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Your Friendly Neighborhood Anarchists

By Amelia Arthur, Emmy Cohen, Ashira Naftali Greer, Emily Herman, Robert Wells, Bach Tong



Listen to this audio essay:




Lets be honest, bosses are irritating, they ride your back all day and then take the credit for your hard work. Living in a world without bosses, seems like an illusion, but for the Wooden Shoe it is an everyday concept.


The Wooden Shoe, an anarchist bookstore, has been disregarding cultural norms for over 35 years by using a system of decentralized authority to sell books, magazines, and assorted paraphernalia on liberal and controversial matters. The store does not profit from its sales; instead, it funnels all of its profits back into the store, the surrounding community, and other non-profits it supports.


The philosophy of anarchism and its implementation as a form of government is rarely seen in the modern world. Its definition is either misconstrued or unknown to mainstream society. According to the Wooden Shoe's website, "...workers ought to control their own workplaces, neighborhoods, and all people should be able to live their lives free of oppression."


Generally, bookstores are not very profitable businesses, especially during a recession. The Wooden Shoe has defied this standard by being completely dependent on its volunteers and members to generate income. The volunteers and members are passionate about the ideas that the store preaches, and they work together to make the business run successfully. "It's run collectively, so we democratically run it," explained James Generic, a ten-year member of the Wooden Shoe Book Store.


But this business model has not always been the most efficient. According to Caleb Hunt, another loyal member of the Wooden Shoe. "Most of the duties would fall on a small amount of people, and people would burn out." She describes the new system the store now uses as a more productive business model. "A few years ago we restructured so now things are delegated...as a collective...people volunteer for committees," said Hunt.


Sabotaging authority has always been a part of the Wooden Shoe's heritage. The Wooden Shoe derived its name from the traditional symbol of workers' control, the wooden shoes known as sabots. Because of 19th Century Dutch workers' rebellious behavior the word sabotage was inspired by their shoes. "The Dutch factory workers would wear wooden shoes to work during the industrial revolution because it was dirty and they need to protect their feet," said Hunt, "Their bosses would not give them breaks [from work]...They would throw their shoes into the machine so they could step out."


Now occupying a storefront at 704 South Street, the Wooden Shoe can be considered somewhat of a safe haven for those who have more vexed views of the world. Generic describes why he came to belong at the Wooden Shoe. "Being here I felt a little less crazy...I was always an anarchist, I just didn't have a name for it."



Watch more 2011 videos by WHYY's Young Journalists »