Coffee with politics

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Coffee with politics

A new leftwing café gives Steve Parry a change from consumerism and very large cups.

Some activists work like a very strong wind, with lots of energy and anger. But many prefer to work in a relaxed way – with a coffee and biscuit. So when I heard about Firebox, a new leftwing café in central London, I liked it immediately.

Their website says their aim is to become ‘a starting place for a life of activism, a meeting place ’. From what I saw when I went there, it has a good chance to be this. When I went, they were still preparing; the coffee machine hadn’t been delivered yet. But even without caffeine, everyone had a buzz of energy, excited about all the possibilities for this new space.

rod%20posterized.jpg Rod Stewart D Services, under a CC Licence

It is not like any other cafés I’ve been to, and very different from the hippy, organic Chai, whale song and alfalfa in some cafés . That’s OK for some people, but I don’t like patchouli oil and tie-dyed clothes; and these places make the lifestyle more important than the politics. But Firebox seems different: it started from the radical socialist tradition.

It is similar to the International Club of the 1920s led by suffragette and leftie anti-fascist Sylvia Pankhurst, and – perhaps even more so – the Partisan Coffee House. This opened in Soho, London in 1958 as a leftwing ‘anti-espresso’ bar (but I don’t understand why they didn’t like expresso). They had many events there, including debates, films, art exhibitions and music nights. Many important intellectuals went there: EP Thompson, Doris Lessing and... Rod Stewart. Rod (above), people say, went there just to chat up the young, leftie females.

Recent events at the Firebox included a meeting asking the important question ‘How fucked (bad) is the economy?’ and a day-long theatre workshop based on the ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ (poor, exploited people). No tie-dyed clothes or old rock stars there at all. Now the coffee shop culture is all the same – empty, lifeless consumerism in very large cups. The only question people ask is, “What is that chocolate shape on top of my drink?” So Firebox is a welcome new café.

Steve Parry is a comedy writer, performer and political activist. He is Welsh and lives in north London. You can contact him on Twitter @stevejparry.

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