The First Annual New York City Anarchist Bookfair - Report, Obituary & Interview
Friday 13th April 2007 - Monday 16th April 2007.
Report, By Daniel
“New York City, a centre of anarchist life, culture, struggle, and ideas for 150 years, has never hosted an Anarchist Book Fair. That's about to change!” 
With these words the New York City Anarchist Bookfair Collective announced their intention to organise an anarchist bookfair. The Anarchist Federation (AF) and International of Anarchist Federations (IFA) were invited to take part in what was, according to all known records, the first ever Anarchist Bookfair in New York City. The AF ran a stall with members of the Grupo Anarquista Albatross from our sister organisation Federación Anarquista Ibérica - FAI, distributing newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, stickers, and CD’s from Britain and Spain.
By the close of play it was pretty obvious that the event had been a success. Having decided to aim big with over 40 vendor tables, an art gallery, numerous panels, and presentations, as well as workshops, and skill shares and various other events such as book and ‘zine readings, as well as parties spread over four days, their commitment to this project was to pay off.
The mainstream newspapers around New York had advertised the event in the days leading up to the Bookfair, and the following day the New York Times ran a favourable review of the event, including mention of the ‘Anarchist Aspirations’ Panel Discussion in which I had been a contributor, along with Aragorn! (Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed) and Wayne Price (North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists).
The Bookfair began on Friday with a film festival, where the anarchist community paid their respects to the New York based Indymedia reporter Brad Wills, who had recently been murdered whilst reporting from Oaxaca. The main bookfair kicked off on Saturday, where a large hall contained over 40 vendors, and several meeting rooms hosting a wide range of panel discussions. On Sunday the panel discussions continued elsewhere in the city, unfortunately severe torrential rain reduced attendance. Monday saw a smaller event, with a book reading and discussion evening.
My personal highlight of the weekend was a meeting on Saturday entitled: ‘Remembering Spain, Remembering Heroes!’ during which two anti-fascist veterans of the Spanish Revolution spoke to a packed audience. To some present the stories of the revolution were an unknown history, which illustrated the extent to which the bookfair had drawn in New Yorkers new to the anarchist workers movement, whilst for others the two pensioners are heroes. The first of the speakers was George Sossenko, who at 16 had left his home in France to fight in the Durruti Column. Today George travels speaking about his time during the Revolution, and spreading his vision for an anarchist society. The second speaker was Moe Fishman who volunteered for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the American section of the International Brigades. Serving as the General Secretary of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade throughout his life, disseminating information about the important role the International Brigades played in the international anti-Fascist struggle.
The First Annual New York Anarchist Bookfair was a great success, drawing in a large crowd, beyond the anarchist Milieu, and by all accounts has led to increasing confidence for the anarchist movement in the city. We present here an interview with one of the organisers of the event, and hope that next years bookfair can grow upon the success of this years, once again making it the “place to be” that the local newspapers listed it as.
 The bookfair announcement: http://www.anarchistbookfair.net/index.php?title=Announcement
2] The Abraham Lincoln Brigade website: http://www.alba-valb.org/
Obituary: Moe Fishman (September 28, 1915 - August 6, 2007).
Sadly Moe Fishman passed away on August 6th 2007. It was an honour to have met and talked to a man who travelled half way around the world to fight alongside the people of Spain against the tyranny of fascism. A man who served his life in the anti-fascist cause, having been wounded in Spain, he returned to New York where he participated in the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, and would later serve in the Merchant Marine during the Second World War. After the war he became the General Secretary of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and would serve in that capacity throughout his life. He was instrumental in that organisations defence against the House Un-American Activities Committee, actually winning on appeal, quipping “maybe we better do something subversive and get back on it”. His life and struggle for the anti-fascist cause was a true inspiration, the title of the talk he gave in New York just a few months ago comes back to me and with these few words I wish to remember and pay my respects to a hero.
Interview with Patrick (Bookfair Collective) conducted by Daniel on Behalf of Organise!
Organise: Please introduce yourself, and tell us a little about yourself, and how came to be part of the bookfair collective.
Patrick: My name is Patrick. I am originally from Baltimore, Maryland. Which was where I first got introduced to Anarchist politics in, or around, 1997. Later I was a member of the North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists (NEFAC) for a brief couple months in 2000 or 2001 but the collective I was in split up and I went travelling for a bit. I lived in London for about seven months around 2002 and was running with the Anarchist Youth Network kids and also volunteering at Freedom about 1 day a week. I have been in New York City for two and half years. I am in the Bookfair Collective and also a part of New York Metro Alliance of Anarchists (NYMAA), which are two different things.
Organise: This being the first EVER New York City Anarchist Bookfair, it appears to have sprung up out of nowhere. Please inform us a little about the recent history of Anarchism in New York City, and as the Bookfair came out of the NYMAA group, tell us how NYMAA came about.
Patrick: Since the break up of the Love and Rage Federation, there have been different splintered groups, and many individuals not tied to any group, it seemed that they were all aimlessly existing, and where not visible to others within New York City, or out of town. Since the Republican National Convention was held in New York City, anarchism has been developing a more active presence in the city, but still nothing I wanted to be involved with. Then about a year and a half ago NYMAA came out of a weird ‘Anarchist Circle’ in which about a hundred people showed up. I was truly inspired by the lack of the ‘life-stylist’ tendency and the commitment to class, and other important struggles, that most of the people there had. NYMAA developed out of this meeting, as some of those present decided to form a more structured group that would act as visible ‘face’ of Anarchist politics, struggle, and action in New York City, so that people from out-of-town knew where to plug into, and for people in town TO plug into.
Organise: Does NYMAA follow any explicit anarchist tendency? Or what currents are within NYMAA, and have there been problems with competing currents?
Patrick: Well I think this is becoming a problem. There is no political backbone to the group. Although, the structure is pretty well organised and most people are of a red/black tendency, it is not in paper. People in NYMAA came from, or are in, various groups, such as: Anarchist People of Color (APOC), Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Direct Action Network (DAN), NEFAC, and others I am leaving out. These groups are all pretty class focused, which is why NYMAA leans, a lot, towards the politics of class war anarchists. The group is a little over a year old and politics are definitely getting worked out. So far there hasn’t been that big of a problem with competing currents, so wish us luck!
Organise: So How is NYMAA structured/Organised?
NYMAA membership is based on fulfilling 2 out of 3 criteria:
paying dues, attending the two previous last GAs (or 2 out of 3 of
them) and being in a working group. So most people do the latter 2,
meaning NYMAA is hardly getting enough money to rent the spaces for
the meetings. Now that we have t-shirts maybe we will get rich of the
sales, but I do not think so! This being the fact, we really need to
work out a way of having some money for projects we would like to do.
We hold GAs every 3-4 months. These are organized by the 'Nuts and Bolts' working group, which rotates people almost every assembly. The agenda is usually decided by items we 'benched' last GA and new items brought forth. We have a brief break out session in the beginning, with a couple proposed questions/problems, and people meet up in groups and try to solve/talk about them. This is pretty new, and a bit weird, but it does get the blood and brain working, which is really important for a 6 hour meeting.
The working groups have regular meeting in the time between the GAs and make announcements to the list and on the website, so that other NYMAA members can get involved. There are more in the structure, but it is, almost, always changing. So go to Website (www.nymaa.org) to find out yourself!
Organise: From an outsider’s perspective, the class struggle focus of NYMAA seems a bit of an anomaly for the US anarchist scene, would this be fair to say?
Patrick: No, I don’t really follow. As I said before, most individuals in the group are pretty class focused, most luckily due to the other groups that they are involved in or came from. I think it is an East Coast thing though. Most people didn’t have time, or care, about eating out of bins or other life-stylist trophies. Not to say some don’t do it, but it is as important to the change we want to see as building model airplanes. I also think that most people that got on the bandwagon of the early 2000s are realizing this now, which is really good. NYMAA does have all kinds in it, including transit workers, activist, students, etc.
Organise: So how did the Bookfair Collective come about, out of NYMAA?
Patrick: One of, if not, the main purpose of NYMAA is for ideas to develop into working groups, who in turn will execute these into projects. The proposals to form such working groups are generally proposed at the General Assemblies (GA) and developed in-between each GA. The bookfair was simply a proposal brought up at one of the GAs.
Organise: So the Bookfair collective and NYMAA are separate entities, the bookfair being simply a working group first developed at a NYMAA-GA, does this mean that there were people involved in the collective who were not part of NYMAA?
Patrick: Well, again, the Bookfair Collective is separate then NYMAA. The main Bookfair collective group was only 4 to 5 people, with others contributing things here and there. Only about 3 people involved were a part of NYMAA, the others were in Books Through Bars and Radical Reference.
Organise: Were other bookfairs elsewhere an influence on you in anyway?
Patrick: I think the main motivation was that Providence, Rhode Island, had one and that burned us up! We felt that New York City should have Anarchism institutionalised somehow, I mean if a city the size of Providence can then surely NYC should, right! Since it was the first time it was nice not to try something completely ' out of tradition', in a sense, so that we could guarantee people would come.
Organise: Organising a big event like an Anarchist Bookfair is a pretty ambitious project, for a newly established group, and then to complicate matters it became a four day event… any comments on your sanity, or how this came about?
Patrick: Officially the Bookfair Collective only organised Saturday and Sunday, the weekend format made sense, I mean we knew we would have people coming from far and for a one day event? Forget about it! The film fest was organized by another person and the Afterparty was organized by myself and the blackkat collective. It was pretty stressful but I figure it was well worth it.
Organise: I think many Anarchists in the UK would be surprised by the amount, and positive nature, of the mainstream media coverage the Bookfair received. Could you elaborate on this, and other media approaches that were undertaken.
Patrick: Yeah that was ridiculous! Most New York papers and magazines actually gave a pre-write up by some editor, telling their readers to go. We just emailed and did mad press releases. The NYMAA props working groups is also subscribed to a lot of US anarchist, and regular activist, groups from NYC to Texas, and we emailed all of them. I am a little curious as to why NEFAC never put it on their calendar!
Another thing that may surprise UK readers, is the lack of anonymity
of the organisers, you were very open about who you were, and chose
to identify yourselves both on the website and booklet. Did you feel
this was a necessary step? Did this have any known positive or
Patrick: I don't know. I didn't really want to do it, but didn't really care. Probably got me a good spot if you google my name!
Organise: Could you tell us how was the bookfair structured, and organised? Was there an overall aim, in the choices for panels? Was there a conscious choice to have ‘panels of experts’ with speakers from various backgrounds, rather than giving spaces over to groups or specific projects?
Patrick: Well the panels were on a first come first serve type basis. When we got applications for talks or workshops of the same content we tried to put them together onto a panel, this was mostly due to the severe lack of space. We didn’t try to make a 'panel of experts' we just tried to cram together whatever applications came to us. As the applications came in the bookfair collective decided which ones would be appropriate and got them. However, I did invite George Sossenko to speak though.
The tables were also organised on a first come first served basis. However, we tried to keep an almost equal balance between groups from NYC and out of town. Our next priority was zines, and then we also gave tables half price to groups that sold nothing more than 5 bones. This was intended as an attempt to get zines. Groups usually left home everything over $5. This was an attempt to get zines, but, some groups just left everything at home over $5 and then got a discount table, we might have to re-examine this for next year. But there will still be discount tables for groups that need them, as I feel this is an important aspect of the bookfair.
Organise: I thought the titles/descriptions of some of the panels were a bit milieu jargon heavy, sort of hippy meets liberal academic, how were they developed?
Patrick: Well this the panellists made up and sent them in the applications, so we couldn’t change the titles they gave them, are you kidding me? I actually thought the titles were pretty good, maybe I am a hippy?
Organise: What was the standout moment of the bookfair for you? Mine would have to be seeing George Sossenko (of the Durruti Column) and Moe Fishman (of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade) discuss their time during the Spanish Civil war. This talk was inspiration to many, and informative to many others new to the period of history. So I would like to know how this meeting came about?
Patrick: I saw George speak at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair and invited him up, simple. He is a truly amazing person and one of the kindest people I ever met.
My stand out moment however is my mother, who knows little about Anarchism, asking Wayne Price a question about Canada; and, at the party, my brother trying to pick up my good friend from phillies 'significant other.'
Organise: So what’s the feedback been like?
Patrick: Are you kidding me? It was great. The tables were all on one floor so I didn’t get yelled at by groups saying ' ...You gave me the shit spot, change the location!!.' That is stressful. Also, I was told that the people were 'intelligent' here. Don’t really know what that means, but it sounds good. I reckon of those present it was about 35% of people come in off the street!
How do you think having an annual event such as this will effect the
NYC anarchist movement?
I think it would be great. It is a great location and there are
so many anarchists in the city that are burned up, and pissed off at
other anarchists, and, for some reason, this seems like a stress
valve. People seemed really re-energized post-bookfair.
Do you have any advice for any groups/individuals who may want to
replicate what you did?
Patrick: It’s not nothing! Just be confident and do it. Be tough, and do it your damn self. Well, it is a bit stressful at times, and anarchists really annoy you sometimes, but in the end it is really worth while.
Organise: What do you see as the future for NYMAA, and the bookfair.
Patrick: Well NYMAA seems good. People are into it. The bookfair will hopefully become an annual event and become thousands of people. I really would not like to make just another stop in the anarchist "event hoppers' circuit, but I don’t mind that too much, but the hope would be that people in NYC would get something out of it.
Any major plans for next year's bookfair, should the revolution not
Patrick: Well I would tell the revolution to come to the after party!! But the space already welcomed us back and we are booked! See you there!