You Are What You Do: 10 Years of Boing!
There’s one in every neighborhood: a house that young, wild-looking people wander in and out of at all hours of the day and night. Boing!, an anarchist collective house located at 608 S. 500 E. in Salt Lake City, is one of these to be sure. Unlike my neighbors’ place that exists exclusively as an unvacuumed, dimly lit diazepam den, the folks at Boing! (with the requisite exclamation point) are busy making shit happen—real positive, feel-good shit—and they want to change your life.
The collective, which celebrated its 10th anniversary earlier this year, is home to an ever-shifting, autonomous army of practical anarchists who use the house as a music venue, a youth hostel, a classroom, a Food Not Bombs kitchen, a computer lab, a free library and a radical infoshop.
Eric Rich, a street musician whose buffalo-heavy beard hangs to his chest, has lived in the collective house for the past seven years. He and the other seven or eight-ish (Rich is reluctant to spit out a hard number) current inhabitants work to create a safe community space where anyone can feel at home.
“We want everyone to have an enriching, full life,” he says, “and that’s what we promote.”
Etta Crowley, another roommate and a spokesperson for Boing!, has lived on and off at the house since its inception. She has seen enthusiasm for the project wax and wane over the years. Having learned that a narrow focus on specific goals is the only way for the collective to accomplish what it wants while maintaining a high level of excitement, this year, the Boing! folks are focusing on perfecting the library and infoshop.
“We’re about to revamp the library a lot,” Crowley says. “We’re having meetings about it, and we’re going to rebuild shelves and create a catalog, one that will work for a long time, and really provide the structure for anyone to plug into. I’m really stoked about that.”
The library, located in the living room of the house, is currently home to over 1,000 books and zines, many of which are not available at the City Library. Guests can check out books for up to a month at a time, without having to show any sort of government-issued identification. Ensuring that the resources continue to expand, the members of the collective also split the cost of monthly subscriptions to PM Press and AK Press, both purveyors of radical reading material.
“If anybody sees something on [the AK and PM websites] that’s coming out that they’re interested in, they can come here and check it out,” says Rich.
At the time of the interview, official hours for the infoshop had not been established, but Rich and Crowley don’t want that to deter people who are interested in the project from stopping by.
“People can just walk right into our living room,” says Rich. “Except we don’t want it to be our living room. It’s an info shop. I encourage people who are interested to just come right in.”
Over the years, Boing! has had a variety of obstacles to overcome, including travelers who outstay their welcome, belligerent drunks and a widespread public misconception about what anarchism actually stands for.
Rich explains, “People abuse the space, and we just have to be positively confrontational. Yes, you can have an anarchist house and have rules. Our house is a sober space, and that’s probably the number one line that people cross over. We have to tell people that if they want to drink, just go somewhere else. People get aggressive sometimes, and it really sucks because we try to provide a place for free shows and free radical information, and it gets abused.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Crowley says there was a time when a straight edge group was angry and confrontational toward the collective. “[The straight edge group] thought that we were just hippies and loved peace, and so we were not the cool kids,” she says. “Within similar circles, there will be weird triangulation around us and creation of some really strange rumors. What I would say to anyone like that is ‘just come over and hang out with us. We’re cool.’”
Despite these occasional setbacks, Boing! is as strong and productive as ever. Crowley attributes the collective’s longevity to the dedication of the inhabitants of the house, a group that she estimates to have included a total of over 100 people throughout the years.
“One of the perks of having the space being residential in addition to being an infoshop is that the people here split all the costs of living, and that includes the infoshop,” she says. “Even when people lose some interest in maintaining the library, it’s able to stay here and stay open, whereas if it was outside of a residential space, it would probably get shut down because we wouldn’t be able to continue to pay for the space. Because we live here, it stays open.”
For more information and a calendar of events, visit boingcollective.org. Be sure to check out the hilarious collection of photos of naked anarchists hung on the walls of the upstairs kitchen, if you ever drop by.