Providence’s Red Ink Community Library Provides a Safe Space for Leftist Exploration

The non-profit aims to be a hub for alternative political thinkers

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With a vast collection of literature dating back to the early 20th century – from books and periodicals to leaflets, pamphlets, and zines – Red Ink Community Library is, as the name would suggest, a lending library, but also a reading room and organizing space in the Mount Hope neighborhood.

“These are the kinds of materials that traditionally have been relegated to grad school seminars or Ivy League libraries, and we see that as unfair,” says David Rainleanu, director of Red Ink. “While some of the theory that we offer at Red Ink can be somewhat academic, the cultural criticism and historical context that we offer is accessible to a very broad audience.”

Housing a collection of reading materials that often diverge from the “mainstream thought” easily found at other libraries, Rainleanu explains, “you can hear an alternative opinion and an opinion that respects the socialist values of empowerment, solidarity, and respect at Red Ink.” 

Red Ink opened on Labor Day weekend in 2021 and was recently thrust into the public eye after being attacked during the Red Books Day reading event they hosted on February 21. A crowd of nearly two dozen neo-Nazis carrying flags with swastikas swarmed the library, shouting slurs, banging on the windows, and attempting to assault members. 

The non-profit has since taken measures to strengthen safety and security at the library, but Raileanu emphasizes that this has only reinforced their efforts to become more vocal and visible in the city. “[We’re going to] local community events like farmers markets and flea markets and art festivals and community meetings and all of those things so people get to know us and know what we do and know that we’re not scary ‘big C’ communists. We’re just folks who are interested in talking and studying and learning and sharing the information that we have. 

“We’re part of a long heritage of what have been called infoshops in the past,” he continues, pointing to past waves of social and political shifts and the organizing spaces at the center of those movements. “We see ourselves connected to this international network of libraries and publishers – our relationship with them has now deepened since February 21.”

Never requiring dues or membership fees, Red Ink values the importance of neighbors having access to an open, welcoming space to read, share ideas, and connect with others. 

“One of the things we’ve heard from people who have come by and checked out what we do is [their] appreciation for being able to see it literally, physically in their neighborhood,” Raileanu says. “That they aren’t alone in thinking that the system is unfair, and that there are other people out there who agree with that idea and want to do something about it. It’s sort of an eye-opening moment for people who walk into Red Ink – they start to feel a little bit more in a community talking about some of the ideas that they’ve only encountered in chat rooms or social media.” 

At Red Ink, guests are also encouraged to investigate solutions to the injustices they’re seeing around them by engaging meaningfully with history. “Anybody, regardless of background – whether you’ve spent your entire life studying this kind of thing or you’re brand new to it – you have an opportunity to learn those lessons of history and be able to apply them to your current life.”

Throughout this month, Red Ink will be hosting events celebrating the ways in which Providence is already exhibiting post-capitalist models, from co-ops like Urban Greens to the employee-owned White Electric Coffee. 

“All of those interpretations of what it means to participate in an economy and a world that is not driven by profit – that’s what we’re going to be celebrating in May.” 

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