Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with Tom Gabel, lead singer and guitar player of the punk band Against Me!, about his participation with The Civic Media Center, a not-for-profit alternative library in Gainesville, Fla.
The center has a myriad of independent and non-corporate newspapers, magazines and books covering all subjects. Recently the center received the personal library of Stetson Kennedy, the late author and folklorist.
Interview by Jesse Strauch
Q: What is the organization and how are you involved with them?
Gabel:The organization is the Civic Media Center and it’s a non-corporate, volunteer-run library/activist space/show space. It has really played host for a number of events and it’s located in Gainesville. I volunteered there for years before we became an active touring band and we used to play shows there back in the day too.
Q: How did you get involved there originally?
Gabel: The place had a lot to do with the whole reason for me even moving there. I remember when I was maybe 16 or 17, my mom took me and my friend to Gainesville and Tallahassee to look at the colleges there, which was kind of a joke because I ended up dropping out of high school. I ended up stumbling into the media center when I was in Gainesville and I was just blown away by the space.
I was just getting into activism at the time down in south Florida but there really was no comparable thing there and I had never seen anything like it. When I moved to Gainesville in 1999 the place just had a lot of energy. It was just a gathering point for the activist community that was happening in Gainesville. It was a really cool, really strong scene going on at that place and time.
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Q: Actually, I think they have an old copy of my college newspaper there.
Gabel: Yeah, they have a zine library and embarrassingly enough they have copies of my zine from when I was 14 years old. They are still there with horribly written essays and it’s still there, it’s just an incredible archive.
Q: Do you guys work with other libraries?
Gabel: Not particularly. Again, I think the civic media center is really a unique space. I’ve never really run into anything comparable. While I know that there are activist spaces, I guess one of the things that makes the Civic Media Center so unique is the fact that it has been around for so long. I think it started in 1993. Most activist spaces, however good-intentioned, usually don’t last that long.
Q: Yeah, they burn out pretty quick.
Gabel: Right, and I think the Civic Media Center has also been the model for a lot of spaces.
Q: Considering you are in a band that seems to be constantly touring, how do you participate with the Civic Media Center now?
Gabel: At least once a year we’ll do a benefit show tied to the Civic Media Center. That’s what the Civic Media Center survives on, is donations; it’s not a profit making business.
Q: Agreed. It seems more like a community center than a library from what I’ve seen.
Gabel: Yeah, I remember when I was 19, 20 years old. They had a free fridge there. Recently they have moved locations on to Main Street but they used to be on University Ave and it was kind of just on the walk home from wherever you where coming from. So you could stop in there, open up the fridge, take a look around, grab what you wanted, go home and eat it. It was really just a pace that you could base your day from.
Q: There seems to be a really diverse group of people meeting there. You have a Communist party meeting in the same place as a Republican party meeting. Even an organization that gives away free bicycles. Do these groups ever bump heads?
Gabel: I’ve never heard of any instances like that. Definitely anytime you have a bunch of people who are politically oriented who are meeting in a certain space, you know there are going to be heated arguments from people trying to push their point but that’s just part of it. I think having a space for debate is all part of it.
Q: Yeah, that’s going to happen. I used to work for a paper in my hometown and people would argue tooth and nail about how to put a roof up and somehow it seems to work smoother here.
Gabel: The thing about the CMC is that there is a core group of people that have been there since the beginning. But other than the core there has just been a steady flow of new people coming in and out because it’s a college town. People move in and go away each year so there is always sort of fresh blood all the time.
Q: For some one who doesn’t live near by but would like to be involved in this organization what would you suggest?
Gabel: Just become a member; get your library card, basically. I think it’s kind of a sliding scale donation just to become a member for a year which entitles you to check out whatever you want. But just because you live in another state doesn’t mean that you can’t become a member.
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