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01/18/2006 Archived Entry: "Thinking about Loompanics going out of business"

THERE WAS NO HOPE. Every action I'd ever taken for freedom had been absolutely useless. Now, the one and only action that had apparently been useful turned out to be the worst of all.

That's how I felt a little over 10 years ago, in November 1995, after the final betrayal.

Following years of political activism and burnout -- during which not a single candidate or issue I'd supported ever won -- I'd put on one last push to help (in a minor but personal way) the candidacy of one of those "Republican Revolutionaries" of 1994. She was victorious. She swept into Congress on golden wings.

Within a month, the verminous scum had betrayed everything she claimed to stand for. Her every vote was to increase the power and scope of government. When her army of grassroots supporters wailed in shock, she airly explained that we just "didn't understand the way things get done in Washington" -- and went on voting for more and more Washington, fewer and fewer individual rights.

It was personal with me this time because I knew her. She hadn't just lied on the TV screen or in the newspapers. She'd looked me in the eyes over a glass of wine, over the remnants of a small, private dinner, and again in the cozy meeting room of a local lodge, and given me oily assurances of how she cherished gun rights and individual liberties. A virtual army of supporters elevated her to Congress against enormous odds, and she stabbed each and every one of us in the back (some much, much more than me; even a highly savvy former state party chairman was completely taken in and grossly abused by her).

So even when freedom "won" on election day, freedom lost.

In November 1995, I was truly at the end of my rope. And I thought freedom was at the end of its rope. Nothing was left but to give up and become a groveling subject of the central control state or go violently, uselessly, pointlessly postal.

And then at the darkest hour, the silly phrase "101 Things to do 'Til the Revolution" popped into my head. And the next thing I knew, I was writing a proposal for a how-to book based on dozens of direct actions that freedom lovers could take to improve their own lives and make life miserable for freedom stealers. These were things my heart knew, that my head -- in its foolish obsession with conventional politics -- had forgotten.

I've told that part of the story before. But without the next part, there really wouldn't be a story at all.

I packed up the proposal (the first book proposal I'd ever written) and sent it off to the only publisher in the world I thought might be interested -- Loompanics Unlimited of Port Townsend, Washington.

I know now that there were at least one or two other publishers who might have taken 101 Things. But at the time I recall thinking, "Well, if Loompanics doesn't want it, it's dead." Because Loompanics had a well-deserved reputation as the most bold, eclectic, and in-your-face of all freedom-oriented book catalogs.

I sent the proposal off to Mike Hoy, Loompanics' founder, owner, and chief honcho. And the rest, as they say, is history. The book was published near the end of 1996. Vin Suprynowicz wrote a column about it a few weeks later titled "Buy this book by the crate." And life hasn't been the same since.

This week, Loompanics announced it was going out of business after 30 years.

I'm still trying to process that information. On one hand, I've got my writer thoughts: Why the hell didn't they tell me? What will happen to my four books in print with them? Oh, how I'll miss Gia Cosindas, the best of the three wonderful author liaisons I've worked with in these 10 years. One less market for articles!

But then I also have my Loompanics book buyer thoughts and those are simpler. As Elias Alias put it on TCF: Damn.

That's all there is to say. Damn.

Loompanics has long called its book catalog the best in the world. And in a weird way, it is. It's certainly been the bravest and most eclectic book catalog. If you wanted to know how to change your identity, build a meth lab, cook with cannabis, or find kinky sex in Thailand, Loompanics would sell you a book about it. (Some of these books were of dubious reliability, while others were the real deal; but that was part of the fun. Caveat emptor. Freedom doesn't come with guarantees.) Loompanics would also sell you books on living off the grid, homesteading on a budget, or protecting your privacy. Truly useful stuff. And then there were the books that simply seemed to reflect Mike Hoy's own wide-ranging interests. Books of little-known facts, religious controversies, political conspiracies, and historical oddities.

The Loompanics catalog itself was often as fun to read as the books it offered.

Then came 9-11. And the Patriot Act, with its threat of monitoring everyone's reading. Then came crackdowns on merely possessing information about explosives or drugs. Then came the fear.

In droves, Americans quit buying controversial books. It became dangerous even to sell some certain books. People feared to possess others.

Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble also changed the whole book-selling industry at the same time. And the rest -- as I now must sadly say -- is history.

This country is going to be a poorer, sadder place when Loompanics closes next month. Freedom is going to be poorer. Even when some of the books in Loompanics' catalog personally made me uneasy or grossed me out (as quite a few did), I was delighted to live in a country where such a publisher and such a free market of ideas could thrive. I was honored to be part of Loompanics. Even though I knew sales were declining and the Loompanics staff shrinking, never did it dawn on me that the company would just slam shut one day.

I'm guessing that Mike's decision to close has something to do with R.W. Bradford's recent death, as well as declining sales and an increasingly unfriendly national attitude toward free speech. Bradford and Hoy were friends, and it's no coincidence that two such libertarian businesses as Loompanics and Liberty magazine ended up in one isolated Washington town. I can see how Mike would look at his own mortality, his own labors, and suddenly say, "Enough."

I wish -- I hope -- some gutsy freedom lover will step in and buy Loompanics before it just disappears into history's dreary vapors. I know even after Loompanics is gone many of the books will still be available elsewhere. But many won't. And more than that, something of a rowdy, eccentric, particularly American style of freedom will be gone forever when Loompanics goes.

Thanks Mike, Gia, Audrey, Jan, Jay. Thank you, world's best shipping department. Thank you for the courage and the good cheer. Thanks for saving my sanity and for giving me a means of continuing to agitate for freedom when I'd given up hope. Thanks for 10 good years of publishing my books. And for 30 years of defying all convention -- damn the politicians and full speed ahead.

Posted by Claire @ 07:39 AM CST

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