July 13, 2006

Anarchy in Providence this weekend

PROVIDENCE -- You expect chaos. You'll find order: organized vendors, scheduled workshops.

The second annual Providence Anarchist Book Fair is about to begin.

See for yourself.

The outdoor book fair will be part of AS220's 21st annual celebration, called Foo Fest, from noon Saturday to 1 a.m. Sunday on Empire Street in downtown Providence. There will be more than a dozen booths selling anarchist materials -- books, pamphlets, newsletters, periodicals.

Foo Fest is free and open to the public. At the fest, you'll see lots of craftspeople, many musicians (two dozen bands) -- and a fair share of anarchists.

"A lot of people misuse the word and appropriate it for different purposes other than what anarchism is," says SueEllen Kroll, one of the book fair's local founders. "You often hear, 'It was pure anarchy.' "

According to Kroll, anarchy does not necessarily mean disorder.

"We at AS220 are unjuried and uncensored," say Neal Walsh, the arts organization's gallery director. "Anarchist thought is pretty much the same."

So AS220 welcomed the Providence Anarchist Book Fair to its big block party.

"We're a space where people can come and do their own projects," Walsh says. "The book fair is about people managing and running their own lives instead of someone else doing it for them."

ANARCHY, according to anarchists, is idealized democracy. It's where everyone participates in everything, and every voice is heard.

"This isn't a book fair where people come to be converted to something," says Sarah Wald, one of the book fair's organizers. "This is about community and having open discussions. Anarchy is not about chaos, but self-determination."

This is the second annual anarchist book fair at AS220. Until last year, anarchy was largely absent from public discourse in Providence. The city had never had an anarchy book fair, according to Kroll, and, for that matter, it had been years since there was one anywhere in New England.

"Some people think it will be a lot of scholarly texts and didactic and dogmatic texts," Kroll says. "It's not. It's about how to build urban gardens and how to build communities."

Last year, the book fair featured three workshops, for which Kroll expected about 20 people to attend; 200 did.

"It was one of those moments where I thought, 'Oh my God,' " Kroll says. "If the 15 people who were 'the choir' came to the workshops, I'd say it's not worth doing again. But security guards from neighboring buildings and other people were coming and asking about anarchism."

Defining the word can be difficult.

Webster's defines it as "the abolition of government or governmental restraint."

But, "It depends which dictionary you read," says Cindy Milstein, an anarchist from Montpelier, Vt., who will be at the book fair. "It's really not an opposition to all forms of authority or government."

The book fair offers anarchist materials from nearly two dozen organizations. Milstein will be representing a couple: Black Sheep Books and the Institute for Anarchist Studies.

"Often anarchist book fairs are only in places that anarchists would know about," Milstein says. "This is the first one I've been to that's right out in the open."

Anarchy comes out of democracy's closet, and, Milstein says, it's about time.

"In a representative democracy, a small group of people vote on what we're talking about," she says. "The anarchy premise is based on a dialogue where everyone participates."

People in a community talk and come to a consensus on what they need and want. That, anarchists say, is the goal of anarchy, and the gist of this fair.

"Anarchy has largely been critical of all forms of hierarchy," Milstein says. "It is suspicious of anyone who has the ability to control or coerce somebody."

IN ITS OWN STATEMENT, the Providence Anarchist Book Fair "promotes values of mutual aid, direct democracy, anti-authoritarianism, autonomy and solidarity. We reiterate our opposition to capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy, heterosexism, colonialism statism and all other forms of oppression."

This year's book fair presents one film (4 p.m.), Community Action -- Plan B and Bikes not Bombs in New Orleans, and three workshops: "Activists Under Attack: Why the Green Scare is the New Red Scare" (1 p.m.); "Leave No One Behind: Community Parenting" (2 p.m.);and "Develop-O-Rama: Unraveling and Fighting Providence's Gentrification." (3 p.m.)

"Gentrification to me is when communities are changed by people outside the communities," Wald says. "The effect is to push the people who were living in the communities out."

Among those participating in the Green Scare workshop is Camilo Viveiros, a former Providence resident who made national news at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

Viveiros was protesting at the convention and was charged with assaulting the police. A judge acquitted him in 2004.

"What happened is people around the United States stood up [for Viveiros]," Wald says. "They said this person is being tried because of his political beliefs."

While Kroll says she doesn't expect America to become an anarchist nation soon, it may continue to develop small anarchist communities, which she says are based on collaboration and cooperation.

"I think there's this inherent notion of American society that we're born competitive and we like to step on people around us," Kroll says. "I question that."

In this country and others, Kroll says, people have anarchly organized neighborhoods, schools and factories.

"There is a way of setting value for people's work that doesn't disenfranchise or take advantage of people's contributions," she says.

Before anarchists can do anything in a community, Kroll says, they must come together as a community; hence, the book fair.

"We want to let people know there is a community here," she says. "And it is working for social change."

For more information on the Providence Anarchist Book Fair, visit www.as220.org.

brourke@projo.com / (401) 277-7267


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