“I am not a community organizer,” said Ari Gersen, owner of Longfellow Books on Monument Way.
But the startling policies enacted by the Trump administration have caused the merchant to reconsider the role an independent bookstore plays in an increasingly diverse city.
“I happen to have a space in downtown Portland. I can’t change policies A, B or C, but I can provide a forum for people to come together, work together, learn, act,” said Gersen.
Launching at this week’s First Friday Art Walk, Longfellow Books will open, not for a writer’s reception, but as a place for frank discussion and action.
“This is about people feeling unsafe, this is about people not wanting to go to school because they are afraid they will get deported, people missing classes in college, about Jewish cemeteries getting vandalized. This is different,” said Gersen. “We are in a dangerous place now. This is a place for anti-discrimination. This is pro-equality.”
In a letter emailed to customers and posted to Facebook Tuesday, the 20-year bookseller announced its desire to become an inclusive hub for a few hours once a month. A place to “fill out a postcard, meet your neighbors, learn how you may be able to get involved, and together we can all work to ensure that we continue building a truly great America.”
Gersen and his staff talked about what they could do. A community space made sense. Their letter states: “We believe that America’s greatness lies in its diversity, not in homogeneity. Our future greatness lies in acceptance, not hatred. Xenophobia and racism are small-minded, but we continue to believe in the bigness of America.”
Still, don’t expect a love fest. Trump supporters are encouraged to stop by. A healthy debate is the goal.
“Community includes people who disagree with each other,” said Gersen, who inherited the business from his father Stuart Gersen who passed away in 2015. “Let’s have a conversation instead of Fox News screaming at CNN. If there are groups that feel there are certain solutions to problems, they are all welcome.”
Gersen is not leading a charge, but just opening his doors for people to unite.
“If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” he said.
Longfellow Books, 1 Monument Way will be open March 3 from 7 to 9 p.m.