November 23, 2016

Checking in on the Bombs Away Collective

Bombs Away Collective

Last year, Bombs Away Books opened as an anarchist bookstore, a worker-run establishment below Jittery Joe’s downtown. The shop shut down due to issues with the location, but it’s since re-opened as a donation-based infoshop and library tucked away inside a wing of a communal living space on North Chase Street. The space stocks a range of leftist and post-leftist material, from Emma Goldman to AK Press, as well as an assortment of zines and political publications. 

The Bombs Away collective has recently begun publishing its own zine, Lit Fuse, and is soon expanding its stock. Two members of the collective, Will Turner and Christine—who prefers that her last name not be published—recently discussed the move and their experiences running an anarchist infoshop in Athens.

Flagpole: What’s the transition from bookstore to library been like?

Will Turner: Slow. We had a lot of things in our personal lives that we had to get figured out before moving out here, had to make sure everyone transitioned here smoothly. We kind of wrestled with the idea of if we even wanted to have the infoshop aspect anymore, but we decided it was really important.

Where we were, we were constantly worried about having to put money back in. Obviously, it was a business model, having to make a profit, so it’s very nice to be free from that, to just be able to have resources and information for people and have conversations and spread ideas without worrying about if we’re profitable or not.

Christine: Initially, with the bookstore element, we were focused on outreach, reading groups and other collective activities, but we had to focus on the bookstore, because that’s what kept the doors open. In the meantime, between when that store closed and this one opened, we became more heavily focused on community outreach and lectures and show-booking and Food Not Bombs. Now that we’re in this space, that’s still where the heart of everything is.

FP: What have you learned from operating the shop in this sort of space versus when you were operating downtown?

WT: When people come here, they usually know what we’re about already. They’re not just passing through. It’s not your typical UGA student walking in and being like, “Oh my God!” and then leaving. It’s been people seeking us out.

C: Less people asking if we have Nicholas Sparks.

WT: We’ve had some really good conversations getting to know people, though it is less traffic, because we’ve done less promoting, doing more word-of-mouth than we had beforehand.

FP: Did you ever consider doing this in another city, or did you always know you wanted to start this in Athens?

WT: Every city… needs to have some sort of radical presence. And I feel like infoshops, libraries, bookstores, whatever form they may be, are crucial for maintaining the radical theme. And making sure people have access to resources where they can learn new ideas or meet like-minded people and then go from there. Athens, I feel like, fits that kind of mold for college towns, with people coming and going from different walks of life, and students, because they’re being exposed to new ideas in their classes. If they can stumble onto us and they take those ideas further, then I feel like it’s something every city should have.

FP: If a university student who had never been exposed to this line of thought before were to come into the shop, what would you steer them to first?

C: We have a lot of zines, and that’s what people who haven’t had a lot of experience with this before tend to gravitate toward, because it breaks down some really complex philosophies and a lot of history. It depends, too, what they’re interested in. Whether it’s gender studies or Marxist philosophy or the prison-industrial complex, we’d find a zine for them and then let them know of more meaty books they could look into. Also, our zine [laughs].

FP: Do you feel like operating as a worker-run collective or an anarchist shop in the South has a different climate?

WT: I do feel like there are some hurdles in some ways. You’re still dealing with capitalism, the same system, no matter what part of the world you’re in, but there’s still definitely some strange tension in the South [that’s], I feel, leftover from maybe, like, the Cold War era. People hear about anarchist collectives or worker-run things and they think about some sort of scary Communism scheme. 

C: I feel like it’s less about north-South and more about urban versus rural or large cities versus college towns or small towns. Anywhere across the country where you have a really big city, it’s a little bit more expected.

FP: If someone was going to start up a worker-run bookstore or infoshop, what advice would you give them?

WT: Visit lots of infoshops, for sure. Figure out if you want a storefront and if you’re willing to keep up with the rent game.

C: Or willing to live in it.

WT: Yeah, figure out if you want that [storefront] or something where it’s literally part of your life every day. That’s one thing I’d say. The other is, if you believe in it, do it. It takes work, but it’s not hard. You just have to make sure you find people that share the same vision and will work just as hard. But make sure that everyone works equally.

Bombs Away Books, at 317 N. Chase St., is open from 5–8 p.m. every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. The collective hosts regular events and shows, more information on which can be found on its Facebook page.