(By Paul Corman Roberts, reposted from PaulCormanRoberts.com.)
How to rate what is supposed to be one of the most culturally and politically bleeding edge book fairs in the United States?
On March 22nd, 2008 I attended the fabled San Francisco Anarchists Book Fair for the first time in my 15 years of living in the Bay Area. I’m not exactly an “on the scene” kind of guy in either the activist or small press world of the Bay Area (though that last part is changing some now) and it seems like I should have at least gone to the last few if only to get an idea of what real underground literature is doing.
It was a mixed bag to say the least. For me personally it was fantastic. In the way that a family reunion can be fantastic. I was reacquainting with activists I hadn’t seen in over a decade, and many of the writers I’ve been working with so recently. Old friends and new friends all together in one place is nothing to sneeze at. For the press I was there to represent, it was a tougher day. We had no poster and were squeezed in between Food Not Bombs and Z Magazine.
It became clear pretty quickly, not just to me but also to my Howling Dog Press partners in rabble rousing; Mike Palacek and Dan Benbow, that this event was a lot more about “networking” than it was about sales, or, god forbid, active or unified social change (I guess it wouldn’t be “anarchist” then.)
At least for the smaller, poorly organized presses like those of us in the HD crew. AK Press, Bound Together Books, and Left Bank Book Collective from Seattle all seemed to be doing a nice brisk trade in T-shirts, posters, chaps, DVD’s and stickers. Food Not Bombs, Coyote and the SF Bike Messengers union were all fundraising (Food Not Bombs under Keith McHenry could truly be classified as its own press/media outlet) and getting petitions signed for various good sounding causes, including the forming of a Tent City outside the White House in D.C. (inspired by Camp Casey) and the legalization of Prostitution (Coyote.)
But really and truly we were hoping to talk with other activists and other small press publishers about the war, about the peace effort and what is widely considered a genuine conspiracy when it comes to the events of 9/11 which has propelled the greatest superpower the planet has known to the brink of credibility, and yes, possibly even collapse.
A funny thing happened to the outrage over the war and the possibility that it was encouraged by profiteers in the U.S. government…
…no one really gave a shit. Part of the reason is that most of these folks has been down this road in one form or another…it’s even a big reason why all of us were even at this convention in the first place. It’s not as if disbelief in the corruption of the U.S. war machine were the issue. Why it is, so many hard edged activists refuse to identify with the 9/11 Truth Movement? Mostly it’s an insidious mix of hopelessness, helplessness and fear. Hopelessness in that the movement has nowhere to move to (what if Cheney admitted he knew the Twin Towers were coming down months ahead of time? What is there to allow us to believe anything would actually happen to him?) Helplessness in that the truth movement is overrun with agent provocateurs and manicacs. Fear in that already marginalized citizens are only going to be further marginalized by identifying with “conspiracy extremists.” These three things have manifested as a collective pathology in much of the working activist and progressive communities, not just the middle classes.
Dan Benbow said he resented the term “conspiracy theorist.” He much preferred the label “conspiracy realist.” Dan and Mike and I spent some time debating the semantics of the LIHOP (”Let It Happen On Purpose”) school of thinking versus the MIHOP (”Made It Happen on Purpose”) school when it comes to theories involving just how involved were aspects of America’s war machine in the events of 9/11. The obvious demolition of Building 7; the unexplained car bomb outside the Old Executive Offices in Washington DC; the status and mission of numerous military exercises taking place in Manhattan that particular day…not to mention the plain and obvious profit motive the petroleum industry would benefit from in the wake of a middle eastern war, which is why many in the peace movement have this extra paranoia working into the overarching everyday question “how the fuck did it get this bad?” It leads naturally too, “who let it get this bad?” which quite naturally ends up at “why would someone let it get this bad?”
Just take a look at the profits of Exxon/Mobile, Haliburton and Blackwater over the past few years.
Mike Palacek said he has heard from many quarters that Osama bin Laden is not even alive anymore; that he is kept alive like a construct, like Emmanuel Goldstein in Orwell’s 1984.
We discussed these issues passionately, openly, and without any harassment, and conversely, without any interest from hardly anyone else.
Perhaps that is what drove what seemed to be the real topic of interest: Will Obama truly make a difference? Even here amongst this disparate group of radicals, there dialogued a sizable and hardened minority that feels Obama does have what it takes to take our nation out of its self-imposed dark age. But a minority nonetheless. The real overriding sentiment at the Fair could be summed up in a what a bike messenger’s union organizer from L.A. said to me: “Obama basically sucks at the same teat as McCain and Hillary.”
Certainly the people who question Obama see him pulling the most regular military from the middle east, but letting the mercenary groups and contractors who make up the larger part of the occupying Western forces stay on and play at whatever games is deemed necessary for them to play for the greater good of the economic interest.
We didn’t sell a single copy of the “Cost of Freedom” anthology, which is likely the finest anti-war anthology put together in recent history. I couldn’t help but notice that Keith McHenry was only having limited success in garnering enthusiasm from the browsers for an ultra-confrontational tent city in Washington D.C., but make no mistake: Food Not Bombs will be there to do their damndest to feed activists.
Still, I got to meet two fellow Howling Dog writers, folks who share a passion for representing the truly just, the truly more American concept of fairness and justice and not just business death scams perpetuated on other civilizations in our name. Writers aren’t necessarily the best people to unite the activists of the world…after all, theirs is a solitary trade to begin with. But we’re going to have to figure out a way to do it if we feel the human species is worth saving. If not, what’s the point in even trying? The reason I don’t give up is because I know there are some out there who want us to come to just this conclusion of despair…and those who want that most are people who invest in and control the arms and energy industry.
Howling Dog Press: http://www.howlingdogpress.com/
AK Press: http://www.akpress.org/
Bound Together Books: http://www.boundtogetherbooks.com/
Food Not Bombs: http://www.foodnotbombs.net/
Not In Our Name: http://www.notinourname.net/index.php