“We want a society based upon mutual aid and empowerment rather than coercion and social economic political power,” Slavin told me Wednesday during a 90-minute chat in an Evanston café.
Slavin hasn’t made up his mind yet whether he will be among the anarchists in the streets over the next few days for the simple reason that he’s a father now and doesn’t want to do anything to interfere with his parental responsibilities — presumably such as getting arrested. Even anarchists have lives. With NATO in town this weekend and the protests already in full swing, I figured I’m not the only person more than a bit curious about who these anarchists are, what they believe and what they want.
Apparently, that’s a little like asking what Democrats or Republicans believe — it depends on which ones you’re asking, only with anarchists, there’s an even wider range of philosophical orientations.
Plus, not everyone we see causing trouble during protests is a real anarchist.
Slavin wouldn’t presume to speak for all anarchists, although he believes he understands what motivates them to be out there, just as it has motivated him.
“Been there. Done that,” said Slavin, whose bona fides include getting arrested at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minnesota.
“A lot of people are really frustrated and haven’t found a way to channel their angst. I understand the mentality. I think people need to put the angst into positive, constructive forms of action,” he said.
By the way, Slavin said he voted for Barack Obama in that 2008 election, but not out of any conviction the Illinois senator would make a better president. Slavin said he calculated that when Obama’s liberal Democratic policies failed, it would hasten the day the American left wakes up to the idea that mainstream politics — Democrat or Republican — is never going to provide the solutions they seek.
Slavin is treasurer of the Four Star Anarchist Organization, Chicago’s only aboveground anarchist group. The group draws its name from the four stars in the Chicago flag, its website explaining: “While we feel no love for the city’s elite, this is our home and someday we hope to set it free.”
Four Star was formed in 2008. Slavin didn’t get here until the next year after completing his PH.D. from Purdue University.
The lean Virginia native said he can remember debating anarchistic philosophy in high school, but it wasn’t until the onset of the Iraq War during his time at Purdue that his politics were radicalized.
Slavin, whose brother is an Army major, said it was the “unquestioning allegiance” of the American public to the war effort that set him on his current course.
Slavin favors a tradition of anarchism known as “platformist” or “anarcho-communist,” which draws some of its inspiration from the Spanish Revolution.
Four Star normally has 14 or 15 members at a time, although people come and go and as many as 40 have been involved at one point or another, Slavin said.
These have included law students, authors, artists and physical therapists ranging in age from their 20s to their 40s.
The mother of his child is among them. Instead of getting married, they held a commitment ceremony at the same west suburban cemetery where one can find the monument to the Haymarket Martyrs and the burial plot of anarchist icon Emma Goldman.
To the extent Four Star members are involved in NATO protests, it will be as “street medics” to care for injured demonstrators and to distribute information on how to stay safe — from police, Slavin said. He argues the chief risk is from police over-response and “agent provocateurs” who start trouble to make anarchists look bad.
If you’re looking for me to be judgmental, come back another day. This is for informational purposes. Supply your own angst.