Nestled in an alley within the heart of Durant Avenue is a small bookstore with a big vision for nothing less than revolution.
Revolution Books has been a staple in the city of Berkeley since the 1980s, a consistent presence in the city’s political landscape and legacy. Originating in New York, the store traveled to the Bay Area with the intention of using literature as a way of informing people about important issues.
“Rev Books has been the place for people to gather and learn and discuss what is happening in the world, why the world is the way it is, and how to change it!” said Revolution Books manager Reiko Redmonde in an email. “(It) is a place that is a bridge between the world that is today and what could be.”
Although founded in ideas relating to new communism, most books in the store are of diverse subject matter. They provide literature on poetry, science, art and novels and even sell children’s books, all of which “help people grapple with reality,” according to Barry Thornton, a staff member at Revolution Books.
Revolution Books also participates in a festival every first Friday of the month and holds a booth where it tables. Although it took a momentary hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival has continued to operate in Oakland.
For Thornton, the store holds an important place in the city, especially considering the political and cultural history of the area.
“Berkeley is an important place for a bookstore like this. We’re right next to (campus) and it’s a place where people think ideas are important, and there’s obviously an important history of student movements and opposition movements,” Thornton said. “We’ve been a part of that for a very long time.”
Despite its rich history, Revolution Books’ progressive ambitions have been met with opposition in recent years.
In 2018, the store faced vandalism as well as threats of violence against staff members and arson against the store. According to Redmonde, community members and other prominent figures defended the bookstore, standing against the harassment.
“The attacks on RB are a reflection of what is going on now (—) this is a rare time when the crisis at the very top is tearing society apart (—) but this crisis also holds the possibility of something good, of revolution,” Redmonde said in an email.
Currently, the store plans on holding discussions about President Joe Biden’s climate bill. It also intends to host weekly viewings and discussions of their show “Revolution, Nothing Less.” The store will also be conducting a “banned books” event in September.
Thornton hopes that holding events such as these will address some of the “unprecedented challenges” being faced today.
“We’re in a really serious time where society is tearing apart in a deep way and there are divisions,” Thornton said. “We think it’s really important to reach out in society, to all kinds of people with a message of revolution.”