"What are you reading now, Wedge?" she asks. The boy flips the pamphlet over to take a look.
"Nihilist's Notebook," he says, offering a toothy grin while absent-mindedly fingering the safety pin shoved through his ear. He rolls over onto his stomach to survey the rest of the lawn. His oversize combat boots wave elegantly in the air before landing with a thud and an eruption of sod.
"Hey, watch it!" shouts a dreadlocked man seated close by with a large group clad entirely in military-style fatigues.
Aside from the rutting couple in white, the lawn outside the County Fair Building looks like the site of a post-apocalyptic picnic. Young adults dressed in tattered leathers, paratrooper pants, and steel-toed boots share cigarettes and conspiracy theories with only the occasional brightly colored coif to keep them from looking ravaged by so much black, gray, and olive drab. This is the second gathering of its kind. The first Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair was organized as a celebration for the Bound Together Book Collective -- a great little bookstore that has been keeping anarchy alive and well in the Haight for over 20 years -- but the event was so well-attended that a yearly gathering seemed inevitable. Today, the fair has drawn several thousand people, some of them from as far as Germany and England, who wish to peruse renegade publishing catalogs, listen to revolutionary speakers, and meet like-minded individuals.
"The crowd is pretty young," observes a lipsticked man. Punk rock blares from the headphones draped around his neck as he settles down to listen to Jello Biafra lecture on the stupidity of the drug war. "I think people get burnt out. Activism is taxing and, in this country, it's definitely not rewarded."
Still, among the 50-or-more fringe groups with a table -- Food Not Bombs, Loompanics (publishers of 101 Things to Do 'Til the Revolution), Fifth Estate (which explores dope, queer sex, and anarchy, among other things), Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, Spunk Press, Alternative Press, AWOL (teens tired of mili-tary recruitment tactics), Animal Liberation Front, Save Big Mountain, and S.F. Liberation Radio -- there are a number of older activists who have come to spread their wisdom.
"It makes my heart feel good to see so many young faces," says Jacob Littlejohn, a graying, long-haired man with his infant daughter on his hip. "It takes new blood to revitalize the movement. Whether they are here for art books on subversive sexual practices or to sign up for Soupstock or to learn how to educate themselves without governmental bias, it doesn't matter. It's all about bringing power back to the people. Anarchy doesn't mean violence, it means cooperation, and self-reliance."
At a nearby table, two young punks shake hands and introduce themselves. "I just got to go to the john. Would you mind watching the table?" asks the one standing behind a slew of stickers and T-shirts reading "Question Authority," "Dare to Think for Yourself," and "We're All Doomed." Without a second thought, he hands his roll of bills to the newcomer and hops over the table. The new kid frowns and straightens up the inventory, clearly pleased with his newfound duty.
"See," says Littlejohn smugly. "Kids want to be involved."
At the Last Gasp table, writer Patrick Hughes -- an alternative combination of Mr. Peabody's boy Sherman and Clark Kent -- greets a group of passing youths. "Hello, children. Let me warp your brains." He laughs warmly and the kids gather around, flipping through books by Lenny Bruce, Anton LaVey, and Diamanda Galas. "I don't know what it is," he says good-naturedly, "but I've caught three people trying to steal books today. They just put them under their arm and walk away. You'd think we were at an anarchists' book fair or something."
The sound of Biafra's incessant whine in the next building over finally draws the last of the Dead-Kennedys-T-shirt-wearing die-hards away from the book fair and into the lecture hall, where, among others, Chris Conrad, Carol Queen, and Dennis Peron have already spoken today. Soon, the only people left are those completely immersed in their literature, among them a 23-year-old woman from UC Berkeley perusing Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau and a gleeful 28-year-old who is reading David's Tool Kit: A Citizens' Guide to Taking Out Big Brother's Heavy Weapons.
"In this book," he reads, "you can learn, 'What to do when faced with the overwhelming firepower of ruthless authority. How to: Employ homemade explosives and detonators. Construct Molotov cocktails and use them to destroy tanks. Build effective flame throwers. Select accurate sniper rifles and scopes. Place claymore mines where they will do the most damage to Big Brother's troops. Generate smoke. Use two-way radios. Identify tanks, helicopters, armored personnel carriers, thin-skinned utility vehicles, jet aircraft, and more -- and take them out!' " He stops, breathless, and looks around grinning.
"This has got to be the most fun I've had all month," he says, pulling out a crumpled handful of money. Might I add, well-spent.
By Silke Tudor