And We’re Not The Only Ones
This piece, written by our collective, originally appeared as part of an article in Asheville Blade titled "Our community defies fascists" (11/18/18).
Since late-Summer our co-operative has been on the receiving end of unwanted attention from alt-right trolls. While this harassment has been primarily limited to the internet, it has occasionally spilled over into our physical space: slurs yelled by a passing motorist, irregular and conspicuous photography of our building, an individual who entered our store to tear down anti-fascist posters and then fled. Believing that there wasn’t much to be gained from airing stories publicly, we stayed quiet about them as they occurred.
This week – inspired by others who are talking publicly about harassment from the same group of alt-right trolls – we are sharing our experience.
Firestorm is in conflict with bigots because we are a bookstore that advocates the end of all oppression. We know that because of who we are and what we do, we are going to be targeted just for existing in this world.
We’ve dealt with reactionaries before. As an anarchist/feminist bookstore run by a queer and trans collective, we’ve had anti-abortion activists protest in front of our store and an anonymous transphobe once called repeatedly to tell us that we should be physically and sexually assaulted. These intimidations never amounted to much, and we brushed them off with hugs and maybe a bit of (nervous) laughter. It was easy to dismiss any threat these people posed and convince ourselves that it “wasn’t a big deal.” Silence seemed like the best response.
But if we’re being honest, there was another reason for our silence: fear. Fear that, by speaking up, we might isolate ourselves.
We worry that members of our community, already reeling from a newscycle dominated by the words and actions of bigots, will be scared into withdrawing, disappearing, and leaving us more vulnerable. We worry that by sharing our experiences and making ourselves vulnerable we will exacerbate the anxiety and burnout of so many friends, family, and neighbors.
This fear is itself a form of self-isolation, and it is exactly what bullies want: targets who stay quiet, doubt that they can be helped or cared for, forfeit the emotional and material support of their communities.
Last Friday, students at UNC Chapel Hill spoke out about threats they are receiving in the wake of protests against the Silent Sam confederate monument. The self-described White Nationalist behind much of the harassment is connected to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter and has also repeatedly name-dropped our co-operative on Twitter. He falsely claims to live in Asheville – no doubt a bluff intended to intimidate.
Closer to home, a group of community organizers issued a statement on Wednesday about harassment. Over twenty individuals, including half a dozen past and present members of our co-operative, have been the target of an attempted “doxing”: their home addresses, phone numbers, places of work, and the personal information of family members published on social media. Like our counterparts in Chapel Hill, it seems Asheville folks have been targeted primarily due to involvement in anti-racism campaigns or perceived proximity to others doing such work. Virtually everyone singled out was queer or trans, and the clumsy, bro-ish insults made it clear this wasn’t a mistake.
Bookstores and libraries have always been the enemy of authoritarians. As early as 213 BCE emperors ordered the burning of books in Imperial China. We work in the legacy of the 2007 bombing of Iraq's Al-Mutanabbi Street (the “Street of Booksellers”) and the 1991 assassination of Bob Sheldon, founder of Internationalist Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. But attacks on bookstore’s aren’t purely historical. In August, Britain’s largest socialist bookshop was stormed by fascists wearing “Make Britain Great Again” hats, and last week the windows were smashed out at MonkeyWrench Books, a collective bookstore and social center in Austin, Texas. Volunteers noted that it was the anniversary of Kristallnacht (the “Night of Broken Glass”), a Nazi military operation carried out against Jewish civilians in 1938.
We feel we have a duty to be transparent and provide others with the information necessary to stay safe, respond appropriately, and contextualize their own experiences. At the same time, as feminist author Sarah Schulman cautions, “there is the opportunity to conflate discomfort with threat, to misstate internal anxiety for exterior danger.” Being in conflict confers a responsibility to represent our experiences accurately and not overstate harm. We know that the risk of violence in our society is real, but as a collective we attempt to navigate our work without treating every new encounter as an existential threat.
Our co-operative will not be intimidated into changing what we do or hiding who we are.
What You Can Do!
There are numerous ways that you can support our collective and others who are facing harassment. The most important thing you can do is show up and keep showing up: for us and especially for Black, Jewish, transgender, and immigrant folks. We know who is being targeted in Trump’s America and we all have opportunities, large and small, to step off the sidelines and protect our neighbors.
Please come to our spaces, come to our public events. If you can’t be physically present, stay in touch. Let us know that you have our backs. There’s a full list of impacted organizations and businesses at the end of the local statement.
Businesses that are standing up to online bullies could also benefit from receiving positive reviews to counteract the the phony negative ratings posted by trolls. Next time you visit our co-op, please consider writing a heartfelt review based on your experiences. Helpful places to post include Google, Facebook, and Yelp.
We can’t keep standing up to bigots if we don’t exist, so please join our co-operative’s Community Sustainers Program, if you are able. For as little as $7.50/mo you can help us cover the costs of maintaining social movement space and substantial grassroots programming in West Asheville.