At book fair, get a read on social change

Hundreds of activists gather in city for workshops, discussions

July 02, 2006|By JULIE SCHARPER | JULIE SCHARPER,SUN REPORTER

It was a long drive from Atlanta to Baltimore for Morning Strickland and Keith Mercer. There was that awkward moment in a Waffle House in North Carolina when local residents eyed Strickland's traffic cone-colored orange Mohawk.

But the folks at Red Emma's bookstore in Mount Vernon had plenty of coffee and vegetarian food on hand to welcome the pair, who came up for this weekend's Mid-Atlantic Radical Bookfair.

Strickland and Mercer joined hundreds of activists from around the country for three days of workshops and discussions on such diverse topics as U.S. foreign policy and the prison system. The event, organized by Red Emma's and Waverly's Alternative Press Center, sprawls across Center Stage, the Contemporary Museum and St. Ignatius Church. It will continue today from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.

"You can meet a lot of people with different political views, people who are trying to improve society and work for reform of the system," said Dan Hall, a recent graduate of University of Maryland, College Park who attended talks and browsed books yesterday. "Anybody can come up with their own ideas and voice them here."

Visitors can peruse such books as Gender Outlaws: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us, Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook, Pin-Up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture and Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall. They can learn about herbal birth control, write a letter to a prisoner or pick up some "mural quality" spray paint.

Strickland and Mercer -- who say they are starting an Atlanta collective called the Mad Rats Info Shop to educate people about selected causes -- were among about 100 out-of-town visitors crashing on Baltimore sofas and floors in a home-sharing program organized by Red Emma's, volunteer Megan Gonzalez said. Local groups are providing free vegan and vegetarian meals for the visitors.

Performing at Center Stage yesterday, a Pittsburgh group created a shadow puppet play about the inequities of the criminal justice system. As a bright light shone behind them, the performers waved cutouts of murder victims and flocks of soaring birds, casting shadows on a screen covered with letters from prisoners.

"We want to ask, `What kind of responsibility do we as a society have for crime?'" said performer Alexie Hong, one of a seven-member ensemble that made the trip from Pennsylvania.

The gathering also provided Baltimore activists a chance to introduce new ideas. Sheila Gaskins promoted a theater group that invites audience members on stage to work through social issues. Eugene Jubilee and Joel Tyson told parents about a school that they are starting in Hamilton where students create their own curriculum.

"So much is going on in the city, but so many people are doing their own thing and not communicating. This is a way to get everyone together," said Gonzalez, who wore a masking tape name tag that said, "Balt Amor."

Organizers worked to make the book fair kid-friendly. The Teaching for Change table offered children's books about Cesar Chavez, Malcolm X and a penguin chick that has two fathers. In the area where Center Stage patrons buy cappuccinos during intermission, kids did yoga and made buttons.

"It's an art installation, a political action and a workshop in age relations," Kidz Corner organizer China Martens said.

Outside Center Stage, parents with piercings and tattoos chased after toddlers, a man strummed a guitar and a patchouli-scented crowd mingled in the July heat. Meanwhile, up the street at St. Ignatius, a bagpiper tooted as a wedding party stepped out of a limousine.

"I think if you're an outsider, you might look in here and see a bunch of tattooed, pierced, smelly people," said Lucas Oswalt, a teacher from Takoma Park who attended the book fair. "But being one of those people, I really appreciate the diversity of viewpoints from people who are passionate about music, gender equality, the prison system, education."

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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