Wooden Shoe Collective

As a 32-year-old book infoshop located in Philadelphia, Wooden Shoe Books has provided the community with access to literature specializing in social justice, radical theory and culture, anarchism and other related ideologies, as well as providing a place to hear speakers of many different topics dealing with social justice, radical theory and underground culture for decades. As such, we would like to make a special announcement.

For many years, the collective was open to anyone with the time to volunteer. There was very little training and mentoring given to new members. This led to a small number of individuals dominating the collective, through taking up a lot of the responsibilities and not giving space for others to take on tasks and offer new ideas. It was often hard to retain any institutional knowledge of what had been tried before, what hadn't worked and how to learn from mistakes. Any conversations to address these issues couldn't be sustained for more than a few months because many collective members would get frustrated by the collective and leave.

While there was some structure set up to address these problems, the collective had very little accountability, and members would often disappear after taking on roles in various committees. Newer people would take on the burden of trying to work through these issues, however, this was hard with such a high membership turnover. People felt over time that major problems were either ignored or that it became a blame game, focusing on individuals instead of examining the entire structure and mission of the organization. It is hard to run an organization with so many internal problems. We were losing money and not having enough collective members to order merchandise for the store or to even keep the store open during regular hours. We needed to do something major in order to keep surviving. A core group of collective members formed to talk about the past, present and future of the collective and the store space. It became clear that we couldn't continue thriving without changing the structure and communication of the collective. We needed to meet more often, be more clear about what we were asking of people, enhance our training of new people, examine our role in our community and how we could make that stronger, and have ways of extending long and difficult conversations on how to challenge oppression within our store and collective, as well as maintain the sustainability of the store. We looked to infoshops that we felt were successful, such as Baltimore's Red Emma's or NYC's Bluestockings.

This project was largely inspired by Red Emma's collective in Baltimore, Md. We are extremely grateful to them for assisting and consulting with us throughout the transformation process. We met with members of their collective several times and had a delegation attend one of their meetings. Although we adopted our new structure to retain the original Wooden Shoe flavor, we borrowed many concepts they use in their collective, and we highly encourage others to look at their model for creating a strong collective.

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