The perpetually hip neighborhood of Northside may be known for its dining and bars, but tucked away on Knowlton Street is the newly established heart of the progressive community — SoapBox Books and Zines, a nonprofit, non-hierarchical, volunteer-run community space with a serious mission.
According to SoapBox’s website (soapboxbooks.org), the organization “distributes alternative media, provides the community with access to information and promotes independent and critical thinking,” similar to other infoshops around the world. The topics of the radical books and zines (self-published magazines usually produced by a photocopier) available at SoapBox range from feminism to philosophy. The space is also used for meetings, community-building projects, events, skill-sharing and education.
SoapBox was conceived when Cincinnati native Kyle Galindez spent a recent summer traversing the West Coast, visiting cities including Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Santa Cruz, Calif.
“I noticed that all of these cities had really interesting infoshops run by volunteers,” Galindez says. “I thought that we should definitely do something like that in Cincinnati.”
Galindez then took the idea and made it into a reality; with the help of friends and those he met through the Occupy Cincinnati movement, SoapBox hosted its grand opening in May of this year.
Since then, the organization has lent out a multitude of books to members in the community, organized successful events and meetings, held political theory reading groups and hosted the “Letters to Prisoners” series in which members write letters to prisoners of conscience — people who have gone to jail for political action.
“The work we do with the letters to prisoners project reaches all around the U.S.,” Nancy Paraskevopoulos, a committed volunteer, says.
“To create a dialogue with a human being who has been told they are not a person is a concrete and meaningful thing to do in the world.”
The organization shares a location with the Village Green Foundation, a nonprofit garden co-op that is committed to providing access to healthy food for all community residents. The members of SoapBox prepared a five-page proposal with a vision plan of what their space would look like and gave it to the Village Green steering committee, who approved it. “It’s an amazing organization we get to build on and we have a symbiotic relationship with,” Paraskevopoulos says. “There are gardens in the back of the greenhouse and a bike co-op.”
Paraskevopoulos previously worked with environmental nonprofits but realized the nonprofit structure really threw her for a loop. “[I was] trying to save whales by collecting peoples’ credit card information,” she says. “People would ask me how they could get involved without money. [SoapBox] is the opposite of that. It is really a utopian idea, that you can volunteer at open hours and trade that time for a bicycle, for example.”
Paraskevopoulos and another devoted volunteer, Robert Inhuman, were the “ringleaders” of the recent Queer Power Benefit that took place on Oct. 12 and drew in almost 200 participants, raising about $500. The money will go toward expanding the library.
“We are generally trying to do [an event] each month,” Inhuman says. “The next event is going to be a play titled Know Your Enemy from Insurgent Theatre, which is a touring theater group. They will also present a feature-length documentary inspired by a prison uprising in Lucasville.” This will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 6 p.m. Inhuman believes that these interactive events are crucial.
“I’m into the idea of taking things beyond entertainment — having them be fun but also critical and challenging,” he says. “I’ll flier at punk shows and let people know that SoapBox exists and have them know that there is a place where people can actually talk about the philosophy that is hinted at in the subculture they are celebrating on a regular basis.”
The community will have another way to get involved as SoapBox spreads into a new room connected to the building. The organization plans to increase its library size and help visitors create their own zines.
“My personal goal for this space is to have the zine-making station, providing the material and resources for people to create their own ideas,” Paraskevopoulos says. “With zines, you don’t need a degree or fancy title. You just need an idea and a little bit of follow-through. People here in Cincinnati, without a lot of money, can spread an idea across the world and can make others feel connected or even liberated.”
SOAPBOX (1415 Knowlton St. Northside) hosts a fall potluck and open house Thursday at 6 p.m. More info: soapboxbooks.org.