Wobblies from Edmonton converged with Earth Firsters from Vermont, radical poets from Maine, militant indigenous rights activists from New York and hundreds of other young radicals at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair last weekend – sharing ideas and dreams for a free society over tables of radical literature and dozens of panel discussions.
“It was a great day,” said B, a young woman who worked with the childcare collective on Sunday to take care of the cutest generation to attend the convergence. “I really like playing with people of all ages. Asses are straight up boring.”
The convergence, which ran May 25-26, is put together every year by the Montreal Bookfair Collective, a hard-working group of volunteers responsible for coordinating all of the logistics. From the wide variety of workshops, tables and events, to the “Art in Anarchy” gallery upstairs, to the affordable food options, gender inclusive bathrooms and rotating crew of bilingual volunteers who greeted people at the entrance to the event – everything at the convergence seemed to come together smoothy.
In addition to their work organizing the bookfair, the collective also maintains a vibrant website – http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/ – where they provide information about the convergence, host links to a multitude of other anarchist bookfairs around the world and facilitate a housing board where local people can offer lodging to travelers who come in from out of town for the event.
And the bookfair truly is an international gathering, drawing people from throughout Canada and the northeastern United States. Materials and events are offered in a mix of English and French with translations available as necessary. In future years, the collective plans to offer additional material and workshops in Spanish as well.
The collective works hard to organize along anarchist principles, taking responsibility for recognizing the different groups of people that want to participate and allocating space accordingly, encouraging each event or table to be run autonomously by its facilitators. This spirit is evident at the wide spectrum of tables where vendors sell zines, buttons, patches, books, baked goods, art work and merchandise, often by donation or for a negotiable price.
Throughout both days, the Montreal Child Care Collective operated the “Kids Zone,” a temporary daycare where they offered free child care. “One thing I saw today,” says B, “is mothers coming in with their kids and being able to leave them here safely.” This service is vital, she says, without it many mothers, fathers and caretakers might not have been able to participate in the bookfair at all.
While still a rarity by US standards, Smashy Smashy was surprised to learn that free childcare is actually a common element at many anarchist events in Montreal, thanks to the efforts of the Montreal Child Care Collective, which has been in action since 2006. “It’s a volunteer thing,” explained Noah, one of the core members of the group. “It’s been quite small for the last year and a half. There’s only four of us. But there’s a wider email list of people who help out. Summer is pretty quiet, but other times of year, there’s something once a week, every week.”
Another key factor that’s been integral to the bookfair’s success is the support that the convergence receives every year from QPIRG, the Quebec Public Interest Research Group, which provides a backbone for many radical community projects in Montreal. “PIRGs in Canada function really differently than PIRGs in the states,” says Noah, who works during the day as one of the three employees of QPIRG. The organization is able to raise the majority of its funds from student fees, he says, so “we don’t really do any canvassing.”
Instead, QPIRG staff members put their efforts toward conducting in depth research and funding meaningful community projects, like the Montreal Childcare Collective, which QPIRG supports financially. To see a complete breakdown of QPIRG’s revenue and expenses, as well as the organization’s bylaws and a list of the groups that they support, visit their website at www.qpirgmcgill.org.
For the Childcare Collective, the funding that they receive from QPIRG enables them to cover the costs of things like snacks and activities for the children and, when possible, to pay the folks who provide the childcare. “Right now,” says Noah, “we try really hard to be aware of capacity and act accordingly.” Often, that limited capacity means that the childcare collective depends on volunteers, but “childcare is work,” says Noah. “Obviously, a lot of stuff goes into it.”
Paid or not, many people like B are happy to help out. “I was sitting with my friend outside of Concordia University” she says, “when we ran into a friend who was heading into QPIRG, and she asked us if we wanted to do childcare at the bookfair.” Although she isn’t a member of the childcare collective and doesn’t identify strongly as an anarchist, B says she doesn’t mind doing real work outside the confines of a typical job and jumped at the chance. “I’m not into forms and structures,” she smiled, “especially authoritarian ones.” Emma Goldman would be proud.