Where Detroit's Anarchists Live and Perform
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
There’s a show or event for just about everyone. Anarchist or not.
By Brian Martucci
Rolling up to the Trumbullplex, Detroit’s self-titled “Sexiest Anarchist Collective,” I’m seven minutes late for its weekly open mic night. After hustling up a long driveway separating the complex’s two-century-old brick houses to meet my contact, Chase (who wasn’t comfortable giving his last name), the warm-up act — a film screening — is still going strong in the barn-like performance space that stops the driveway’s eastward march. And Chase is nowhere to be found.
I wait in the adjacent zine library, where back issues of Against the Current share rack space with German-language leftist mags from the 1990s. In the foyer, free pamphlets tout artist fellowships, anti-water-shutoff action, free vinyasa yoga, dog training.
Detroit’s growth is inevitable; we see a role for ourselves in managing gentrification.
Chase, member of Trumbullplex
Later, between sips of La Croix in the south house’s cluttered upstairs kitchen, Chase opens up about the collective’s radical potential. As Detroit revives, market-rate development leaks westward from the trendy Midtown neighborhood, just across the M-10 freeway. Two years ago, the Trumbullplex — formally known as the Wayne Association for Collective Housing — matched a local developer’s $10,000 offer for two vacant, city-owned side lots it had long used for outdoor gatherings and foraging. Trumbullplex members are now raising funds to “beautify” the still-undeveloped parcels into a sort of collectively owned park.
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“Detroit’s growth is inevitable; we see a role for ourselves in managing gentrification,” says Chase.
The quarter-century-old Trumbullplex may need to manage its own growth first. In December, Florida-based cult punk act Against Me! put on a “secret” show in the performance barn. Inevitably, word got out, marking a watershed (“our big break,” says Chase) for a collective whose frequent public shows — including open mic nights, there were 10 scheduled in June alone — have long flown under the radar. With heightened visibility, says Chase, the Trumbullplex could be a powerful ally for out-groups in a city more divided than ever by race and class. There’s talk of teach-ins, “countercultural” daycare, a free food stall at Eastern Market — whatever the community, and the collective, desires.
That second bit is key. The Trumbullplex governs by consensus. When members can’t decide on something, they table the issue, often for months. The collective’s vision is anything but unified; some members fret about attracting too much attention, and others chafe at the very notion of self-organization. (“‘Anarchist collective’ is kind of an oxymoron,” laughs Chase.) Limited institutional knowledge is another challenge — the longest-tenured resident arrived in 2012 — though tempered by a cohort of “ex-Plexers” who return twice monthly to root in the vegetable garden, tend the zine library and share stories.
The Trumbullplex hosts shows all the time, some more high-profile than others. Following on the heels of the Against Me! performance, the latest big test was the Trumbullplex’s “25 Years of Anarchy” bash, held on the last full weekend of August. The three-day event featured a Friday night drag show, a multi-band Saturday night show heavy on Detroit underground acts and family-friendly workshops on Sunday afternoon.
I head back outside to say my goodbyes as two boyish musicians trundle up and offer hellos. A young woman resident solemnly instructs me to visit the anti-ICE encampment downtown. The guy next to her recounts unprintable glories from a past open mic freestyle, his olive-green surplus jacket warding off voracious mosquitoes. A thoughtful collectivist appears and takes orders for a last-minute run to the package store down the street. Fireflies swirl. I linger, at ease for what feels like the first time in weeks.
- Brian Martucci, OZY AuthorContact Brian Martucci