Do you have any Edgar Allan Poe?” The question takes Scott Spitz and Daniel Paquette by surprise. Daniel looks at Scott who quickly casts a glance over the new bookshelves still waiting to be organized.
“No, I’m sorry, we don’t have any Poe right now, but we can order some for you,” replies Scott, straightening his bicycle-toned body. Weeks before the Paper Matches bookstore is set to open, community members from the surrounding neighborhood, located at 40th and Boulevard, are already asking for reading material.
Three years ago, at the Abbey Coffeehouse, Gwen Frisbie-Fulton, Hugh Farrell, Shambra Goodpastor and Scott Schoger began a journey which would take them through difficult times. The four gathered to talk books — books on topics ranging from agriculture to white privilege to the history of Italian labor movements in the 1960s and ’70s.
What this group had in mind was a community bookstore.
Anarchist theory revolves around small collectives of people dedicated to strengthening each other as well as larger communities. Sitting on her bed in Fountain Square, surrounded by her four cats, Gwen explains the Solidarity Collective’s take on anarchism: “We want to figure out ways to contribute to our communities and interact with our neighbors in new ways outside of a capitalist state of mind. So many of us grew up in the middle class of America, weaned on dry and consumeristic human relations: people driving down neighborhood streets shut up in their cars, people hiding in their homes, watching television instead of carrying on conversations and sharing meals. We know that interpersonal relations are the basis to society; we want to change the interactions between people,” Gwen says. “It is an amazing feeling to ride on your bike, opened up to your neighborhood instead of shutting them out. It’s beautiful to have enormous potlucks and sit around talking about your day with new friends. It’s about making the personal political.”
Through their efforts, these “kids,” as they refer to themselves, are the first members of the Solidarity Collective: a group of dedicated individuals ranging in age from their late teens to their 40s who seek the many faces of social justice.
Gwen laughs when she recounts the day Hugh introduced himself to her at the Abbey. “He was like 15 or 16 years old,” she recalls. “He approached me saying, ‘I heard you used to work at International Bookstore in Chapel Hill. I am going to start an infoshop here, will you help?’ I looked at him and I was feeling so disgruntled about Indianapolis,” says Gwen, who had relocated to Indianapolis from Chapel Hill, N.C., just three weeks before.
“I kinda ended up here, started with house sitting — then I met a boy, and then just stayed.”
At first Gwen was skeptical about Hugh and his vision for the bookstore, yet she agreed to help. Next time the group met, Hugh had located a space and paid the first month’s rent.
“Hugh is the uninhibited visionary in this group,” says Gwen, herself an energetic activist.
The first bookstore opened on Virginia Avenue in Fountain Square in January 2002. The project grew quickly, attracting 11 more people. In October of 2002, Keni Washington, director of the Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center, offered the collective a new location for the bookstore: a house located at 21st and Boulevard.
Work on the new bookstore began in November of 2002. In addition to providing bookshelves and a space for community meetings, the second floor housed two apartments for use by the collective. During this time of transition, new members joined the collective, including Kristina Hulvershorn, Jon Nolan, Daniel Paquette, Eric Edgin and Mike Reddy.
Solidarity Books, the bookstore’s second incarnation, opened in March 2003. The collective grew in numbers again, involving over 25 volunteers and community members.
In addition to volunteering their time at the bookstore, persons involved in the collective hold jobs outside of their activism, in contrast to the taunt, “Get a job!” often directed toward those participating in protests. Each member is encouraged to sign up for at least one four-hour shift each week. By working with each person’s schedule, the bookstore is kept open by a rotation of volunteers.
Kristina Hulvershorn, for example, teaches “difficult” children in Indianapolis Public Schools during the day. “I live in a world where oppression, cruelty and injustice are taken for granted,” Kristina says. “Most people don’t understand the degree to which our culture oppresses those within it as well as the rest of the world. With a worldview like this, it would be criminal to not try to empower others to question, resist and make meaningful change. I believe that education is the only way for people to understand where we are and where we could go. For me, Solidarity is about showing people an alternative [way of life, way of thinking, way of interacting] and hopefully empowering them to think through and question their surroundings.”
You can often tell when the kids gather by the number of bicycles present. The bicycle is one way that collective members and friends choose to live their ideals. Riding bicycles instead of driving cars is another way to ensure that one’s actions are contributing to a sustainable way of life.
Jon Nolan, one of the collective’s resident bike mechanics, offers the following reasons for riding bicycles: “It’s a nice way to get around; it’s empowering, cars are not an option for many people; it forces you to interact with people you see; anybody can fix them because it’s an easily taught skill; teaching fosters common ground and both gain from the experience.”
On the night of Aug. 14, 2003, around 9 p.m., law enforcement officials arrived at the drug-free, weapon-free house and entered, citing fire code violations, and disrupting a concert. The raid, according to Gwen, was an attempt to frighten the activists as they prepared a protest for the upcoming National Governor’s Association meeting being held in Indianapolis.
In a statement, the collective described the raid. “After forming an initial perimeter in the two blocks around the collective space, the police proceeded to pull over two cars as they tried to leave, claiming minor traffic infractions. The police then moved in on the space itself. Tickets were issued to many of the cars parked outside, as fire marshals demanded entry to make a safety inspection. These marshals lacked any documentation of a complaint or report, let alone a warrant. Nevertheless, they not only entered the house, but they were accompanied by police officers who were supposedly protecting the marshals. These police officers then searched every room in the house, including the personal belongings of the collective members who live on the second floor. These police officers were shortly followed by officers with the ATF, bomb squad and the Seattle Police Department (who state that they were acting as consultants to the Indianapolis Police Department over the weekend). There were no weapons or contraband in the space.”
An integral part of being in Solidarity is understanding that the group will stand together and protect its members. Aware of the eyes watching them, the collective set up a phone chain involving more than 30 people. Within half an hour, supporters were on the scene of the raid, ready to monitor the police. “We staged an impromptu rally, and also amply documented the raid, with notetaking, photo cameras and video cameras,” the collective claims, adding that “Apparently due to this show of strength (since there were reports of multiple ATF officer staging points with dozens more officers), there were no arrests made.”
The Solidarity Books Collective released a statement after the raid denouncing the intrusion as “political profiling” and an affront to the values of democracy, free and creative speech, community and nonviolence.
The bookstore remained open briefly after the raid, but a number of factors, including the pressure by police and severe problems with a collapsing house, forced Solidarity Books to close its doors.
The collective searched for a new home in the spring and summer of 2004. Feeling the need for a common space, Gwen decided to act.
Shared space is a uniting factor for the Solidarity Collective. A community without a space to meet and discuss topics of interest and issues related to social justice begins to dissolve. Gwen felt this loss of communal space. “I freaked out ... and bought a house.” Gwen purchased a home at 1629 Lexington Ave. in Fountain Square and started a new project: (A)rt is a Hammer.
A social worker by day and activist by night, Gwen set about cleaning, painting and remodeling the home during her free hours. She planted a large garden in her backyard, cleared out a living room and transformed it into an art gallery. In September 2004, (A)rt is a Hammer celebrated its official opening with an open house, complete with music and a community mural painting. “I’m interested in creating a collective with many more people of all ages,” Gwen says. “A place where people can feel safe and free, and a space without ads. (A)rt is a Hammer isn’t trying to convert our neighbors to be anarchist, but instead create something positive, crafted by the community, determined by the needs and wants of the community.”
(A)rt is a Hammer currently hosts the work of Lisa Waterwoman, a local artist whose mediums include sewing, photography and graphic design. Themes visible in her work are rooted in her childhood and life on her family’s farm: Waterman’s Farm Market. Her art depicts issues related to food justice, feminist values and gender equality.
“I use art as a visual dialogue to say what I am thinking about,” says Lisa, who spends between 20 and 30 hours a week creating art.
(A)rt is a Hammer is also home to a number of events and creative activities. The gallery is open each Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Paper Matches Bookstore, located at the southwest corner of 40th and Boulevard and coordinated by Kristina, Kate, Daniel, Scott and Mike, is the next generation of the bookstore.
“This place fills in all the gaps left out in the mainstream media,” says Daniel Paquette, shifting his long legs around a short chair.
The bookstore works on the principal that information and books should be freely available, although donations are accepted. Anyone is welcome to come, ask questions and read about numerous topics.
The coordinators of the bookstore plan to offer more books than the current six shelves’ worth.
Independent magazines, called zines, and other periodicals will be available. Kristina remarks, “I would most like to see people who have no background or existing interest in activism or politics to use the space and, in effect, become empowered in their own lives and ultimately become fighters for change. I’d really like to WAKE INDIANA UP from its apathetic and conservative slumbers. I’d also like to see Paper Matches become a self-sufficient entity with a lot more selection that adequately reflects community desires.”
Kate Van Winkle affirms the community for being very welcoming, although she chooses a different lifestyle than many others in the collective. Kate grew up in Indianapolis and saw many of her friends leave the city, frustrated by entrenched social problems. Fed up with her experience in law school and the top down approach to social change, Kate decided to try a grass-roots model. “What’s sad about Indy is that the poor people know they are getting screwed and that’s the way the system works,” Kate says.
When the IndyGo dispute arose, Kate worked closely with the collective in her role as an organizer for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, and was “in awe of the amount of energy they put into their work.”
Kate, in addition to working for ACORN and the Service Employee International Union, now volunteers time at Paper Matches. “I want to see a community space for politicizing people, like back in the day when people would stand on their soapboxes and fire up the people.”
Empowering individual people to take action is the root of many of the collective’s actions and projects. “We reject vanguardist behavior,” Gwen says. “We reject mass movements, we reject leadership; this is all a part of anti-hierarchical living. It is vital to connect all the parts of our lives — from the way we eat, to the way we move ourselves from one place to another, to the jobs we work, to the ideals we espouse, to the relationships we maintain — into a community.”
In the past year and half since beginning to interact with Solidarity kids, Kate says she has become much more aware of her own ignorance. One kid in particular, Hugh, spent many hours with Kate discussing issues and sharing what he has learned from his quest for truth. This transmission of knowledge between members of the Solidarity is common practice. Each brings particular skills and interests to the group and shares freely.
As the setting sun sends wind chills through 40th Street, costumed people gather outside of Paper Matches. It’s Halloween. The fire outside and warm cider and candy inside herald a new chapter for the collective. Witches with green and black hats mingle with pirates, a devil and one lady in black. The shelves bow with the weight of books.
“What’s that?” cries a young boy entering the bookstore for his share of candy.
“It’s a hot dog,” responds Kristina, motioning back to her costumed Dachshund.
The bookstore thrums with activity. “It’s unfair to discredit us without knowing who we are,” says Scott Spitz, who looks forward to riding his bicycle through fresh snow on the Monon Trail. “Get rid of the preconceived notions, erase the cultural barriers and then interact with each other as humans,” he adds.
“Solidarity is a tool for making a community grow, a way to improve interpersonal relationships,” Jon Nolan says. “It’s not so much about smash the state, dance in the ruins, as it is about re-engineering how we deal with each other and build communities down the road.”
“When I think about change and social justice issues,” Kate says, “I think one of the important things is creating a community, creating the world you want in the community around you. The [collective] was so open and living what they believe that the group gave me hope for the city and for change that I hadn’t experienced,” she says. “Hope for Indianapolis.”