Across the country, anarchists and other anti-authoritarians have opened spaces for meeting, discussing and creating the environments that previously existed only in our collective minds.
Early efforts, such as Epicenter in San Francisco and A Space in Philadelphia have inspired people in other areas to establish similar community centers in their hometowns. While traveling along the West Coast Anarchy tour this summer, I had the opportunity to visit several of these spaces and observe how they operate.
Places like the Infoshop Berkeley (3124 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705) and the Germinal, (at the University of California at San Diego) have reading rooms stocked with zines from around the world. Both are attached to larger places, like the Long Haul and the Che Café. The Che played host to the Love and Rage gathering this summer. Both subscribe to e-mail services (computer communication-links), which enable them to distribute information of interest to their communities.
The A-space (4722 Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19143) and Epicenter host regular meetings and discussions, occasional coffee-houses and music events. Epicenter offers counseling for homeless teens in the Bay area and a place to hang out. Similar to these is the Emma Community Center (3451 Bloomington Ave. South, Minneapolis, MN 55407).
Communities without the resources for such projects can sometimes offer similar services from storefronts or houses in the community. Rosebud Commons (1951 Burnside, Box 1928, Portland, OR 97209) is a good example.
This house is the contact point for groups like Anarchist Black Cross and Food Not Bombs. They also have a small press with which they plan to produce pamphlets and zines. Bookstores such as Right To Exist (285 Preakness, Paterson NJ 07502) and Left Bank Books (92 Pike St., Seattle WA 98101) function in a similar manner, with Left Bank offering their space for projects like Books to Prisoners.
I had the good fortune to work closely with the 404 Willis Autonomous Center (404 Willis, Detroit MI 48202). Another early effort at community-building, 404 has been operating for 2 1/2 years. In addition to hosting musical and poetry events, 404 was once busy with womyn’s nights and discussions, video showings and speakers.
Due to a high burn-out factor on the part of the collective, 404 had fallen into a slump over the spring and summer. Too few people had taken on too many responsibilities, and they finally took time out for their personal lives. In addition, continuous financial turmoil, aggravated by the theft of equipment, almost caused the collective to give up.
However, the 404 collective has reformed and has increased its diversity by attracting additional support from neighborhood people and local radicals. These changes are bolstered by a new paint job and renovation, plus an ambitious schedule of events set for Fall and Winter. The collective is always in need of financial support, especially since the collective plans to rely more on individual donations and less on music events to pay its bills.
There are new spaces opening up soon, including Infoshop Chicago (Write to: Baklava, P.O. Box 81961, Chicago IL 60681 for info) and the Beehive Autonomous Center (P.O. Box 77432, Washington, DC 20013) as well as another in Madison WI (Write to: Some Madison Anarchists, P.O. Box 173, Madison WI 53701-0173 for info).
Spaces like the ones above provide much-needed starting points for discussing and organizing autonomous activities. Womyn can share information on home health care based on herbal and other natural methods instead of relying on male-dominated commercial medicine, which often downplays their illnesses. Queer groups can plan ways to combat hate crimes directed against their communities. Demonstrations can be organized, support groups developed, and campaigns launched. Best of all, they serve as places where interested people can learn about autonomy and anarchist ideas and actions.
All too often, anarchists place too much emphasis on action, street-fighting and militancy, which many people see in a negative way. Autonomous spaces give us the opportunity to define ourselves in a positive manner, and allow us to build the alternative social structures we’ll need in place as we break down the old ones.