Editor’s Note: The following is a first-person account.
I’m a Mayan Calendar keeper without a fixed place to stay, so my Veterans for Peace (VFP) activist friend graciously allows me to stay with him when I have medical appointments in Minneapolis. This past August, he told me about the VFP Golden Rule Project, a year-and-a-half long sailing journey promoting the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It is going around the “Great Loop”: The Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, the Saint Lawrence seaway and the Great Lakes.
The story about the renovation and rebirth of the Golden Rule boat that “set sail in 1958 to stop nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands” moved me deeply. I wanted to at least take a picture of such a piece of history and learn more about its noble cause. I was told the Golden Rule would be in Stillwater, Minnesota, which happens to be another place I live from time to time. Unfortunately, I could not find the location of the vessel and I had to travel to the Black Hills for a conference. Upon my return, I learned the boat was no longer in Stillwater. I figured it had left on its journey and I was very disappointed to have missed it.
Later that week, while in the Minneapolis home of my VFP friend, he informed me that the crew of the Golden Rule would be arriving at his house. I could not believe the turn of events! Now I would get to meet the crew and possibly see the vessel.
I got to meet Helen Jaccard, the administrator of the project. We had a long conversation and she asked if I would be part of the crew for the next year and a half. Such an offer shocked me! After some thought, I agreed to be part of the crew for about a month, and that is how my journey began.
Captain Kiko Johnston-Kitazawa, a Hawaiian native and First Mate Stephen Buck are wonderfully understanding and skilled in how to train and sail with inexperienced sailors like me. Dozens of others also have boarded the vessel over the years, as guests, crew or visitors. Currently, we are a crew of four: The captain, first mate, Mary Ann Van Cura from Minneapolis and me.
The Golden Rule is a wood-plank boat built over a sawn frame, which is when wooden pieces are cut together in a shape. It is 33 feet long with a full-length keel that needs 5 feet of water to sail in. It is steered with a tiller, which is a lever attached to the rudder that helps steer the boat. It has 580 square feet of sail with triangular fore and aft sails, while the main sail is a gaff sail. It has four sleeping berths for up to four crew members. Captain Kiko describes sailing in the Golden Rule as “bumpy, wet, cold and fun.”
The boat set sail on September 26. Everywhere we’ve stopped in Minnesota and Wisconsin—Saint Paul, Redwing, Wabasha, LaCrosse—we’ve been welcomed by many supporters.
But nothing compares to what happened in Dubuque, Iowa. The town has over 800 residents native to the Marshall Islands. As soon as we passed Lock and Dam #11 on the Mississippi River, just north of Dubuque, people waved and cheered from nearby docks.
Upon arrival in the Dubuque marina at twilight, we were joined by a crowd of Marshall Islanders and their descendants, who have suffered the consequences of the inhumane deployment of 67 nuclear devices in their homeland. As if losing their home was not enough, Marshall Islanders suffer the nuclear legacy of cancers and birth defects. And now, because of global climate change, catastrophic sea rise is forcing those who remained to emigrate.
Dressed in traditional clothes, the Marshall Islanders sang and played music in honor of the little boat. They also expressed gratitude to the original four crew members who, in 1958, sailed the vessel to stop nuclear testing, risking everything for the good of the planet and the protection of human beings. Undoubtedly, they were also grateful for the new run of the vessel that reminds the whole world of the madness of keeping nuclear arsenals ready to go at any second.
Observing such sincere manifestation, I had to turn my face away. I was crying, feeling this is what a true human being should be doing for all the people and our planet. I was not alone. The crowd was elated. I wish with all my heart every human in the world emulate those four original crew members. Our planet would then be safe from the impending debacle we face. It may happen sooner rather than later, the way we are going.
At a stop in Burlington, Iowa, the mayor presented us with a proclamation welcoming the Golden Rule and calling on residents to meet and learn more about the project.
The journey continues down the Mississippi River. A major problem is the low water level. The boat has been stuck in the muck at least nine times so far. But thanks to the ingenuity of Captain Kiko and First Mate Steve, solutions have been found to continue. Because of these drought conditions, we will not follow the lower Mississippi River but instead will divert to the Ohio, Tennessee and Tombigbee River system.
You can follow the journey of the Golden Rule here. If you’d like to join as crew at any point in the journey you can fill out this application.
The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved a Country from Corporate Greed by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh. Boston: Beacon Press; 2nd edition. March 23, 2021.
At a time when all caring people are seeking a new way forward out of a year of unimaginable death, destruction and rampant inequality, along comes a book that gives us hope that a better world may be possible. The book, recently published, is based on a struggle in a small section of a small country—El Salvador—beginning in 2002, when a group of “white men in suits” entered the province of Cabañas and tried to convince poor farmers that gold mining would be good for them. Their resistance, done at great peril and resulting in the assassinations of some of their leaders, ended up years later in a landmark case against corporate greed, garnering support from around the world. The basis of their success lies in the most fundamental of human needs: Water, for which left-right antagonisms fall apart once the deadly consequences of mining’s misuse of it—including causing cyanide poisoning—become patently clear.
Authors Robin Broad and John Cavanagh have brought us this amazing David versus Goliath story in their new book, The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved A Country from Corporate Greed. Their first-hand accounts of working with front-line communities, both in El Salvador and in the United States. provide lessons along the way about how to fight an immensely powerful entity and win, whether the enemy be Big Gold, Big Oil or Big Pharma (to name a few). As they write in their introduction, “You may find yourselves surprised to find the relevance of the strategies of the water defenders in El Salvador, whether your focus is on a Walmart in Washington DC; a fracking company trying to expand in Texas or Pennsylvania, or petrochemical companies outside New Orleans.” By the end of the book, they added relevant struggles in countries like Bolivia, Venezuela, and Ecuador, as well as in South Africa, South Korea, and India.
In an interview with John Cavanagh, I asked if he and Broad had an inkling of the huge ramifications of their story right from the beginning, and his answer was decidedly no. In fact, when they first got involved, back in 2009, they never expected to win. They knew what they were up against and had no illusions. As they wrote about the ensuing years of twist-and-turn battles lost and won, the authors described a combination of events that made the water defenders’ decades-long struggle unusual… Yet now, with lessons learned, replicable.
Their involvement with the water defenders began in October 2009. That month, the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive organization “dedicated to building a more equitable, ecologically sustainable, and peaceful society,” invited a group of Salvadorian water defenders to accept IPS’s annual Letelier Human Rights Award for their struggle against Pacific Rim (PacRim), a huge Canadian gold-mining company that sought permits in El Salvador. That year’s award was particularly poignant because one of the awardees, Marcelo Rivera, had been assassinated the month before. Five people still came to Washington, with Marcelo’s brother, Miguel, traveling in his place. Leading the delegation was a small-statured, seemingly nervous Vidalina Morales. But when she stepped up to the podium at the National Press Club and began her acceptance speech, her voice filled the room with a sense of urgency. She described the dangers of gold mining—for drinking water, for fishing and for agriculture. By the time she got to explaining the use of toxic cyanide in separating the gold from the rock, she had the audience—including the authors—mesmerized.
Another factor made this occasion different. Cavanagh, who is the director of IPS, explained that usually the awardees arrive in Washington to accept their awards and return home. But on this occasion, “They asked for our help. El Salvador had just been sued by PacRim in an international tribunal that argued that El Salvador had to allow it to mine gold or pay over $300 million in costs and ‘foregone profits.’ They also asked if we could help them with research on companies involved in gold mining.”
John had previously engaged with IPS in fighting against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and had become familiar with the tribunal and the rules set by the World Bank involved in regulating a global economy. Broad, for her part, had written her doctoral dissertation and first book on the World Bank, and she had worked on the bank at her job with the U.S. Treasury Department in the mid-1980s. But she was less familiar with the workings of the tribunal the World Bank had set up in 1964, “The International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).” Its mission was to hear cases brought by foreign investors demanding compensation for lost profits from countries that tried to limit or regulate their activities. The couple figured they could be helpful.
“That’s how we were drawn in,” John explained, while emphasizing the extraordinary role local Salvadorans played in educating local communities about the dangers of landfills and then the dangers of gold mining. It was their groundbreaking work, often under dangerous conditions, that had earned them the Letelier award.
What happened next is a remarkable story of a growing North-South alliance that eventually went global, succeeding in two monumental victories: 1) a decision by ICSID in October 2016 that rejected PacRim’s claims for damages, while ordering the corporation to pay El Salvador $8 million in costs, and 2) the world’s first-ever comprehensive metals mining ban, brought by the El Salvador legislature in March 2019.
Up until 2016, Cavanagh explained, “we never thought we would win.” But that did not stop the momentum of coalition building, which had begun as early as 2005 by local village defenders, human rights advocates, farmers, lawyers, Catholic organizations and Oxfam America. They united to call themselves the National Roundtable on Metallic Mining, or La Mesa Frente a la Mineria Metálica—La Mesa for short. Their ultimate goal, beyond building resistance at the local level, “seemed like a pipe dream,” the authors wrote. That goal? “Getting the Salvadoran Congress to pass a new national law banning metal mining.”
Over the years, spurred on by their quest to find out who was responsible for Marcelo’s murder, the water defenders and their international allies yielded a treasure trove of insights on how to fight the Men in Suits, regardless of the outcome. Here are just a few lessons learned from their struggles described in the book:
Listen to the horror stories coming from refugees, in this case, those fleeing Honduras. Marcelo; his brother, Miguel; and Vidalina made several trips to Honduras to learn more about the gold mines there. (Honduras had become a haven for Big Gold after the 2009 coup). They returned with “shocking stories of rivers poisoned by cyanide, of dying fish and skin disease, of displaced communities, denuded forests, and corruption and conflict catalyzed by mining company payoffs.” Those trips, the authors write, made a huge impression on the water defenders and “crystallized their thinking… They were vigilant researchers, thirsty to know more.”
Seek out unexpected allies. One was Luis Parada, a Salvadoran government lawyer with a military background. As it turned out, he was a disciple of Sun Tsu, a Chinese military strategist from 2,500 years ago, who had written The Art of War. Among the lessons Parada (and Sun Tsu) imparted: “Know thy adversaries”—be one step ahead of them, and also know your possible allies. “Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighbor.” Luis also offered valuable practical advice, including the fact that the Sheraton Hotel in the capital, with its bar and pool, “offered some of the best intelligence in El Salvador.” Another unexpected ally was the ultra-conservative Archbishop Saenz Lacalle, a member of the right wing Opus Dei. “All it had taken was the word cyanide,” the authors explain, to cause him to oppose mining. His replacement in 2008, Archbishop Escobar, followed suit. He was “hardly an activist cleric,” but he “had long-held unexpected and firm views on mining,” and in his inaugural messages called on the government to reject mining operations in El Salvador. Getting the Catholic Church behind the water defenders was crucial. The martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero, “whose photo is omnipresent throughout the country,” was no doubt a factor for widespread community support behind the water defenders, as was the encyclical put out by Pope Francis urging priests to take to the streets to defend the environment. Yet another surprise endorsement came from a member of one of El Salvador’s richest families and a leader of the right-wing ARENA party, which dominated the legislature. It turned out that John Wright Sol had a passion for the environment. Also noteworthy: His family’s vast sugar plantations consumed a lot of water. As he studied the impact of mining on water, he reached out to fellow members of ARENA. “I didn’t want to turn this into mining companies are the devil,” he advised. Instead, he chose to emphasize that “every citizen in the country must have access to clear water.”
Be wary of corporate PR campaigns. PacRim put out a report emphasizing that a whopping 36,000 jobs would be created from its mining operations, a vastly inflated claim. In radio interviews, PacRim aimed separate messages to the ARENA party and to the left-wing FMLN party, in which it claimed revenues would fund social agendas. Trips abroad arranged by PacRim often resulted in swaying politicians, whether on the left or right, to support their corporate agenda.
No matter how big, corporations can make mistakes. OceanaGold, a Canadian-Australian mining company which took over PacRim in 2014, had put on a brave face after the ICSID ruled against PacRim, acting as though it had won, and refusing to cough up the $8 million the company owed El Salvador. Yet it made a fatal error by choosing its mining operations in The Philippines as an example of its environmentally pristine practices. Broad knew otherwise, and along with other international allies had cultivated a professional relationship with the governor of the Philippine province where OceanaGold had its mine. Governor Carlos Padilla arrived in El Salvador on the eve of the crucial legislative vote on the mining bill and presented a “before and after” slideshow to the Environmental Committee. He pictured a lush landscape before the mining, contrasted with images of waste-filled “tailings ponds,” dead trees, dried-up springs and rivers, dead fish on river banks, and, as he explained, “No access to water for drinking or for irrigation.” He ended with an appeal to future generations. “Grandpa,” he imagined them asking. “Why did you allow mining?”
His presentation was “sort of a clincher,” Cavanagh told me. “It raised the level of indignation.” The legislative vote followed soon afterwards, on March 29, 2019. The results were stunning, with 69 votes tallied against OceanaGold, zero nays and zero abstentions. Shouts of Sí, Se Puede!—“Yes we can!”—erupted from the floor, as members of La Mesa waved banners that read, “No a la Minería, Sí a la Vida”—No to Mining. Yes to Life!
Today, the water defenders remain cautiously optimistic, though constantly on guard. In the past, mining corporations have been able to convince even leftist governments that mining is good for the economy. Cavanagh speculates mayors of small towns, pressured to provide jobs, may have been behind the assassination of Marcelo Rivera and other water defenders.
But to date, Marcelo’s killers have never been identified. On an equally sobering note, he and Broad remind us in the book that “over 1,700 environmental defenders had been killed across 50 countries between 2002 and 2018.”
I asked John for an update since finishing his book in mid-2020. Nayib Bukele, El Salvador’s “new Trump-like president,” he wrote, “hasn’t raised mining, and it doesn’t look like he is personally interested. He knows the public opinion polls that showed that the overwhelming majority of Salvadorans are opposed to mining.”
However, he added, “We remain worried. El Salvador, like all developing countries, is suffering economically after the pandemic, and other countries have increased mining to get more revenues. So, La Mesa remains vigilant against any actions that could indicate that the government wants to mine.”
We can only hope that water defenders around the world will strengthen their alliances. Fortunately, they now have a handbook that will help them in their journey of resistance.
Charlotte Dennett is the co-author with Gerard Colby of Thy Will be Done. The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil. Her new book is The Crash of Flight 3804: A Lost Spy, A Daughter’s Quest, and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil.
Javiera Reyes, who is 31 years old, is the new mayor of the Santiago municipality of Lo Espejo in Chile. “I grew up in a home where [former President of Chile] Salvador Allende was always the good guy,” she told us, “and [military dictator] Augusto Pinochet was a tyrant. That marked my life.” Reyes’ comment reflects the old divides that have convulsed Chile’s politics since General Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’état against former President Salvador Allende of the Popular Unity coalition on September 11, 1973.
Almost 50 years have gone by and yet Chile is still influenced by the legacy of that coup and of the Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted from 1973 to 1990. The May 2021 election that propelled Reyes to the mayor’s office in Lo Espejo also voted in a new Constitutional Convention to rewrite the Pinochet-era Constitution of 1980. Reyes’ victory and the gains made by the left alliance to shape the new Constitution suggest that it is Allende’s legacy that will shape the future and not that of Pinochet.
Reyes is a member of the Communist Party of Chile (PCCh), which has rooted itself deeply in Chile’s society over the past 109 years. A PCCh leader—Daniel Jadue—will be the left’s candidate in the presidential election to be held in November 2021. Jadue, like Reyes, is a mayor of a municipality in Chile’s vast capital city of Santiago (a third of Chile’s 18 million people live in Santiago). In the May 2021 election, he was re-elected to the mayoralty of Recoleta, which he has governed since 2012.
“There is a historical continuity in [PCCh’s] policy,” Jadue told us, “with the same horizon—updated, of course. No one is thinking of taking up statist projects [again] or socialism as it has been tried, but there is undoubtedly a historical continuity, and we are in one way or another participants in the dream of the people who in the 1970s sought to build a fairer country and who today seek exactly the same thing.”
Vote Without Fear
Jadue leads in the November 2021 general election polls to replace Chile’s right-wing President Sebastián Piñera. Already, the press has started reporting about the various stances taken by Jadue during his life, particularly his association in the 1980s with Palestinian activism. The smearing of candidates of the left has become part of the electoral process in Latin America: the extreme-right press in Ecuador said that the left-leaning candidate for president, Andrés Arauz, had taken money from the Colombian left-wing guerrilla group ELN (National Liberation Army). The right-wing press also reported that Peru’s current presidential candidate Pedro Castillo, who is leading by a narrow margin, was similar to Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), which is a guerilla insurgency in Peru. Jadue dismisses these claims made against the leftist candidates. “I want my entire record to be visible because I have nothing to hide,” Jadue said when he spoke to us.
The communists participated in the elections held on May 15 and 16 under the slogan Vote Without Fear (Vota Sin Miedo). This slogan comes from a long history, which is part of the party’s legacy. The PCCh was banned, and its members were subjected to persecution over three periods: 1927-31, 1948-58 and 1973-90. Pinochet’s dictatorship killed thousands of communists, including many key leaders. A swath of Chile’s society was gripped by fear brought about by Allende’s socialism, which was essentially a result of the hatred cultivated during Pinochet’s dictatorship. During this time, it takes courage to stand with the communists.
Fear of communism has been diminishing, Reyes told us, because the PCCh elected officials have shown their constituents efficiency and compassion through their governance. Jadue’s Recoleta has become a showcase, with a municipal pharmacy, optical shop, bookstore and record store, open university, and real estate project operating free of any profit motive under Jadue’s vision as the mayor of the municipality.
Javiera Reyes says that her communism is rooted in her “conception of a municipal government that starts with the universalization of rights and the capacity to create conditions for a good life.” The project of municipal socialism starts with “health, education and common spaces,” says Reyes. It is a project that is “democratic and open to the community.”
Unlike Chile’s right-wing mayors, the communist mayors in Santiago such as Reyes, Jadue and Iraci Hassler (who was elected in May 2021 to the mayoralty of Santiago Centro) put the role of women at the core of their policies, including mechanisms to tackle violence against women. They want to create a society without fear in the broadest sense possible.
In 2006, students across Chile protested the privatization of education. Their mass struggle was called the Penguin Revolution because of their black-and-white school uniforms. “The Penguin Revolution in 2006 was my first [introduction] to politics,” Reyes told us. Reyes and Hassler both participated in the massive protests in 2011 and 2013 over the inequalities that marked the secondary and university education in the country. Reyes joined the PCCh during that period. Other students who are currently Chilean politicians, such as Camila Vallejo and Karol Cariola as well as Hassler, were already communists.
Student demonstrations came alongside manifestations and strikes by workers from all sectors. Their protests rattled the elite consensus, which since the fall of Pinochet in 1990 had not attempted to write a new Constitution for the country or bothered to formulate a path out of neoliberal suffocation.
In October 2019, high school students protested the rise of fares for public transport. This wave of protests, which is ongoing, began to define Chile’s political life. With the slogan “it’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years,” the students have highlighted the need for a new Constitution.
A New Chile
Chile has the lowest electoral participation rate in Latin America. After 17 years of dictatorship, trust in the state structures had practically disappeared. Voting was compulsory until 2009, although registration to vote was not compulsory. Young people did not register with the electoral service (Servel). The demand for a new Constitution was a wake-up call for the youth. Data shows that more than half of Chile’s young people between 18 and 29 years of age voted in the election, with women constituting 52.9 percent of the voters.
Women and young people will shape the Constitutional Convention, just as women and young women in particular—such as Reyes and Hassler—have taken over the mayors’ offices. The 155-member Constitutional Convention is filled with young people like Reyes and Hassler, a sizable section of the left. The right wing was unable to win one-third of the convention, which would have given it veto power. This means that the new Constitution, which will be drafted in the next nine months, will have a progressive character.
On June 18, Jadue faces a primary against Gabriel Boric, another student leader and now a leader of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front). All indications suggest that Jadue will prevail over Boric and then meet the candidates of the right in November. He will be the third communist to run for the presidency, following Elías Lafertte Gaviño (1931 and 1932) and Gladys Marín (1999). If the polls are accurate, Jadue will be the first communist president of Chile.
The Radical Bookstore: Counterspace for Social Movements by Kimberley Kinder. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2021.
In the final hours of 2008, I moved to Philadelphia. George W. Bush was still president, as Obama began assembling his team of neoliberal economic advisors to bail out the banks that had just crashed the economy. Before I was able to find a wage job during the height of the recession, I picked up a volunteer application at the local anarchist bookstore. By early 2009, I had finished my training shifts and was quickly given keys to the Wooden Shoe.
Founded in 1976, Wooden Shoe Books and Records is an all-volunteer collective where all decisions are made by consensus at monthly meetings open to all staffers. When I joined, the lease at its location on Fifth Street was about to expire, so I participated in the process of moving to its current location on South Street. It was an exciting time get involved and a perfect way to find instant community and camaraderie in a big city where I had never lived before. I stayed in Philly for over 12 years and was involved with the bookstore for most of that time; the only constant in my life there.
In her new book, The Radical Bookstore, University of Michigan professor Kimberley Kinder studies spaces like the Wooden Shoe and the role they continue to play in movements for social justice and transformation. She highlights the importance of brick-and-mortar “counterspaces” that help sustain organizing and movement building in between bursts of protest activity in the streets.
The criteria for the 77 bookstores, infoshops and community centers she researched was limited to “print-based movement spaces.” They are all public-facing physical venues that include a focus on print objects and their missions are oriented toward radical left activism. They all “approach their business primarily as social movement tools.” (Infoshops are autonomous, typically anarchist spaces. They tend to include do-it-yourself zines from the community and provide space for activist meetings and events. Some have less of a retail component, and might offer a free library and other mutual-aid services.) Kinder calls this “constructive activism,” a term she adapted from feminist geographers like Daphne Spain, which “highlights the material base of social organizing.” With a focus on mechanisms over particular issues, the book explores the crucial contributions of such durable spaces in the ongoing struggle for a better, more just world.
So, it made sense that Kinder reached out to the Wooden Shoe in April 2017. She had visited the store the previous summer and was interested in speaking with a member of the collective more in depth, so she could include us as a case study for the book. I volunteered and we spoke on the phone for about an hour about my experiences with the Wooden Shoe and to fill in some of the blanks beyond the information included on our website. We discussed some of the political goals of movement-oriented spaces and our aim, as anarchists, “to challenge structures of domination and oppression.” We also talked about how the Wooden Shoe is volunteer-run and how that has played a big role in sustaining the business for over 40 years. I explained, “If we were depending on paying ourselves, we probably would have [closed].” I also compared our success with other similar collectives that had recently gone out of business: “They had at least some members that were being paid and depending on that space for their livelihood.”
The two I had in mind were Food for Thought Books in Amherst, Massachusetts, which shut down in 2014, and Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative in Madison, Wisconsin, which managed to stay open only a couple years longer after a decade struggling to compete with corporate online behemoths like Amazon. I had the privilege of volunteering at Rainbow from 2004 to 2005 and, even back then, the staff collective was struggling to find creative ways to encourage students to buy textbooks from their local cooperatively managed, worker-owned shop, instead of ordering them online from a chain store. “You have nothing to lose but your chains!” exclaimed Rainbow’s posters across the University of Wisconsin campus. But by 2016, Rainbow could no longer afford to compete.
In The Radical Bookstore, Kinder briefly traces this history of “activist-entrepreneurs,” favoring the independent bookstore model in the 1960s and 1970s. This was an effective strategy not only for disseminating radical ideas, but for creating alternative spaces for movements to build and grow by tapping into the consumerist impulse permeating across the United States. The financial effectiveness of this model began to dwindle in the 1990s when two-thirds of all indie bookstores went out of business as a result of economic restructuring policies. Despite more recent examples, like Food for Thought and Rainbow, Kinder cites a slight resurgence of independent shops since the year I began staffing at the Wooden Shoe, 12 years ago. She argues this is a result of some “reformatting as events-oriented, nonprofit hybrids” and also because of “trends like ethical consumerism” that involve supporting local businesses.
Despite the grim reality of increased corporate consolidation, gentrification, and the ubiquity of digital media dismantling so much of this thriving network of radical bookstores and other “print-based movement spaces,” Kinder argues that analyzing the “constructive dynamics provides an important antidote to the usual narratives of decline.” Even though it is more difficult now to replicate the business models of the past, she explains, “Focusing only on the postmortem of victims misses an equally important opportunity to study why some places survive and thrive.” Adding that, “By looking at stories of resilience and innovation, scholars and activists can potentially find the nuggets of a blueprint for emerging business models that make independent spaces viable, even in a corporate, digital age.” (page 79)
Nearly 45 years after it was founded, the Wooden Shoe is just one of many counterspaces that have managed to survive and thrive. This has particularly been the case in recent years as increasing numbers of people have become radicalized through the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements, in addition to the election of Trump and the subsequent rise of the fascistic “alt-right.” During this period, I helped organize and host dozens of in-store events that brought all kinds of people into the space, from author talks and panel discussions to film screenings and potlucks. And more recently, the COVID pandemic has reminded us how important autonomous, physical space for organizing truly is, as we collectively struggle with the isolation and alienation of the past 16 months.
This past April, I left Philly and moved to Boston. My new apartment is walking distance from an even older anarchist bookstore: The Lucy Parsons Center. Like the customers Kimberley Kinder met there during her research, I often visit the infoshop, founded in 1969, “to find a sense of camaraderie.” And now that I no longer host events through Zoom for the Wooden Shoe, perhaps, one day, I’ll start volunteering there, too.
Matt Dineen is a writer and activist based in Boston. He has written for Toward Freedom since 2005.