My good friend and fellow activist and sister cheerleader has her shop featured in today’s news:
|The Free Speech Zone outfits progressives and extremists
Activists ‘R’ Us; Free Speech Zone outfits progressives
Never mind the rock music, patchouli scent and posters of Malcolm X side by side with John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr. and Utah’s own martyr, Joe Hill.
You can tell you’re somewhere left-of-center by the large, leering puppet of President Bush in the front window – his bloody hands crushing toy soldiers bearing stickers that shout, “Bring me home!”
The store promotes politics, protest and what owners Raphael Cordray and Nate Smith call “radical info.”
“We are an outpost and haven for insurgent social activists deep in the heart of ultra-conservative Utah,” says Smith. Located at 2144 S. Highland Drive, the store is named after the designated “free speech zones” where protesters were obliged to gather during the 2002 Olympic Games, a restriction Cordray considers a “crackdown” on First Amendment rights.
Since opening in April 2005, the owners say they have gained the support of local artists, activists and organizers for peace and justice, labor and human rights.
Cordray and Smith say they played “an essential role” in organizing antiwar demonstrations in Salt Lake City last fall, and the store continues to be a rallying point for demonstrators.
Cordray and Smith say they are currently gearing up to protest President Bush’s Aug. 30 visit to the Beehive State.
“We intend to go beyond just business as usual,” says Smith. “It’s radical. Radical politics and social-movement building are at the foundation. A spirit of ’60s activism exemplifies what we are doing.”
The store sells T-shirts, hats, purses, fleece baby booties and other items. Much of the clothing, as well as the bumper stickers, buttons and pins, carry political messages.
Cordray says rolls of toilet paper with a picture of Bush on every square are particularly popular right now.
“You lay it on the surface of the water and take aim,” she says with a smile.
Cordray calls her shop “the anti-Wal-Mart. There’s stuff here that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.”
She carries only fair trade products that are made in America. “The people producing the products are getting the reward,” Cordray says.
Her suppliers include local independent artists, worker collectives and union shops. Cordray herself makes many of the clothing and jewelry items on display.
She also sell books, including the latest incarnation of the infamous Anarchist Cookbook, titled Recipes for Disaster.
You can also find The Heretic’s Guide to the Bible,
A Trouble Maker’s Handbook: How to Fight Back Where You Work and Win and $2 pocket editions of the U.S. Constitution. There are free pamphlets about civil rights, gender equality and alternative media publications.
They are also screening free films on Friday nights at 7 p.m. through Aug. 25. They recently showed documentaries about antilogging activists in Oregon and protest actions at the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization Convention.
Cordray, 36, and Smith, 28, met at a protest planning meeting and are now partners in life as well as business, they said. Both work for the state and take turns at the store, which is not yet breaking even.
“It’s not about becoming a millionaire,” says Cordray. “But I’ve got to pay the rent.”
Cordray started out selling fleece baby booties and other handmade items at the Sunday drum circle in Liberty Park. She says she accomplished two goals by opening the store: She got in out of the weather and found an outlet for her vocal political opinions, which became more strident prior to the 2000 election, in which she supported Ralph Nader.
Working at the store allows her to converse with like-minded people. “People come in all day long and talk about the war,” she says.
Cordray does not support such organizations as the National Rifle Association. But she strives to sell products and promote messages that are inclusive of most other groups, including Latinos, Native Americans and the gay and lesbian community.
Not everyone is appreciative.
“During Gay Pride I do rainbows, and I’ve gotten lots of spit on the windows,” she says. “That’s OK.”
But as long as it is nonviolent, Cordray supports self-expression.
“I want people to think and feel and engage in things,” Cordray says, even things that make them angry.
“This business is about being outspoken,” she says.
Hey, it’s the Free Speech Zone: Say what you want to say.