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Total liberation love
Fresno's Collective For Arts Freedom and Ecology is, at its core, a conservative group. If you know them, that's either funny or right on point, depending on your perspective.
After all, C.A.F.E makes conservation its mission, whether it's the conservation (and hopefully restoration) of what remains of the natural world, what's left of human freedom and dignity when nearly everything human has been transformed into a product or productivity, or the conservation of the final shred of connection between human beings, earth and animals when the earth and animals have all been converted into product.
For them, capitalism is radical.
Yes, they talk Zapatistas and anarchism and live in a converted Chinese restaurant in a part of Fresno that most forget exists, but they're not exactly fire-bombing Hummers or throwing paint on old ladies in baby-mink coats.
The group, the lovechild of the animal/earth liberation collective R.A.N.C.O.R. (that's the Radical Anti Neo-Conservative Organized Resistance) and the folks from Fresno's Sunday Food Not Bombs, has created an alternative community down at the Infoshop. Several members live there, but mostly it's a place to meet and spread the word — through events like tonight's May Day book signing reception for Loretta Kensinger, who co-edited a book on noted feminist Emma Goldman.
“I think a lot of folks growing up in this town feel pretty alienated by the conservative, consumer culture and the racism, homophobia, sexism, classism, speciesism all around us. We hope to make this a safe space for folks of all identities, except hateful ones, and a space to grow a radically conscious community,” says ashley fairburn (she asked for no caps), a student and C.A.F.E. member.
Talking with her does nothing to quell my fears of being a coporate shill.
First, tell me about the May Day book signing. How does the book (and the event) play into the larger goal of C.A.F.E.?
May Day is an international day to recognize the struggles of workers. We chose this day for Loretta Kensinger's book signing for the book she co-edited with Penny Weiss, “Feminist Interpretation of Emma Goldman.”
Emma Goldman was an anarchist who could easily be called one of the great writers and thinkers of American history, although little examination of her writing has been done beyond particular circles. But Goldman was truly a revolutionary woman, whose writing and speeches really pushed people to examine the exploitative power structure within class, race and gender dynamics. She understood the connections between all forms of exploitation. She knew that for anyone to be free, we have to struggle to free everyone. Workers are not free until women are free. Women aren't free unless people of color are free. Americans are not free as long as America is colonizing others. The average citizen is not free so long as anyone with a revolutionary mind can be thrown in jail simply for thinking thoughts. Her writing and her actions all reflected her ideas. She had a vision, and she spent her whole life aiding in the process of making that vision come to life.
When she was alive, long before reality TV replaced reality, her lectures were a huge attraction. Listening to lecturers is what folks did for entertainment, and her lectures expressed her vision and inspired listeners to fight for equality. This event fits into our goals because we want to be a place where other folks who want to break away from the degrading paradigm spoon-fed to many Americans, and forced down the throats of others, can come and foster a community which reflects Goldman's, and our, anarchist vision.
Aside from various events you host, how does the group function on a daily basis? What's the daily goal?
Well, we have to work within the confines of our people power, meaning our weekly food programs and caring for the garden and other such things take up quite a bit of our energy. Tuesdays and Saturdays we have food pickups, Wednesdays and Sundays we have our food programs. It doesn't leave a whole lot of time to expand. The daily goal is to get more folks involved. One thing we would love to do is get the Infoshop to a point where we could have the space open each day, or during certain times throughout the week, so anyone could come down and use the Internet, read, work on bikes or the garden, paint, build, dance, grow, connect, whatever.
Would you consider C.A.F.E. a radical group?
In the current political climate? Yes. In Fresno? Yes. Are we doing anything that the average uninformed person associates with the anarchist stereotype? Not particularly.
But in general, riding bikes as your main transportation, denouncing earth, animal, or human exploitation, speaking out against free trade and globalization, building community rather than self-medicating in order to cope with the demands of capitalism, demanding we all look inside ourselves and examine the -isms we have all been taught, unfortunately is a bit radical.
How do you get through to a public that maybe doesn't want to listen? Or better phrased: Don't you get tired?
Heck yeah. Several of our members constantly talk about just up and moving to Portland, where you're surrounded by folks who already get it. Others have already moved on to other various places. It's draining to do any sort of organizing in this town. We live in the Bible belt of the West Coast, and folks love their SUVs and fast food and fashion.
It's really difficult to explain to people where we are coming from. It's so contrary to what many people are used to. And talking about it is considered an attack on the individual, not on what we have all been taught. Like when women (and men) talk about sexism and people get defensive, it's not that we are attacking individuals, we're attacking the constraining gender roles and hierarchy we were all socialized with, and the violence inherent in inequality. Or if we talk about veganism, we're not attacking your culture or habits, we're talking about an industry of factory farms, which have atrocious methods including poisoning animals with chemicals to make them grow quicker — those poisons and the effects of the chemicals, remain in the meat you eat, keep that in mind folks — and is severely polluting our environment. It's not about you or you or you. It's about a really screwed up system. It'd be nice if we all worked together to make America a better place, but somewhere along the line people got tricked into believing that being a patriot means swallowing everything you're fed and never questioning. Funny how it used to mean someone who demands the best from society and fights tyranny and now it means supporting the government regardless.
But I think it's worth it to stay here and fight for a better Fresno. My good friend Patsy Montgomery always talks about how desperately Fresno needs it. Sure, we can go to San Francisco or Portland and it would be so much easier. But Fresno needs people to demand accountability and sustainability and community-based decisions that are right for the people, not the politicians or big business.
Is this a winnable fight? Do these ideals exist on a continuum? I guess I'm looking for the ultimate goal of the group.
You're asking the big questions here Josh. I don't know. I see myself as a part of a continuum of folks who have struggled to end hierarchy and illegitimate authority, a continuum that has existed since the first colonization of one culture by another. It gets slowly better, although no one should think for a minute that the '60s and '70s happened and now there is no racism and women are equal and everything is dandy. We. Are. Not. There. Yet. Figure it out. Every so often we'll hear that as a group or individually we have inspired someone to become vegan, to initiate consent with their partners or to ride a bike, and I guess that's what it's all about, that one person. Or maybe that's what we tell ourselves to keep ourselves going.
The ultimate goal of the group is total liberation of all life from exploitation. Will I see that in my lifetime? Probably not. I'm just doing my part.
Tell me about the Infoshop space itself.
Some of the folks that are a part of the space live upstairs, but that's pretty incidental. Well, no actually. Unfortunately, it gives people the impression that this is our space, our thing. The goal is for like-minded folks from throughout the community to get involved, take initiative and become involved in the programs or putting on events.
Give us the rundown of some of the projects the group is involved in.
Our weekly projects are two food programs, the Sunday Food Not Bombs, and Community Free Grocery, which is on Wednesdays. We have an anarchist/Marxist book club that meets every first Tuesday of the month. On the third Thursday of each month we have a discussion circle for women. And on the first and third Wednesdays we have a free self-defense workshop.
We sporadically have shows, usually punk, and movie nights, which I plan on making a more regular event very very soon. And of course we have lectures, workshops, fundraisers, and various events as often as possible. Events we have had include animal rights speakers, members of AIM, consent workshops, a mental health group, Kensinger spoke once before. We've had several events about the Zapatistas and indigenous struggles in Mexico, particularly a group called Frente, which brought in speakers from the state of Oaxaca. Also, trans-e-motion held their annual transgender day of remembrance here this past year and P.O.W.E.R., which is the Fresno State women's studies club, held a fundraiser for a women's shelter in Ciudad Juarez with the help of the femicide action committee. The native women's council and the Peace and Freedom Party have each used the space for their meetings and Fresno City College clubs have used it to prepare for their events and actions, to make banners and other supplies.
We also have an evolving permaculture garden and are hoping to get a free bike clinic going (any lovers of bike maintenance out there wanna give us a hand?). And we're open to ideas, so long as folks have the initiative. Skills exchange is awesome.
On a personal level, how did you get involved in the group and what do you get from it?
I've been doing Food Not Bombs since high school. I moved away for a bit and when I got back the R.A.N.C.O.R./FNB merger was beginning, and of course I wanted to get in on it. What do I get from it? Community, fun, music, love, support, food, bike rides, knowledge, great discussions, lots of really random experiences, fulfillment. I get to meet all kinds of cool folks ... The list goes on. I just like knowing I'm doing something to help Fresno. And I hope this grows and grows and I can be here to be a part of it.
How can people find out more/get involved?
Check out www.cafefresno. org or www.myspace.com/cafefresno.
We generally have our info on those pages. Also, Food Not Bombs is a good day to come by and just get to know folks. There are usually a few people doing various projects. Everyone is chopping veggies and talking and we have our meetings after. While you're there you can take a look at our chalkboard and see what's coming up.
We love help. We love people who want to get involved. This can mean giving your time, or it can mean donating vegan/vegetarian food, clothing (for free bins at Food Not Bombs), money, supplies, toilet paper, plants and seeds, bike parts, gardening supplies ... Whatever. Come teach a class or organize a workshop. If you know somebody with some amazing knowledge to drop on us, help organize a lecture. This isn't just our space, it is here for the community.
Want to help spread the total liberation love? Here's your chance.
"Feminist Interpretation of Emma Goldman"
Booksigning and reception
6 p.m., May 1
935 F. St.