When I wandered into the Big Idea Bookstore and Cafe — which held its official grand opening at its new location in Bloomfield yesterday — it was obvious to me that I needed to ratchet up my understanding of what anarchism is.
The bookstore, at 4812 Liberty Ave., has books on anarchism, anarchists and anarchy but it also has books on urban gardening, bicycling as an urban growth strategy, the imperatives of a sustainable and environmentally respectful worldview. It has books on the exploitation of workers, grassroots liberators, politics, history and philosophy. Cookbooks, art books... I was digging all of it but... anarchy?
I asked one of the seven owners, Erica Peters, who was on duty to enlighten me. She said she didn’t want to say exactly that there are different strata of the anarchist society, but she did say that the easiest way to start figuring it out, pro-and-con-wise, is to realize that there are anarchists who believe violence is the answer and those who are non-violent. She is of the non-violent stripe, which is how I would have read her under any circumstance.
The basic tenet of anarchism is to abolish hierarchy and exploitation. It doesn't like capitalism or at least big capitalism.
Like anarchism, there are different manifestations of capitalism. A small bookstore is a capitalist thing in that it wants to make money to support itself, but as a capitalist venture it is a bird that spends all day finding food to live on and to take back to a nest of baby birds. It’s hard work to be a bird. There are no days off, no loopholes.
I think hierarchy is somewhat natural and will try to emerge as relentlessly as knotweed. Cooperativism has to be purposeful, dutiful and vigilant to work. Obviously, it can and does work.
The Big Idea Bookstore has been around for 11 years, longer than most book stores with or without cafes. It moved around the corner from a tiny spot on South Millvale; the cafe is new to this location, right across from West Penn Hospital. The place has a great vibe, a great mural (below) by Mexican artist Santiago Armengod of the JustSeeds movement. It is a cooperative, owned by seven people who all have equal footing as owners.
Wesbter’s New World Dictionary doesn’t do justice to the peaceful cause. In defining anarchy as “the complete absence of government,” it lists as its second definition “political disorder, violence, lawlessness.”
It defines anarchism as “the theory that all forms of government interfere unjustly with individual liberty and should be replaced by the voluntary association of cooperative groups.” It also describes it as “resistance, sometimes by terrorism, to organized government.”
Libertarians and tea partiers believe government steps on individual liberty and that less government is more empowering.
Considering that every -ism has extremists who believe in violence, I can accept that there is good anarchism and bad anarchism.
The message I got from perusing the books, the patches, stickers, posters, signs and buttons was that "the big idea" is that the best world is one in which we all are treated with respect, to pursue our passions freely, to make a fair wage with a guarantee of clean air and water in places that support diversity, beekeepers, bicyclists, dissenters and local farmers.
You can smash things, or you can change the world one cooperative, one book and one cup of fair-trade coffee at a time.