By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
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By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
If the nation's anarchists sat down and (collectively, of course) drew a map of Florida, the Villa de Vulva would be marked with a red-and-black X. An unprepossessing ranch house on B Street in Lake Worth, the Villa sits 15 minutes north of the posh shops of Boca, past the throbbing, well-lit worlds of Crate & Barrel and Victoria's Secret yet just out of the reach of the grasping hands of acquisitiveness. By comparison, the Villa is a clenched fist. There are real wooden crates and barrels here -- and, one suspects, secrets too.
Above the front door, in place of say, a windsock or a welcome banner, Villa denizens have hung a flag that reads, "Rise Up!" Plastic Halloween skeletons are strewn atop the hedge like the grisly remains of garden gnomes. Behind a door plastered with posters for upcoming political events lies one of South Florida's most active cells of all things radical feminist, anticapitalist, antiracist, anarchist, queer, vegetarian -- or none of the above. An ever-changing configuration of four to six residents lives in the four-bedroom, two-bathroom, one-loft house they rent for $1050 a month. (At least one resident's parents pay a share of the rent.) The Villa is also often crowded with visitors. It can get hectic, and in the summertime, sweltering, because residents choose not to use the air conditioner.
Although they no longer live here, Cara and Aimee Jennings established Villa as an anarchist collective two years ago. The two now live together at another nearby house, but the Villa still functions as the unofficial headquarters of the area's radical cheerleaders and local anarchist scene.
Villa regulars are punks, skateboarders, students, slackers, riot grrrls, or hippies, but with their potluck suppers, food- and literature-distribution, sewing circles, and movie nights, the group has the cozy feel of an interdenominational summer camp. People come from all over the country to visit. In fact, in winter, when the Florida sun is most sought after, legions of fellow travelers inhabit the sparse living room, crashing on a futon, the floor, or a lumpy sofa bed.
As its name suggests, the Villa is woman-identified: "There's no way you're going to be sexist here," says Melodie, a resident who, like most of the Villa people interviewed for this story, asked to be identified only by her first name. A male counterpart, Casa de Cock, existed nearby for a while, but it was short-lived. Most Villa residents say the Casa was about partying.
Melodie helps keep the house anarchist yet orderly. There's a phone list and a nonhierarchical chore wheel on the wall. Above the sink is a hand-written reminder: "First the dishes, then the revolution." Food is stored and cooked communally. Some residents are vegan, but in practice, the house is "freegan" -- meaning members will eat dairy as long as they don't have to pay for it. Decisions are made by a long-winded process of consensus, a practice in which several residents have been trained.
Despite this, Nicole insists the Villa is women-led. "The women are paying the rent, doing the activism," she says. "The boys are pretty much staying on the couch."
Among the current couch crashers is Blake, an 18-year-old Miamian with a mop of wild curly hair and a theory he calls anarcho-robotics. Obsessed with electronics, Blake believes a class of servant robots could eliminate class distinctions and liberate humans from the evils of capitalism. Others just laugh and call him Dr. Roboto.
For the record Blake thinks radical cheerleading is silly.
It is nearly ten o'clock and still humid and hot by the time Aimee and Cara Jennings arrive at the eerily empty Villa one recent evening. Hungry and exasperated, they show up separately. They were supposed to meet earlier at Kmart but somehow missed each other. Now they're bickering about who went to the wrong store. Ladling leftover tofu curry into bowls, they collapse at the table and dig in hungrily. Within minutes the tension has dissolved, the food has disappeared, and Aimee leans back in the chair and sighs. Stomach full from dinner, she unzips her pants.
Self-professed loudmouths, the Jennings sisters are delightfully unselfconscious, yet it is with trepidation that they agreed to be interviewed. They shun publicity but not because they're shy. As anarchists, they don't want to create a hierarchy or lay claim to the radical cheerleading concept. Decisions are made by consensus; there is no leader.
Their faces glow in the humid air as they turn to catch the breeze from a nearby fan. Though they are of the same mind about politics, the Jennings sisters are hardly twins. Aimee is 25 years old, tall, and imposing, with freckles and long reddish hair she often wears in braids or ponytails. Cara, by contrast, is short, with brown hair cut in a blunt bob, a wide, ruddy face, and impish grin. She is 24 years old. They like to be called the Jennings sisters; they are more powerful, they insist, as a unit.
Radical cheerleaders fascinated the mass media at recent "antiglobalization" protests, but the Jennings sisters complain that their message gets obscured in a fixation on pompons. Though the cheers are straightforward, the essence of radical cheerleading involves complex political theories that, for corporate media conglomerates, are both difficult to put into sound bites and rather threatening.