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Red Emma’s Spirit of Democracy

By AK Press | October 6, 2008

AK works closely with a global network of anarchist counter-institutions to spread anarchist ideas and build a movement! Among them is Baltimore’s very own (and very cool) Red Emma Bookstore and Coffeehouse.

We hope that you enjoy the following introduction to Red Emma by Nancy Johnston. The piece first appeared in the Baltimore Sun and we repost it here with the kind of permission of the author.

* * *

On their Web site, Red Emma’s bills itself as a “collective, in which the real management of the company is carried out in a directly democratic and egalitarian manner.”

So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when they responded to my e-mail in a collective manner.

“Credit the text to Cullen Nawalkowsky, John Duda, and myself, members of the books coordinating committee at Red Emma’s,” Kate Khatib requested. And so, reflecting their democracy, all further quotes in this post are credited as such.

It’s pretty hard to miss Red Emma’s while strolling down or driving up Saint Paul Street. And if you haven’t had a chance to steal inside yet, you may be surprised at the breadth of material they offer for activist and capitalist alike.

“We are informed by anarchism, but we never had any desire to be an ‘anarchist bookstore,” the committee explains. “We are also informed by feminism, queer theory, Afrocentrism, Marxism, Dada and the avant-garde, literary modernism, and dozens of other traditions.”

A little background
The collective “inherited” the inventory from Black Planet Books, which failed under traditional ownership, and so the collective was formed.

“We … lacked the resources or credit to really establish relationships with major publishers or distributors. We relied primarily on the kindness of AK Press, one of the best radical publishing projects in the biz, who’s helped many a radical bookstore get up and off the ground over the years,” the committe says. “We made journeys to some friends in Philadelphia and Massachussetts who had good lines on remainder titles, and that helped sustain us for a long time. As the coffeeshop side of the business developed, we were able to establish more and more relationships with publishers and distributors, attend trade shows, etc.”

While Red Emma’s boasts of a wide range of customers, they are very conscious of their mission to Baltimore radical and activist communities.

“We have casual customers who are just kind of walking around Mount Vernon and stopping in for a cup of coffee. They gravitate towards the music titles, popular fiction and classics,” the group says. “Academics and teachers come in looking for texts for class or for research projects. We have regulars who keep up with the latest releases of Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, bell hooks, etc. Activists come in looking for books on consensus, organizational models, and historical texts on social change.”

“I’m hesitant to say we have a ‘favorite’ type of customer, but we get a good measure of glee when visitors from out of town come through and just start making a stack of books because they ‘have never seen any of them before,’ ” the collective says. “People come from New York and other way larger cities and tell us they’ve never seen a selection like ours. That makes us really happy.”

Popular sections
“We definitely have certain “pet” sections that different collective members enjoy curating,” the group says. “We take pride in our philosophy section, which has the best selection of Continental philosophy in the city. We have more Foucault and Zizek than you have ever seen in one place.

“We try to always keep on hand biographies and histories of great movement organizers and groups — Ella Baker, Che Guevara, Gandhi, WEB Dubois and the Pan-African movement, Joe Hill and the IWW, Students for a Democratic Society, and so on. There is so much neglected knowledge, even within the activist community. We’re trying to fill those gaps.”

With a bevy of guest speakers, authors, activists and screenings, the store is never short on entertainment. But they don’t forget to support other local artists and musicians.

The collective has partnered with St. Johns United Methodist Church to run 2640 Saint Paul St., their events venue. With workshops, concerts and popular Do-It-Yourself events, like Pile of Craft, it’s no wonder Red Emma’s is attracting Baltimore’s everyman.

But I’m betting the organic foods, coffee and air conditioning don’t hurt.

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Topics: Store Profiles | 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Red Emma’s Spirit of Democracy”

  1. Anarchia Says:
    October 7th, 2008 at 5:56 am

    Good to see AK has a blog!

    I’ve added a link here from my blog, Anarchia –

  2. Daily Breather Says:
    October 21st, 2008 at 5:25 am

    It’s nice to see a Red Emmas write-up in here. I see plenty of AK material on the shelves. They also give union member discounts. Nice touch.
    Great to see an AK blog too.


  3. djmalatesta Says:
    November 11th, 2008 at 11:28 am

    One of the most inspiring info shops/centers ive come across in America…hard working, breath of fresh air.


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