On Sunday Oct. 24, the Riot Act Bookstore celebrated its first anniversary with a Halloween-themed party at its Main Street location, with the goal of bringing the community together and celebrating their work. The party was hosted outside of the store’s location at the Bundy Museum of History and Art in Binghamton, with a book sale in the parking lot and a special movie screening indoors.
The Riot Act Bookstore is a small, volunteer-run, radical bookstore run out of the Bundy Museum of History and Art Annex. The store is open Thursday through Sunday and offers books, zines and other types of radical literature by left-wing, queer and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) authors. In addition to its role as a bookstore, those who run Riot Act see it as a community hub and information hub, a place where political people can come together to organize.
Riot Act opened up last fall in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the bookstore and information shop has been open on a regular basis over the past year, concerns about social distancing have prevented the shop from serving as the community center it had initially envisioned. Though the store has been hosting in-person events since last spring, the one-year anniversary party was a great opportunity for the community to come out and enjoy what Riot Act has to offer.
One of the volunteers that have been running Riot Act since it opened last year, who wished to remain anonymous, talked about the goals of the store and how they’ve changed over the first year.
“We want to be a place where groups can come together and use our collective space,” the anonymous volunteer said. “But we also want to be a source of up-to-date, really in-depth information on radical politics, climate change and those types of topics. Definitely an information hub, and also a connection to other like-minded groups throughout the country.”
The volunteer pointed to events of the past year, such as Black Lives Matter protests and the COVID-19 pandemic, that have increased public interest in the type of ideas radical spaces like Riot Act promote.
“There’s been a huge explosion of radical thought in politics on social media, and that’s great,” the volunteer said. “But it’s also great to move from that online thought to a [real-world] action. It’s important to plug into these relationships and these networks that go back decades.”
Another long-term volunteer, who also wished to remain unidentified, spoke more about Riot Act’s open-ended volunteer system and the way the store wants Binghamton University students to get involved.
“We’re really trying to work on our student outreach,” the second anonymous volunteer said. “We’ve talked with groups like the Women’s Student Union a little bit about doing events together. We’re trying to work on it, because we have a lot of great titles in the shop that are academic, and we’d love for students to come in for books they might need for classes.”
Overall, running Riot Act in the past year has been a challenging and rewarding experience for the group of volunteers involved. They just want the community to be involved, seeing Riot Act and these types of events it puts on as an essential part of the community.
“A year ago, we first opened our doors, and since then we’ve grown a lot in terms of the books we carry, our size and our vision,” the anonymous volunteer said. “We’ve changed what we want our long-term goals to be. Everyone here has varying left-wing politics, and we want to foster a coalition of those ideas and get them working together in a long-term manner.”