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Progressive coalition still there after all these years


The Revolution lives on a quiet street in Waverly, in an old brick library, with a co-operative of leftist groups committed to making their beliefs part of a public discourse they consider shrink-wrapped.

This weekend the various tenants and friends of the Progressive Action Center will sponsor a program on American politics, a People's History bus tour, and an open house brunch to celebrate the center's 10th anniversary.

"The center has been a real alternative for people to at least look at issues that were not looked at seriously during the whole Reagan-Bush years, things like what was going on in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and various issues like wealth and poverty," says Brendan Walsh, who runs the Viva House-Baltimore Catholic Worker soup kitchen and food pantry.

The PAC houses the Alternative Press Center, a community library and one of the nation's largest private collections of alternative periodicals. It also includes:

* The Central America Solidarity Committee, an organization that has opposed U.S. intervention in Central America since 1979.

* The Workers Action Press, a printing collective that prints at costfor non-profit progressive groups

* The Red Wagon Child Care Center, a community day care center

* The Radical Philosophy Association, which publishes a newsletter and the Radical Philosophy Review of Books.

* The Baltimore chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

The co-operative is perhaps best known for its library, a bright, airy room with 14-foot high ceilings which holds much of the AlternativePress Center's collections of roughly 400 different periodicals. Green plants hang from the ceiling over slightly frayed furniture, the hazy charred scent of a fireplace emanates from the adjacent cooperative apartment. It is a splendid place to peruse left-wing passions of the past few decades.

As a matter of fact, the Alternative Press Center, which publishes the Alternative Press Index, is one of the oldest alternative organizations left in the country, according to director Leslie Wade. It began in the late '60s when several college students at Carleton College in Minnesota decided to publish an index to alternative press periodicals which were then widely scattered and poorly known.

Over the years, the publishers -- and their collection -- traveled to Detroit, Toronto and eventually to College Park where they found faculty members with computers who were sympathetic to their mission.

When Cliff DuRand, one of the founders of PAC and a philosophy professor at Morgan State University, first visited the Alternative Press Center in 1980, it was in a basement on Greenmount Avenue.

The library has served as an archive and research guide, Mr. Wade says. Now it is helping to plan a national conference which will look at ways to ensure the future of alternative media.

Survival is a constant concern for left-wing organizations, Mr. Wade says. In fact, the Progressive Action Center was born from Mr. DuRand's fear that many local organizations would not squeak through the Reagan years.

In the early 1980s, 35 partners formed and funded a group called Research Associates to open a center to serve as a permanent base for progressive groups. They bought the former public library building on Gorsuch Avenue for $1,000 and put another $50,000 into renovating it.

Since 1982, the center has served as a print shop and meeting place as well as offering computer facilities to various non-profit groups. It was the site of the founding conference for the Baltimore Rainbow Coalition. It helped launch protest demonstrations against U.S. policy in Central America. And it furnished both the labor and zeal behind the "Ask About the Drug Connection" banner displayed at Oliver North's hearings.

This weekend, PAC will introduce an updated version of its Directory of Progressive Organizations in Baltimore. The directory describes a stalwart group ranging from Action for the Homeless to Socialist Workers Party. Currently, there are about 160 progressive organizations in town.

"More than many people realize," says Mr. DuRand.

Progressive Action Center

Tenth Anniversary of the Progressive Action Center, 1443 Gorsuch Ave. in Waverly.

What: "Bankruptcy of American Politics -- Which Way Out?" a seminar with Mark Crispin Miller, media critic and others.

When: 7:30 tonight.

Cost: Free.

What: Dance, reggae music by the Third Eye from Washington.

When: Tomorrow 9 p.m. to midnight.

Cost: $7.50.

What: Brunch with authors of "The Baltimore Book: New Views on Local History." Bus ride sold out.

When: 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Cost: $5.

Call: (410) 243-4623.

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