Something happened on Saturday night in downtown Santa Cruz. There was a ruckus. There was a dance party. There was also aftermath—broken glass, graffiti on walls, police in riot gear.

Something happened on Saturday night in downtown Santa Cruz. There was a ruckus. There was a dance party. There was also aftermath—broken glass, graffiti on walls, police in riot gear.

There were circle-a’s spray-painted on businesses. And even though rebellious teenagers for the past 40 years have scribbled that symbol wherever they felt, it makes it easy for people to believe that all anarchists are evil and responsible for all the destruction and all the fear. And swept into this melee is SubRosa, an anarchist infoshop.

It must be their fault. The fact that SubRosa didn’t have anything to do with the event doesn’t seem to matter. That the only link is an arrested person who saw a flier at SubRosa. Of course there was a flier at SubRosa. There were fliers all over town. You can still see them on the telephone poles lining Soquel Drive.
This isn’t the first time anarchists have been blamed for the problems of society. In fact, the history of May Day is tied up in the demonization of anarchists. In 1887, four anarchists were hung in Chicago after being framed for throwing bombs at police during a protest. Three more were to spend six years in prison until pardoned by Gov. Altgeld, who said the trial that convicted them was characterized by “hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge.” The anarchists were a part of a massive strike that began on May 1, 1886, demanding an eight-hour work day.

SubRosa is pretty innocuous, really. It is based on values of self-responsibility, mutual support and free association. Like anarchism itself, it encompasses a wide range of perspectives. The shelves are filled with books espousing a variety of ideas, some in contradiction to each other. The room is filled with a variety of people, young people, old people. The volunteers spend their time and energy working to create a positive and family-friendly space.

Some of the people who frequent SubRosa are homeless. SubRosa is the one place in town where you can sit down without having to pay for anything. You can’t sit on Pacific Avenue, not with all the statues and parking meters and downtown ordinances. Not with all the business owners who don’t want you anywhere near their stores if you aren’t going to buy anything. Not with all the downtown hosts who walk up to you, shake their head and move you along down Pacific. They point you to the block where SubRosa is; the downtown hosts don’t go south of Laurel.

In the atmosphere of downtown Santa Cruz, where there is so much conflict between so many haves and so many have-nots, May Day’s eruption doesn’t seem so out of place. The homeless and other “undesirables” are constantly being forced off Pacific Avenue, and it comes as no surprise that some of them stood up and pushed back against the city that rejected them.

But really we don’t know what actually happened on May Day. There were hundreds of people there, but no one can stand up and say “I was there. I was a part of this.” Because to do that is to throw yourself into the maelstrom of accusation, is to label yourself a criminal even if you never picked up a rock or held a can of spray paint. “Known anarchists” who were safe at home in bed are now having their names posted on the internet, being accused of planning the whole thing. It doesn’t matter that they were in no way involved, because an accusation is a very powerful, very dangerous thing.

Simone Chandler is a member of the SubRosa collective.