AN AILING MAN’S DECISION CREATED RIPPLE EFFECTS FOR A GROUP OF ANARCHISTS, THEIR CAUSE AND THE NEIGHBORHOOD AROUND THEM.
Best Reads 2015 Arizona Republic
By Brian Rinker, Aug. 6, 2015.
Neighbors knew William Krist as a friendly guy, a “sweetheart” who liked to garden and give away fresh vegetables. His children knew him as a chain-smoking eccentric and a “mild hoarder,” but also as their dad, who loved the desert and his freedom. The anarchists knew him simply as Krazy Bill.
Krazy Bill had a long, scraggly, gray beard and an eye patch. People say he rarely went anywhere without a 9mm pistol stuffed in his front pocket and an American flag handkerchief to blow his nose with. He drove a burgundy 1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV, and passengers soon discovered he was prone to cut into traffic without looking, cars honking and screeching to a halt.
For decades, Krazy Bill —or just KB, his initials reversed— acted as a father figure to many in the Phoenix activism scene, and even with his rough exterior, many knew him best as a humble, loving man.
For the longest time, Krazy Bill lived on Hubbell Street in the Coronado neighborhood, a block from the ball field and swimming pool of Coronado Park. He smoked a couple packs a day, or the equivalent, rolling his own from tobacco in a can.
Three years ago, health problems forced Krist to move in with family, abandoning the house.
Squatters came and went, leaving behind a maze of extension cords and a mountain of waste. Inside, garbage, debris and junk piled high. The Lincoln sat idle in the driveway, coated with years of dust.
Eventually, neighbors nailed boards across the windows and doors to keep the scavengers out. Weeds grew unchecked where once gardens had flourished, attracting a citation from city inspectors.
Around that time, Krazy Bill connected with an anarchist collective that was loosely based in Tempe, which called itself Carpe Locus. The group was looking for a home. Bill invited them to use his house, if they could clean the weeds and clean the garbage out.
And so it was that in April 2015, the anarchists arrived on Hubbell Street. They planned to occupy Krazy Bill’s place, fix it up and turn the ’40s-era tract house into a meeting spot for radical-activism folk. Krist joined their collective, and waited for the day he would be well enough to move back home.
Carpe Locus is a fledgling collective, which was formed a year ago by four friends who wanted to do more than just talk anarchy; they wanted to live it. In their view, Phoenix had lacked adequate anarchist hangout spots for years.
Accepting a rather malleable translation of Latin, the group’s name means “seize the opportunity.” And opportunity came in the form of the brick house on Hubbell Street.
The collective is small — it had just five members before it added Krazy Bill.
Beth Payne works in day care. A 33-year-old mother of two, she acts as the group’s unofficial den mother. She has dark hair, rounded bangs, and can fire off well-versed anarchist ideology with ease.
Rose Coursey, 23, works as a research assistant at a behavioral-health non-profit. She’s the quiet one, a soft-spoken anarchist with reddish-purple hair and a nose septum ring. She was an honor student who earned a liberal arts degree from Arizona State University.
Dale Vaughn works as an electrician. At 36, he is the “old man” of the group.
Ed Medina works as a “capitalist wage slave.” He’s the funny one, of course, a 22-year-old whose charm and style fails to fit the stereotype of the angry anarchist wearing all black.
“I used to be a socialist,” says Medina, his sunglasses hanging off his button-down shirt. “Oh, wait, don’t write that.” They all laugh. The anarchists have a lot of inside jokes, and socialism seems to be the punchline in many of them.
Then there is the group’s newest recruit: Kameron Fein, 25, a punk-rock anarchist who works the graveyard shift at a hotel and skateboards on a longboard around Tempe.
So far, Fein is the only recruit to successfully complete the collective’s initiation process. He started a gardening collective, although he missed the summer growing season. The other members jokingly refer to him as “probate.” Sometimes they pretend to forget whether they actually voted him in or not.
When the collective got to Krazy Bill’s, they brought with them some other “radical comrades.” Together they cleared the backyard — burning weeds, dead trees and palm fronds. They hauled two 40-yard dumpsters worth of trash from the house.
Krazy Bill was using a scooter and oxygen tank. Still, he hoped one day to return home. In the meantime, the anarchists had full rein to transform his home into a meeting spot for anarchists and others. They made plans for a front yard and back yard where they could put down some anarchist roots: community garden, fire pit, skateboard ramp and all.
The house became known as “the Space.”
On a weeknight in June, Ed Medina sits on the couch in the living room with his laptop working on his resume. In a loud voice, Medina asks Beth Payne if he can use her as a reference for a job application. That’s fine, she says.
The living room walls are painted like a desert night landscape, dark blue with stars and a satellite near the ceiling. Above Medina’s head, a window air-conditioner blows a current of cool air. The rest of the room is hot.
The central air and heating doesn’t work. Another AC unit cools off a small day-care room at the back of the house, but the rest of the house is hot.
The library room, with its thrift-store classics and National Geographic magazines: hot.
The print shop room, with a handful of used printers that might one day spit out troves of anarchy zines and flyers: hot.
But the hottest room of the house is the kitchen, where Payne is cleaning up after a weekly food-prep session for Food Not Bombs, which feeds vegetarian and vegan meals to the poor. Eliot, Payne’s 2-year old daughter, who is named after T.S. Eliot, runs back and forth from the day care to the kitchen.
“Hello pumpkin,” says Payne, who is kneeling on the floor in front of the refrigerator throwing old tomatoes into a plastic bag.
“Hi Mommy,” Eliot says. “What’s you doing, mommy?”
“Throwing these yucky tomatoes out,” Payne says.
Helping Payne in the kitchen is Elizabeth Venable. She is a Krist family friend.
Venable says she isn’t an anarchist. “At this time, right now, I’d like to go by libertarian socialist,” Venable says.
“It typically means anarchist,” Payne clarifies and laughs. Some people, Payne says, worry about the stigmas attached to the word anarchy.
Many people think anarchy means no rules — chaos. But that’s not true. Anarchists do follow rules. Anarchists don’t believe in rulers or hierarchies, or police or government, but they do believe in small, autonomous and leaderless communities where everyone has an equal vote.
“I prefer to be more specific in what I believe,” Venable reasons.
In an ideal world, to an anarchist, we would all live in collectives similar to Carpe Locus — tight-knit groups of people who grow their own food, barter or trade for goods and, most importantly, watch each others’ backs. Land, to the anarchists, is something to occupy — never own. Anarchists like to imagine what life was like before human civilization. A time where people had to depend on one another for survival. Like one big family, anarchists imagine. Ideally, anarchists would have no rulers, no police, no electoral system.
Instead, Carpe Locus had the Space.
Vaughn, the electrician, had rewired the house and even upgraded the electrical panel. As for air-conditioning, at least they have the window unit. But the greatest obstacle the anarchists face at the Space is the plumbing, which is shot. It needs a complete overhaul. No water. No bathroom. People have to go to the nearby park or gas station if they need to use the restroom. Until the collective can fix it, the Space will only be partially operational.
When the anarchists first arrived, they held an open house for “neighbors and comrades” to mix. They knock on doors when they have events and encourage neighbors to partake in all the Space has to offer: Grab something from the free store on the side of the house and get ready for the soon-to-be-built skateboard ramp.
The house is meant to be more than a meeting place for anarchists. It is open to the public. And Payne would like to see the neighborhood take advantage of the day care, the print shop, the library and anything else the house can offer. Payne says that anarchy is about community — all are welcome.
“We have a responsibility to participate in our community,” she says. “There’s no point in anarchists just talking to anarchists, you know. That would be like super insular.”
Neighbor Susan Adams has no problem with the anarchists next door. She even donated a striped sleeper couch, which now resides in the library.
“They’re quiet and I get to hear guitar music in the evenings when they’re here,” Adams says.
“As far as I’m concerned,” Adams says, “there’s absolutely nothing weird about it other than that it’s kind of weird there’s a community center right there.”
When the anarchists introduced themselves to neighbor Lisa Ramirez, she didn’t know what to think. She didn’t know what a 24/7 community house meant and her neighbors, well, looked different — unique.
“Are you a house that’s a resource for the neighborhood or are you a house for homeless people and teen runaways,” Ramirez wonders. “I’m kind of concerned. I have teenagers.”
Ramirez said the anarchist alleviated her concerns, telling her that they would direct people to services elsewhere. No one would actually live in the house, and alcohol and drugs weren’t allowed. The Space is dry.
“I don’t know any anarchists. I don’t even know what that means,” Ramirez says. “I think they’re anti-police and anti-government. But they don’t seem hostile.”
“What I noticed the most was their politeness,” Ramirez says.
It’s a hot Friday night at the end of June. A black flag rides gently in the evening breeze.
Nearby on the window, finger painted in mud, is a capital A with a circle around it, the symbol for anarchy.
Some mourners play the guitar and a ukulele on the backyard couch at the Space.
Beth Payne sits on the edge of the skate ramp, huddled close to her daughter and partner. Ed Medina is nearby, reclining on the ramp, and Dale Vaughn stands near the back of the crowd. Rose Coursey sits in one of the mix match chairs, all of which have been scavenged or donated.
Josh Krist stands in front of the gathering of friends, relatives, activists, anarchists — maybe even a few socialists. He holds a can of Bugler loose tobacco, empty now, and full instead of the ashes that remained of Bill Krist.
He sprinkles his father’s remains out of the can into a freshly dug hole in the yard. Then Josh Krist planted an agave.
“I think most people agree it’s pretty appropriate because my dad loved the desert, and it’s just a little bit prickly — like my dad,” says Josh Krist.
Kameron Fein stands by the hole in the ground, directing the planting process: three inches of soil, ashes, agave, then more soil.
A floodlight shines on an empty wooden chair. Jesse Krist takes a seat and lights an American Spirit.
Puffing on the cigarette, Jesse Krist tells the story of the time he dropped LSD in his early twenties. He came home at the peak of his trip. Unable to maintain, he confessed to his dad what he had taken. William Krist looked at his son and smiled, then said, in essence, let me show you how we old-timers used to do it. He went to the stereo and put on Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”
“That was the thing about my dad, he didn’t judge me,” Jesse Krist says. “He accepted me for who I was.”
He recites his favorite line:
“One generation passes away, another generation comes, but the earth abides forever.”
Krazy Bill had finally returned home.
The gathering begins to disperse. Jesse and Josh Krist depart. The collective retires to the living room with the remaining guests. They grab the leftovers and the guitars.
And like on most nights, neighbors on their evening walks might pause for a moment in front of the Space, tilt an ear, and listen to the sounds of acoustic guitar and the soft melodious voices of singing anarchists.