Anarcho-Curious? Bound Together Bookstore Sees “Record Sales”
Anarchism means different things to different people. For some, it’s synonymous with chaos. For others, it’s a compelling alternative to structural hierarchies. Either way, it’s a loaded term, resistant to tidy definitions and often crudely portrayed. Generally, though, anarchism is anti-capitalist, as it opposes “exploitation of man by man” and “the dominion of man over man.”
In 1976, a group of San Francisco radicals and visionaries pooled their funds to open Bound Together Bookstore. Seeking alternatives to conventional systems of belief, the group stocked the shop with books of poetry, urban survival, social criticism, vegetarianism, holistic health and small press titles. Their collective was non-authoritarian and decidedly experimental. In essence, they had aligned themselves with anarchism. When the shop moved from Hayes and Ashbury to Haight Street, this alignment was made explicit, and Bound Together was renamed Bound Together: An Anarchist Collective Bookstore.
Bound Together still stands today at 1369 Haight Street. It is entirely volunteer-run and operates smoothly without sole proprietorship or managerial direction. The bookstore houses a glut of great minds, from William S. Burroughs to Frantz Fanon to Emma Goldman. Proceeds from book sales are donated to various nonprofit organizations, like the Prisoners Literature Project.
Members of the Bound Together Collective run the bookstore, answer visitor questions about anarchy theory, and meet once a month to interview potential volunteers. Members are “not necessarily anarchists,” says Skyy, a collective member for over two years. Ideal volunteer candidates are simply “open to the ideology of people living together in harmony without authoritarian structure systems.” He also notes that there’s a lot of “younger blood” coming in lately; “There are maybe 20 active members right now, and maybe half of them are post-boomer, millennial, or even younger.”
A former mental health counselor, Skyy was drawn to the collective’s “idea of being subversive in a world that values normalcy and orthodoxy above everything else.” “For me, it’s more of a personal thing, as a rejection of mainstream values,” Skyy says. “It’s more about having my own values and ethical system, and even belief about the nature of reality, to some extent.”
This appeal is echoed in Nathan Schneider’s introduction to Noam Chomsky’s On Anarchism, in which Schneider writes, “[Anarchism] permits being political outside the red-and-blue confines of what is normally referred to as ‘politics’ in the United States, without being doomed to a major party’s inevitable betrayal.” Given the rise of public distrust in media outlets—in addition to institutional and political actors—on both the Left and Right, it’s no surprise that some are seeking alternative sources of knowledge and ways of thinking.
It’s a promising shift. Anarchists are often reduced to agents of chaos, but to dismiss them on these grounds is to dismiss their historical significance. “At least in their various collectives and affinity groups, committed anarchists today tend to be a literate bunch who do know their history, even if others have forgotten,” Schneider writes. “[Chomsky] represents a time when anarchists were truly fearsome—less because they were willing to put a brick through a Starbucks window than because they had figured out how to organize themselves in a functional, egalitarian, and sufficiently productive society.”
In the age of QAnon, algorithmic bias, and what journalist Chris Hedges calls the “Empire of Illusion,” maybe hitting the books isn’t a bad course of action. And it seems that many people are doing just that. “The store has been making record sales for the last year,” Skyy says. Of course, the selection is not entirely political. Popular sections feature Beat literature, occultism, and books on psychedelic plants.
“We just started a Green Anarchy-Ecology section,” Skyy notes. “We’re talking about trying to expand it into a larger section to bring some human survival, climate, and ecological issues into the purview of the store.” Skyy also anticipates that the collective will again host events in the shop, a practice that was interrupted by the COVID-19 shutdown. In the meantime, though, they’ll continue slingin’ books.
“Putting out this kind of information is very important if the human race is going to survive,” Skyy states.
“It’s places like this that are gonna bring that about.”