By Curtis Greenwood
Walking into Exile Infoshop on Bank Street, you can’t help but feel tension toward the status quo, symbolized by a large painting of a black sheep behind the desk.
“The black sheep represents the ugly duckling or the alternative thinker,” says an Exile volunteer, who goes by the alias Jabis.
Inspired by other Infoshops across Canada and the United States, Exile opened last May to provide access to alternative media and resources on anarchism.
“We’re providing a safe space for alternative voices to be heard and alternative ideas to be explored,” says Sarah Lawrance, an Exile volunteer.
The two-room shop sells books, zines, clothing and vegan food.
Denis Rancourt, a University of Ottawa professor and Exile supporter, says he admires small, independent groups that try to communicate anarchism.
“I welcome these brave, bold, inventive attempts to create democracy and encourage them whenever I can,” says Rancourt.
Exile isn’t the only group fostering discussion on anarchism. Mat Morgan, a regular visitor to Exile, helps organize anarchism discussion groups at the Jack Purcell Community Centre.
The discussions present films on such topics as the abolition of prisons, animal cruelty and the systems of oppression.
“We want to see anarchism grow as a movement and we have to talk and engage for that to occur,” says Morgan.
Bringing important and common sense ideas together, anarchism is built on anti-oppression and a rejection of competition by recognizing humanity’s struggles as interconnected, says Lawrance.
“Anarchism is one of the most sound and humane political systems ever devised,” says Rancourt.
One issue with anarchism, says Lawrance, is the misconception that it is a violent recourse.
“Smash the state doesn’t necessarily mean throwing bricks at windows, but the need to do without the state by working together and being accountable and responsible to one another,” says Lawrance.
Exile is currently cataloging its selection in anticipation of setting up a library containing a collection of books written on anarchism. The Infoshop is also starting Exile Press, printing both original and classical zines.
Ideally, Lawrance says Exile wants to move away from being sales-oriented, instead becoming a resource and community centre. To achieve this they will need to move into a larger facility, says Lawrance. There is also a need to be more visible to the public.
Recently, Exile set up ‘Friends of Exile,’ which allows supporters to commit monthly donations.
“The challenge is trying to keep underground, but also increase the awareness of Exile,” says Jabis.