SubRosa Anarchist Café has recently drawn media attention as some Santa Cruzans blame the group for the May 1 riot. At the café coffee, art, music and literature are served by volunteers from the local anarchist community like Michael Russo, who has been with the café since its inception.
Michael Russo speaks as an individual. His views do not reflect the opinions of the SubRosa collective.
City on the Hill Press (CHP): What is your reaction to accusations that SubRosa is behind the actions of May 1?
Michael Russo (MR): Basically, it’s like they’re trying to stir up a witch-hunt and the media’s playing into it. There have literally been calls for mobs to come and do lynchings. After May Day, there were … at least a dozen people who came in to threaten to kill the staffers, or fire bomb the place, or made general threats about being unwelcome to anarchists.
CHP: What threats has the group received?
MR: It was one female staffer who was in here and kind of already having a stressful morning and somebody came in. I think the exact words were something like, ‘You fucking bitch, I’m going kill you and burn down SubRosa,’ or something like that. We’ve been taking it in stride. The thing about it is, if someone wants to burn down SubRosa, they’re not going to come here and tell us first and show us their face, they’re going to do it at night. So we understand that it’s more of an intimidation thing than an actual threat. Although, if you know there are that many people coming in, then maybe that sentiment among the reactionary community is more widespread than that.
CHP: Why do you think people assume that anarchists were behind May 1?
MR: In all fairness, I myself believe that anarchists are probably behind it. There are a lot of different anarchists who have a lot of different approaches to anti-capitalism or anti-state. At SubRosa, we pick having a community center where we hold classes, and do more of a positive community thing, creating the world that we want to see. And other anarchists take the offensive against capitalism. It makes sense in that context to me. There’s not really any way that anyone can really know, no one’s spoken up from them, no one has posted any online messages or communiqués about it. There are no statements around it, so it’s like all that’s left behind are some messages that were spray-painted on walls and the broken glass.
CHP: The word ‘anarchy’ is often misused — what is your definition?
MR: At its root, the word means ‘without government’ or ‘an absence of government,’ so the common denominator between almost every definition is people that don’t like the government. Beyond that, it’s usually up for debate. For a lot of people, it’s chaos and people killing each other. Frankly, our society’s laws don’t stop people from killing each other — people kill each other all the time, anyway. An anarchist society deals with the root of the problems instead of just trying to control the symptoms. Another thing is that, if you ask 10 different anarchists what anarchy means, you’re going to get 10 different answers. If you ask 10 different anarchists what an anarchist society would look like, you would get 10 different answers. I think that’s one of the beautiful things about the idea, that there’s not one program where everyone has to believe in the exact same thing to be an anarchist. So, for me, what it looks like are communities coming together to deal with and solve their own problems in the way that they see fit and not relying on authority or hierarchy … and coming to agreements and resolutions that reflect a certain amount of respect for all parties involved.
CHP: Is there anything else you would like to add?
MR: If people are feeling skeptical still, or want to clarify for themselves, or see the people that are behind this project, everyone is welcome to come in and see we’re not all window-smashing bomb throwers. We’re a pretty dedicated group of friends … who are coming together out of care for the community. We put this place together to be a resource for people and, in essence, it’s a community center. People should come down and check it out and see for themselves to make up their own minds.