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Lost In The Supermarket #77

    One of the largest pitfalls facing the international anarchist community is our tendency to get so emersed in that which we aim to dismantle that we often overlook the beauty and power associated with the world that we are shaping in the here and now. I myself have been extremely guilty in the negative energy department over the past few years. It's comforting to know that there are millions of us out there everyday fighting for liberation the world over.  So, today I'm going to take the time to share with you the stories and histories of two ten year old organizations that have fueled my fire and given me hope in times when I had little.
Richmond, Virginia - Food Not Bombs - Ten Years Old - November, 2003
    In 1994 at the age of nineteen I wrote a letter to the then nine month old Richmond FNB chapter. Being that there wasn't a chapter in Kentucky and I knew of no one who was involved with FNB elsewhere I got the Richmond info at an Avail show in Louisville. Although I had read and heard the stories of Boston and San Francisco, I wanted to know how a small town group that was just getting started was fairing?
    In time I received a letter from one of the members along with a pamphlet and some other national literature. I read it and reread it a dozen times trying to envision Richmond, the park they served in, the homeless community there as well as the members who carried out the day to day operations. In January of '96 I visited Richmond to check out the city to see if it might be a place I would want to live in. While there I visited the house where FNB was cooking and helped out. There was some lively conversation about whether or not to cook the several dozen eggs that were donated or not. In the end they were scrambled and served and I got my first look at Monroe Park. It was a grand old urban park in the tradition of a Boston Commons and I was transfixed by it and the city instantly. I moved three months later.
    After I moved and got settled in, it took me a few months to get into the flow of things with FNB and the larger radical community in town. By the time I became a regular, FNB as well as every other feeding program and homeless service provider were coming under attack. A coalition of neighborhood associations, wealthy business interests and secret city clubs conspired to once and for all remove the homeless from downtown behind a wave of fascistic anti-poor zoning laws. The laws restricted how many service providers could be within x number of feet of one another, how many meals could be served, how often and where. When things looked bleakest that's when a people's army was assembled.
    Over the course of nine months a wide and truly diverse assortment of baptist ministers, civil rights activists, homeless groups, lawyers, students, church goers and everyday folks gathered together and organized alongside us anarchists and rabble rousers to fight and ultimately defeat the city and crush the barbaric laws. Every church feeding group in town and every meal program in Monroe Park openly and vociferously continued their operations in total defiance of the laws. By the time an ex-mayor and then minister publicly stated that he would personally serve his church's program by himself we knew we had them. On the night that the new zoning regulations came up for debate a three times the capacity crowd took over City Hall and shut down their sick, greed driven plans. We celebrated in jubilation on the steps that night, fists in air, screaming victory in unison. A triumph.
    In the years since that momentous day, Richmond FNB has gone on to accomplish amazing amounts. It has been the longest standing and only constant anti-authoritarian group in Richmond during the past decade. It has introduced countless hundreds of youth and young adults to anarchist principles and organizing methods. It has hosted tons of conferences, speakers, workshops, protests and rallies. It has been at the forefront of anti-globalization struggles, the anti-war movement and has worked with every imaginable radical group that has existed in our city. It has served probably close to 100,000 meals on a day and at a time when it has been the only meal program available. Only two missed days in ten years. That's staggering in and of itself. Oh yeah we have six or seven tables including a condiment table, a salad and bread table, a literature table and two giveaway tables. The meal program portion of Richmond FNB is widely regarded as one of the best anywhere. What the fuck else can I say? Happy birthday and thank you for all the memories. I'm looking forward to the next ten years.              
Gainesville, Florida - Civic Media Center - Ten years old - October, 2003

    The infoshop explosion in North America in the past fifteen to twenty years has probably seen hundreds and hundreds of these autonomous spaces come and go in areas as wide in scope as urban metropolises to tiny college towns and even rural country backwoods. The story usually goes something like this: Small group of friends get a head of steam, do a few fundraisers, rent a beat up old space in some neglected part of town and open up shop. Within a year the group dissolves due to infighting, overwork, issues of abuse, domination, power plays, so on, so forth. You know the story. None of this is to discredit any of those spaces or collectives, long-term infrastructure based work is under appreciated and rarely ever done right. So, when you do stumble across a space such as Gainesville's Civic Media Center it is all the more impressive that it not only has survived ten years, it continues to be a vital and highly utilized space for the local community. Here's what I've seen and what I know.
    In the early 90's there were a flood of independent papers and journalists in the Gainesville community. Most all of the papers had a strong leftist slant and many of the editors and staff writers were friends and saw each other often. Feeling that they needed to take a step beyond just peddling papers for cheap or free on the streets a group of these allies came together and pulled resources to open up a radical media center where folks from town could come to get alternative media and meet and organize out of.
    Being that Gainesville is a huge college town and lots of anarchists passed through the university, the circle A crowd soon began organizing with the independent media folks and a long standing relationship was forged. I visited the CMC for the first time in '98 and a year later ended up living in Gainesville for a couple of months during some miserable northern winter. I had some great friends who worked at the CMC and put together a whole 'zine sitting there and at the main library for hours every day. I quickly came to love the space and here's why.
    Everyone I met who worked, volunteered or frequented the space felt some sense of ownership and connection to the space. The serious staffers worked tirelessly on all aspects of the space from set up, to databasing, outreach, events, organizing. It was a flood of boundless enthusiasm and positivity, and was it ever utilized. There were always folks there. Reading, studying, socializing, debating, listening to the news, watching the news, seeing events, planning, working on the computer or just checking email. And a wide swath of Gainesville used it from my experience.
    I could ramble forever and a day but I'll offer a brief sampling of what the CMC has to offer. Books, lots of 'em. Classics, theory, radical history, people's struggles, anti-war, class, race, queer and gender studies, community organizing, urban studies, shit they've got it all. Periodicals and magazines all methodically picked through and organized in alphabetical and chronological order and they keep coming in by the boatload. Zines by the thousands in another well structured file cabinet system with currents and favorites out on display including the whole embarrassing Complete Control collection. You really have to see it to believe it. Go now, become a member and start your own CMC and I promise I'll write about you ten years from now. Happy Tenth CMCers! Keep on pushing.
NOTES: Richmond Food Not Bombs serves every Sunday At 4 pm In Monroe Park at the intersection of Main and Belvidere Streets near Virginia Commonwealth University.  Gainesville's Civic Media Center is located at 1021 W. University Avenue and is open most days. There number is 352-373-0010. We run a mini - version of the CMC out of a room in my house here in Richmond and love visitors. We're at 506 S. Pine Street and can be reached at 804-644-2544. Send us your zine or newsletter for the archives. I can be reached at: PO Box 5021 Richmond, VA. 23220. Take Care, Greg

(note: 2011 -- RVA FNB still shares Sunday's at 4pm. Monroe Park)