In the first two decades of the twentieth century, Russian immigrant and activist Boris Yelensky helped organize a series of parties in New York and Chicago to raise funds for anarchist comrades wasting away in Russian prisons. Though serious in intention, the events themselves were often full of revelry, lasting upwards of ten hours; one even featured a “Grand March” led by “giant rooster.” Attendees would dress up as prisoners in a show of solidarity, or in costumes mocking authority figures.
In much the same spirit, Denver’s Anarchist Black Cross will host its fifth annual Martyr’s Ball to raise funds for the organization’s Community Mutual Aid Fund. Like Yelensky’s guests of old, attendees will be asked to dress in costume, with a focus on “fallen comrades,” as ABC organizer Illy Voxi says. Entertainment will be provided by Casey Tracy, Ludlow, sole and others, covering hip-hop, folk, punk and spoken word. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, February 20, at Rhinoceropolis. The cover is $10, though no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
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Voxi has been a member of ABC since 2012, joining when he moved back to Denver after a stay in New York City. Finding ABC was something of a saving grace for Voxi, who says he was struggling with substance abuse and felt "completely directionless" when he came across ABC literature at a show that described the group’s work supporting prisoners, some in solitary confinement. He realized that although he was going through a hard time, "there were a lot of committed people struggling way more than I am," he remembers, and decided to dedicate his life to anarchist activism, particularly in support of political prisoners.
In finding a calling Voxi also found a community, one that has "grounded" him, he says. And it is this community that the Mutual Aid Fund supports. “Especially for folks who are organizing a lot, when life throws a hurdle in their way, it gets in the way of their ability to keep organizing,” he points out. The Fund provides a cushion for those struggling with a job loss, a major separation, health-care burdens or other challenges. In this way, the Martyr's Ball is as much about honoring the work of anarchists past as it is about sustaining the work activists do today. Learn more about ABC and the Martyr's Ball here.