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News ::
Ye Drunken Sailor #1 available now. Sample article: The Anarchist Free Space
31 Oct 2001
The Anarchist Free Space (AFS) was begun in April
1999 by artists and activists who had organized a
fairly lively freeskool at a soon-to-be-closed
hangout, the Community Café. When the Café shut down some of the freeskool participants, looking to keep things going, set up shop in a roomy storefront location in Toronto’s Kensington Market.
Ye Drunken Sailor #1 available now.

Ahoy Matey!

The first issue of "Ye Drunken Sailor", the quarterly dispatch of the good ship Freyheyt (NEFAC, Toronto), is now available for all rebels of the seven seas.

The First issue includes:

Editorial on Sept. 11 and class struggle in Ontario
Local, regional and world news briefs
Role reversal, a symbol of Palestinian political maturity
We defiant ones
Revolutionary anti-fascism
The Platformist tradition
The Anarchist Free Space & Free Skool (see below)
Book reviews: Anarcha-feminism, the Angry Brigade
Publication reviews
and a drinking story from one of our crew.

Single copies of Ye Drunken Sailor are $3ppd
Subscriptions are $12 for 4 issues.

Mail to:

The Freyheyt Collective
Box 116, 339a, College St.
Toronto ON, Canada
M5T 1S2

If interested in distributing Ye Drunken Sailor email: freyheyt (at) tao.ca

--------------------------------------
The Anarchist Free Space and Freeskool
by Jeff Shantz

The Anarchist Free Space (AFS) was begun in April
1999 by artists and activists who had organized a
fairly lively freeskool at a soon-to-be-closed
hangout, the Community Café. When the Café shut down some of the freeskool participants, looking to keep things going, set up shop in a roomy storefront location in Toronto’s Kensington Market.

The Free Space was intended as a venue for committed anarchists, novices and non-anarchists alike to come together and share ideas about the prospects, difficulties and strategies for creating new, anti-authoritarian social relations. The primary vehicle for this was an ambitious schedule of classes on diverse issues.

Courses reflected the desire for openness -- they
weren’t all about anarchists talking to anarchists about anarchy (though a few of them were just that). Some of the courses included "Love Songs of the 20s and 30s," "Street Art," "Understanding Violence Against Women" and "Alternative Economics." Not just the mind but the body was taken care of in a yoga class and in shiatsu workshops. For most of the year at least one class was running every weekday evening. Far and away the most successful and long-running were "Introduction to Anarchism" and "Class Struggle Anarchism: Syndicalism and Libertarian Socialism."

In addition to classes the AFS tried to revive the anarchist salon tradition. As the course booklet noted: "Salons have a colourful history throughout the world and in particular within Anarchist Communities. Salons are intentional conversational forums where people engage in passionate discourse about what they think is important." At the AFS the third Friday of every month was reserved for lively discussions on various topics decided upon by participants. Often the salons included a potluck dinner and performance. By all accounts the salons were enjoyable and engaging affairs.

FROM CLASSES TO CLASS STRUGGLE

In political terms the AFS was at its liveliest, and indeed its most relevant, during the spring and summer of 2000 when a number of members managed to bring a class struggle perspective to the space. Taking the view that the AFS could (and should) be a worthwhile organizing centre the class warriors reached out to serious activists in the city. The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) was invited to hold their movie nights at the space every Saturday and held several successful large "screenings." Several members of the space participated in the OCAP-initiated protest at Queen’s Park on June 15, which ended in a full-scale police riot.

The class struggle anarchist ‘zine Sabcat was
produced out of the AFS and since its first appearance has met with tremendous enthusiasm locally and abroad. Sabcat continues to present original artwork, reviews and articles on such topics as "green syndicalism," "June 15 and OCAP," and "police violence."

A Books to Prisoners program was started and became quite successful. Poetry readings and hardcore shows brought in hundreds of book donations along with the help of some independent publishers and distributors. Before long the first shipments went out from the Free Space to inmates in both a women’s and men’s prison.

WHOSE MARKET?: FIGHTING THE GENTRIFIERS

Almost everything I’ve ever read about autonomous
zones or infoshops raises the nasty business of
gentrification in North American cities. This story is no exception. Members of the Who’s Emma? and Free Space collectives took leading parts in the battle against gentrification in the Kensington Market area over the past year.

During the Who’s Emma? general meeting in May, one member alerted others to a petition which had begun circulation against plans for a soup kitchen and hostel for homeless people to be opened on Augusta Avenue just north of the Free Space. The viciously worded petition openly attacked poor people saying they were unwelcome in the Market. At the same meeting the collective decided without delay to interview every store-owner or manager in the Market to see who was carrying the petition and who supported the attacks on homeless people and the poor. Enlisting support from the AFS, teams of two spent the next few days talking to people throughout the Market. Where petitions were found, and thankfully very few places had accepted them, it was made clear that such anti-poor propaganda was unacceptable and that those businesses which persisted would be targeted. A boycott of a trendy cafe previously frequented by activists was begun and perhaps coincidentally it closed by the end of the summer.

At the end of June a leaflet was distributed in the Market which asked: "Do you want Kensington Market to become just one more run-down neighbourhood with no hope for its future?" A second leaflet, circulated by the Kensington Market Working Group hysterically raged against the planned soup kitchen, suggesting that feeding and sheltering homeless people was simply cover for the real "goal of destroying the family shopping atmosphere that is Kensington." Members of the AFS organized a campaign to attend the City’s Committee of Adjustment hearing and brought letters of support for the soup kitchen. Eventually the plans were approved though the Kensington business association has promised to keep up the attacks.

Later in the summer another more directly aggressive battle developed over harassment by the City of Toronto of a few homeless men living in the Market. The situation came to a head when one of the men asked a couple of us at the Free Space for help in keeping city workers from taking his stuff to the dump. When we confronted the workers, they refused to tell us which by-law they were citing when removing the stuff
but implied that they were under pressure from the business association. Unionized workers doing the bidding of the business association to harass homeless men not a pleasant sight. After much rather heated discussion and several tense confrontations we worked out a deal where the city workers promised not to touch anything left in the area fronting the Free Space. We always made sure there was a presence in the space to deal with the city workers and whenever they threatened to do a next day removal we called out
enough people to make it impossible for them to do their work. We asked OCAP to get involved and they put pressure on the union to do a little education with their members. When we confronted the workers, they refused to tell us which by-law they were citing when removing the stuff but implied that they were under pressure from the business association. Unionized workers doing the bidding of the business association to harass homeless men not a pleasant sight. After much rather heated discussion and several tense confrontations we worked out a deal where the city workers promised not to touch anything left in the area fronting the Free Space. We always made sure there was a presence in the space to deal with the city workers and whenever they threatened to do a next day removal we called out enough people to make it impossible for them to do their work. We asked OCAP to get involved and they put pressure on the union to do a little education with their members.


The guys hung out at the space and sold their
wonderful array of used goods in front of and
alongside the Free Space. For a couple of months it was like a real street bazaar. Shoppers loved the piles of stuff and there was always serious bargaining going on. They sold more in those two months than the AFS ever has. And the small business gentrifiers hated it.

These are battles which continue as both Provincial and Municipal governments step up attacks on the poor in Toronto. Armed with their anti-panhandling "Safe Streets Act" and their racist targeted policing programs, the yuppie gentrifiers and law and order crazed petty bourgeoisie are clearly out for blood. No matter how many people die on the streets, they remain unmoved. Who’s Emma? and the Free Space offered some resistance in Kensington. Fighting the gentrification which is preying upon so many areas of Toronto remains a crucial task for anarchists in the city.

As always, the challenge is to maintain openness
and inclusion while actually working to create "the new world in the shell of the old." Anarchy is not some fanciful idea, something for philosophers and mystics to ponder. Anarchy only has meaning when it is lived.

Anarchist Free Space: April 1999-April 2001. "Don’t mourn…organize!"
See also:
http://flag.blackened.net/nefac
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