Every year in San Francisco’s Hall of Flowers inside Golden Gate Park, over ten thousand people gather for the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair. Organized by the collective from Bound Together Books on Haight Street, the bookfair serves as a meeting, networking, and socializing point for virtually all stripes of far left thought.

Aside from checking out the dogs, grey beards, dirty kid fashion, and haircuts, the most exciting thing is the spectacle. So many individuals and groups use the bookfair as a staging point to pull it ever so slightly towards their objectives. Whether that’s anarchist soccer, shooting some video interviews, handing out leaflets about recent events, movement building, or asking questions about a project that you are working on, it’s all welcome and happening in record numbers here.

I attend about a dozen events of this sort each year and SF’s circle A bookfair definitely has one of the most positive, successful, and open vibes. You can see speakers in the auditorium, in the snack room, on the lawn, or in the parking lot. You can hear bucket drummers and watch joggers stumble upon the event while crusty punks groom their pets or cut their date’s hair — outside of course, bookfair registration forms make you sign a form that you will not perform haircuts inside the building because food is being served. Apparently this was enough of a problem that it made the registration form.

I first attended in 1999 and was blown away by the median age seeming to settle somewhere in the mid 40s and by the sheer volume of people significantly older than that; certainly very different than most anarchist events elsewhere. Serious discourse is happening here as well. Well-read radical pundits can shake your hand after they deliver a lecture about what’s recently on their mind.

But let’s not forget — the books! It’s a beautiful flea market representing all manner of respectable publishers (AK Press, PM Press, Last Gasp, Crimethinc, Microcosm), distributors (Whole Earth, Tarantula), local and well-travelled bookstores (Bound Together, Last Word, Left Bank), authors, would-be publishers, libraries, newly forming collectives, and social justice organizations. If you need to find someone to print your newly penned manifesto, you can find that as well, with 1984 Printing, Eberhardt Press, or Inkworks all in attendance. You can find some cheap used books or old editions or oddities and rarities and meet some friendly greybeards in the process.

I need to warn you though, there is a high probability that you will encounter the naked man who attends most years. He seems to understand that it can be even more jarring for him to have an engaged conversation with you in his birthday suit. But it’s all just part of the regular spectacle and part of the joy of the bookfair is embracing all of its oddity.

And it’s not just for anarchists. It’s mostly an interesting study of sociology and anthropology. Watch the communists feud with the anarchists or the anarcho-primitivists intensely debate with the anarcho-syndicalists. This is serious political discourse and makes it a lot more difficult to disregard it as a valid political ideology when it’s a giant spectacle in Golden Gate Park.

Joe Biel works here, here, and here when he’s not on tour with some project or another.

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