Re: Microcosm Publishing: Open Letter about Abuse and Support

Posted: July 1, 2011 by Sunshine Superboy in internal accountability, networking & movement building
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The following is a letter reposted from Microcosm. It felt important to repost here because of the extent to which it has become a public situation- not so much the abuse, but Microcosm’s process of struggling with accountability work.

There are some important posts from Alex about this situation, and we would like to link to them here up top (you can also see Alex’s links in the comments below). This letter without the context of these posts could be problematic, so here, here, and also here, are good places to get a fuller perspective on things including Alex’s recent response.

Philly Stands Up is available as a resource in supporting these and any radical community through the process of supporting survivors, holding people who have caused harm accountable, and helping communities in figuring out how to challenge abuse, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence using restorative and transformative justice. We know this work is hard, but it is also important that the communities doing this work are themselves accountable to their own politics and to communities of survivors.

It is through struggling to address our own problems and striving for healing justice in our own communities that we become not only informed, but transformed.


Hi all,

This statement is in response to individuals in the zine community accusing the founder of Microcosm, Joe Biel, for emotional abuse. Alex Wrekk (of Brainscan and Stolen Sharpie Revolution) and Cindy Crabb (of Doris zine and distro) have written about this, and other zinesters have requested information. To many, this may come out of left field or seem incidental to one’s relationship with Microcosm. This is for us to get off our chests, and to address silence that those involved have waited to see broken.

Staff at Microcosm earnestly care that this emotional abuse was named. We care about abuse and support, and we care for Alex, and for Joe, and for others who have been hurt by this. We unequivocally stand for those who have suffered from abuse. And we’ve struggled with where to go from there. The collective believes that ostracizing someone isn’t a healthy, restorative response, and we’ve struggled with accountability being more than a radical judge-and-jury trial.

Microcosm began as a very small, very personal project. We honor that the zine distro seen today developed as a joint effort of Joe and Alex. After their relationship ended, the organization eventually moved to Bloomington, IN into the new house of Joe and his partner at the time. Both partners were talented collective members with deep investment in Microcosm, and after their separations, the organization struggled for a meaningful, respectful way to acknowledge their involvement. In this highly personal nature of the organization at the time, how to provide support and accountability was something the collective has seen differently and fallen short on.

We believe that we’ve been ill-equipped to address emotional abuse and support on an organizational level. We’ve struggled with how to provide that space and forum in Microcosm. As abuse creates cycles of hurt, it’s been easier for those involved to put up a wall for personal protection rather than create resources for healing. We’ve sincerely wanted to transcend this, but focused primarily on day-to-day matters to keep this business afloat. And our long internal discussions have remained within the organization, resulting in more disappointment from that lack of transparency.

For the past nine months, Debbie Rasmussen (former publisher/director of Bitch magazine) has offered pro bono facilitation creating an “organizational refounding” and discussing proposed accountability processes. While the movement is gradual, there have been many organizational changes in the past months. Joe stepped down from being a collective member, and Microcosm will be collectively owned by the remaining members by the end of this year. The collective is working to create a Resource Council, an independent group of volunteers to offer support and mediation to Microcosm. Our hope is that an external ring of support could offer help with personal conflicts that fall outside of our Non-Adherence Policy and assist in maintaining a compassionate Safer Space Policy for the non-physical space that is Microcosm.

We can’t expect to bandage anyone’s wounds. We do sincerely hope to open the conversation and aid in creating the resources that may someday help others. Please feel free to contact us at We’re excited about a healthier, stronger Microcosm, and we wouldn’t be here without all of you. Thanks for your support. Expect to hear more from us soon!

The Microcosm Collective

Rio, Jessie, & Adam

  1. Millicent says:

    Y’all don’t offer any commentary here. It’s nice that you linked to Alex’s posts about the situation, but without affirming her conclusions that this statement is too little, too late for the reasons she and others detail in her linked posts, this post implies that this letter makes Microcosm a good model of community accountability. It’s not.

    Zinesters and punks: Boycott Microcosm. There are plenty of other zine distros that sell zines about support & consent whose collectives don’t violate those principles.

  2. zach bender says:

    i am myself a survivor of psychological and emotional abuse extending over more than twenty years. i am slightly acquainted with joe biel and his current partner, elly blue, on what i would call a friendly basis. i have read brainscan 21, and what i find there is a story of two young people, each somewhat confused and imperfect in their communications with one another. i do not find alex herself saying that what joe “did to” her was intentional. if the legal matters between these two have been resolved, i think everyone needs to move on.

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