Contrary to popular belief, liberalism isn't dead in this country. It's merely gone back into the bowling alleys.
While other young idealists waste their time arguing Marxist theory in such tried-and-true, insular environments as coffeehouses, the members of the Red and Black league are slowly infiltrating our precious lanes. Gathering at 9 p.m. every Tuesday at the Aloma Bowling Center East, on Rouse Road, these lefty Lebowskis blow off their activist steam by knocking down a few pins -- and a few beers.
But they do it their way: There's no team captain, and all decisions governing game play are arrived at by democratic vote. As consensus-building measures go, it's much nicer than that ice-pick-to-the-forehead Trotsky took.
Modeled on the Red Anarchist Bowling League of Los Angeles, the Orlando project is the brainchild of Ben Markeson, a bearded, bespectacled figure who's well known as a local supporter of progressive causes. He's also a card-carrying member of the Socialist Party U.S.A. (I've seen the card. It's laminated.)
"I'm more like an anarcho-socialist than the traditional socialist," Markeson corrects. "But I really can't speak for anyone else's politics."
Though their pet causes differ a bit, most of the players met at events keyed to issues of mutual importance, including antiwar protests, animal-rights rallies and homeless-relief programs hosted by Orlando Food Not Bombs. Some hooked up while still in college; others haven't yet graduated.
But why bowling, of all things? Tori Cole, a 22-year-old Valencia Community College student, says the weekly alley outing is a recreational outgrowth of the revolutionary-planning meetings the group regularly holds at Rollins College. They're more sparsely attended than the bowling nights, she reports; pinless parliamentary procedure isn't as much fun.
Following the party lane
Fun was clearly the operative word to the eight revolutionaries of various stripes who were tearing up the wood when I paid a recent visit to the center.
"Traditionally, people on the left have problems with competition," mused Lance Turner (an artist, programmer and yoga teacher by trade) between frames. "Here, they can come out and compete, and see how that feels."
Does it ever get heated?
"No," he admitted, "because we don't bowl well enough."
He was being unnecessarily humble. Actually, several of them were quite good, picking up spares and racking up points with ease. One of them -- Greg Rivera -- even brought his own ball. He did, however, have to take off his jacket (which was decorated with a Chairman Mao patch) to heft it properly.
You don't expect such low-cultured skill from a bunch of commies. Then again, who knows more about strikes?
I don't feel a bit guilty about poking fun at the Red and Black, mainly because they're ready and willing to do it themselves. Belying the notion of the stodgy ideologue, they spent most of their time trading sarcastic barbs, even kidding me that they had elected to bowl on the right side of the room for a change to make this representative of the "corporate media" feel at home.
Turner joked that the group's next initiative would be to infiltrate the Aloma center's league newspaper. But he agreed that unionizing the nacho chef was a better place to start.
As the Tuesday assemblage is unsanctioned by the center, the league does its best to remain incognito. No banners are flown, nor are attempts made to canvass the neighboring lanes for new members. Still, a few cries of "Come on, knock the system down!" can occasionally be heard when balls are sent rushing toward their targets, and Markeson (the most serious one of the bunch) treats his teammates to copies of Industrial Worker -- a populist rag with wonderful headlines like "Gas Station Workers Go Wobbly With a Vengeance."
The pins should be mighty wobbly on Tuesday, Dec. 7, when an eagerly awaited bowl-a-thon will be held to raise funds for a progressive community center and information shop the group hopes to open in Orlando. (Pledges are currently being sought online.
At that event, nursing student and "eco-feminist" Megan Graham will lead a ladies' auxiliary modeled on the "radical cheerleaders" who appear nationwide to spice up protest events and demonstrations. It's her project, so she gets to be head cheerleader, right?
"We don't really have head cheerleaders," she answers, looking a bit disappointed in the question.
My bad. But even though I'm obviously out of their philosophical loop -- the only social upheaval I can wholeheartedly espouse is utter chaos that profits me in some unspecified way -- I can't help but admire their commitment to solidarity through mindless, leaderless enjoyment.
"I think that camaraderie is important," Markeson propounds. You said it, comrade.