Teach-ins, movie showings, marches and other events at Montreal’s recent fourth annual anarchist book-fair, represented one of North America’s largest festivals of anarchy, second only to San Francisco’s.

“There are probably one thousand different people here throughout the course of the day,” said Stefan Christoff, one of ten members of the book-fair’s organizing collective. “It shows the growth of our movement and the growth of struggle,” he said.

As many of the fair-goers did, I, and some other east-coast travellers, arrived at the festival via alternative means of transport; a long night of freight train hopping was followed by a run through the woods outside Moncton N.B. after we were spotted by a rail-yard worker. At that point we decided to hitchhike the rest of the way.

Some fair-goers carried backpacks and sleeping mats, so others alsomade obvious sacrifices to attend.

The CEDA adult education centre where the main fairgrounds were located is in the working class neighbourhood of St. Henri. Although chaos often accompanies large, activist gatherings, we were struck by the aura of calm and order. For a large gathering, it ran very smoothly.

Anarchists moved some 50 tables into the main auditorium and set up chairs in the classrooms for a series of presentations. Free childcare was set up on the main-floor and the event’s caterers — members of the Montreal Political Prisoner/POW committee — set up a food stand including two-dollar tofu pita-wraps, 50-cent freezies and fair trade coffee for 75 cents.

By noon, the main auditorium was packed with people reading a variety of different books, pamphlets and zines. Anarchistic classics like Daniel Guerians No Gods, No Masters, Emma Goldman’s Living my Life and works by Noam Chomsky and Ward Churchill were in abundance at the tables of such established distributors as AK press and Fernwood books. Some complained that these well-produced books, many of which advocated the abolition of money, were too expensive. And at an average of $20.00 each, these concerns are understandable. However, in a world of corporate controlled publishing, it must be difficult to print cost-effective anarchistic alternatives.

When folks got tired of browsing, or attending presentations they went outside. It was a day fit for sleeveless shirts and “urban camping”. Children ran around in the sunshine, and a few people drank 40-ounce bottles of cheap beer or smoked grass to cool off.

There were no shortages of wild-hairstyles, piercing, dreadlocks or black attire. The majority of the fair-goers were young and white, although there were solid numbers of middle-aged folks and relatively equal gender ratios. Along with “the usual suspects”, there was good involvement from people living near the fair in the St. Henri neighbourhood. And what anarchist gathering would be complete without a couple of raving conspiracy theorists, educating us about the constant presence of CSIS and other unsavoury organizations?

Above the bustling table arena, smaller groups of activists gathered to listen to presentations from: Gaetan Heroux, an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty; members of the committee for non-status Algerians in Montreal; and “Ted Teddy”, a member of the Secwepemec Nation who gave a moving address about indigenous resistance to the illegal expansion of the Sun Peaks ski resort onto Native Land in B.C.

Stefan Christoff said the event received some donations from community groups and fundraisers and passed hats at the fair and various other events. “But I don’t think that’s the right question,” he said.

That seemed to be the unique beauty of the event. Without mainstream funding, a large supply of union dues, paid door-to-door canvassers or government support, activists were able to organize a professional, savvy and informative event. It seems a good example of being able to create alternative institutions outside the control of what many consider a corporate state.

The book-fair represents a new reality, joining First Nations’ communal justice programs, anti-hunger initiatives like food not bombs, student organized free-schools and community-based healthcare clinics.

At the book-fair, anarchists didn’t fulfil the corporate media stereotype of angry, violent protestors. Through posters, e-mails and word of mouth, people came together to discuss important issues like housing, racism, poverty, war, immigration and economics. Participants weren’t just complaining about problems, but were engaging people to work for solutions in a spirited realm, far cooler than politics or academia.

According to Christoff, “That’s how real change happens, getting involved with struggles which actually affect people’s lives.”