You’ll find a new ChipIn widget in the sidebar of the blog (or on ChipIn), to support Laughing Horse Books, one of Portland, Oregon’s few remaining independent bookstores, and a radical, collective-run bookstore/music venue/meeting space for 25 years now. All the little things that tend to snowball when a business gets behind have done so lately—and then some—and it seems very likely that the doors will be closing early this summer. Nothing is written in stone. The collective is in the midst of the hardest sorts of deliberations. But things are to the point where it’s not clear if all the utilities will still be on by the time the decisions are made next week.
Any radical bookstore collective (any business, really) that has lasted 25 years has undoubtedly led a bit of a charmed life, but, of course, even the most charmed of collectives accumulate their share of operational and reputational baggage—and there are few things that are harder to battle than the kinds of internal and external inertias that tend to be brought to bear. From inside or outside—and I’ve been in both positions, more than once or twice, with this particular collective—it’s sometimes hard to know if you’re looking at a venerable institution or a ragged old hand-me-down. But, even for those who have fairly strong opinions about that particular question, the issue at the moment is less the last 25 years than it is the immediate consequences of a sudden, catastrophic closure of the bookstore. The people and projects who stand to lose, in terms of finances, time, morale, etc., are primarily allied, radical projects who can’t afford losses and activists in exactly the same position.
There’s a lot of serious reinventing that is necessary to give radical bookstores the sort of fighting chance they deserve. I don’t think any of us know exactly what it is. But in cases where old models are collapsing, we can at least attempt to see that whatever expertise remains in our institutions isn’t simply buried in demoralization and debt. There are over 16,000 people who have “liked” the Anarchism “cause” page on Facebook. If each one of those people chipped in a dollar, Laughing Horse could easily pay vendors and creditors, and get a strong start on rebuilding something leaner and more sustainable, and have more than a bit left over. Less than half of that would do the work of freeing the activists involved from the sorts of small debts that can cripple the lives of people with small incomes.
Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be able to mobilize the large numbers of fairly negligible donations that would make it possible to sustain and expand radical projects. But please consider donating 5 or 10 bucks, to help an embattled old radical institution end with a bit of dignity, if not to give it a chance at rebirth.