Posted by atrain
On May 2nd 2010, I received an email in my inbox calling for “solidarity” and “emergency donations” to pay the bail of 11 self-identified anarchists in Asheville, North Carolina. They were alleged to have smashed ATMs, bank windows and small shops in celebration of May 1, International Workers’ Day. The price to bail out each of the 11 who were arrested? $5,000. As predictable as the paper-hawking of countless Communist factions at street demonstrations – anarchists locally and nationally got to work planning benefit events. Arrestee benefits are something we are always able to pull together. Yet our inability to create effective momentum, organization, and lasting impact, especially during economic and ecological crisis, is exacerbated by the fact that our “movement” allows anyone to identify as an anarchist, go on “the attack,” and turn months of potential movement-building efforts into benefit shows and talks about their actions.
I became an anarchist in the late 1990s. Since then, I’ve seen countless projects and groups fall apart due to lacking the resources and organization. Rarely do groups continue moving forward in a productive way. I started to ask myself how anarchists here in Chicago could use $55,000 to build and strengthen our movement. The numbers I use are obviously not exact. However, they point to the possibility of creating mass base movements instead of acting as an isolated political sect.
To strengthen our current movement, I would attempt to pay the rent of several existing anarchist and related projects for the year. To strengthen formal organizations and social centers I would pay Biblioteca Popular $9,600 and Locked Out $12,000; the I.W.W and Lucy Parsons Worker’s Center would get $4,300. That would leave $29,100. To strengthen community projects I would give Cop Watch $5,000 to buy new cameras, recorders, vests, and supplies for the communities that they organize in.
That would leave $24,100. I would use this money to address weaknesses in our movement, including our inability to effectively outreach and expand anarchist ideas outside of our circles. I would buy one industrial CD-R/DVD read and write drive for $1,000; a printing press for $5,000; and a screenprinting press for $8,000. This leaves a remainder of $16,100.
Opportunities that would exist outside of this budget would include buying land or buildings instead of renting. We could afford to operate a worker-managed bus program to combat the Chicago Transit Authority’s cuts and layoffs. We could fund, for an entire year, direct action worker centers throughout the Midwest. Most importantly, we could use the funds to build our capacity as organizers. We would finally have a chance to break out of being isolated militants.
This is all hypothetical, but remember that there is still $16,100 left. How would you use it to build models of anarchist resistance?
Chicago has made international headlines as being the most violent city in the United States. Not only are we the most violent, we also have 70,000-75,000 foreclosed homes in Metro Chicago. We also have the highest rates of foreclosure amongst small apartment owners, with Englewood ranking first, followed by Austin, West Englewood and then New City. Chicago’s unemployment rate hit 11.6% (which doesn’t include those who have given up looking for work). For African-American youth, the unemployment rate is the same as the unemployment rate for the general populace during the Great Depression. Do we even need to talk about the skyrocketing incarceration rate? It’s increased from 1.8 million in 2000 to 2.3 million in 2008. Furthermore, the immigrant deportation rate has doubled over a ten year period and continues to increase.
As anarchists, members of our movement are the first to cry out to build barricades, occupy buildings or even pick up arms. And yet, through labor organizing, I’ve seen workers who live in fear of writing their name on a petition for a list of demands. Clearly, we have a ways to go. To believe that we can reach a system without bosses through isolated window-smashing and “attacks” against the state is foolish. To believe that this system could defend itself against capitalists and fascists is absurd. While street fights in Greece have been very inspirational, they mainly appeal to our American love of good action movies and prime-time TV. But the insurrection isn’t the only part of their movement. We should not overlook the massive successes of Greek anarchists with organizing immigrants (particularly Afghani immigrants) in labor and social struggles.
The common person works 20 to 50 hours a week and, with limited time, spreads the remainder between family, bill-paying and personal time. Having the capacity to revolt against bosses, developers and landlords requires that we build our ability to organize and fight through continual work and dialogue with time- and money-stressed individuals. Dialogue and continual work, whether formally or informally, has the capacity to build a culture of resistance. But this method is only a revolutionary means, not an end. Take the Republic Windows occupation. During the struggle, Mexican-American workers stated that in Mexico, their union would occupy the factory when machinery was being moved. Here in the U.S, when the equipment was being removed and production relocated, they stuck with methods that they knew would solve the problem. This is important because it indicates that if you build a person’s capacity to self-organize, even using militant methods, that individual can defend their coworkers or community members – even in a new situation. We see from this example that it can not only happen across neighborhoods or industries, but also across borders.
We have to be critical of our movement and how it relates to the working class in which people of color face the most obvious blow from capitalists. Anarchists who put on ninja jammies and go on the attack in the “Berkeley” liberal town of Asheville demonstrate how cut off they are from working-class people. At a time when families are being evicted and lack work or healthcare, we have to ask: Was it really advantageous for the alleged attack against small businesses in a liberal Southern city? Thousands of families are being evicted from their homes and our response was to break an ATM? VIVA! Really? This is what we call a militant movement?
What we lack is continuous organization and participation in social struggle. This would allow us to analyze current political and economic conditions, learn from our mistakes, and build on past victories. How does informality and disorganization limit our opportunities to grow? Many of us have been involved in some sort of grassroots activity as anarchists – from food programs to prisoner support; from anti-police work to labor activity. Yet we’ve created no real “pull” or “mass” in society. During the 1960s, all of these activities were necessary for the growth of the Black Panther Party. But what we lack – and what they had — is a uniting theoretical message. We must foster unity while working together to build a popular movement. This unity must come with accountability to each other.
To counter the email that I received, I’m putting a call out for “solidarity” with working class people and asking for “emergency funds” to build an anarchist movement. This it to defend and aid those harmed most during this recession and by the state. It’s time to be serious about anarchism.
While I understand that one of the anarchists arrested in Asheville lived in Chicago for three years, and that many recognize him as a comrade, we have to be critical of our actions and theories. We must strive to be reflective in our practice. No matter how close those people are to us, their actions as individuals are not necessarily in our interests as a movement. I hope that this article challenges anarchists to think about their approach (or lack of it) to movement-building, and to create productive ideas for new directions.