The Auburn Avenue Research Library juts out on a street corner in downtown Atlanta. It evokes a strong presence as the only public library in the Southeast offering materials specifically dedicated to African American studies.
On October 13, the library collaborated with Own Our Own Authority! Publishing (OooA) and the African American Studies department at Georgia State University to host the third annual Atlanta Radical Book Fair. In addition to selling radical left literature, which encompassed a variety of topics from anarchy to social ecology, the 2018 fair hosted panel discussions surrounding contemporary political issues like police brutality and immigration.
The indoor market featured tables from publishers and local organizations. Crowds of college students mixed with older readers huddled around tables, receiving fliers and pamphlets carefully printed and folded together. Many of these people would have around twenty minutes of conversation with the organizers heading the table, writing down their email addresses and phone numbers for future communication.
In general, radical characterizes a change that affects the fundamental nature of something. Politically, it means making broader, more thorough demands on the systems and institutions that construct the reality of an individual.
Most of the current mainstream political dialogue centers itself around adjusting the status quo within the confines of the law. Radical leftists believe that changes that occur bureaucratically or through legalistic methods do not adequately face the root of economic, racial, or other forms of suffering.
Passing by each stall at the book fair can feel overwhelming, as one comes to face a multitude of detailed critiques of the ideas and structures that produce everyday life.
These critiques are condensed into singular, solid book titles like “A World Without Police, “Food is a Human Right”, “Radical Reproductive Justice”, and “If You See Something, Do Something.” The theses can feel alienating, as these are not books that can be seen in a Barnes and Noble or a Half Price Books. Yet the people heading each stall prioritized creating relationships rather than mere political discussions. Andres Lebed, a first- year student at Oxford that attended the fair, felt that “the event was as much about these larger issues as it is about bridging the gap between people who are interested in the communities around them and organizations that desire new people to build stronger coalitions.”
Antifa, a strong national presence, along with A World Without Police (AWWP), a police abolitionist group based in Atlanta, each had stalls with the aim of disseminating information and art. These niche political groups are small and appear to have the prerequisite of reading and understanding high, academic writing. Yet many of them were already working very personally with communities facing high incarceration rates and displacement. In fact, AWWP hosts pen pal programs, prison visitations, and a monthly reading group. “These are people invested in seeing their exploitation alleviated” stated Andres.
The fair heavily focused on specifically Southern struggles and discrimination, which tend to manifest themselves more outwardly in state laws and political representation. The fair’s strong anarchist affiliation raises the question of how to address the immediate circumstances of suffering people while operating on the premise understanding that no immediate reforms can ameliorate this suffering completely.
Just taking a stroll around the library into the commercial center of the city reveals many of the tangible effects these books and panel discussions were addressing. Displaced people can be seen sleeping in parks near visibly gentrified areas. The commercial district is lined with people begging for food. In Atlanta, more and more communities are being priced out of their homes.
But the allure of radical leftist literature is seeing beyond all of this immediate strife and towards entirely alternative visions of the future. Through discussion, coalition building, and the spread of critical knowledge, the Atlanta Radical Book Fair was a valuable opportunity to expand the local political horizon.