When I was about 6 years old, I remember going to the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park to attend a Polish cultural festival with my parents. The evening was filled with a lot of Polish music, food and dancing. It was all quite bewildering to me, and I remember thinking it strange that adults would go to the trouble of putting on such an event. Why would people who had chosen to immigrate to America rent a public hall in order to celebrate the very Eastern European culture that they had left behind in the Old Country?
Well, it is this very same public hall that is the location for the annual Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair. I’m an adult now, and upon attending this particular event on Saturday, I was struck by a different, yet related, irony. Why would people who espouse a diverse array of anti-establishment views choose a government-owned building in the middle of San Francisco’s beautiful Golden Gate Park to stage a celebration of Anarchism?
I savored this irony all day long as I wandered around the various tables and exhibits. The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) was present, as were the Black Panthers and the International Workers of the World (IWW). They occupied tables next to teenage girls selling homemade anarchy patches and booksellers specializing in erotic photography. Nowhere else could you find such a strange and diverse mixture of people, ideologies and lifestyles. Young punk rockers rubbed shoulders with older bearded men who looked like they had stepped out of Russian revolutionary times. Parents with little children sat side by side with homeless men and women who exuded a strong smell of both body odor and marijuana. High school teachers and college professors exchanged ideas and engaged in discussion with high school dropouts. Amid all of this I felt unusually comfortable and calm, as it reassured me that real people do not fit neatly into stereotypes and that there is a whole social world that exists apart from the superficiality of mainstream culture.
During the afternoon I relaxed and listened to a number of speakers who addressed a variety of topics relating to anarchism and revolutionary politics. Sasha Lilley gave a rather convincing talk on whether the decline of the US economy is good for the anarchist movement. Some anarchists advocate the view that in order for more people to get on board with revolutionary ideas, the mainstream way of life must first become intolerable. The worse living conditions become, they claim, the better it is for left-wing movements. However, Lilley pointed out that when the economy becomes bad, many people swing toward the right, and not necessarily the left. Additionally, there is very real suffering that results from economic hardship, and so, she argued, worsening economic conditions are neither good for the poor nor for anarchists in general. After Lilley’s talk, George Katsiaficas explained the history of the anarchist movement in South Korea, and then there was a panel discussion with Peter Linebaugh, Ian Boal and Sasha Lilley about the Luddites and the nature of technology. Contrary to traditional wisdom, the Luddites did not oppose all technology, it turns out, but only technology that alienates workers from their own labor.
After purchasing the inaugural edition of the new journal Modern Slavery, as well as an anarchy patch, I left the bookfair feeling as if I could now understand why an antiestablishment celebration of anarchism would take place in a government-owned building in the middle of beautiful Golden Gate Park. Both the building and the park belong to everyone; including those who question the legitimacy of capitalism and government. By holding this sort of event in such a setting, the public is invited to come directly into contact with people, literature and ideas that might otherwise only be encountered as they are filtered through, and falsified by, the mainstream media. Anarchy is not chaos (as the mainstream media would like us to believe) and it doesn’t only interest young, tattooed street kids bent on destroying everything. Anarchy involves the ideal of freedom, tolerance and, as the tag line of Modern Slavery states, “the abolition of all forms of enslavement.”
What’s wrong with that?