Gainesville, Florida. Though most participants would dismiss the notion of a common ideology in the movement, the various centers do communicate and cooperate with one another. “We have good friends in the two shops in Berkeley,” Teresa Gorman noted, “and we’ve just met the people at the new shop in New Orleans.” And members tend to share a general faith in the importance of direct action, alternative media, and resistance to hierarchical power structures, both within their own groups and in the larger society. Members from Austin and around the country journeyed to Chicago last summer for “Active Resistance,” a counter-convention scheduled to coincide with the 1996 Democratic National Convention. Sponsored in part by Chicago’s own Info Shop, the Autonomous Zone, “Active Resistance” was a week-long celebration of alternative media and politics that encouraged nationwide networking in the Info Shop community. By the end of the summer, the Austin collective had set up shop in the downtown studio that once housed KOOP, the city’s community radio station \(which has since after its founding, the Info Shop is up and running; and as the events of a recent week show, its energies are invested both in education and in direct action. Tuesday, April /5Tax Day. Some members of the collective are participating in an action at the main post office in downtown Austin, protesting the misuse of federal tax dollars. Later that evening, collective members Gabe and Mike \(several collective members say they conduct the weekly “English for Beginners” class, one of several free school courses offered by the Shop. Recent courses have included a labor history class and a six-week corporate research seminar, directed by Austin political analyst \(and former Observer the basics,” Scott explained. “How to file an open records request, get access to county records, and generally where to find the good dirt.” The English class is part of an effort to reach out to the city’s large Spanishspeaking community. Another such effort is “Bosswatch,” or Ojo al Patron, a program that encourages Mexican immigrants, especially those who find work as day laborers in town, to report bosses who rip them off, either by paying below the minimum wage, or by refusing to pay cash wages at all. “Many of these guys don’t have documentation,” explains DeVries, “and so they’re hesitant to go to the cops ‘or the Employment Commission when they get screwed.” Wednesday, April 16Tonight a small group convenes for an informal discussion of one of the collective’s newest projects: Copwatch. Copwatch is also a national movement of sorts, with programs currently underway in a dozen major cities. “It’s basically a method of policing the police,” says Adam, a coordinator of the Austin program, “in which citizens take it upon themselves to monitor police activities in their own neighborhoods.” Police abuse is considered a growing problem in Austin, particularly on the largely minority East Side, where a police riot at a Valentine’s Day party in 1995 generated neighborhood outrage. Copwatch borrows a .page from the old Black Panthers program, but whereas the Panthers often carried shotguns, the traditional weapon of choice for Copwatch has been the videocamera. “The cops hate it, but what have they got to hide?” Adam, asks. The Shop is currently spreading the word about a voice-mail police abuse hotline they’ve set up to report incidents. Thursday, April /8Spanish class, beginning and advanced. About a dozen people show up for each class. The class is informal, with everyone sharing what they know. There is no real teacher, but no tuition or exams either. Friday, April 19Tonight DeVries produces a segment of Working Stiff Radio, a live half-hour show broadcast on KOOP. “Working Stiff is about presenting news from a worker’s perspective,” DeVries explains. In practice, this usually means adding class analysis to the stories covered by the mainstream news programs, plus airing the stories they choose to leave out. With an occasional guest from the workingclass community, it’s classic homegrown community radio, rough edges and all. DeVries, along with fellow member Chris Kutalik, is a bus driver for the University of Texas shuttle system. Although the drivers at U.T. are represented by the United Elec trical Workers, Chris and Josh are also Wobbliesmembers of the historic InterIn fact, most of the collective members are Wobblies. “See, the Wobblies have always believed in coming to the aid of any worker, unionized or not,” Teresa Gorman explained, “and regardless of their race, ethnicity, sex or sexual orientation.” Everyone in the collective seems to enjoy teaching, and labor history is one of the favored topics. “Big Bill Haywood, Mother Jones, all those great labor leaders, they believed in the one big union concept, the community of all workers,” Gorman told me. Since the 1960s, a new generation of historians has scrambled to recover the real story of American workersa story largely omitted from traditional history textbooks. As they’re discovering, there’s a great deal of rewriting to do. At the Info Shop, young activists are putting that new history to use. “When you can point to the past,” Teresa explains, “and say ‘see, things weren’t always this way,’ that’s when history can become a powerful organizing tool.” The Shop is open afternoons and evenings, Wednesday to Sunday, and on a day when nothing is planned it’s a good, quiet place to read. The shelves are full of leftist literature and magazines for sale; the collective \(with about twenty regular staffers and twenty more occasional particbrary, free schools, movie nights, and weekly potlucks where new members are welcome. When the shop was just getting started it funded itself through membership dues, but lately benefits and book sales have paid for the facility. “At some point we stopped having to dig into our own pockets,” says DeVries. “Though each month we go back and forth between selfsufficiency and desperation.” If your own radical history is a little rusty, stop by sometime. It’s all there, on the shelves of the Info Shop, waiting for the next Bill Haywood or Mother Jones to come along and read it. Nate Blakeslee is a freelance writer based in Austin. Readers interested in getting involved in the Conspiracy of Equals should stop by the Shop and check out the programs. For more information, call 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 23, 1997
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