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Last weekend I went to the sixth annual Victoria Anarchist Bookfair, and spent a good part of the weekend there observing the goings on around me.
I was tabling for the VMC along with a couple other folks from Vancouver. Other than sitting at the table, I spent some time "doing laps" around the hall. Here's a shortened summary of what I consider one of the primary interactions between people (especially between strangers) at the bookfair:
Shopper X approaches table. Looks at books.
"Hey, let me know if you need help with anything," says Vendor X.
"Ok, thanks," says Shopper X.
Then later, perhaps:
"Uh, how much is this one," asks Shopper X.
At this point money and merchandise may or may not change hands.
Some tablers might make money off of this. Many don't. Don't get me wrong: the Victoria Bookfair was super well organized and there was a good steady crowd throughout the sunny weekend. Regardless, and this is certainly not specific to any one bookfair in particular, market relations involving money constitute the dominant form of interaction in the main hall.
There was also many workshops throughout the weekend, which were great. But their format was kind of modelled after a public school classroom, in which the presenter addresses a crowd, probably goes over time so there's no discussion, and everyone splits. Saved by the bell.
Again, allow me to repeat: Victoria Anarchist Bookfair went off without a hitch.
But it left me wondering why anti-authoritarians and anarchists would allow the marketplace to dominate the common space that we shared over the weekend. Why do we gather to reproduce the same kinds of market based exchanges that are at the rotten heart of daily life under capitalism?
This critique doesn't stem from the fact that I prefer to borrow my reading material from libraries, or that I'm broke. I mean, both of those things are true, but having money at a bookfair doesn't change anything fundamentally, it just shifts the terms of the buyer/seller exchange.
I think an unprecedented number of people are on board with the idea that it is past time to smash that kind of relationship.
Imagine that a bookfair could be a space for assembly, a forum for extended, meaningful discussion, a place to learn and share with folks from around the region face to face. A bookfair where the market is not at the centre of our gathering space, and where other possibilities for gathering and exchange are explored.
Well, maybe that kind of gathering would be called something else entirely, and bookfairs shall be bookfairs. The idea here is simply to share something that's been on my mind for the past few days.