Oldest science fiction book store burns in Minneapolis uprising, fandom feels the heat

by Patch O'Furr

Dr. Peter Venkman This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.

Mayor What do you mean, “biblical”?

Dr. Raymond Stantz What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff.

Dr. Peter Venkman Exactly.

Dr. Raymond Stantz Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!

Dr. Egon Spengler Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes…

Winston Zeddemore The dead rising from the grave!

Dr. Peter Venkman Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

Mayor All right, all right! I get the point!

– Ghostbusters (1984)

Can you feel it? The Covid-19 pandemic makes it dangerous to give hugs (the furry handshake.) A new Great Depression might be on the way with millions unemployed. People are rising for justice while cities burn.

Uncle Hugo’s burned. It was a book store in Minneapolis, the oldest independent science fiction book store in the USA. One of the furry fandom’s original members worked there since it opened in 1974. Ken Fletcher was co-founder of Vootie, the voice of “The Funny Animal Liberation Front”, which helped to launch the furry fandom. He’s out of work for now (and might do a Q&A with me soon).

Directly south of the store, nine blocks down Chicago Street, was where the fire got a reason to start. On the corner at East 38th, Officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. Viral video of the incident showed bystanders begging for help while other police stood in the way. It spurred national outrage against a white-on-black power flex. Soon, nothing could hold back the wrath of half a city rising against injustice, and burning a police station and more.

Here’s what’s known about the book store loss. (Thanks for tip from Billy D Bunny.) Ken Fletcher wrote:

Saturday, 30 May, about 3 am, an arsonist (probably) went down a half-block on an arterial street setting a row of small businesses afire. The bookstore was one of them. At that time (so I have heard) there was no police presence, and it took about an hour (?) for the fire department to show up (a lot of business fires in part of the city that night). Rumor has it that there is a posted video of a masked white-guy setting the bookstore on fire. Many of the small businesses looted or burned were black or Asian-owned. Actual motivations unknown.

Quick points:

  • It’s not all “rioting” — Minnesota officials believed that white supremacists were using these events for sabotage in hopes to start a race war.
  • When police stop attacking and just retreat, peaceful protest organizing makes a whole other topic about where the violence comes from.
  • It’s bigger than a death; it’s about police trained to kill and consuming the lion’s share of public funding, while school and social services get crumbs.
  • This led to Minneapolis government pledges for change that generations of electoral politics couldn’t get for downtrodden minorities.
  • Defunding police (and refunding education and social services) is now a national topic.
  • It’s not just black/white, it’s rich/poor; Rioting won America’s independence too.

Here’s a crowdfund for Uncle Hugo’s. Don Blyly, the owner, is posting official news here and here.

Vootie co-founder Reed Waller: “No matter who lights the fuse, we know who the real bad guys are.” — 2007 panel from Omaha the Cat Dancer. (Waller was a Minneapolis native while creating Omaha, a key comic for furry art and free expression that helped start the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.)

The scale of events puts fandom in perspective. Furries couldn’t save Uncle Hugo’s. They’re not immune to Covid-19. Furry art won’t fix the economy or end racism alone. It isn’t like a cartoon where they simply beat the bad guy. It would be nice to escape into fantasy and live all the time like a weekend convention, but those are closed for now. Furries are just people with a hobby and a subculture, not a culture, more like a bubble floating on the wave of life. It’s OK to say hobbies matter less than lives.

But this isn’t an occasion just to mourn or wish about going back in time by turning off the news. There’s plenty of support happening inside fandom. Personally I would rather be out in a local community, so I haven’t been doing much furry news but have been supporting protests.

One of those protests synched with Bike Party, on the East side of the San Francisco Bay. Bike Party is a regular street takeover for hundreds of cyclists with rolling sound systems. It really is a moving party on the road with no police or permits — more free and harder to shut down than an underground warehouse party. It’s friendly enough to bring families too, and usually avoids messages. This time they rode for Black Lives Matter. On short notice it brought some of the biggest attendance ever (I heard guesses of 5-10,000.) It showed the power of subculture to bring people together peacefully. From 1960’s civil rights protesting to now, music and art has tied to movements like this.

Meanwhile there’s serious conflict of protesters and journalists being brutalized and police acting outside of the law. How can you do anything about it?

On the small fandom level, there’s outsized power in DIY ethic. Doing It Yourself means not needing official permission — to organize for charity, create support art, or spread the word about people’s needs.

To stay informed, here’s a news thread about debunking current hoaxes. And here’s a question that could make a discussion about progress:

So what do you think, how would you tackle big problems like this in your own way?

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