Anarchism sunny side up

Six weeks on and the dust has settled on the 2013 Bristol anarchist bookfair. even the sun has finally returned again (for a while). Here’s a short review of the 2013 Bookfair written by one member of the 2013 Bookfair Collective.

2011tshirt_image_smallerTwo things seem to happen when we have an Anarchist Bookfair in Bristol. Firstly the sun shines,  it did again on 20 April for the first time in ages, justifying our gamble on a venue change, to The Trinity Centre, with a large outdoor garden & space, ideal for outside fun, and meetings focusing on land, food, the commons and permaculture. The kids enjoyed the bouncy castle too! Second up we again had a period of heightened political tension – Thatcher’s death this time, not more riots on Stokes Croft, but a mini riot at the end of the Easton Death Party on the day the bastard died.

A-wordsThose factors, along with extensive online publicity, posters & stickers, plus 65 stalls (sadly a few failed to show on the day), and 38 wide-ranging meetings (including the Radical History Zone down the road at Hydra Bookshop), ensured an excellent turnout of around 1000 people to the 5th Bristol Bookfair. Kebele’s vegan cafe was overrun, our donations buckets overflowed as we covered our costs, and we’re already trying to book in next year at Trinity Centre – although our preferred date of Saturday 17th May 2014 looks unavailable.

Facts & Feedback

  • Our total Bookfair costs were approx £1612 – including venue and table hire, publicity & programme printing, fayre expenses, and admin costs. Our income was approx £1994 – including stall fees, donations on the gate, a couple of fundraisers & the after-party. We had a surplus for the year of £380 and gave £200 to Bristol Defendant Solidarity. We’ve kept the balance and banked it, and have a decent amount of money in hand to help put on another event next year.
  • We handed out approx 900 programmes to visitors, and received £780 in donations on the day (roughly the same £amount as in 2011, when we estimate that upto 1500 passed through the Bookfair due to the Banksy poster, and the Stokes croft ‘Tesco’ riots).
  • Whilst the ground floor of Trinity, and the garden space, were busy all day, some stallholders on the 1st floor felt it was a bit quiet up there (although some felt they did well). We did heavily publicise in the programme, on the website, and with signage, that there were more stalls & meetings upstairs. We also had some visitors, with programmes in hand, ask if there was anything going on upstairs! Conversely quite a few stallholders failed to read our information & instructions regarding parking, and as a result trying to manage the car park was a pain in the arse.
  • Background noise/chatter was a problem for some of the meeting spaces – in the marquees outside, and particularly in the large meeting room upstairs. Improvements to the trinity centre should resolve the problem upstairs if we use it again next year.
  • Some felt the 2 smaller meeting rooms inside Trinity were too small, and we know the RHZ struggled to fit everyone in at Hydra. But better full than not perhaps?
  • We’d been concerned that with good weather the outside garden area may have turned out to be another muntered space at any one of Bristol’s community festivals. In practice it was great space for catching up with old friends, making new ones, and plotting & planning. Our slug in the lettuce patch assures us that conversation out there was focused on ‘the crisis, anarchism, resistance and alternatives, and not on cider, ketamine and the next free party.’
  • The outdoor space was definitely a bonus for kids who came with adults, of which there were more present this year. The reserved disabled parking spaces also seemed to encourage more disabled people to visit.
  • The queues for the cafe were a pain for some, although the cafe crew worked overtime and called in extra helpers. Perhaps another time we’ll have an outdoor serving space too. Some also complained that meal quantities were too large, but that generosity with the food just sums up the difference between anarchism and capitalism! Next time the cafe will offer smaller meals for even lower prices.
  • We had no problems with corporate journos this year, nor with uniformed cops demanding to be let in. However if you know otherwise do please let us know! We received very very little mainstream media attention before the Bookfair, but got more afterwards (see ‘red trousers’ below) and typically it was given a negative slant.

If you have more feedback for us then do email it in to

The curious incident with the man in red trousers
The Bookfair makes it clear that, with obvious exceptions, this is a public event open to all, and that all visitors are asked to respect each other. One punter who turned up alone, a bit before 3pm, wearing his trademark red trousers, was Bristol’s independent mayor, the liberal green capitalist George Ferguson. With no party machine behind him, and no real popular mandate, Ferguson tries to be friends with everyone, as he does his local version of Cameron’s ‘we’re all in this together.’

maggieGiven some of his public comments about radical politics in the wake of the Easton death party for Thatcher, one Bookfair collective member had tweeted him to ask if he’d be visiting the bookfair. When he was seen to enter alone through the gate, he was left to get on with it like anyone else, and not treated any differently. Ferguson was still in the carpark when he was first verbally challenged over some of his decisions (which remember include signing off local service cuts to the value of £35million this year leading to 300+ job losses) – and lets face it every politician who attacks the working class should be challenged! No Bookfair collective member was present inside the main hall/cafe area, but we later found out that Ferguson continued to be challenged verbally inside, and at some point one individual’s anger got the better of them and cold coffee was thrown over Ferguson, before he was tripped up. Numerous stallholders & visitors intervened to calm things down, and the assailant was told to leave the building. Ironically, another person who’d physically intervened with Ferguson’s assailant (without knowing who Ferguson was), was also asked to leave the building. Then Ferguson himself was told to leave the cafe area.

It’s unusual for high profile politicians to turn up at anarchist bookfairs, for obvious reasons! Clearly many people felt Ferguson should not have been there, whilst many others didn’t have a clue who he was, which could make a policy of not allowing them in tricky to implement if you don’t know who they are/what they look like. This is something the Bookfair collective will need to consider for a future event, even if its unlikely we’ll get such a visit again! We do however regret there was a physical incident because it jeopardised our desire to make the Bookfair a safe & welcoming space for all visitors

Thanks to all!
flowerSo that’s it for the Bookfair collective 2013. A few of us will keep an eye on the email account, and put the odd article up on the blog and/or crackbook page. The Bookfair collective will then be reformed in the autumn of 2013 – as ever new people will be welcomed. In the meantime we all return to our other activities & projects.

A big thank you then – to our 2013 Bookfair ‘partners’ at Permanent Culture Now, Hydra Bookshop, Bristol radical history group, and Kebele social centre. Thanks to all the stallholders and speakers who gave their time freely, to all the comrades who chipped in with help and support, and of course to all those who came and enjoyed the Bookfair. We’ll see you on the streets!

The Bookfair collective joined the Radical Block on Bristol's May Day march
The Bookfair collective joined the Radical Block on Bristol’s May Day march

We hope that the Bookfair has gone some way to making anarchist & radical ideas accessible to all those who want to find out more, as well as acting as an event where people can catch up, network, and socialise. We also hope the Bookfair in some ways contributes to an upsurge in opposition & resistance to the class war launched upon us by the Coalition Govt. and its big business chums, as they seek to take back all the gains won by working class people over the last 150 years. We’ve never got anything without fighting for it, the rich & powerful never voluntarily give us anything. Now more than ever anarchists and fellow comrades need to get their shit together and put our ideas and practices into action on a daily basis so that people can see we mean what we say, and we’re not just a passing fad or a lifestyle option for temporarily angry/trendy young people. We have a centuries old history of struggle, solidarity, resistance and mutual aid that we can be proud of, and we offer the only one real untried alternative left – it’s anarchism or the barbarity, inequality, oppression and division inherent in global capitalism.