infoshop

Madison Food Not Bombs

Rainbow Bookstore

Madison IndyMedia

The Progressive

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