In the balcony of Judson Memorial Church, a young blonde moderator from SupportNY, dressed all in black, gripped the mic and spoke to a rapt audience in a horseshoe of folding chairs. Though her advice focused on defusing domestic abuse and antiquated patriarchies, it seemed universally applicable. One pointer: do not aggrandize or minimize the magnitude of your situation. She asked for questions, then passed her microphone to a boy in the audience who stood and asked how one approaches a problem when a situation is neither ideal nor at its crisis point. The moderator glanced below into Judson’s primary atrium, at the bustle and the banners promoting radical-isms. She said, “That’s a very good question.”
This is the fifth year for the NYC Anarchist Book Fair. Around midday on Saturday, April 9 on Washington Square South, a slew of anarchists queued for a food truck touting itself as “Purely Vegetarian,” while countless others clogged the stairs of Judson, smoking cigarettes in the early spring sun. Inside buzzed the hub of activists, all promoting events and protests and toting wares. New York institutions such as Bluestockings and ABC No Rio were there, as well as established anarchist presses such as the 34-year-old Sound End, publisher of Zinn, Chomsky, and others. Also present: Eian Weissman of Dhruva Free Press, an outspoken young Philadelphian in a cycling cap, who maligns hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” through zines and postcards featuring the portmanteau “Fracksylvania.”
Peter Werbe smiled as he handed out complimentary issues of Fifth Estate, the “longest publishing anti-authoritarian newspaper in American history.” He said the current issue’s editor, Don LaCoss, passed away during the process of assembling the paper, and other editors finished his work as a tribute. It’s the “DIY” issue. The cover shows a young pudgy man in a maroon sports coat with lightning emanating from his fingertips and the slogan, “We can make it happen: OURSELVES!”
Modern American anarchists strive for autonomy, to stick up for the bullied, to drive a wedge between tyrannical corporate interest and the worker. Anarchists and their activities occupy an odd cultural vacuum: fighting for a cause with little chance of victory often inspires a fervency disconcerting to those whom they try to sway. The mission stands in the way of the mission. The political mainstream dismisses their viewpoints as socialist and nihilist. There is no crisis, so no one listens.
At any given time during the fair, there were workshops and dialogues examining these issues in various rooms of the church. While SupportNY discussed conflict resolution in the balcony, members of the North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists (NEFAC) gathered in the downstairs gymnasium to consider current international upheavals in a panel titled “The World in Flames!” Sitting beneath a haggard basketball hoop, Christine Karatenetsky of NEFAC spoke about Twitter and her online support of insurgencies, her voice echoing around the gym ceiling. Under the opposing hoop, children scrambled and spread paper on the court, coating it in layers of crayon doodles. The fair offered free day care for attendees. At points, the giggles of the young anarchists drowned out Karatenetsky’s inciting rhetoric.
In late afternoon, as the floor of the fair neared capacity, a man behind the ABC No Rio table leaned back in his chair and said of the events, “They all start to blur.” Yet, after five years, the fair has become a rallying place, a destination for New Yorkers and those from disparate locations, a place where those normally surrounded by political ennui can find an ear, and force a moment to its crisis.