Interfering with the Status Quo: A Radical Documentation of History

This week I took some time off from archiving here at BCRW to visit the Interference Archive, an activist collection located in Gowanus, Brooklyn that is open to the public. The high-ceilinged industrial space houses a wide range of visually gripping materials on historical and contemporary social movements. Recently featured in the New York Times, the collection contains everything from tee-shirts and political pins to radical newspapers and posters. I managed to catch the last day of the exhibition that opened in May titled “Strike Then, Strike Now!” a display of political art that includes union posters, leaflets, and political cartoons on work stoppages and covered the three main walls at the entrance of the room. Although it is continuously expanding (as I scoured the shelves, two women worked at reorganizing and indexing some materials), the Archive boasts a no-gloves-policy that allows visitors to handle and examine any of its items. In addition, the organizers regularly host educational community events in the space—recent events include a Kid’s Day and film screenings on labor struggles.

Image of Work Stoppage Exhibition

I met with Blithe, one of the core organizers and archivists there, who gave me a brief tour of the space. While we weaved through the row of shelves, she explained that the Archive is run completely by volunteers, and hopes that the management structure will be even more horizontal in the future. After I picked up a sturdy copy of Radical America, part of the Archive’s current exhibition, I learned that the Archive generally does not accept materials that are too fragile when receiving donated items, and makes sure the donors are aware that the materials they contribute will pass through many visitors’ hands. While the Archive takes care to preserve the documents, Blithe explained, the organizers acknowledge that the rips and tears that come out of the process of sharing those materials eventually become part of the document itself, its accessibility adding a unique vitality to the item.

Image of Feminist Documents at the Work Stoppage Exhibition

Free posters and activist literature greet visitors at the entrance; I picked up a copy of a newly printed Trayvon Martin poster (you can download and print your own here). When I asked her how she foresaw the future of the Archive, the archivist envisioned a building with plenty of room for the collection and an even larger space for community events. As we continue to move forward in indexing the BCRW archive, it is powerful to keep the radical philosophy of the Interference Archive in mind: because it contains documents from groups who educate, agitate and organize, it also uses the history on its shelves to perform those very actions and keep their legacy alive.

Image of Union Buttons

Emilie Segura is a senior at Barnard majoring in sociology and a BCRW Research Assistant.