June 11, 2018
Portland’s feminist bookstore (yes, the one from TV) will close its doors
by Ryan Harrington
Sad. There is no other word for the fact that In Other Words—the revered feminist bookstore and community space in Portland, Oregon—has announced its closure at the end of this month.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read this blog, or loved a bookshop, that the financial viability of a bookstore in a rapidly changing neighborhood is tenuous at best. And indeed, money did influence the decision to close In Other Words.
As their statement says:
Some reasons for the closure are increased expenses and the lack of funds, volunteers, and board members. This is a cycle of In Other Words as an organization, and also the cycle of community spaces in capitalism. IOW periodically discusses closing because of a lack of money and people. This isn’t sustainable, especially emotionally, for the people who come here and work to provide this space as a resource to Portland Feminist communities. Even if funds poured in, and masses of people showed up in response to this announcement, we would not continue our tenure here.
Well put. It’s worrisome to see the toll capitalism has taken on us reflected in a tally of the beloved spaces it has shut down.
But there are also ideological reasons to say goodbye, and try to start something new with a fresh vision (fresher than even a new injection of money could inspire). The announcement goes on to say:
We cannot continue because we know reform does not work. The current volunteers and board members stepped into and took over a space that was founded on white, cis feminism (read: white supremacy). It’s really difficult, actually, impossible, for us to disentangle from that foundational ideology.
This mission is something the store takes very seriously. As we wrote a couple years back, the store severed its ties with the show Portlandia (whose recurring Women and Women First was an acknowledged satire of the place), feeling that the show’s sketches, and the presence of its crew in Portland, had come with no small amount of “Transmisogyny—Racism—Gentrification—Queer Antagonism—Devaluation of Feminist Discourse.”
But how can you fight those forces within a framework built on white supremacist foundations? The answer In Other Words aims to demonstrate by closing: you can’t.
The silver lining is that the building may be able to continue functioning as a community center, as Critical Resistance Portland—an activist group against the prison industrial complex—is hoping to partner with other organizations to keep the space operational and impactful.
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.