The real life feminist book store that’s best known for serving as the set to one of Portlandia’s most famous skits is closing, citing low energy from the community, drops in sales, rising rents, and, of course, cis white people. Though it was called “Women & Women First” in the TV show, its real name is In Other Words.
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…The board says increased expenses and a lack of funds and volunteers have made operations impossible to continue.
“This isn’t sustainable, especially emotionally, for the people who come here and work to provide this space as a resource to Portland Feminist communities,” the store said in its announcement.
In recent years, as its focus has shifted from indie bookstore to community space, it has welcomed groups as diverse as AA meetings to Rock Camp for Girls to anti-racist activists.
Eugene resident Carmen Schwisow is a former board member. She has vivid memories of walking into In Other Words for the first time, seeking books for her first women’s studies class.
“I remember going to the bookstore and buying my first copy of ‘The Color Purple’ and ‘The Bluest Eye’” Schwisow said, “and picking up Ms Magazine for the first time, picking up Bitch Magazine for the first time.”
“The current volunteers and board members stepped into and took over a space that was founded on white, cis feminism (read: white supremacy). It’s really difficult, actually, impossible, for us to disentangle from that foundational ideology,” the statement continued. “Patriarchy, White Supremacy, Capitalism cannot be reformed and ever serve the people. Abolition is the goal.”
Conversations are underway for how In Other Words might wind down operations. Board members and volunteers would not comment, but sources close to the board confirmed the end is imminent.
The activist group Critical Resistance, a 20-year veteran of social justice work focusing on mass incarceration, is interested in taking on the space to preserve its use a community center.
“We’re definitely keeping things open-ended, in the spirit of In Other Words,” said Anna Swanson, with Critical Resistance.
She said the vision is to prioritize accessibility, keeping the space free or low cost and open to all-ages, with an eye to anti-capitalist, anti-racist, intersectional work.
Though the Portlandia TV show essentially gave the bookstore free advertising, the store eventually lashed out at the TV show, publishing a scathing release in September of 2016:
Several months ago the In Other Words community agreed to discontinue our relationship with Portlandia. This was a direct response to a particular egregious filming of the show in our space which saw our store left a mess, our staff mistreated, our neighbors forced to close and lose business for a day without warning, and our repeated attempts to obtain accountability or resolution dismissed. It was also a direct response to a show which is in every way diametrically opposed to our politics and the vision of society we’re organizing to realize. A show which has had a net negative effect on our neighborhood and the city of Portland as a whole. Shortly after this decision was made, a volunteer placed the Fuck Portlandia sign in our window.
Being on Portlandia Doesn’t Make Us Money
We are paid a small flat fee per episode filmed at in Other Words. This fee does not cover the profits lost by our having to remain closed for filming. It also does not cover the additional business lost by our neighbors who at times also have to remain closed for filming. The additional exposure we have received from our time on Portlandia does not provide financial or political support of any kind: tourists and fans of the show come to our door to stand outside, take selfies, and then leave. The vast majority of them don’t come inside.
The Show is Bad
The Women and Women First segments that are filmed at In Other Words are trans-antagonistic and trans-misogynist and have only become more offensive as the show goes on. ‘LOL Fred Armisen in a wig and a dress’ is a deeply shitty joke whose sole punchline throws trans femmes under the bus by holding up their gender presentation for mockery and ridicule. In a world where trans femmes – particularly Black trans women – are being brutalized and murdered on a regular basis for simply daring to exist, dude in a dress jokes are lazy, reactionary, and actively harmful. They’re also just straight up not funny.
Also: there are no Black people on Portlandia. There are a tiny number of people of color on Portlandia. Portland is white but it’s not that damn white. It’s also a city with a deeply entrenched history of racism and white supremacy. In Other Words is in the heart of a historically Black neighborhood in Northeast Portland. We have Black Lives Matter written on our window. Black Lives Matter Portland meets regularly in our space. But as more and more Black folks and people of color have become involved at In Other Words, Portlandia has only gotten steadfastly more white. Oh and also: the last time the show filmed in our space, the production crew asked to us to remove the Black Lives Matter sign on our window. We refused.
Gentrification Isn’t a Joke
Portlandia is fueling mass displacement in Portland. Fred and Carrie are on billboards and realtors have gleefully begun using Portlandia’s popularity and insipid humor (‘put a bird on it!’) to make displacing the communities that made Portland a great place in the first place something twee and whimsical for the incoming technocrat hordes.
The current board, staff, and volunteers were not involved in the decision, made six years ago, to allow Portlandia to film at In Other Words. We stand behind our collective decision to discontinue our relationship with the show. And we fucking love the sign.
Support our stance? Donate today so we can continue to serve as a hub for Portland’s social justice community – any amount helps! And if you’re interested in volunteering, please contact us at [email protected].
The store served as an event space for numerous different communist organizations and gatherings, such as Critical Resistance, “Re-envisioning Masculinity: Reflecting Manhood”, “Mente Libre – Youth of Color”, and reparations advocates “Uhuru Solidarity Movement”.
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You can check out all the wacked out communist propaganda on the In Other Words facebook page.