Monday, February 5, 2007

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.