The flyers said 12PM. The Facebook event page (how I hate myself for typing those words) said 12PM. We had every intention of being there by 12PM. At 12:20, we finally rolled up.
The open spot on the street right in front of the staging area was like a sign of fate – and we considered ourselves forgiven for our tardiness (damn lazy anarchists!!). For those of you who’ve tried finding parking in any metro downtown, you know what a tax on one’s patience this usually is. Even showing up 20 minutes late, we were still the first people there. Just before arriving, our other comrade had called us to give us the heads up that it was technically illegal to set up a table in the park.
We saw the pigs 50 feet away and debated if we should just try setting up on the sidewalk instead. (The point of our action was to hand out zines and food, not fight with the cops, and for once we thought it best not to antagonize.) One in our group remembered that another comrade was bringing a banner with posts to dig into the ground, so we figured we’d take our chances in the park. Glad we went with that hunch, because the pigs paid us (almost) no mind after all.
Shortly after carting all the supplies over to the staging area, a human walked up and introduced themselves to us as a friend of a trusted comrade. We welcomed them, and they helped us setup the table with all the food and zines. Soon, other comrades arrived with another table and more food. Then our banner arrived in all it’s glory to truly make our event feel official. We battled hardily with the wind to get that banner raised, but in the end we were triumphant. Thanks to some liberated bookends from a designer store, our zines managed to mostly stay on the table as well.
We had Fleet Week as our backdrop, so there were lots of young Navy sailors walking by as well as families come to tour the guts of the giant war machines parked in our river. The crowd was surprisingly diverse and not as capital R republican as one would expect. We even managed to get some lit into the hands of some sailors. Many people seemed baffled at the idea of a free lunch (anarchists know no other kind!), and we had to fend off a number of attempts to hand us cash. “Who just gives out food?” “What’s the catch!?” “But somebody had to pay for it, right?” “Well, can I give you a donation?”
We managed to get zines into most people’s hands, with an emphasis on lit focusing on the flaws and failures of democracy, as well as basics of what anarchism means. My favorite moment was handing a comic explaining the failings of capitalism to a kid no older than 5 and his dad asking if he wanted to read it together later.
Most people were receptive, if not outright thankful, and the few jerks in the crowd mostly kept their comments to themselves. At one point, a socialist Sikh came to my personal defense as a guy got in my face about getting a real job. (I work in food service, he does construction. I commented that many people would say construction wasn’t a “real job” either, at which he got indignant that I bite my thumb at his heaps and heaps of money.) We didn’t convert the socialist, but at least he’ll think better of us next time he watches the 5 O’clock news. In fact, we had quite a bit of luck opening dialogues with people who were ignorant of what we were really about.
Turns out lots of people trust everything they see the news say about us, so this was a great opportunity to bash liberals together and champion no taxes and generally confuse the right wingers who confused us anarchists with run-of-the-mill Dems (Blechh!!). Of course, since we took this action to show solidarity with anarchist prisoners, we had lots of literature on folx behind bars as well. Sean Swain’s story in particular is a good one to tell fence sitting conservatives to at least get them to listen to what you’ve got to say. Show mothers the picture of Jeremy Hammond and you can see them become visibly moved. Sunday was immensely humbling as we got to share the stories of our comrades with people who may have never heard of their struggles otherwise. From the octogenarian couple who stopped for granola bars and left with a handful of zines to the crust punk from Salt Lake City who wants to start a collective and an infoshop, we reached so many different types of people who hopefully feel empowered to fight the State or at least support those of us who do.
We were starting to run out of reading material and food when reinforcements came in the form of more zines and a couple cases of Lara Bars. With the added supplies, we managed to hold the space from about 12:30 to 6:30. We ran through most of the food we had, excepting about a dozen bagels. We also managed to deplete the bulk of our zines, with only a small reserve left over.
As one comrade pointed out, since people were actively coming to our table as opposed to just taking what was being handed out the likelihood that they’ll get read is significantly better. On top of all the people we reached just because they passed by us, we had several people tell us they intentionally came back after passing by earlier. We also had a couple pigs come over to chat. They didn’t hassle us or ask us to move on, and we managed to get some literature into their hands. Maybe, if we’re real lucky, they’ll trade in those blue uniforms for black masks, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.
Lots of folks were interested in how to get involved or how to start actions in their own town. Luckily, we had several zines on how to organize marches, etc., as well as a stack of zines explaining affinity groups. Here’s hoping our action resulted in more people joining us in the street. To wrap everything up, below we’ve broken down all the numbers (if you’re the wonky kind of anarchist who enjoys that sort of thing…). All numbers are rough estimates, on the conservative side.
Amount in USD of food given away. All food was dumpstered or expropriated from gentrifying chains.
Number of meaningful interactions and discussions lasting over 5 minutes
Number of positive interactions involving some sort of praise of anarchists
Number of positive interactions involving individual taking food
Number of positive interactions involving individual taking zines
Number of negative interactions with individual expressing anti-anarchist sentiments