I’m of course coming at this from a generally left-libertarian perspective so that should be noted throughout this hopefully substantial enough reflection and analysis of what happened at the Boston Anarchist Bookfair.
The Kickoff Show! (Friday, November 11th)
First off the kickoff show definitely set the tone of what was to come at the bookfair itself. Lots of punk looking people (which is to mean in the musically cultural sense not the derogatory term) and plenty of people who certainly respected the DIY ethic which was shown through the handmade tapes and CDs being offered as well as the low prices. I thought that was pretty cool. One problem however was (and I’m unsure how my girlfriend faired in feeling in or out of place or Jack for that matter) but culturally I wasn’t sure how much I fit even wearing my Rage Against the Machine shirt and regular jeans. I clearly was not involved in whatever “scene” that goes on around these anarchists groups. Nevertheless when you get past the identity politics most people were just that…people. The people who did talk to seemed nice enough and no large conversations were really had. It was mostly a place to listen to some good music and enjoy the company of each other.
One thing I thought was funny was that there was a potluck and a lot of these people love to go on about community but the only people who brought food were me, Jack and my girlfriend. However, I will say that I don’t think the potluck was very well advertised and this become a running theme in the Bookfair as you’ll see as we go along. I did have an idea to read a short essay by Voltairine de Cleyre who wrote about the Haymarket Martyrs but the preparation was troublesome and I dropped it not long after we got there since I figured it was a place more for hanging out then hearing essays. Either way though I very much enjoyed my time (though it was often hard to hear the singer over the instruments it was fine either way) and I certainly would do it again if given the chance.
So that was the kickoffshow (more or less), what of the bookfair itself?
The Anarchist Bookfair (Day 1, Saturday, November 12)
Getting there was a problem in of itself. The directions (that I hand-wrote) proved troublesome to follow en route but we got there. We were (thankfully) greeted by warm and kind people who were helping organize the bookfair (if I recall correctly that is…) who asked us if we wanted help with our pamphlets. By 11 AM we were all set up with our pamphlets and were ready to go.
By around 12 PM people started filling in to the main hall of Simmons College and checking the tables out. Jack and I were concerned at first about sales but we got a few even before the first talk which was “Seattle & Boston Solidarity Networks: Direct Action and Mutual Aid for the Win!” (I’m unaware of any videos being put up so this is all I can do for now) which was a very much interesting talk on how to build counter-power to the current corrupt institutions of our time. SeaSol and organizations like it tend to focus more on corrupt landlords, bosses and so on instead of the state. Still, it’s encouraging to see that small victories that are possible and the possibilities of building counter-power to the ends of creating a more free society. So I very much liked this talk and soon signed up for the Boston Solidarity Network as well as signed up for updates which you can probably do on their website.
Up next was the Anarchism 101 talk which was good. I suppose the fact that there was a 20 minute discussion after the talk made up for the fact that there were some schools of thought (such as the individualist and mutualist) that they left out but I wasn’t too surprised I suppose. I did ask them if they considered these schools of thought legitimate and the speaker who first answered (there was two of them) said he didn’t think there was some strict requirements for being considered a legitimate anarchist school of thought past a lot of recognition (slightly paraphrasing here if memory serves). Which of course begs the question of how then is anarcho-capitalism not legitimate? I won’t get into whether I do or do not think it’s legitimate here but I didn’t want to cause too much trouble an was more interested in good ol’ intellectual discussion. The other speaker said he liked Voltairine de Cleyre and her anarchism without adjectives she held and I was happy to hear that. I was then asked about my shirt and what being a “left-libertarian” meant. I was not of course prepared for the question (though to his credit he did say he wasn’t trying to put me on the spot but I said it was alright and knew it was a chance to at least try to spread the LL message) so I gave the lackluster answer that it held elements of many different strains of thoughts including mutualism and individualism which was why I asked why they were not included to begin with. A few more questions and small discussions were started but I was probably one of the most vocal people there which was good. Overall the talk was good though I think their should have been a more mutualist/individualist stance represented but oh well.
For the remainder of the day I remained at the table with Jack selling books and also trying to sell the idea of left-libertarianism to people. Jack and I came in with approximately $32 and that same day left with over $100 so as far as selling pamphlets it was a successful venture. On that same day I had a few discussions here and there though the real credit for going out there and talking to the other organizations especially belongs to Jack who, from time to time, would leave the “booth” (really just a table as you saw earlier) to go talk to other groups and see what we could do to reach mutually agreeable agreements that would help both sides. I’ve yet to really make big strides to reaching out but hopefully as I continue to meet people and go to events like this I can continue to reach out.
One of the best things of the night was seeing some Facebook freinds and hanging out with them and talking about the scene in Boston, the Bookfair, catching up and whatnot. I was very happy to see some familiar faces and I think it’s safe to say that we ALL had a successful first day at the bookfair!
(Day 2, Sunday, November 13th)
After quickly falling asleep the previous night and thankfully getting refilled on energy via the kind people who gave both Jack and I housing. When we got there we were relieved to see that all of our pamphlets had remained where they were. I say this because we had actually left all of our pamphlets (save for maybe some in my bag I had on me) there on the table. I suppose anarcho-communists aren’t just a bunch of thieves eh? 😉
Regardless the day continued without me going to any talks (though there were a few I was interested in but I put them off to man the booth while Jack either kept talking to other organizations or went to a talk himself). Jack ended up going to the talk on worker-run cooperatives. However from what I understand it was a bit of a mess and the talk was actually not so much on mechanics of how to run it but theorizing about what it could be. And to add to that one-half of these two speakers who did it had never even been involved in a worker-cooperative himself (though perhaps I shouldn’t judge since I helped organize a talk on polyamory at the last Porcfest with my friend Justin and neither one of us had been strictly involved in a polyamorous relationship with anyone). Nevertheless Jack took some notes but said he was disappointed with how it was handled.
As for the rest of the day? Most of the same. We got the more compact version of Peter Kropotkin’s “The Conquest of Bread” from Black Cat Press all sold out as well as a few copies of “A Critique of Anarchist Communism” by Ken Knudsonwhich was good to see people wanting to (I presume) question their own assumptions and judgement. In total however we left the Bookfair with over $150 and got our shirts I mentioned earlier as a donation from a generous guy who is good friends with me and Jack! The trip ended up being very economical with hardly much gas being used due to free housing and not many trips made outside of the Bookfair which was good for both Jack and I.
One thing that’s perhaps worth finishing on is one of the biggest questions we got that Jack and I had to deal with is of course, “What is a left-libertarian anyways? And what’s the ALL?”. At first I wasn’t sure how to answer the former and had to be selective about the latter so as to not include things like agorists, radical minarchists, voluntaryists, etc. or those who may see it as the more “right side” of the ALL. I tended to care more about how the message was conveyed to people who asked while Jack went with a more direct approach and let the cards fall where they may. Both approaches have their own merits and faults but I’m glad we both had our own way of dealing with it. On the left-libertarian question however I came to solve while I was finally getting around to read Gary Chartier’s “Socialist Ends, Market Means”. While they were all great essays, one thing at the very beginning pages especially caught my eye in regards to this question:
“LL is authentically libertarian both because it is anti-statist (the LLs who come readily to mind are all anarchists; I take it as a given here that the LL is an anarchist or something close enough for the difference to be irrelevant) and because it affirms the value of markets and property rights. At the same time, LL is authentically leftist because it seeks to challenge privilege, hierarchy, exclusion, deprivation, and domination—both ideologically and practically—and because it can exhibit a genuine commitment to inclusion, empowerment, and mutual respect.”
There’s not too much to say. In short? The Boston Anarchist Bookfair was a huge success socially, economically, organization wise in learning lessons of how to better get ourselves together and more. If there’s another year in store for us I not only look forward to it but already can’t wait for it.
By the way, if you haven’t already and you went to the event please fill out this evaluation form so that the organizers can do even better next year!