Our good friend Dylan Powell helps run a great radio show and blog called The Vegan Police. This is an interview he conducted with Lantz of Radix Media. Check it out!
Why Print? Why Radical Politics? Why Veganism?
I’ll answer those in reverse, because each one informs the other a little bit better in that order.
I went vegetarian about eight years ago, despite my upbringing in an Americanized version of Puerto Rican culture mixed with the tiniest bit of Greek culture. Meat is a very heavy staple in those diets, especially in Latin food, but it wasn’t until college that I found myself eating the worst food imaginable. Originally, I decided to go vegetarian for health reasons. But the more information I sought out about cruelty to animals, factory farms, and all the exploitation that an animal enterprise is capable of engaging in, the more those health reasons evolved into ethical reasons.
A year later, I went vegan. Many of my friends around that time who shared my values and were very militant are no longer vegan, but I’ve still been going strong. It’s hard for me to understand how someone can see what they see, know what they know about all the horrific things that happen in the animal industry, and yet still return to consuming animal products. I try not to be too preachy, though, because I think there’s a huge element of privilege involved in it; it’s definitely a privilege to be able to choose what you eat. Fortunately for me, I have that privilege, so I use it to be as ethical as I can be.
No one is perfect, of course. After all, humans are animals, too, and plenty of workers are exploited for most of the food that mainstream society consumes. Much of the food that vegans eat come from thousands of miles away and come with a ton of packaging. Food that is not organic and fair trade has a lot of blood on it, too. But perfection and purity is not something to strive for – you just have to make an honest attempt to do the best you can.
I also think that it’s important to meet people where they’re at, and presenting factual information as nicely as possible can often be a better strategy for winning people over. Save the in-your-face tough guy posturing for vivisector home demos!
So when we talk about ending exploitation and giving all these different species the autonomy to live in their natural world without being screwed over, we can’t help but look to other struggles. I identify as an anarchist, meaning that I believe society would be best organized horizontally rather than vertically. That is, I don’t believe there should be a coercive government, no rulers, no gods, no masters, and no borders. People should be able to live their lives free from oppression, and in control of their own futures. And that’s why I get kind of bummed out when militant anarchists eat meat, or when I meet super liberal vegans whose only priority is to consume as many vegan sweets as possible.
One struggle, one fight; I made a poster with that phrase and it means a lot to me, because I believe in it 100%. If you say you’re against oppression, then you should be against all oppression. Animals are oppressed by humans, but we oppress each other too. People of color, queer and trans folks, differently abled folks, undocumented immigrants and others all suffer daily for circumstances they have no control over, for facets of their being that they didn’t ask for. They should not be ashamed of those facets and discriminated against because of them. When we talk about ending exploitation, it’s larger than one struggle; it’s every struggle. No one is free until all are free.
That leads us to print. Print is dead, right? No. The print industry is definitely being hit hard because of the popularity of blogging and social networking and smartphones. Many shops have closed, sold their equipment, merged with other companies or just gone bankrupt. But I think this is primarily happening in the commercial print industry. The companies that have spent astronomical amounts of money on machines and superstar press operators to print “direct mail” (i.e. junk mail that ends up in your recycling bin) all claim that the sky is falling. Well….yeah. If you print total disposable crap, what do you expect? To be fair, shops that are unionized, radical and firmly placed in social justice movements are also struggling to make ends meet. But that has to do more with our economy than with the print industry specifically. People just aren’t into spending money right now
But the fact is, the underground thrives best in these conditions. There are lots of things to say, lots of ideas to share, and the best way to do that is through printed material. You can slip someone a cheaply made pamphlet at a potluck or an event, you can borrow books from your local infoshop or library. You can totally connect with someone who reads a text that you lend them; even if they hate it, you can have a dialogue about it. And that’s what print retains that the Internet is trying so hard to re-create: the human connection. You know that feeling you get when you find a rare, old book in a used bookstore for four dollars, and you think about all the people before you that had it? You know the handset type, the simple design, the roughness of the cover, the smell of the pages? You can’t get that from a Kindle. And you never will.
Don’t get me wrong, though, I think technology has a lot to offer. There are so many opportunities to supplement printed matter with online materials. Many small radical newspapers such as The Baltimore Indypendent do a wonderful job of this. I’m also thinking about how to make the Radix website more interactive with more content. I think it would be great to have essays available, and perhaps a downloads area where people can get free posters and pamphlets and print their own copies. Interviews with writers that have recently been published by Radix would also be a great thing. So technology isn’t necessarily our enemy. It should just be used as a means, not an end. It should be seen as a supplement to the human experience, not a replacement for it.
Hows your edge?
SO GOOD! I’ve been straight edge for 15 years and counting. Being sober is so important to me, and I can’t imagine ever betraying that part of myself. I’ve made it through some pretty tough times and have never broken my edge, and I’m really stoked about that. Also, I’m always really broke so I couldn’t afford drugs and alcohol even if I wanted it!
You started apprenticing at Eberhardt Press in March 2010. Are you the fastest learner, or just that stoked on DIY printing?
I’m definitely a fast learner, but I’m also quite stubborn. If I have my mind set on doing something, I’m going to do it, regardless of what it takes. Sometimes this is my downfall, but I think it generally treats me pretty well. All that being said, none of what I do could ever be possible without my apprenticeship at Eberhardt Press.
Printing became fascinating to me for a lot of the reasons mentioned above. It was wonderful seeing how a small, struggling independent print shop operates. When I first started apprenticing with Charles, his equipment was not much better than what I have, and he had been using it for nearly five years, putting out some of the most beautiful printed work I’d ever seen. I’ve since seen him upgrade a lot of his equipment and become a vastly better printer. He’s also a brilliant designer, and I hope to some day be one-fifth of the designer and printer that he is!
In general, I think apprenticeships are pretty awesome. School can be beneficial too, but if you can’t afford the debt and aren’t into the super bureaucratic structure, the best way to learn a trade is just to find someone who does it and watch them. A lot of my time at Eberhardt Press, in the early days, was just me going to the shop twice a week and standing there, watching. Pretty soon I moved up to putting plates on the cylinder, jogging paper, and collating huge stacks. Those days of seemingly “doing nothing” have helped me understand the way offset presses work and how to troubleshoot things when they inevitably go wrong.
A lot of radical movements aren’t very multi-generational. Do you feel like by using old equipment and bringing old anarchist printers to light (which you did as a poster series) is working in that direct. An attempt at bridging the gap.
Absolutely. The equipment I use isn’t very different from the equipment someone before me used a hundred years ago. One of the things I love about printing is that it seems to be such an anarchist tradition. In researching radical printers for the poster series, I felt like I had hit a dead end a number of times, but ended up just hearing about someone from a friend of a friend. I had actually never even heard of Ross Winn until Josh MacPhee of the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative mentioned him to me. And it wasn’t until I started doing some research on him that I discovered his connection to Portland, a connection that not even Josh knew about!
I love technology (believe me, I’m playing Scrabble on my smartphone even as I answer these questions!) but one thing that it does terribly is preserve the past. You’d think the opposite was true, but consider how many links you click on in a given day, how many blog posts you skim, how many articles you “Like” on Facebook or other sites. Think about how many people you “follow” on Twitter who tweet about their breakfast. Now think about how many of those things you actually remember, or reference a month or two down the line, even a year down the line. The Internet has made news, art, opinions, and ideas completely disposable. In this Information Age, everything is up for grabs, which in theory is great. The problem is, most of it is total garbage. Even the good stuff eventually gets swallowed in a sea of trash, forgotten about.
With zines, books, posters and other printed material, it’s far easier to reference them whenever you want, and because so much time and resources go into producing them, the quality is typically much higher. It’s a wonderful thing to have extra copies of zines and books to loan out to people you want to share those ideas with. And I think it’s important to have something to pass on to future generations besides a scorched earth. How can we communicate about our cultures, our ideas and our struggles to a kid a hundred years from now? You can’t pass down an iPad, that’s for sure.
So I think that this notion has really made me appreciate all the printers and publishers that came before me. Doing it has helped me understand their passions and their plight. It’s made me feel like part of a history, part of a movement. That’s been on my mind with this poster series, and it’s something I strive for with everything I design or publish. Are there stories we can’t afford to do without? Are there people whose voices are nearly extinguished? Then I will prioritize those voices, and seek out projects that perpetuate that history.
I know we have talked before about the impact Nick Riotfag’s “Towards a Less Fucked Up World” has had on us. Can you talk a bit about why you chose that zine and what process you have for deciding on what zines you are going to (re) print?
I had heard about that zine for awhile, mostly from my partner Rachel, but could never find a copy. It turned out that it was out of print for many years, until it was revised and included in the book “Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge and Radical Politics” that was published by PM Press. At the time I was going through sort of an existential crisis about whether or not I should call myself straight edge. Don’t get me wrong, breaking edge was never on the table and never will be, but I wondered about the usefulness of the label. As soon as I read that zine, my mind was made up: I would forever hold onto it. The very next thing I did was e-mail Nick to see if I could re-publish it.
It’s an important zine for a lot of reasons, but mostly because Nick has really solid politics. His analysis takes into account the dynamics of struggle, and is really coming at it from a radical perspective. This is crucial, because straight edge culture has such a bad stigma of being fused with fascist, right-wing nonsense. TALFUW was the first zine that I re-published and really one of the first things that I printed at all, and I’m happy to say that it is now in its second printing as a Radix Media publishing effort. A lot of people have approached me saying that they have read it and how big of an impact it had on them. To me, that’s worth everything. My hope is that this recent run of 500 runs out sooner than I think and then I’ll have to print 1,000!
When deciding what to publish, there are a number of things I take into consideration. I love finding things that are out of print, nearly out of print, or haven’t been touched or updated in ages. I also think it’s really important to keep stories alive that the status quo would rather see dead. A good example of this is the JANE pamphlet. JANE was a clandestine group that operated in Chicago in the 1970s, providing cheap or free abortions to poor women who couldn’t risk the trauma of being found out by their families, and couldn’t afford the super-secret doctors who were doing abortions. The JANEs operated for a number of years, performed a jaw-dropping amount of abortions and changed hundreds of lives. The original run of the zine was published by Firestarter Press, then re-published by Eberhardt Press. This most recent press run was co-published by Eberhardt and Radix Media and was released during a really important time where the reproductive rights of women are once again under attack.
Tells us about Red and Black.
The Red and Black Café is a worker-owned, collectively managed all vegan café in Southeast Portland, Oregon. As an establishment, it’s been around for over a decade and even in the face of gentrification has remained a hub of radical activity, both for local activists and for folks passing through. It’s also a great community space, hosting lots of events for local social justice organizations and prioritizing the needs of marginalized communities.
I have been a collective member at the café for about four years now, and it’s definitely been an amazing experience. When I first moved to Portland, I was barely radicalized. I had many of the same ideas and opinions that I do now, but they were far less honed and I couldn’t articulate them very well at all. On some level, these kinds of ideas were ones that I refrained from talking about, because I grew up in a place where they would have been received pretty badly. The Red and Black helped me discover and refine those parts of myself. It also introduced me to consensus decision-making and clear, transparent communication. And, of course, running a business outside the mainstream status quo.
The thing that fascinates me the most about DIY anarchist printing and zine making is that, as a medium, it is amazing at destroying academic/activists heirarchies. For better or worse, you don’t need a double blind peer review, you don’t need to hob knob your way into high minded academic society and you don’t have to incur a mountain of debt to be legitimate. You got something to say, you fucking write and print it! Even better is that with a more accessible format, what you write is actually more likely to be read by a greater number of people! I wonder if you are at all fueled by this critique of academia?
I’m always sort of on the fence about academics. In some ways, I’m biased against them because I’m usually not smart enough to understand their writing, so I get really jaded and grumpy the way one’s grandparent might get mad at a VCR. But I think we need academics because they often have the resources and the privilege to explore and spread ideas that otherwise might not get out into the world. The few academics I know are super legit and stand-up people. Kristian Williams comes to mind – in addition to being an awesome guy, he’s a great writer and speaker, and has been an indispensable resource for activists in our local community.
That being said, it becomes a question of access. Not everyone has access to a college education, but that doesn’t make their voices any less valid. Of course, there’s a lot of writing out there that I’m not really into, and I can’t really stand bad writing. But I think that the wonderful thing about independent publishing is that – just like you said – if you want to say something, you can write it and find some way to publish it. A collective of individuals can get together and write, edit, layout, design, print and distribute their work, quickly and inexpensively. Even if you don’t have access to a printing press, chances are you know someone who does. And really, it would be great if every radical trying to say anything had access to a printing press. Because, why not? The more we can control the means of production, the further we will get. Let’s cover these cities in propaganda!
I called your kickstarter fundraiser my favorite AR fundraiser of the year. When you first set out to put that together how scary was it and how amazing was it when it actually pulled through?
It was totally nerve-wracking to go through with that Kickstarter campaign. I was really self-conscious about asking for money, when so many activist projects are broke and so many political prisoners need commissary money. I struggled with it a lot – was I asking for too much? Why was I important? Is it wrong that I want this to be a sustainable job for myself and not just an activist project that will dissolve within a year? All of these things went through my head as I printed flyers advertising my campaign, sent e-mails to people urging them to pledge money, and researched and planned for making the rewards, all without even knowing if it would happen or not. As it got closer to the end, the sea of support was endless. It seemed like someone new was pledging money every five or ten minutes. People re-posted the link on Facebook, and all of a sudden I found myself in the middle of a baseball game or a suspense film. Everyone was glued to their seats, anxiously staring into their computer monitors. And when the clock finally stopped, I realized that I had succeeded.
While Kickstarter has its flaws, it really shows that this model of fundraising works. I would definitely recommend it to other people.
I am a huge fan of the work Karol Orzechowski puts out and I want you to let us know about what Decipher Films and Radix Media have planned for Maximum Tolerated Dose.
Honestly? If I told you, I would have to kill you, and I’m sure a lot of people would be sad about that.
But what I can say is that I’m also a huge fan of Karol. He’s doing extremely important work and is keeping it DIY all the way. My background is actually in film, so it fills me with excitement to even be peripherally involved in a project like Maximum Tolerated Dose. I printed some postcards for the film awhile ago, and there will be more of that sort of thing on the way, along with limited edition posters that will be going to folks who help fund the film. In a way, Karol is using the Kickstarter method independently of Kickstarter. He’s a smart guy! Oh yeah, and if you have some money to throw down, do it! The film is going to be so amazing.
Radix Media has a pretty sweet distro offer for people who buy bulk. If people are interested in that, how should they get in touch?
We would love for our zines and posters to be carried by as many bookstores, infoshops and distros as possible! Folks who’d like to buy items in bulk can do so at a 50% discount on orders paid up front. Just send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with the list of items you want. Please note that the minimum bulk order is 10 copies, and add $1.50 per item to cover shipping. In the near future, there will be a store on our website with a catalog of items, making it super easy to accomplish this.
Is riding bikes in Portland anything like this Portlandia skit?
Yes. I’m currently track-standing.
Morrisey’s Solo Career vs. The Smiths?
The Smiths, all the way. Nothing more can be said.