Sunday's 2nd annual Radical Book Fair at Liberty Hall drew a milling crowd of about 150 people, kids, even dogs, over the course of the day.
Was it the plethora of hard-to-find labor-rights tomes, or the pink-frosted cupcakes being hawked à la bake sale at a table in the corner?
About 20 varied booksellers and distributors, from locals Laughing Horse Books to an anarchist punk zine+music distro from Mexico called La Furia De Las Calles (Rage of the Streets), set up shop in the barn house-turned-community center.
Liberty Hall, which rents offices to the grandfather of all lefty unions, the IWW, as well as to the Universal Zulu Nation (a hip-hop group with such a strong social-justice bent that Giuliani officially banned it from the Bronx during his mayoral tenure), was a perfect spot for a radical book fair. Too perfect, in fact. The problem with Liberty Hall so far has been its relative obscurity outside of a certain crowd of activists and neighbors. But events like the Radical Book Fair might serve to change that.
There are plenty of reasons for left-leaning bookworms to head to Northeast Portland. Mississippi Avenue's Black Rose Collective Bookstore, famous for its “free porch,” a sort of moneyless neighborhood thrift store, is also home to the local books to prisoners project. Adding to the mix is the new Glaberman Library. Liberty Hall recently received the entire collection of longtime labor agitator Martin Glaberman, who wrote dozens of books on Marxism and the working class until his death in 2001. The library, run by IWW union members, contains upwards of 3,000 volumes that librarians hope to catalog online as well as make available to the public.
While Liberty Hall is interesting in itself, with its Wobbly books, red-curtained theater stage, and basement playground for kids complete with slide, it's the blending of socialist history nerds and punks wearing band T-shirts that's really fun to watch. Where else can you find a handmade cassette tape by a Central American hardcore band alongside mostly out-of-print gems exploring the Spanish Civil War from the perspective of an Iberian Anarchist Federation member?
Not to mention titles like Breaking the MANacles
[their emphasis]: an anti-patriarchy reader
But what holds these particular literati together isn't just the Slingshot calendar found on every table; it's both a devotion to what has been called a dying medium (gasp! The book may soon fall extinct!), and an admirable fearlessness that's been driving anarchist types to publish incendiary works since before McCarthy. These days, in the face of Homeland Security's soaring, spying eagles, the union “wobs” and the anarchists, original gangsters in the eyes of liberals and politicos alike, inspire our Michael Moores and Stephen Colberts to confidently do their thing.
When conservative punditry confuses pro-gay marriage mayors with radicals, it's refreshing to remember what radicalism truly is: a working person's history from below, with the occasional slice of vegan banana bread and a Molotov cocktail thrown in, you know, for fun.