Maggots in the business district

By Carrion Baggage

The news lingers over the community in a darkness that equals the winter nights. KPFA and its parent organization is $2 Million in debt to a real estate company…with another $6 Million still owed other places. The reality sets in that the resources built up by the community can be confiscated and given to the vultures. For once it seems like studying the issue won’t be of much help. To anyone. When encountering someone from the activist scene It’s hard to not mention the bleak tidings. One of whom has these wise words; “Well they are anti-capitalist — it makes sense that they’re bad with money.”

That’s being a bit generous, crediting the listener sponsored radio station that started in 1949 with being uniformly politically orientated. A few programs critique the way things are but most rarely disrupt the power structure. For example, when shit was brewing in downtown with protests raising hell about killer cops the programming on KPFA would be about distant struggles, and only report on the flashpoint later when crowds had dispersed. The original mission statement of the FM radio station seeks peaceful solutions to conflict by means of having opposing viewpoints air out their message publicly. This was shortly after World War 2 and the surrounding atrocities of that conflict, from racist death camps to racist atomic bombs, were still fresh issues for people. Most of them did not want to return to the conditions that created war and gross economic inequality.

KPFA and its umbrella organization Pacifica has made it through several decades and through various mutations of oppression. Their existence is a testament of the space that can open up when people gather their forces to make change. Very few left wing organizations have that distinction and the ones that do — like the Nation magazine — exist in an obscurity far from mainstream reality. The UFO economics of raising rents and the price of living being a monster to contend with have kept most people from political activity. The world is simply no place to be poor in though most of us on the planet are anything but. Weird then that the quarterly fund drives on KPFA are hyper-focused on being a home shopping network that caters to smug progressives who may be well-intentioned, but ultimately victim to having disposable income and not enough sense where to spread it. Books for $75, flash drives with video or audio of a some celebrity public speaker for $150. This has been quite lucrative for it allowed the station to exist in the black while almost any other community project eats shit and dies a premature death.

More news came in with the New Year worthy of rethinking about the merits of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Boxcar Books in Bloomington, Indiana closed from being suffocated with rents that went up 700% since it opened in 2001. An idealistic venture created during the bleak days of George Bush Jr.’s reign over the world and the commencement of “Never Ending War.” Settling near a college, they provided a space of resistance in the heartland of the US.

Recently Berkeley’s Long Haul Info Shop was host to a student from New College of Florida whose central studies is info shops. Savannah Hawk made a point to visit the space each day it was open and observe and interact with the various crowds. Much like Boxcar Books it would seem the primary users of the Long Haul are street people (calling them homeless is an outdated term). Both Long Haul and Boxcar Books opened to resist gross oppression. Treatment of “homeless” and issues of poverty being no more or less important than war, racism, sexism, homophobia….yet somehow this is what the fight is being boiled down to.

Should we blame the internet? Where is everybody? Long Haul was once the meeting ground for people who were between bouts of fighting the system — often planning where to shift the battle next. Boxcar Books made a public statement astutely noting that new projects tend to get more interest than in sustaining existing projects. Much of their statement exalts how the space provided a free toilet, free coffee and a space where people can charge their devices. It begs the question just what makes up the current definition of “Resistance”. Maybe our organizations shouldn’t advertise workshops that espouse ripping off corporations, squatting, un-arresting friends from cops and the finer arts of billboard redecoration — doing so will only invite state oppression. Still its kinda sad that people fight so hard to make a space and its essentially a drop-in center.

People new to the scene are not always burdened by what the space used to be or even what it is. For young people they are gifted with a vision of how the world could be. When asked to respond to Boxcar Books statement Savannah had this; “Reading this reflection immediately makes me think of that ridiculously corny phrase: ‘don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.’ And while this phrase is stupid and ambiguous, the essence holds true. For to be alive and co-create as a radical space or a collective entity, simply existing is an act of resistance. And I think it’s really easy to think of a closure as a failure; and maybe that’s because that’s what we’ve been taught to believe in this capitalist culture based on competition and exploitation. Whereas the reality is that existing in the first place is a triumph. To think that Boxcar existed for 16 years in the face of a warping ever-gentrifying landscape is a mighty feat in and of itself! Just thinking of all of the volunteers that were active participants in their own life; having to figure out how to deal with real challenges and share a space with others is no small task. Who knows what resonance and reassurance someone fighting depression or an eating disorder was able to find in the pages of zines displayed at Boxcar. Who knows what person was exposed to collective practices and the course of their life was shaped. Who knows what person needing to feel heard and valued was able to walk in and meet others needing the same comfort. And in reading Boxcar’s final reflection I am hopeful that this will not be the end of their collective journey but rather the closing of one stage to make room for another project somewhere down the line. ”

Boxcar Books’ farewell is a reminder how it is essential that people renew their sense of what the fuck they are doing. It would seem that the idea was to run a bookstore that would help keep open the space as a community center and organizing space for activism like prisoner support. That model seems untenable with the shifting game changes of capitalism. The KPFA model of fund drives relates back to the centuries old tradition of community barn raising — where various folk converge and invest their resources to collectively make something. That model seems remote to modern people. But it is something we all might have to consider necessary in order to make radical space. Its essentially what happens with this publication Slingshot every 3 months. There’s a need to create radical space, drop what you’re doing and help make it a reality.

In many ways what is needed is to make the new world while the old world dies. This year will mark the 20th anniversary of Seattle’s World Trade Organization meeting. Thousands of people converged from the grass roots in part to show opposition to the WTO. More so people saw themselves able to make their dreams a reality; from smashing a Starbucks window to frustrating a suit and tie on his way to a meeting intent on global dominance. From setting to motion an independent media organization to making an autonomous space that teems with imagination and personality. More dreams are needed when next we meet to speak our mind.