In a storefront directly across the street from the county courthouse, people are plotting against the system.

Though locals refer to them inaccurately as anarchists ("radicals" or "revolutionaries" are preferred terms) the members of the Solidarity! Center embrace the entire spectrum of social activism (anti-capitalism being a unifying theme) and offer support to high-profile social action groups such as Kansas Mutual Aid, Food Not Banks and Earthwatch.

At least once a year, dramatic, Solidarity!-sponsored protests make headlines and result in numerous arrests. Another annual event is the publication of the Kansas Anarchists Exposed! calendar, in which the radicals and revolutionaries bare all for the camera.

Street Level meets up with Solidarity! Center radicals and calendar models Vanessa Hays and Dave Strano in a downtown coffeehouse (the traditional seedbed of revolution), to discuss the politics of fear, big bad police, and the Fetishizing of the Revolution.

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Dave Strano (left) and Vanessa Hays of the Solidarity! Center What is your relationship with the local authorities?

Dave Strano: One of antagonism, animosity. :We live in a society where people take on social roles. And the role of the police, and the job of the police, is to protect property and the people who own and control property, and to maintain a social order that alienates people of color, women and the poor from power :Diametrically, people who seek freedom are going to find opposition from those who want to protect power and control in our country.

How many times have you each been arrested?

Strano: Too many.

Vanessa Hays: Also too many. I have watched police officers brutalize my friends, and brutalize people that I don't know but who have no way of defending themselves against the police. :I have an acquaintance who lives downtown, on the streets mostly, and he's been arrested almost every day for a few years. His name is Simon. He's been beaten by the police several times. He's blind; he doesn't fight them in any way.

You mean Simon with the socks on his hands?

Hays: Yes. :In my capacity as a domestic violence advisor, I have to work with the police on occasion, which can be an uncomfortable situation. I've had to advocate for domestic violence survivors with officers who have arrested me, who've beaten me, who've arrested and beaten my friends. :I don't necessarily think that every individual police or military member is a bad person-but I think they've been trained to be bad people.

Kansas Anarchists Exposed 2007Calendars for sale at the Solidarity! Revolutionary Center & Radical Library, 1109 Mass. St.Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Mon.-Thur. and noon to 9 p.m. Fri. and Sat.

How does the Solidarity Center stay afloat?

Strano: (laughs) I don't know. :The way I'd define it currently is kind of an income-sharing project. Volunteers who work outside of the Center share their income to help create a community space. :It fluctuates, but most of the time we have 30 or 40 volunteers to staff the place. Our book collection has grown a lot, our 'zine collection has grown a lot, our computer lab is growing, too. We just put in our fourth public-access computer that will also be internet-capable for people to use for free. :The Solidarity! Center is run on anarchist principles, but it's never identified itself as solely an anarchist space. If anything, it might be identified as a radical space.

But you do throw a few events each year to bring in money and to spread the word. This is the fourth year of the Kansas Anarchists Exposed calendar:

Hays: It's a project that started as kind of a joke. :There was a lot of hoopla then about the Girls of KU calendar, and how much money that made and how famous those girls had become. We were pretty disturbed by the fact that these women were objectified, and that their images and bodies were used to make a lot of money... We thought we could twist that idea a bit and do a more empowering project along similar lines. :We tried to get a diverse group of people involved: all genders and body types, races and ages and abilities. We let the models choose how exposed they wanted to be, choose their pose, their location. The person in the picture has the final say on which picture is used.

It's a daring project. How did the first one go?

Hays: A lot of people said "I want to be in it!" and when it came down to it, they chickened out. Which is totally understandable. It's a big step, being nude or semi-nude in front of strangers.

You've posed in all four calendars?

Hays: Yes.

Strano: I've been in three of them. :The first time was a lot easier than last year's calendar. I should have chosen a better pose.

Hays: The first year, people were really astounded by the project. We got a lot of press from all over the world. The second year, there was a little bit of backlash from anarchist people in various places.

What Kim calls Fetishizing the Revoultion? (Kim Coughlin, a Solidarity volunteer on crutches after an encounter with a stingray, was present but generally silent,)

Kim: People were saying that we were sexualizing the revolution by showing nude revolutionary folks, selling out. :But I think it's about changing nude bodies as sexual objects into nude bodies as things that are controlled by the people in them.

Hays: If people are turned on by it, that's their deal. But we've made a point of not having explicitly sexualized pictures. We don't want to go to jail for pornographic, stupid stuff. If we're going to jail, we want it to be for some valid, political reason.

Is the media an ally to your cause?

Strano: So we're talking about your boss right now?

Give it up.

Strano: There's a certain use of headlines, even at the Journal-World, to sensationalize stories and tell a story from a different standpoint. They're not telling the story; they're creating a story. For instance, when there was a road blockade at 7th and New Hampshire Streets to call attention to what was happening in Oaxaca, Mexico, the headline the next day in the Journal-World was something to the effect of: Police Chief comes to photograph protestors (The Nov. 2, 2006 headline read "Police chief personally takes pictures of protesters in street"). The story became about the police chief-not about the protest or what the protest was about. :Every media outlet does this. You have to sensationalize a story to sell it. That's how you get a front page that sells. That was the idea behind yellow journalism at the turn of the century and, that's the idea behind common journalism now.

So the word is spread by small, co-operative groups like yours, in towns just like this, all over the country?

Strano: Or large co-operative groups, too. In the northeast and the northwest there are very large groupings of anarchists or anarchist-leaning people...

What is pure anarchy?

Hays: I don't think there's one unified theory of what pure anarchism is. Various ideas that go along with anarchism are: the idea of mutual aid-which means just helping people when they need help; anti-capitalism-capitalism is not the solution to living well; and personal politics: anti-racism, anti-sexism: Being open to people of all kinds, letting them live how they want to live, with no opposing force that's trying to make everyone be the same way.


Kelly Powell 15 years, 6 months ago

No shit man.....if strano pulled his little publicity stunts in towns like bonner springs or wichita he would truly know the meaning of police brutality.....protesting in lawrence is like pillow fighting in a pool of jello.... in my humble opinion, i truly believe that this group is nothing but a cult of personality that feeds the ego of a few using young idiots who mean well, but have no idea how to try to make constructive change.

WIDOWMAKER 15 years, 6 months ago

i'd probably pay to see these people get beaten by the police. it'd probably be the first time that it has happened. and about their arrests? i suppose 1 is too many. can someone please do a background check on them and report back with the results?

Kelly Powell 15 years, 6 months ago

As a member of the working poor, i have seen nothing from this group that will help me in the short run or the many activist meetings around the country does the leaders of this group go to/ and who pays for it....if i remember right , the original idea was to be a non specific union....but hey, what the hell do i know/? now if you will exscuse me, I'm going to chain myself by the neck to my desk at work and demand free pastrys.

Howard Callihan 15 years, 6 months ago

There is a tendency I've noticed in people that personally feel an injustice to fetishize. They begin to relate to everyone in terms of thier relationship or resemblence to the players in said unjust act. This is true of the the rape victim and the "patriot". The problem I see today is that in a global sense there is so much violence being perpertrated militarally, economically, and socially that people either tune it out and focus on domestic concerns or open themselves up to being personally affected by it. Being open to a personal experience of violence and injustice is a traumatic event. ones sense of self is shaken if not shattered. It can lead to obsession and even psychosis. Recognition of institutionalized violence perperated in the name of ones nation or municipality is no less traumatic.

I'll admit that I have a great deal of sympathy for activist groups. I also find the us or them attitudes and extreme villifications of authority that thier members often present to be alarming and difficult to communicate with.

The question I have is this. Does the irrational, emotionally violent, behavior of a rape victim negate pertinence of the the trauma they've endured? Isn't the neurotic behavior and obsession a neccessary stage to reconstructing a way of dealing with the world?

Finally, is it that inconcievable that the same basic instincts and behaviors on the part of the "patriotic" and xenephobic might be being manipulated by institutional political agendas? I remember reading about them doing exaclty that in my High School American History book. Repeatedly.

If you think the solidarity! folk are to "soft" to be "real" activists then avail yourself of an opportunity that say, the Black Panthers, would not have allowed.

Talk to them, and address the plank in your own eye before you point out the beam in thiers

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 15 years, 6 months ago

The question I have is this: what the fuck do rape victims have to do with radical protest organizations? If you're trying to say that recognizing and fighting against institutionalized injustice is equal to being forcibly raped and recovering into a functional human being, then I am very, very happy for you, that in your life ideas have caused you more pain than actual people.
Although I am adamantly pro-capitalist, I respect the folks down at Solidarity, mostly for the awesome job they've done of assembling a library that allows anyone in the community to research many different and rarely-espoused points of view. Very few groups of their kind ever manage to organize to the point of providing an actual, viable community resource. That being said, the above commenter is either an asshat or incapable of expressing themselves clearly and concisely. Oh, hell, in my world, that's still an asshat.

billy 15 years, 6 months ago

-{ Having just read the above comments I am now officially frightened to walk down the streets of Lawrence. }-

I applaud the folks at the Solidarity! Center. Some folks might not like the way they are going about the serious business of changing the world for the better (fingers crossed), but at least the Solidarity folks are actually doing something.

And, BTW, rape has EVERYTHING to do with social justice activism.

Howard Callihan 15 years, 6 months ago

I wasn't attempting to equivicate. I was attempting to show a relationship beween trauma on a psychological level -9/11 is a decent example of a traumatic event which many people suffered on an ideological basis- and confrontational, defensive, and even erraric social behavior.

The behavior patterns of a victim personal violence such as rape are an instance that someone that has never lived on the street, interacted with combat veterans, schitzophrenics, or people suffering from a laundry list of personal trauma on a daily basis can relate to.

What they share is a sense of alienation, difficulty relating to others, a tendency toward defensiveness which verges on volatile, and obsessive thinking to name a few.

the above relations I make for a number of reasons, two that immediately come to mind are:

  1. Activist groups tend to gain a great deal of thier following from people who identify on a basis of shared trauma

  2. These behaviors have increasingly been observable in mainstream culture

all of this probably unneccessary defense has been an attempt to clarify a previous attempt to use metaphor and hyperbole to address some really messy social issues.

this will probably be lost one someone whos chief intillectual gift appear to be belligerence and a deft use of the term "asshat"

billy 15 years, 6 months ago

Nativeoddball - I hear what you are trying to say, but I worry about the language you are using. It sounds a bit like you think it is lamentable that folks that have suffered a great wrong recognize it, allow themselves to feel their due hurt, see the ways in which other people are wronged and suffer and decide to organize to attempt to change the institutions, be they social, financial or legislative that are causing or adding to the problem. I disagree with the idea that folks that are wronged should just get over it. I think they deserve justice. We all deserve justice.

Rape is not a personal crime. It is an institution, a clear example of this is the deplorable state of our prisons. Moreover, it is an institution in which the victim is frequently blamed. Rapists need to stop raping people, true. More importantly all of us to work to prevent rape and defend rape victims (along with victims of other forms of institutionalized human rights violations).

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