Fine Young Radicals
In a bare-bones storefront, young people gather to talk
about changing the world through peaceful means - and to
listen to bands. 1968? No, 2001.
By JEANNE MALMGREN, Times Staff Writer
St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2001
In a bare-bones storefront, young people gather to talk
about changing the world through peaceful means -- and to
listen to bands. 1968? No, 2001.
ST. PETERSBURG -- They sit in a ragged circle, on chairs and
sofas retrieved from trash bins. A single bare bulb lights
the room. A red-and-black Che Guevara poster looks down from
They're mostly under 30 and all are intense, these radicals
who call themselves "the collective." Elaborate tattoos
encircle ankles. Braided cotton bracelets decorate wrists.
One young woman has a silver hoop in the center of her
Tonight's meeting has a Facilitator, a Taskmaster, a
Timekeeper and several Decisionmakers, but no single leader,
no authority. They move through the agenda in a calm,
orderly way. Everyone raises his or her hand before
speaking. Each time they're ready to decide an issue, a man
wearing a baseball cap and holding a notebook on his lap
This time, the discussion is about an upcoming record swap,
and whether dealers will be allowed to sell their goods or
only barter with each other. The group agrees to "see what
"Any stand-asides?" the man in the cap asks. "Any blocks?"
No one says a word.
"Okay, then, do we have consensus?"
The young people slouching on the couch raise their right
hands, cupped like C's.
Motion passed. The collective has spoken.
The Center of Radical Empowerment, open one month, is a
narrow storefront in St. Petersburg's 16th Street S business
district, just down from Red's Snak Shak and the Prayer
Tower Thrift Shop. It has bars on the window and a sign on
the front door: "No Drugs or Alcohol in This Building."
The center, or CORE as its members call it, is the
brainchild of nine friends who started talking last summer
about a place where they could hang out and discuss things
they care about: animal rights, justice, globalization,
women's issues, oppression of Native Americans.
Oh, and punk rock.
"We're trying to build a community, and also a culture,"
said Anthony Ateek, 24, of St. Petersburg. "Hopefully, we
can empower people to talk about problems and solutions.
Because City Hall doesn't always listen. They have their own
Ateek, a senior education major at the University of South
Florida, said CORE is one of several "info-shops" around the
state, mostly in college towns. Others include the Civic
Media Center in Gainesville and the Stone Soup Collective in
Orlando. Most are bare-bones storefronts, like CORE, where
left-wingers can pick up literature, check out books and
listen to live bands.
"To me, it's a place to bring activists together, regardless
of what particular issue they are involved in," said Ronnie
Wright of Gulfport.
At 45, with a chin of silver-gray stubble, Wright is the
senior member of the CORE collective. A retired U.S. Army
drill sergeant, he now lives on a military pension and
attends St. Petersburg Junior College, where he is studying
to become a social worker. He spent years campaigning in the
animal rights movement, leading demonstrations outside the
Derby Lane greyhound racing track and at local performances
of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
In 1996 he and a companion were arrested at the Times
Bayfront Arena when they stood up during a circus
performance, shouted slogans and unfurled a banner that
read, "Abolish Animal Slavery." (A judge dismissed the
Lately, Wright has become interested in activism that
combines animal rights with human concerns and the
environment. He feels at home at CORE. "It's like my dream
come true, to bring all the issues together," he said.
The center consists of two rooms. Up front,
plywood-and-block bookshelves house a lending library of
used books donated by collective members. Neatly typed
labels denote categories: Anarchism. Labor. Alternative
Health Care. Fascism, Conspiracy and the Far Right. Peace &
A bulletin board offers petitions to sign protesting police
"repression" of homeless people in downtown St. Petersburg.
A handwritten note on a scrap of paper advertises for a
Fliers are stacked on a table: How a Rape-Free World Could
Benefit Men. Protect Our Public Lands. The Bank of New York
One wall holds new books for sale. They range from vegan
cookbooks to civil disobedience tracts to sex manuals for
gays, bisexuals and transgendered people.
"This is stuff you can't find at Barnes & Noble," said
The back room of the CORE center functions as a meeting and
seminar space and makeshift concert hall. Strips of pink
eggshell foam are tacked to the masonry walls to absorb
sound. Two microphones stand on a homemade stage covered in
In its first month, the center has hosted four concerts,
said Ateek. "Three punk rock and one jazz."
Coming up are bands called the Skabs ("on tour from NYC"),
the Backstabbers and Civil Dissidence ("anarcho-crust from
Fort Myers"). Ateek said the concerts usually draw about 50
people, many of them teens who are too young to get into
bars where other bands play.
The center is also open afternoons for those who want to
browse in the library and talk activism. So far, traffic has
"The days are kind of dead," Ateek said.
Still, 41 people paid dues (sliding scale, $10 to $100) to
join CORE. Members can check out books and receive
discounted admission to concerts and other events.
The collective's decisionmakers decided CORE would offer a
diversity of events, to make it an everyman-and-everywoman
kind of place. The Radical Men's Group meets the last
Thursday of the month. There's a knitting workshop and a
sign-language class. Guest speakers talk about animal rights
and the Zapatista movement in Mexico. The center gives
anti-oppression training and classes in consensus, the
cooperative decisionmaking process used by Quakers and other
groups that promote peace.
"We're kind of trying to be open to everyone," said Jenny
Becker, 19, of St. Petersburg. She is one of four female
members of the original CORE group. She has been an activist
since earlier in her teens, working with a grass-roots food
distribution group called Food Not Bombs.
Women's issues are important to CORE, according to Becker.
But she acknowledged that the collective is all "young,
white, privileged kids" so far. They would like that to
change. The outreach-diversity committee has been
distributing CORE fliers in coffeehouses, record shops and
health food stores. They also get the word out on an
Internet listserv. They were pleased that several seniors
showed up at the CORE grand opening in early May.
"What I really want to do is empower people, so there's no
hierarchy and no oppression," said Grommit, who has a first
name but prefers not to use it. Another of the original CORE
members, Grommit, 24, lives in a mobile home park in central
Pinellas County and works on a cooperative organic farm in
Tampa. He has mutton-chop sideburns and a burning passion
for social change.
He said he has campaigned against North Carolina chip mills,
which process clear-cut trees into wood chips that are
shipped overseas to make pressed wood products. He worked
for the radical environmental groups Earth First! and Ruckus
Society. He did "tree-sittings" and civil obedience
demonstrations. During the 1999 riots outside the World
Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, he was tear-gassed,
pepper-sprayed and hit by rubber bullets, alongside
thousands of other protesters.
He's proud to call himself an anarchist.
"If people have a sense of autonomy, if they are
self-reliant, then we won't have to oppress each other,"
Grommit said. "We'll be able to solve our problems without
There's no violence at the monthly meetings of the CORE
collective. Fueled by pizza (Becker brings it from her job
at Lenny & Vinny's), the group spends hours patiently
resolving issues without oppressing each other.
First, a member of the "A-hole committee" reports on what
bands it has booked for upcoming shows.
Next, one of the Decisionmakers gives a financial report:
$2,000 in the checking account; $104.91 in petty cash. (CORE
has applied for non-profit status with the Internal Revenue
The group discusses who's staffing the center for the next
week. The members decide to spend $50 to get T-shirts made.
Then they wrestle with an ethical problem: Should CORE carry
publications that advocate violence as a vehicle for social
change? The group can't come to a consensus. They table the
discussion until their next meeting.
Finally, there's the problem of housekeeping.
"We've got to clean up around here," someone says. "It's
"Yeah, and we need to keep the cleaning supplies out of the
bathroom," someone else says. "At that jazz thing we had,
somebody was in there huffing the bleach."
The Center of Radical Empowerment is at 1615 16th St. S, St.
Petersburg. Hours are noon to 9 p.m. daily. For a schedule
of upcoming events call (727) 821-2673 or visit
Browsing through a radical library+
Here is a selection of titles in the CORE library.
Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868-1936
The Nutritional Yeast Cookbook
Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of
Media and Power: From Marconi to Murdoch
Where White Men Fear to Tread: The Autobiography of Russell
Solar Living Sourcebook
The Ethical Slut
Newspapers and zines
Showdown in Seattle: Five Days That Shook the WTO
The True Malcolm X
Drumbeat for Mother Earth
The Scientific Basis of Vegetarianism
"The FBI's Current Campaign Against Activism in Indiana"
"What Your Mother Never Told You About Tampons"
"Transgender: What Is It?"
"Floridians for Humane Farms"
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