Last night, St. Mark's Bookshop was packed with people. All ages and colors, they were there to hear Michael Moore and to save the bookstore from shuttering. Moore came in with body guards, charged up from a day spent downtown at Occupy Wall Street. He took the microphone to thrilled and grateful applause.
"We're appealing to Cooper Union," he began.
"There's no appealing to them," shouted one woman. "They're fucking up the neighborhood!"
After some laughter, Moore continued, "We must appeal to their conscience and to the integrity of their history. They exist only because the people of New York have supported Cooper Union...and without the people there would be no Cooper Union. So we are asking for a very simple quid pro quo."
"I've seen enough of New York destroyed," he said, explaining that all St. Mark's Books is asking for is a "decent reduction" in the rent.
"It's not asking for a free lunch. Oh, God forbid! It's just asking for some decency. That's it. Cooper Union has to understand. We've been asked by the people who fund them, the largesse of this town that keeps certain institutions going...it's time they shared the sacrifice, too. That's all we're asking for... They're not asking for a handout. They're not asking for a check. They're just asking that we support our local independent bookstores."
He made an eloquent plea for the communal consumption of culture, urging the audience to read real books from real bookstores--and to see real movies in real movie theaters.
When he makes a movie, he said, "I'm not sitting in the editing room thinking of you watching this on an iPhone. I want you sitting in the theater with 200 other fellow Americans that you don't know. And I want you collectively to be experiencing, in the dark, what I'm putting out there to you. I want you to laugh together, I want you to cry together, I want you to get angry together, and I want you to march out of the theater saying 'Goddammit, this is not the America I'm going to live in!' And that cannot happen as easily, or as good, when you're sitting at home alone in your underwear with your laptop!"
"The movies are not going to die," he said, because people are social animals. And for the same reason, "The bookstores are not going to die! ...We want to be around other people. That's why we love coming to a bookstore. That's why we love coming to St. Mark's. Right? There's just something that you can't put a number on. You can't really quantify it. But you know it, don't you? You know it as a feeling. And you know it feels good when you say, 'Hey, let's go over to St. Mark's for an hour. And just go through the shelves.' And when you leave here, you ran across something you didn't know...and you take that home and you read, and you learn something you didn't know before. It's a great feeling, isn't it?"
At the end of his speech, he urged people to support local indie bookstores: "They are the backbone of defeating ignorance in this country."
Before people lined up to get their books signed, there was a quick Q&A. These things always go awry. People make statements more than they ask questions. And they never stay on topic. One woman raised her hand and made a speech about the importance of veganism as she urged Mr. Moore to do the correct, feminist thing and become a vegan to lose weight and to fight the forces of "anti-speciesism."
It's still the East Village, after all.
More on the situation at St. Mark's Bookshop:
An Open Letter to Cooper Union
Buy A Book Weekend at St. Mark's
Xmas in September
St. Mark's Vestibule
And sign that petition