Anarchists Turn to Capitalism at Oakland Book Fair

By Nanette Asimove
SF Gate
April 28th, 2015

Books are displayed by PM Press publishers at the 20th annual Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, April 25, 2015.

Photo credit: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

Plenty of well-ordered capitalism was happening Saturday at the anarchist book fair in Oakland.

One of the hottest sellers was “A Rule Is to Break: A Child’s Guide to Anarchy,” by John and Jana, who break the rule that authors’ last names should appear on the cover.

Everything you need to know about anarchy is contained in the slender green volume: “Give away stuff for free.” “Think for yourself.” “Cake for dinner!” The drawings — including a smiling child with blue hair and no clothes, and a kid in a devil suit running with a match — conveyed just as much.

Sarah Koster handed her credit card to Jennifer Joseph, founder of Manic D Press publishing in San Francisco. Koster, a public health worker in Oakland, said the book would make a great gift for her nephews and niece in Arizona, ages 2 to 4.

“I like to introduce them to new ideas and different ways of moving through the world,” she said. “If you just rely on mass media and children’s shows, they won’t learn to challenge authority and ask questions.”

Rejecting authority, thinking for oneself and being kind to others were the messages reverberating through the Seventh Street warehouse called the Crucible.

List of lectures

That’s where the 20th annual Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair was held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with lectures on such topics as contemporary labor issues, how to support political prisoners, fighting police and what to do if you’re a radical seeking therapy.

Anarchists are judged harshly because of the Black Bloc, whose members have broken windows during recent protests, said Joseph.

“I’m more in the Emma Goldman school of anarchy, which is about self-determination and autonomy,” she said.

Someone, who asked that his last name not be used, said there are many forms of anarchy, “but generally people say it’s an abolition of the state and capitalism.”

Which raised a certain question, as Steven was at the PM Press table selling stuff.

“Everyone has to live within a certain level of hypocrisy,” he sighed. “It’s almost impossible to break out from under the thumb of capitalism. We’re here selling books, but it’s not like we’re selling microwaves or televisions.”

Not that anarchists don’t watch TV or microwave their food. But they do eschew some worldly things., for example.

“Amazon is affiliated with the CIA,” said Tristen Schmidt, a child care worker in Alameda. “I don’t buy from them.”

Instead she bought “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx from one of the many vendors selling such books as “Left of the Dial: Conversations with Punk Icons,” by David Ensiminger; “Anarchists Never Surrender,” by Victor Serge, about the movement from 1908 to 1938; and “The Sofa Surfing Handbook: A Guide for Modern Nomads,” edited by Juliette Torrez.

Past the books, the Food Not Bombs table, the Earth First group and the cookie vendors, visitors could sit in on lectures.

Tale of Starbucks

About 30 people, young and old, gathered on the back patio for a talk called “Anarchy on the Shop Floor” and heard a young man tell how Starbucks fought for seven years against paying baristas time-and-a-half for Martin Luther King Day before recognizing the holiday in 2011.

“And they called themselves a socially responsible company,” the man snorted.

AK Press also had a table. The publisher of radical books was part of a collective of residents and businesses whose building burned last month in Oakland, killing two people. Supporters donated about $50,000 and are trying to help those displaced to get the city to declare the building fit to occupy again.

‘Without rulers’

“One of the core tenets of anarchism is mutual aid,” said Jen Angel, who helped organize the fair. “There’s this miconception that anarchism means chaos. But the term means ‘without rulers.’ We don’t expect people to organize for us. We organize for ourselves.”

Nanette Asimov is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @NanetteAsimov