Two articles on Alternative Bookshop fiasco

Anonyme, Saturday, January 24, 2004 - 15:49


What's going on with the Non-profit Organization that manages the Alternative Book shop building ?

These texts were first published in the spring and fall 2003 issues of Mauvaise Herbe, a Montreal eco-anarchist zine. These translations were republished in the latest issue of Anarchy magazine.

The Alternative Book shop -- Montreal's anarchist info-shop -- is located in a building that isn't supposed to be (private) property.

What's going on with the Non-profit Organization
that manages the Alternative Book shop building ?

These texts were first published in the spring and fall 2003 in French in Mauvaise Herbe, a Montreal eco-anarchist zine. This translation was republished in Anarchy magazine, winter 2004 issue.

The Alternative Book shop -- Montreal's anarchist info-shop -- is located in a building that isn't supposed to be (private) property. The building belongs to a non-profit organization ("OSBL" in French). The OSBL's membership is made up of several persons who aren't all that well known in the anarchist milieu, and who were more involved 10 to 15 years ago: Some don't even consider themselves anarchists anymore. The bulk of them aren't involved in the building's management. In fact, the OSBL's last general assembly was in the summer of 1998, nearly 5 years ago.

The dirty job of landlording

The OSBL was formed in 1982, and the building purchased in 1983. The goal was to provide a rent-free space for the book shop. To do this, the OSBL had to be a landlord towards other tenants in the building: Recently, it was Stella, the sex workers association, that by their rent paid the mortgage, the taxes, the insurance and the maintenance expenses of the building.

Among the problems, there are those linked to the lack of money: a severe lack of major repairs and upkeep. In the milieu, we're familiar with the variable condition of the book shop: few books, even fewer in French, lack of knowledge and follow-up, and nearly no effort to promote the book shop. The past efforts of several book shop persons are commendable, sincere, even heroic at times. But altogether their actions are limited and in the end they aren't able to pinpoint and solve the problems and so they become discouraged by things not moving.

A collective asset... managed by a clique!

The OSBL and the book shop are closely linked and their fortunes are shared; in spit of this, few people in the book shop collective wish to or can get involved in the management of the OSBL. The rotation of tasks - an anarchist principle - is virtually nonexistent. According to the OSBL's statutes, anarchist activists from other groups can't get involved in the OSBL's management. Management is done by a few long-time members, secretively. They conjure up as reasons their "legal liability" and that there are "enemies". This is why so few anarchists know what's going on. The project's history is riddled with conflicts, and when the remains of old factions find themselves demoralized, alienated and or excluded, certain members become encrusted, if this can't be qualified as an appropriation of this collective asset. The last general assembly (in 1998) elected a "board of directors" composed of five persons (Mike, "president"; Dale, secretary; Moishe, treasurer; Aidan, maintenance; Kristi, external relations). Since then, three members resigned: the president, the secretary and the external relations person. Which means that in effect, two members control the board* and the OSBL.

Boycotts, scheming

In the last year, the board tried several times to convene a general assembly; that's to say with enough attendance to have quorum, discuss and decide. What remains of the old membership didn't respond to the call. Several members consider that the treasurer (and president / secretary...), Moishe, didn't make an effort to check in advance that members were able to attend before sending the mail-out. Additionally, the notices of the meeting were received at the last minute by some, making it impossible that they arrange their affairs to be in Montreal.

A board of directors-in-perpetuity...

Last month (April 2003) several members outside of the board took the initiative of calling an assembly. This undermined the authoritarianism of the board and Moishe declared that real assemblies are those called by the board! These two members (the board) didn't come to the meeting. In so doing, they deprived the others of all information on the finances, the condition of the building, the departure of the sole tenant (Stella) and the necessity of finding another tenant (at the moment of writing these words, the OSBL has no revenues). The building's and the book shop's welfare wasn't advanced. All members have a right to see the OSBL's minutes and financial reports, despite the fact that the treasurer, Moishe, has refused such a request with the excuse that OSBL documents can only be consulted in the presence of a board member. Lets face it; even in the anarchist milieu a minority can act, block and dictate without being accountable to anybody.

Involvement rather than bureaucratic paralysis

Montreal's anarchist milieu is on the way to losing a potential collective resource valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. There may still be time to save this anarchist centre, but we have many questions to ask those in charge. It would be a good thing if members of different anarchist groups be present as observers and maybe even participants at the next assembly. And if the comrades at the book shop find that their two "representatives" in the OSBL are enough, and that across the hackneyed, bureaucratic talk they can't see the crisis, they maybe haven't yet asked them embarrassing questions, and they haven't heard the opinions of the dissidents and those excluded. To be continued!

*These directors are also supported by an important creditor who is a member of the OSBL, Karl, as well as his "anonymous associate" better known to some as "Mr. Big".

Lets collectivize the building that houses the Alternative Book shop!
Down with perpetual mismanagement!

OSBL* = Organization Without Libertarian Goals ?!! (Organisme Sans But Libertaire) *Non Profit Organization

PART 2 OF THE ARTICLE "qui gère l'osbl?" that appeared in Mauvaise Herbe Vol. 2 no. 3

What's happening in the saga of the building that's supposed to be held by anarchists, and which houses the Alternative Bookshop? After boycotting assemblies called by the majority in the OSBL, -- the majority is made up of the founders of the OSBL who are demanding, in concert with an anarchist distributors' coalition, an opening up to the anarchist milieu -- the board (the borg!) realized that the grumbling was getting louder and organized and risked turning into a generalized revolt.

Apprehended insurrection
Let's recall certain facts: No assembly in six years, all decisions taken by the two bosses, Moishe Dolman and Aidan Girt; refusal to provide information to the members or to convoke assemblies after repeated requests. So a number of members took matters into their own hands and convoked their own assemblies. For the two bosses and their backers Karl Levesque and Dale Altrows, the alarms go off on July 20 when a meeting of a dozen anarchists from various groups as well as the excluded members of the OSBL and a delegation from the alternative bookshop collective agree to hold a decisional assembly on Tuesday August 5, 2003.

That August 5th will remain notorious for a long time: It was a complete blockage, "proceduritis" to puke over; a grossly authoritarian display by the minority!

What we wanted
On one side, there was a climate of enthusiasm: Finally the anarchist milieu was going to put an end to the last few years' stagnation. We gathered with common proposals; the fruits of a recent coalition of several distribution groups. [Mauvaise Herbe, La Sociale, Bète Noire/NEFAC, Le Trouble, ASÉ/La Fronde, Meikan] What did this coalition want? The resignation of all current OSBL members; the election of a provisional commission with representatives from the different groups and collectives, including the bookshop collective. Its job would be to shed light on the finances, the state of the building, the legal situation and to propose various solutions to an assembly. We were some 30 activists from 5-6 collectives, without pretensions of being the anarchist "community." If we organized ourselves on the basis of groups, it was in part to avoid assembly packing where certain groups would be over-represented.

Washing our dirty laundry in public?
But we were not the only ones to organize for this OSBL assembly. First, let's say that the OSBL never called for a "public" assembly for August 5th; some people complained that it was done secretly and without postering! To those people I ask if they were aware that since the beginning of 2003 there were five attempts to call an assembly. People come to assemblies either because they are members (nine persons right now), observers, or are invited to become members.

Rally to the endangered bosses!
The two bosses felt that their regime was coming to an end; they dusted off and mobilized their two supporters in the OSBL. The bookshop collective --which in the past had little interest in getting involved with the OSBL-- was completely mobilized. On top of that, some friends showed up, as a way of stopping what they interpreted as a take over. Several individuals coming from no known anarchist group fell back to a language-based identification [in Quebec, this conjures up memories of colonialism], contemptuously accusing us of being anarchists who wanted to putsch others. This anti-anarchist mélange --and lamentably, majoritarily English-speakers-- of humanists, social-democrats, leftists, anti-imperialists, punks, veggie-anarcoids and others came to support the bosses and the bookshop collective (the heirs) and assure that our comrades who proposed solutions and wanted to get involved would be blocked and neutralized. Did THEY want to get involved? Not most of them. Only the bookshop collective was ready to get involved, and according to the straight jacket bylaws of the OSBL they were the only ones that could have gotten involved. Considering the two bosses' encrustation in this collective, its considerable lack of openness to French-speaking anarchists, it's isolation, its nonchalance, incompetence and impotence, not to forget the continuous dearth of literature in the bookshop, this collective enjoyed very little confidence from most anarchist collectives and of the majority in the OSBL.

Giving power to those who refuse it
Considering this will to exclude by certain so-called anarchists and leftists --people who when up against the wall, let's remember, refused to make common a unique asset-- the majority in the OSBL expelled this arrogant minority. Without distinction, the assembly was opened to everyone present (including those who had just been expelled). We perhaps naively thought that everyone would accept this new power on this important, twenty year old project, of concern to the entire anarchist milieu. The first and last thing this 64 person assembly did was to declare that the expulsions were invalid! Let's be clear: a dozen bookshop members and four from the OSBL got the support of some twenty others who had no intention of getting involved, they came there to block others and support the representation of power by their friends and bosses in the OSBL. What the hell were they doing there these anti-anarchists, anti-communists and pro-minority?!?

Defending the minority's privileges?
This manipulative minority, dominating and unaccountable, has been ruling for years! With its cliquish arrogance, its bureaucratic, anti-anarchist and taxing lies, and with its mismanagement of the building, this minority deserves to be crushed. Aidan, Moishe and Karl offer nothing to get out of the impasse other than reinforcing the status quo. They deprive us of information and make all administrative decisions. They say that they are applying the bylaws --very selectively, they forget to add! Let us be worthy of our anarchist convictions: Free ourselves; struggle so that this disreputable minority be defanged and kept away from power.

In the interests of the bookshop, join the dissidence
What about the folks in the bookshop collective? They have to choose between, on one hand, the illusory promises of complete power over the building accompanied by a break with anarchist groups, and on the other hand to show their solidarity with the anarchist milieu, to renounce property, autarchy and the disastrous protection of bosses. We are the same anarchists, not sharks. We want an anarchist bookshop worthy of that name. We want our rightful place in the management of this asset, the sole anarchist space in Montreal, the building and the bookshop, because right now, we are excluded.

-Rongeur radical (Radical rodent) translation: Bernard Cooper

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