After five years as an outpost of political activism, particularly among the younger generation, Free Mind Media will close its doors at the end of this month. Since 2005, the multifaceted Santa Rosa infospace has served the community by hosting meetings, workshops, guest speakers, a free library, a bookstore, free internet access, art shows, concerts, open mics, gardening classes and much more.
"Sustaining the fundraising is something we've always struggled with," says Free Mind's Edgar Avila. The group set out originally to pay its $500 rent through book sales. "We could have kept scrambling like we've been doing for a while, but we made a conscious decision to put in our notice, focus on regrouping and re-strengthening by not having the burden of rent."
Avila stresses that Free Mind will soldier on in the interim without a physical location, and will have more resources to carry out the collective's original intent to "arm with knowledge." Obtaining another location and official nonprofit status are on the agenda. In the meantime, care volunteers will continue to distribute radical media at community functions, organize protests, work with activist groups and maintain its website, on which appears a letter of farewell. "This is a new beginning for us, not an end," it reads.
Free Mind Media took over the former Sonoma County Peace and Justice Center site in 2005 in part to accommodate that organization's overflow. Among the community groups that Free Mind has welcomed are Food Not Bombs, Impact!, Copwatch, Students for a Democratic Society, the Oct. 22 Coalition, M.E.Ch.A., the Police Accountability Clinic, CASA Calpulli, the ACLU, Common Vision, Critical Mass and others. Guest speakers at Free Mind included hip-hop artist KRS-One, Our Enemies in Blue author Kristian Williams, political prisoner Rob los Ricos, former Weather Underground member Linda Evans, labor leader Jack Gershon, radical love activist Wendy O. Matik, SRJC professor Richard Speakes and many others.
The space has kept its sense of humor. After street tagger Saif Azzuz, aka "El Barto," became a law-enforcement scapegoat for graffiti abatement, Free Mind Media happily sponsored an art show featuring his work. Annual fundraising block parties showed the joyful side of radical social change, says founding volunteer Ben Saari. "But few people sign up for this kind of stuff forever," Saari says, "and it's hard to have a primarily youth-run project and be able to hand it off successfully." Free Mind Media hosts a going-away party on Friday, June 4, at 547 Pacific Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.579.1605. freemindmedia.org.