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Anarchy Is Boring

The May Day Smashup Was the Spectacular Tip of a Mundane Iceberg

Anarchy Is Boring

ian buck

MAY DAY MELEE Protesters broke the windows of banks, chain stores, cars, and a courthouse.

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The first self-described anarchist I ever met was a Greek medical technician sticking electrodes to my scalp. I was around 14 at the time, and I'd had a seizure in my parents' driveway a few days earlier. The doctors wanted to test me for epilepsy, which involved using electrodes to read my brain's electrical activity while a strobe light flashed in my face.

Somehow, the technician and I started talking about Henry David Thoreau, and he said he admired Thoreau's anarchist ethics. I said I didn't know what that meant. As I recall, he explained it roughly like this: There is an inherent tension between autonomy and authority, and authority structures do not hold legitimate moral power over individuals who haven't helped to create that structure and consented to live by its rules.

I had trouble wrapping my head around that one.

He asked if I had any vote in choosing my school principal. I hadn't. Well, he explained cheerfully while sticking electrodes to my head, if you're living by Thoreau's anarchist principles, you have no ethical duty to obey him.

Then he said he was mostly kidding and if I didn't want to get into trouble, I'd better obey the principal. But he had planted the seed of an idea—of thinking slightly differently in the future about the relationship between my autonomy and someone else's claim to authority. Then he stuck on the final electrode and switched on the strobe light.

Over the years, I've met other anarchists, both in the United States and in other countries: anarchy-in-the-UK punk rockers, radical hippies yearning for the collapse of civilization, romantic young men at house parties who drunkenly sang anarchist songs from the Spanish Civil War. Their anarchism didn't seem pernicious or scary, just another eccentric choice in life's rich pageant—like being a vegan or a performance artist or a teetotaler.

And then last week I was standing on Sixth Avenue in downtown Seattle surrounded by maybe 100 people wearing black clothes and bandannas over their faces. Some were carrying American flags, some were carrying black flags, and some were carrying a large black banner with the words "TOTAL FREEDOM" in white. A few protest medics wore gas masks and carried first-aid kits. These protesters were moving quickly through the streets. Suddenly, there were loud, dull thuds and then the sound of tinkling glass. Some of the demonstrators had smashed the windows of a Wells Fargo bank (later in the day, speakers denounced Wells Fargo for taking its bailout money to invest in the private-prison system). As the crowd moved on, small groups broke off to quickly and efficiently smash more windows with rocks and wooden staffs, then duck back into the crowd. Others tossed paint against windows and what looked like highway flares onto the sidewalk. The noise was jarring, the smoke was stinging, and there were no police officers in sight—though one man wearing a superhero costume tried to protect a building by pepper-spraying the vandals. One of the protesters joked that he should be arrested and charged with impersonating a police officer.

In all, the protesters smashed out the windows of several banks, a local courthouse, a few chain stores (Nike, American Apparel), and the back windows of a few cars, including one belonging to a Canadian tourist. There were no attacks on people, other than one man who was (understandably) irritated that his car window got smashed and wrestled a protester to the ground.

Just as the police showed up, the crowd seemed to evaporate. Demonstrators dropped their poles and cans of spray paint and stripped off their black clothes—sometimes just dropping their clothes on the sidewalk. One moment, I'm standing in the middle of an energized black-bloc smashup; the next moment, I'm standing on a street with a lot of normal-looking people. In the following hours, newspapers and TV stations released worried-sounding stories about the "violent" demonstration (a TV reporter from KOMO declared that he was a "target" because some of the paint flying through the air dribbled onto his jacket). But even while I was standing directly in the middle of the smashup, I never once worried that someone was going to attack a person, not even the protesters angrily yelling at me for taking photos. The protesters were after windows, not people.

Many anarchists talk about targeted property damage as a protest tactic. They cite the Boston Tea Party (its protesters dressed in costumes and masks to hide their identities, like the May Day protesters), Anarchists Against the Wall (who cut down border fences), and even Jesus Christ, who (according to John 2:15) smashed up bankers' kiosks and beat them with a whip that He braided Himself. (Believe it or not, there are Christian anarchists—they seem to focus on environmentalism and social justice. Check them out online.)

Political vandalism, anarchists say, has three basic uses: (1) To hurt businesses in their pocketbooks, which they say is the only kind of protest businesses respond to. (2) To show that law and order (as we know it) isn't inevitable and that pushing back against it is possible. (3) To draw attention to the issues. If we simply marched on May Day, they say, the newspapers would ignore us. If we create a ruckus, people will pay attention—first to the ruckus and then, hopefully, to why the ruckus happened. Local anarchist Sean Carlson, for example, drew the attention of the Seattle Times in 1986 for smashing a window at a University of Washington regents meeting, which prompted an article about how the UW was investing in apartheid-era South Africa.

Unfortunately for the demonstrators, it doesn't always work that way.

After I wrote a blog post about the smashup and why some people think political vandalism can be useful, a public-radio news show called me for an interview. Online commenters compared the May Day demonstrators to Klansmen and Nazis, while accusing me of writing "rank, putrid garbage," a "philosophical justification of terrorism," and arguments that are "in essence" an apologia of racist rampages like Kristallnacht.

I had no idea that simply asking the basic questions—who are these people? What do they want? Why are they doing what they're doing?—would be so threatening.

It's a few weeks before May Day and I'm sitting in the living room of the Emma Goldman Finishing School, a four-story house on Beacon Hill that is also a 15-year-old experiment in anarchist-style living. It has 12 rooms for members, one guest room, a 500-square-foot garden, and some fruit trees dotting the property. Inside and outside, EGFS looks tidy, cozy, and totally unremarkable.

Addy, a young woman who used to work in social services but is now in nursing school, sits on a couch across the room. The house, she explains, was built in 1907, fell into disrepair, was eventually condemned by the city, and was collectively bought by a group of people in 1996. "It was in bad shape," she says. "Where you're sitting right now used to be all blackberry vines."

Addy is an anarchist, but she's no window-smasher. "For me," she says, "identifying as an anarchist means that reformist strategies are not working and I want to find more revolutionary strategies." Her revolutionary strategy is helping to manage the household finances in a way that, in her words, "resists capitalism."

It works like this: The household guarantees basic needs with collective food, shelter, transportation (cars, bikes, bus passes), and health insurance. "You meet everybody's basic needs," Addy says. "That's a radical idea to most people."

In return, residents "pay" a certain number of "hours" each month, spent in a combination of working around the house, doing social- justice work outside the house, and paying down with money. Here's the key part: EGFS values everyone's hours equally. Let's say I make $10 an hour at my job, you make $50 an hour at your job, and we both want to pay down 10 hours of our rent one month: I pay $100 and you pay $500. Addy and the household figure out their budget—what the household needs, what resources people have to give—with consensus-based meetings and an open-source computer program called "the Gizmo" that was written by one of the residents.

"Labor out there," she says, gesturing out the front window, "is assigned an arbitrary value—but we bring it in here and we make it equal... knowing we're participating in capitalism, but knowing we're resisting capitalism in a concrete way."

Figuring out how to run a sustainable anarchist household (that values time spent washing the dishes and time spent making money as a computer programmer equally) isn't as headline-grabbing as a downtown smashup. But Seattle has dozens of functional anarchist organizations—or anarchish organizations. Some of them operate in an anarchist way (consensus decision making, a focus on mutual aid instead of competition) but don't call themselves anarchistic. And even the ones that do are constantly debating how to strive for anarchist ideals within the current economic and political system. (Give me two anarchists, and I will give you a debate on what "real" anarchism means.)

But the conversation is happening and has been happening for years in businesses such as Left Bank Books, which has been collectively owned and operated by its workers since the early 1970s. Or the Books for Prisoners program, a volunteer organization with many anarchist members who make decisions by consensus. Or Tides of Flame, the anarchist gazette that doesn't sell advertising. Or the various incarnations of the U-District needle exchange—its institutional history is complicated, but it's currently called the People's Harm Reduction Alliance—founded by a man named Bob Quinn who was exasperated with government public-health programs dragging their feet in the midst of the AIDS crisis and decided to take matters into his own hands. Or SeaSol, a "solidarity network" founded in 2010 that helps employees and tenants who feel they're owed money; it deploys its people to investigate the claim and negotiate with (and, if necessary, protest) bosses and landlords. Michael Reagan, who joined SeaSol in 2010, says the group has been successful in around 90 percent of its campaigns, from recovering small rental deposits to a $22,000 unjust-firing claim.

The prominent anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber wrote in his 2004 essay "Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology" that anarchism isn't really about smashing things up. That's just the spectacular tip of a pretty mundane iceberg. (Graeber got his start studying communities in Madagascar where the government basically pulled up stakes, leaving people to sort out their own day-to-day lives in a form of functional anarchy.)

Anarchy, he writes, is about gradually figuring out new ways of organizing everyday life "which will, eventually, make currently existing forms of power seem stupid and beside the point... there are endless examples of viable anarchism: pretty much any form of organization would count as one, so long as it was not imposed by some higher authority, from a klezmer band to the international postal service."

Small examples of functional anarchy are everywhere—it's just a matter of learning how to see them and, if you are so moved, lend them a hand.

So what's with all this "smash the state" rhetoric? Do anarchists want to wave a magic wand and make the government of, say, Canada evaporate overnight? Some do, but many realize that that's a completely untenable position.

John Zerzan is a prominent anarchist theorist in Eugene, Oregon, who was born in the 1940s and dubbed by the press as the intellectual godfather of the WTO riots in 1999. During a phone conversation a few weeks before the May Day smashup, we talk about the Occupy movement and how some occupiers in Seattle and elsewhere called for "police-free zones" as an experiment in anarchist self-policing. He thinks the idea is quixotic at best and dangerous at worst.

"Anarchist people say, 'Abolish the cops.' But in this kind of society, you can't just do that," he says. "How are you going to go help vulnerable people if they're being attacked?"

So what's the solution?

"You need to create a healthy community before you can get there," he says. "You talk about smashing the state and getting rid of capitalism, but if you want to keep this level of complexity, you can't have that. The only way you can have it is to get rid of mass society, of modern mass society." Though he thinks the smashups are necessary to grab people's attention and make them consider anarchism's basic ideas, Zerzan's vision—like Graeber's—is a generations-long project of building up functional, self-regulating communities that will make the state as we know it irrelevant. (The old Greek word "anarkhos" doesn't mean "no rules"—it means "no rulers.") But he worries that economic and ecological collapse will come much sooner than we think, and that the time to start behaving in an anarchic way—taking care of ourselves instead of deferring to government and big business—is now. He wants, in his words, for people to have a "soft landing" when the global shit hits the global fan.

Zerzan came to anarchism in the late 1960s while he was working for the San Francisco Department of Social Services. He and the other workers were represented by an old, well-established union. One of their fellow employees—"a sweet guy, a quiet old bird," Zerzan says—was fired at 10 minutes to 5 p.m. on his retirement day so the city wouldn't have to pay his retirement benefits. The union membership went into an uproar, but the union said it couldn't do anything about it. So Zerzan and some others left in disgust and founded their own union, with no paid management and no real hierarchy, called the Social Services Employees Union.

They didn't call themselves anarchists, Zerzan says, but they had basically founded an anarchist organization whose primary loyalty was to its membership and not the employers, the city, or the old-boy union leadership. "Organized labor hated us more than city hall!" he says. "Because we were different—an alternative to their corrupt, bureaucratic thing." Only later did he realize he was basically an anarchist.

And what does he say to people who dismiss anarchism as thickheaded, a dilettante's game?

"People are saying you can't do anything about the way things are, but it's a cop-out," he says. "It's closing out the discussion. It's just saying, 'It can't get better.' But maybe we can tackle it and we can get better... Bowling leagues, reading groups—all that stuff is great. People come together and enjoy each other and have that bond, and they'll help each other if there's a crisis."

Many of the anarchists I spoke with while researching this article—far more than I had room to quote here—talk about their politics with a curious mixture of optimism and fatalism. Most of them see the world as catastrophically fucked up and blame big business, which is protected by imperialistic governments, for that fucked-uppedness. They realize their vision of the world is pitted against the tremendously intimidating inertia of a status quo that has oceans of money and oceans of weapons to protect it, not to mention the contempt of the very people who the anarchists want to "liberate."

But a deep vein of hope runs through all the conversations as well. They wouldn't be taking these risks, doing what they do, if they didn't think they might be able to turn the tide. In Graeber's words: "Since one cannot know a radically better world is not possible, are we not betraying everyone by insisting on continuing to justify, and reproduce, the mess we have today? And anyway, even if we're wrong, we might as well get a lot closer."

When the smoke has dispersed and the glass is swept up, the riots and smashups—the spectacular moments when newspapers and television stations pay attention to anarchists—are the exception, not the rule, of anarchy. The hard day-to-day work of building anarchist organizations is about figuring out budgets and scheduling meetings and getting into the thick muck of group decision making.

From the outside, anarchy might look threatening and scary and exciting. From the inside, anarchy can seem quite boring. But it is a profoundly hopeful type of boring. recommended

 

Comments (92) RSS

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1
Thank you. This is exactly the nuanced explanation of anarchisms that I was hoping for.
Posted by Oscar M http://oscarmcnary.wordpress.com/ on May 9, 2012 at 9:14 AM · Report this
2
Thank you! This is the nuanced explanation of anarchisms that I was hoping someone would write! I take exception to John Zerzan as an authority (ha!) on anarchism, but I'm sure anyone you chose would be objectionable to someone.
Posted by Oscar M http://oscarmcnary.wordpress.com/ on May 9, 2012 at 9:18 AM · Report this
3
Thanks for taking this on, Brendan, and providing some much needed clarification on the term 'anarchy'. Wonderful work!
Posted by downtownkitty on May 9, 2012 at 10:01 AM · Report this
4
I respect the right of anarchists to associate with like minded people and run their households and businesses as they see fit. I would ask that they extend the same courtesy to people who want to own cars and shop at Forever 21.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on May 9, 2012 at 10:21 AM · Report this
5
too bad, ken. not gonna happen. sorry. until all the anarchists start seeing some serious, no-strings-attached green, everythings gonna get trashedzzzzz.

but, all that green will build some amazing shit that even your boring ass will like.
Posted by harry potter on May 9, 2012 at 10:48 AM · Report this
6
It is always valuable to point out when people have reactions of intense dismissal when asking basic questions such as "what is it? Who does it?" etc.

That said, I'm coming to the conclusion that lots of people honestly do not know the distinction between explaining or quoting a position and an author endorsing that opinion. Interpreting complex argumentation isn't a skill people have much opportunity to practice. I don't mean that to be a condescending statement at all, just pointing out that there's both political motivations to reject any nuanced discussion of anarchism and also a skill gap.
Posted by sahara29 on May 9, 2012 at 11:11 AM · Report this
7
Excellent article but I'm not sure any anarchy really took place; anarchy is really about blowing things up, like the McNamara brothers heroically did in 1910 when they set off a bomb at the LA Times, and some others did in 1920 when they set off a bomb in front of JP Morgan.

Now this is truly a form of anarchy:

Intelligence Coup: 2012


(Or everything Saudi)

Amid the congratulations of the CIA's Saudi double agent's prevention of the latest underwear bombing (Calvin Klein, Version 2.0) much is neglected in the reporting department.

Leaving aside the US support of Yemen's latest bloody dictator, let's review several unreported (or little reported, with regards to the myth-media) "intelligence coups": the overthrow of the government of Azerbaijan, and the overthrow of the democratically-elected president of Honduras.

The Azerbaigan overthrow, instigated by BP with the assistance of MI6 and the CIA, took place in order to ensure the oil flow from the Caspian Sea (this took place in the '90s) to those facilities run and profiting the multinationals in India.

Of course, the best route was a pipeline across Afghanistan, but the gov't there was bellicose, so that country had to be invaded.

Therefore, after the disbursement of $40 million via "NGOs" -- Saudi cutouts hijacked planes, most conveniently flying one dead center into the west wall of the Pentagon and killing or seriously injuring almost the entire Financial Management Group of the D.I.A., the very same group which had just completed an audit uncovering an unaccounted for $2.3 trillion in the DoD's finances (reported by the Pentagon's comptroller the very day prior, on 9/10/01).

Now getting this money out of the country wasn't a problem, it would just be electronically transferred offshore via computer systems and unwitting personnel in several companies residing in the World Trade Center towers, but getting rid of the evidence of said computer systems involved, and just in case those unwitting operations people might talk to one another they too would have to go.

Most conveniently, some Saudi cutout hijackers flew several planes into those towers, killing the people and destroying the evidence.

Next, the invasion and subsequent building of gas and oil pipelines across Afghanistan!

Then, a few years forward, and we find the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) funding the overthrow of the Honduran President Zelaya, just 'cause he wants to raise their national minimum wage by a few cents, which would irk the multinationals doing business there.

The chairperson of the MCC at the time was one Hillary Clinton, and her co-chair was one Timothy Geithner.

Another "intelligence coup" ! Hurrah, hurrah!

So, this recent "intelligence coup" also involves a Saudi double agent and the master bomb builder just also happens to be a Saudi, just like those hijackers on 9/11/01 --- will coincidences never cease?????

SOURCES:

http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/int… other project is sponsored by the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, a consortium of 11 foreign oil companies, including four American companies, Unocal, Amoco, Exxon and Pennzoil. This consortium conceives of two possible routes, one line would angle north and cross the north Caucasus to Novorossiysk. The other route would cross Georgia to a shipping terminal on the Black Sea. This second route could be extended west and south across Turkey to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

….

The second option is to build a pipeline south from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean. One obvious route south would cross Iran, but this is foreclosed for American companies because of U.S. sanctions legislation. The only other possible route is across Afghanistan, which has of course its own unique challenges. The country has been involved in bitter warfare for almost two decades, and is still divided by civil war. From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, lenders, and our company.

http://bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?article…

The Oil Connection: Afghanistan and Caspian Sea oil pipeline routes
Don’t think there is a connection between Afghanistan and the oil monopolies? Think again. The information contained in these partial Department of Energy reports are current as of September 2001. You can read the complete texts at http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/ca... and http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/af... (For more links, also see http://www.mujahideen.fsnet.co.uk/a... ) This story could be bigger than the Pentagon Papers if it were discovered that the "war on terrorism" were an excuse to end Afghanistan’s civil war in order to secure the Southern route of an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea through Afghanistan. In 1998, the Taliban signed an agreement to proceed with the pipeline, but the civil war has kept the project from getting started.

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?tit…
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Posted by sgt_doom on May 9, 2012 at 11:22 AM · Report this
8
Brendan,
I think it would be useful to note that there have been long time tension between anarchists who focus of prefigurative organizing (Participatory Economics-projects et al) and smashy-smashy direct action (including some folks who disavow any form of economics whatsoever, according to recent pamphlets they've distributed). While these tactics are not mutually exclusive in the slightest, distance has grown between folks who favor either end of the spectrum.
Posted by no use for a name on May 9, 2012 at 11:32 AM · Report this
mtnlion 9
@4: I'm with you.

I respect their right to peaceably send their message. It is entirely obscured by destruction of private property, and the argument that smashing windows draws attention to the cause is bullshit. I do not respect people if they destroy property, regardless of who owns the property or what they stand for. Of course, everyone has the right to live their life the way they see fit, and if living in a community household with the kind of economic situation described sounds ideal to you, then by all means...

And I expect them to respect my right to live as I see fit, even if they personally disagree with it. Freedom, you know.
Posted by mtnlion on May 9, 2012 at 11:46 AM · Report this
10
One of the funniest events that I ever witnessed was a group of 7 anarchists at a cafe trying to decide how they were going to purchase a banner for a march that they wanted to organize. The banner cost $10.00. One wanted everyone to pay an equal share, but it was determined that such a plan would limit everyone's freedom of choice. Another member suggested that everyone who wanted to get the banner could divide the cost among themselves, but that was dismissed because it was determined that such a course would give "ownership" of the march to the group that paid and ostracize the group that did not. After an hour of discussion they failed to reach a conclusion. I agree with many self-described anarchists that there are problems with our society, and that large corporations get away with a lot of evil. I don't believe for a second that anarchism will fix those problems. Maybe one day we will devise a perfect society. In the meantime, people who want to live by anarchist principles should do so knowing that the rest of us do not, and that we will impose our rules on them because doing so makes us safer. Smashing someone's car window may garner attention, but only because we consider it a crime, so if that's the kind of attention they want, they should not complain when we punish them.
Posted by StevenAKAsteve on May 9, 2012 at 11:50 AM · Report this
Bauhaus I 11
Brendan, I love the way you write. If movements and the associated demonstrations are in some part so biz, how do you top WTO? There has to be a better, smarter way to exhibit one's beliefs - one that, heaven help us, might actually help people.

You know, some white people remember the Black Panthers as a radical movement - scary proponents of gun violence as a means to an end, Most black people I know remember them for giving poor children free lunches and after school snacks and activities...and their mothers free daycare.

Posted by Bauhaus I on May 9, 2012 at 12:24 PM · Report this
12
@ 4 and 9...

So you are basically saying that people should have the "right" to buy sweatshop-produced, basically disposable clothing made from material acquired through ecologically devastating industrial processes...? You know that is quite similar to the idea that slave owners had the "right" to what their slaves produced... that colonists had the "right" to commit genocide against native people in order to take over the land... right? Seriously, wake the fuck up. The processes have changed but the basic elements of racism, disregard for the natural world, and the class system remain.

If people should have this "right," shouldn't people have the "right" to fight back *by any means necessary*...?

You are examples of American entitlement at its best... or worst, I guess.
Posted by blackgreens on May 9, 2012 at 12:26 PM · Report this
13
@ 4 and 9...
So you are basically saying that people should have the "right" to buy sweatshop-produced, basically disposable clothing made from material acquired through ecologically devastating industrial processes that are transported through an extremely energy-intensive network run on fossil-fuels...? (All the stuff that nations wage wars over...?) You know that is quite similar to the idea that slave owners had the "right" to what their slaves produced... that colonists had the "right" to commit genocide against native people in order to take over the land... right? Seriously, wake the fuck up.

The processes have changed but the basic elements of racism, disregard for the natural world, and the class system remain. This is why it is called "neo-colonialism."

If people should have this "right," shouldn't people have the "right" to fight back *by any means necessary*...?

You are examples of American entitlement at its best... or worst, I guess. This sort of attitude should not be tolerated anymore.
Posted by blackgreens on May 9, 2012 at 12:34 PM · Report this
Mentifex 14
Is it really anarchists doing the property damage, or is it agents provocateurs breaking windows in order to make bourgeois society hate protestors?
Posted by Mentifex http://ai.neocities.org on May 9, 2012 at 12:50 PM · Report this
snoopy 15
I wish everyone were a thoughtful anarchist... respectful of the respectful: honoring the right to live and let live.

Anarchy needed this article, thanks Brendan.
Posted by snoopy on May 9, 2012 at 1:01 PM · Report this
mtnlion 16
@12: Wait, you're likening me to a slave owner defender after reading a brief sentence that explains next to nothing about my life or belief system (aside from the fact that I find breaking windows juvenile and pointless)?

People should live as they see fit provided it does not inhibit the liberty of others. That is the root of freedom. And I know the destructive practices you're talking about *do* inhibit the liberty of others and destroy the planet for all of us. Therefore no, I do not excuse it and I believe regulations should be in place because given half the chance corporations will destroy the Earth if only for a few more bucks.

And while those regulations get in place, through voting and responsible activism, people have the right to learn about what companies they support when buying something, and if they find it reprehensible, they stop giving their money to those they find unacceptable. Tell your friends to stop shopping there. Engage in discussion. That's how you change things on a small scale in your own life.

Do I think it should be an option for people to buy goods made by children that are exported via dwindling resources to a people who don't need any of that shit anyway? Nope, but the public has made it abundantly aware that they won't pay ten bucks more for a local, quality good. I certainly wish they would change their minds about that, but I can't force them to care.

You tell me how breaking Wells-Fargo windows helps people to see that the companies they give their money to are slimy shitbags, maybe I'll reconsider.

If you find the system wrong (and I concur it is in many ways), of course, fight back! You do have that right, and that's awesome, but not by "any means necessary." I think that phrase is often used as a license to act however people want and hide the fact that they're not smart enough to use their words and social resources to get a message across. Anyone can speak out against anything in this country, but destroying property or harming others is unnecessary *and* hurts the cause.

I may agree with some of the basic principles of anarchy, but what I really want to see is people get educated, write books, speak to audiences, and get involved in politics if they want to devote themselves to that cause. That's how shit gets done responsibly, even if it's less exciting, and there are anarchists who do that, to which I say: hell yes!

I buy goods from responsible sources (though I'm not perfect), and I vote in my own country to help benefit others. I also expect to work hard and make more money than other people, and that will be nice. I will also make less money than other people, and that's fine. It's a life I choose, and I really don't disparage anarchists or the lives they choose until they start destroying shit (and even then, I know that's not all of them!).

And now that's all May Day was ever about.
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Posted by mtnlion on May 9, 2012 at 1:26 PM · Report this
mtnlion 17
Amendment: I shouldn't say I "choose" to make more than some and less than some, because that's the system we're born into, whether you like it or not (I am ambivalent towards it at this point in my life).

But if you do not like the system, there's communes and community households like Addy's that have different economic systems. They're smaller and therefore should be easier to sustain... even if most of them don't stick around for long. You can peacefully be a part of those, too, and that's fine.
Posted by mtnlion on May 9, 2012 at 1:34 PM · Report this
18
I wonder if all that black clothing was made in a sweat shop.
Posted by repete on May 9, 2012 at 2:10 PM · Report this
Lake Desire 19
Correction: Seattle Solidarity Network (SeaSol) was founded in 2008.
Posted by Lake Desire http://borderhouseblog.com on May 9, 2012 at 2:34 PM · Report this
20
@18 How original. And I wonder if they got it secondhand. Or if they paid $48 to American Apparel (who made it in the U.S., but only through keeping its migrant/POC/differently-sized laborers in the back and its thin, white employees in the front, whom it hires and fires based on how "hip"/brand-loyal they look at a given moment). Or if they paid $20 to a sweatshop-using manufacturer *because that's all they could afford*. Or if they stole it.

Or if at the end of the day, they knew that all these producers of hoodies were bunk in the first place, and that "conscientious consumption" didn't change a damn thing about how people in other parts of the world are getting exploited for their resources (see #12), or about how laborers are getting exploited by capitalist bosses, or about how *we're* getting exploited by consumerism, and that all the money in all three of those relationships is flowing in one direction. And if they knew that sometimes you have to pick your battles, and the battles you pick are ones that keep *you* and others (not necessarily self-identified anarchists) who feel so fucking trapped in this system out of its depressive grasp, even if for one moment of freedom, one moment at a time? If the battles we pick give us a chance to stop playing "nice" for once, all the way up the hierarchies of capital?

And seriously, forget electoral politics. That's more depressing alienation and deference to the reign of people with money.
Posted by ocelot on May 9, 2012 at 2:40 PM · Report this
21
@20 Conscientious consumption may not change the way people in other parts of the world are exploited for their resources, but neither will breaking shop windows. You people smash stuff because that sort of thing is fun for you.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on May 9, 2012 at 2:52 PM · Report this
22
@17 No one has the "right" to exploit another person. Which is what our consumption in a capitalist system inevitably entails. Shopping at Forever 21, or at American Apparel or just about anywhere else, really, is not the peaceful act its muzack and deferential customer service lead us to believe. People are being exploited and it is our privilege and distance that lead us to see our actions (and our own exploitation) as peaceful. All we can do is work to change the system and liberate one another.

Collectives like the EGFS can be part of that process -- an example of refigurative politics -- but I really have to doubt that anyone there sees belonging to a collective house as a sufficient solution to the tension they feel in the politics of their day-to-day existence.
Posted by ocelot on May 9, 2012 at 2:55 PM · Report this
23
@22 No, mr. presumptuousness, people (and don't assume I mean me) do it for a wide variety of reasons, most of which you're overlooking and many of which (though not all) Brendan and I addressed. They might do it not just because it's "fun" but also because, along with that, it "feels good" -- in the way that shrugging off the burden of your oppression and that of your loved ones for one moment feels good, in the way that doing something because you're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore feels good. Maybe they do it because we're talking about it, right now, like the way the corporate sponsorship of the Vancouver Winter Olympics only made news after black bloc actions took place there, etc., etc. It redefines our relationship with these institutions and allows us to reassess things in the balance. It makes them look vulnerable, and in so doing, makes them more so.
Posted by ocelot on May 9, 2012 at 3:02 PM · Report this
24
I'm a little tired of the adage "The goal was to get people talking about it and now they are!"

Getting us to talk about it doesn't necessarily make this a victory. In fact, it might make it a defeat for the (ostensibly) well meaning vandals. How many people went and looked up Nike's labor practices as a result of this? How many investigated Wells Fargo's lack of scrupulous business practices?

Some? Hey, great for you guys.

But in comparison how many heard about what was going on, though something like: "What a bunch of jerks, running around and breaking crap. I hope they get tazed (bro) and hauled off like the criminals they are," and went on with their lives with a now sullied view of a movement they knew very little about?

Anarchy is not a viable method for a functional society. It has never worked historically and never will.

If they want to make a statement, they should leave their masks off and let themselves get arrested the next time they decide to smash stuff. Put a face to the cause and use the action to make an actual statement instead of this vague "things suck and we want it to be different!" kind of thing.
Posted by Midhir on May 9, 2012 at 3:34 PM · Report this
25
I think this is what Brendan meant to say: http://crimethinc.com/texts/selected/asf…
Posted by ocelot on May 9, 2012 at 3:40 PM · Report this
26
@23 If anarchists were really a threat to the system, people wouldn't be able to engage in these sorts of discussions over the internet. Modern technology makes it very easy for the FBI or CIA to trace an anonymous web post. That was why Osama Bin Laden didn't allow any wireless devices in his compound. Anyway, the point is the state could find out who you people are and crush you like so many cockroaches if it felt the need to do so. It doesn't because your not worth the effort.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on May 9, 2012 at 3:43 PM · Report this
27
Smashism* may or may not accomplish the three (3) things anarchists calmly list in their rationale for this type of Direct Action, but it accomplishes other things as well.

One thing it accomplishes is intimidation. You can couch it in terms of delegitimizing authority and raising awareness of anarchist ideology, but the clear message is still "if you don't reorganize your society in line with our ideology, you'll get more of the same, or worse."

Naturally, a person who doesn't object to the ideology of the smashist isn't going to feel the least bit threatened by the smashing. The message, and the threat, is for those who oppose that ideology, for whatever reason.

Argue all you like over whether or not a threat of property destruction is a form of violence; it's still a threat, and the evidence for this is that there are, as Brendan notes, plenty of people who feel threatened by smashist Actions.

Go ahead and try to advance your politics via threats, if that's what you believe in, but don't expect people not to notice what you're up to, and react to it in the various ways people usually react to threats and intimidation.

 

* I use "smashism" and "smashists" because not all anarchists, not even a majority, are smashists, not all smashists are anarchists, and "black bloc" describes a set of tactics, not a belief in destroying property for political purposes, nor the people who hold and act on such a belief.
Posted by robotslave on May 9, 2012 at 4:22 PM · Report this
treacle 28
Great exposition Brendan, thank you.
Posted by treacle on May 9, 2012 at 4:46 PM · Report this
29
Hands down, Brendan, you are the most dedicated, honest and thoughtful journalist in Seattle. The Stranger is exceptionally lucky to have you, as are the rest of us! Thank you for the time you put into your articles, and keep it up! A great read.
Posted by blackflags http://seattlefreepress.org on May 9, 2012 at 5:20 PM · Report this
30
Well said, Brendan. Re-posting.
Posted by Ericco M on May 9, 2012 at 5:30 PM · Report this
31
Further correction, Seasol was technically founded in November of 2007. Additionally big ups to ocelot for ongoing intellectual articulation and to Brendan for actually writing some honestly inquisitive articles.
Posted by Henry Nelson on May 9, 2012 at 6:50 PM · Report this
LibertyGrrrl 32
I'm just shocked to see so many people use "nuanced" to describe this piece. There are many strands of anarchy, but there is little exploration here of the philosophy of anarchy as one dedicated to peace and voluntaryism. Anarcho-capitalism (try not to go into seizures and convulsions at the mention of "capitalism" dear Stranger readers) is a principled, consistent, and tenable philosophy. Is it unrealistic to assume that there will be no people prone to coercion and force to get what they want? Yes, but that is exactly why a commitment to peace is a good idea. The small percentage of the population who are more likely to cheat than reciprocate are the very reason that ensuring any system of governance you are subject to adheres closely to the principles of peace and voluntaryism as possible. If you build a pyramid of power, the cheaters will not hesitate to injure people as they climb to the top.
Posted by LibertyGrrrl on May 9, 2012 at 7:17 PM · Report this
mtnlion 33
@22, You're completely right, and I agree with everything you say about people being led to believe their cheap goods were cheerfully crafted by happy people who have a passion for putting together cheap goods and are making a living wage. But at the same time, fuck them: the information is out there to learn about how that's all a sham (like most convenient things).

Because people cannot really do things collectively (unless they are very pissed off for a very long time), I think it's up to each individual to support companies they want to, or don't--that's one way to fight. And yes, some groups together can make change, and I'm all for that.

I also just don't feel bad for people who walk around "feeling tense about politics;" that just reeks of whiny self-righteousness. It's also up to each of us to either figure out how to find meaning and peace in the current system, and to change the parts that are bad. And I support change in my own way as well, none of which involve smashing shit during a legal protest.
Posted by mtnlion on May 9, 2012 at 7:37 PM · Report this
34
Interestingly enough that not on of the so called "anarchrist" got peppered sprayed or batoned. What luck! If the were little old ladies and college kids they would have been dropped and drugged in the street to the bus like so much WTO fodder.....hmm who were those masked men?
Posted by Dolo206 on May 9, 2012 at 7:58 PM · Report this
35
I fear that again, the political philosophy of anarchism and the tactic of the black bloc have once again been confused. I have not heard if the black bloc group on May Day self-identified as anarchists. Most people, as you did Brandon, mistakenly equate the two. There are many nuances of anarchism-most are nonviolent. Black Bloc is a tactic-just like occupation, or the choice of non violence are tactics- that groups of people use either openly with protest organizers or in secret as this seems to have been. Typically, those who are experienced black blockers know that their primary role is to defend the marchers against the police-as did the black bloc in LA on May Day. The black dress is also a signal to other marchers that they are willing to defend themselves against police-which most nonviolent protesters are not either prepared to do or have thought about in advance. Author-since you seem to respect David Graeber-and I do too-I suggest you read his response to Chris Hedges written earlier this year when Hedges called Black Bloc the cancer in the occupy movement. I believe that you were trying to present anarchism in a neutral to positive light which I totally respect. But please, don't continue the mythical connection between anarchism and black bloc.
Posted by vashonanarchist on May 9, 2012 at 8:32 PM · Report this
eclexia 36
American Apparel? Seriously? Selling clothes for skinny people deserves the same treatment as Bank of America?

I've never understood the anger against that company. They are run by a dick. So what? In a free society-- the sort that anarchists want to create-- anybody should be as free to be a dick as they want, and the rest of the world should have a choice as to whether or not to do business with them. Isn't that the opposite of anarchy?

They make clothes for skinny people. So what? Every other manufacturer is selling clothes that get fatter every year and deflating the sizes. Isn't it OK for skinny people to have one company making clothes that markets to them?

They put pretty people in the front. So what? So do bars and modeling agencies. So does every TV show and movie out there. If you want to open a bar with big strippers, then open one. But why go to a bar with thin strippers and then lament how awful it is?

Posted by eclexia on May 9, 2012 at 9:11 PM · Report this
37
@33 I didn't say anything about people walking around "feeling tense about politics," though. I was talking about real anger and real frustration about real fucked up shit. Also, as a side note, the march itself was illegal. In fact, I don't think any part of OS's May Day was permitted except for the Westlake Hip Hop Occupies performances (and the May 1st Coalition march).

I think a critical issue here is understanding violence as more than discrete acts of individual aggression. Redlining, foreclosures, gentrification that pushes people out of homes and communities, neocolonial exploitation abroad, deportation, sexual harassment (including the arresting officer who told a Seattle occupier that he could "buy a woman for $20") -- these are all WAY more "violent" than any broken window of a corporate institution. And I think for a lot of people -- not some people whose day-to-day existences involve firsthand violence, but those among us who haven't always had to face that (myself included) -- it takes engaging in the frustrations of "legal protests" to begin to comprehend that in a real way.

And I know that someone could respond by saying, "Oh, so you think that because American Apparel is violent that gives somebody else justification to be violent back, hunh?" But what I'm actually saying is, we need to understand the gravity of the violence of day-to-day existence in this world before we can dismiss someone else's actions (like say, breaking a window, which doesn't hurt another person in any kind of either systemic or physical way) for being too "violent," or not "nonviolent" or "legal" enough. We also have to grapple with the the problem that "politics" as we know it -- including any form of legal protest, or of demands -- means deference to the very authorities that are oppressing us. And to require someone who is (also) oppressed to engage in that kind of deference is a problem.

Here's some more analysis of this issue of violence. I don't know if I 100% agree with all of it, but it's a good read: http://pugetsoundanarchists.org/node/166…

@36: You do realize you're saying, "All these other places are patriarchal, sexist, racist shits, so why have any anger at American Apparel? It's a free country", right?
More...
Posted by ocelot on May 9, 2012 at 11:00 PM · Report this
38
ahahhahah
Posted by never722 on May 10, 2012 at 3:06 AM · Report this
mtnlion 39
@37, Thanks for clarifying that about the protests; I didn't know.

I understand what you mean, but from a practical standpoint, window-bashing is just not effective. It undermines the fact that there are people who are doing things legitimately, and makes the entire philosophy seem ridiculous, even when it's not. And yes, legal and peaceful protests *do* restrict those who don't otherwise recognize authority over them, but again, realistically you have to bend a bit to make your beliefs known.

And don't get me wrong: there have been days in my life where I've wanted to take down slaughterhouses, and been so infuriated with the apathy about the state of the world that I felt like going full-on unabomber. However, I changed. It's admittedly cynical, but I have accepted that people are mostly shitty and cannot be brought to feel a lot in our vapid, meaningless environment. Changing that is not going to happen. When people do pay attention, even, it is often completely misguided and fails to lead anywhere (think Kony 2012). It sucks.

In response to this, I have started quietly working for causes I believe in, helping people I can one at a time instead of having a nebulous fury towards all society that manifests itself in breaking windows and then retreats back to the shadows. For things to be better for any number of people, we must focus on the legwork, not tearing things all the way down from the top.
Posted by mtnlion on May 10, 2012 at 4:49 AM · Report this
40
@37 Perhaps some of your concerns are valid. I still don't see how breaking a few windows is going to change anything.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on May 10, 2012 at 7:36 AM · Report this
41
‎"The old Greek word "anarkhos" doesn't mean "no rules"—it means "no rulers."

This is a great article. I would add that anarchism doesn't necessarily mean no "leaders", either. It definitely means no authoritarian or autocratic leaders. But we could also say that true "leadership" is really any form of outstanding SERVICE and in many cases it doesn't need a name.
Posted by Poor Richard on May 10, 2012 at 8:03 AM · Report this
42
It's good to see a more reasonable discussion in the comments this time around. At least the angry and confused decided to stay out of it, thus allowing it to stay on track and not totally derail into name calling. This was an excellent article. Well done!

On a side note: political vandalism isn't in the same universe of "violence" (that is, anything not condoned by authorities) as bombings and assassinations. If that were true pretty much every social movement on the planet would be called violent. Which, by the way, receives plenty of intellectual support here when it's not happening to someone's own Niketown in the US. Chris Hedges support of the much more radical, sustained actions in Greece and his open blood letting of similar, less destructive tactics, by black blocs in the US is a good example.

I'd also like to point out that the media is virtually incapable of reporting clashes as unprovoked violence by the police, regardless of what the protesters do, because it just recites the official line on what happened. If there is even a story done at all--which isn't the norm--it will uniformly be blamed on "violent protesters" even when the police are being considerably more violent. The corporate media will never be the friend of people trying to wrestle power from its owners and putting it in the hands of the community. History has show us this time and time again. The great speech by Audre Lorde "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" comes to mind.

Revolutions are, in fact, quite messy. This is only the beginning.
Posted by thejazzy1 on May 10, 2012 at 10:13 AM · Report this
43
To everyone saying that "breaking windows doesn't change anything"... you're both right an wrong. It doesn't (in a simple cause and effect sense) change the reality of the exploitation and misery wrought by the corps whose windows are smashed. What it DOES change is people conversations (which has been covered, and I think is actually a much bigger deal than people realize), people's perceptions of what is possible (corps are only as strong as our own weakness), and people's feelings of isolation in their anger. I have no doubt that there were a lot of young folks who were actually quite inspired by the bb actions and by May Day in general. I have been paying attention and noticed that the anarchist scene is growing, extending, and forming new connections with other anti-state and anti-capitalist communities. Certainly many people are turned off by the window-smashing, but that will change as the government issues more cuts and the standard of living gets shittier and shittier. Seattle is a very wealthy place, so maybe the critical mass capable of forming an actual local threat to the state/capitalism will never form here (this is the kind of hopelessness Kiley describes in his article) but it is still a worthy pursuit...

Just as important to smashing is creating networks of people with similar ideas and goals. The smashing represents the destructive side of a creative-destructive process. What anarchists hope to create is a reality in which people could self-organize their own communities based on principles of egalitarianism, voluntary cooperation, solidarity, and autonomy. In this sort of "world of many worlds" or "commune of communes" lots of different ways of being could find expression. It is not far off from what mtnlion said... a freedom in which one does not inhibit another's freedom (as long as they are doing the same).
More...
Posted by blackgreens on May 10, 2012 at 12:00 PM · Report this
44
@ 26
Oh, and in response to the idea that anarchists must not be a threat because otherwise we'd all be smashed by the cops... You are correct in the sense that anarchists do not present a large enough threat for the state to come down and imprison/kill us all and reveal its truly violent nature. We are enough of a threat to cause the police and the media to go into overdrive trying to marginalize us as violent crazy white boys or whatever. This is how counter-insurgency operates... it is sneaky and "peaceful." (The kind of violent "peace" that ocelot is talking about.)

The state is playing a balancing game... the choice it has to make is when to come down and how to do it in a way that will seem legitimate and acceptable to a large enough number of people. Until then, it will use mostly propaganda to attempt to isolate its enemies. (That isn't to say that the state doesn't use outright force and imprisonment, because it does; just look at the case of Pax, an anarchist recently arrested in Portland: freepax.org) If the state decided to take us all out right now, I have no doubt that tons and tons of people would come to our defense (people like Brendan Kiley, for example)... This doesn't mean that they aren't collecting the information you mentioned (who we are, our relationships with each other, etc) and filling files and files with it. In fact, I know that they ARE doing this and coordinating their efforts with other law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

This is why many anarchists are "social anarchists" and propagandists, attempting to share ideas with as many people as possible. It helps us to find accomplices in the crime of freedom, builds larger, safer networks, and makes the world we desire more possible.
More...
Posted by blackgreens on May 10, 2012 at 12:17 PM · Report this
45
"I had no idea that simply asking the basic questions—who are these people? What do they want? Why are they doing what they're doing?—would be so threatening."

The reason why offering up a thoughtful analysis of anarchist tactics is threatening is because of the widely held understanding that media coverage is like oxygen to political movements. If that weren't the case, then unlimited political campaign spending would not be such a huge issue in US society. Money buys eyeballs, and oftentimes, votes and more money follow from that. Given all that, there's a real propensity to shoot the messenger when the message gives legitimacy to political opponents.
Posted by ReverendVictor on May 10, 2012 at 12:41 PM · Report this
46
"I had no idea that simply asking the basic questions—who are these people? What do they want? Why are they doing what they're doing?—would be so threatening."

The reason why offering up a thoughtful analysis of anarchist tactics is threatening is because of the widely held understanding that media coverage is like oxygen to political movements. If that weren't the case, there would be no (relatively monolithic) corporate media, and unlimited political campaign spending would not be such a huge issue in US society. Money buys eyeballs, and oftentimes, votes and more money follow from that. Given all that, there's a real propensity to shoot the messenger if the message gives legitimacy to political opponents.
Posted by ReverendVictor on May 10, 2012 at 12:44 PM · Report this
47
@44 If you guys continue down the road of breaking things to call attention to your cause it won't just be the state that crushes you. As one of the jurors in the Sacco and Vanzetti case put it "guilty or not lets rid ourselves of these damn anarchists!" Remember, the guy who said that wasn't a police chief or a district attorney, just somebody who got called for jury duty.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on May 10, 2012 at 2:33 PM · Report this
48
What you describe as anarchism, most people would describe as communism, at least those for whom that word means something other than "dem Bad Guys from Roosia whose ass the good ol' U.S. of A. whupped in da Cold War and that dem Dimocrats want to send us all spiralin' into". What you describe as "anarchist experiments", hippies of the 60s and 70s called communes.
Posted by Morgan Wick http://www.morganwick.com on May 10, 2012 at 2:58 PM · Report this
49
are you gonna be that juror, ken?
Posted by 126yearcaphillresident on May 10, 2012 at 3:02 PM · Report this
50
You gonna be one of them jurors, Ken? I remember those dayz, bein a resident of old US of A for over a century.
Posted by 126yearcaphillresident on May 10, 2012 at 3:05 PM · Report this
51
Of course there will be non-state people wanting to smash anarchists, too. They're called authoritarians.
Posted by bdurruti on May 10, 2012 at 3:17 PM · Report this
52
To bad the Reporter didnt talke to the Other Activists to find out why the 9th circuit court was put on the March route. there was a Court case thrown out by 3 judge panel due to conflict with 1 judge and plaintiffs lawyer backwhen they were both on king county bench and 1 was nominated and other attempted to undermine nominationwith derogatory comments.ItWas Obvious the Judges were tainted whenrefused to listen to lawyer for plaintiff David haines v.s. m/v selendang ayu (imcshipping
Result,TheNationalContingencyPlanEnhancments for OilspillResponseEquipmentWasNeverMade.B.P. andOthersNeededNetstoIsolatcurrentsandSPill
Posted by Irrelevent on May 10, 2012 at 3:22 PM · Report this
53
Hey Stranger,
The 9th circuit court was targeted becuz corrupt powermongering 3 judge panel of court case David Haines v.s. m/v selendang ayu (imc shipping), was thrown out due to conflict between 1 of the judges and plaintiffs lawyer from way back over 20 years ago when they both wereWorking for King county in court system and she got nomination and other attempted to derail nomination.Result,NationalContingencyPlanEnhancmentsWereNeverImproved with OILSpiLL Containment nets to isolate spills from underwater currents.TheDelay has Been Detrimnetal to u.s.Waters ..B.P needed nets too
Posted by Irrelevent on May 10, 2012 at 3:35 PM · Report this
54
As a 126 cap hill resident, ive seen you on many comment threads. please, help me out here...

what are you talking about?
Posted by 126yearcaphillresident on May 10, 2012 at 6:30 PM · Report this
mtnlion 55
Can someone please explain the endgame to me?

Seriously: what is the anarchist's best case scenario for human civilization? I realize it would probably be a lot smaller, a lot more community oriented, but other than that... what's the utopia look like?
Posted by mtnlion on May 10, 2012 at 7:07 PM · Report this
56
How does one resist the the violence of the state? Through more violence? Or through peacefully uniting our fractured society? Smashing a guys car is not going to make you any friends. Forming a more just and equal community will
Posted by ClownTears24 on May 10, 2012 at 7:15 PM · Report this
57
@55
First off, there aren't too many anarchists who actually believe in a worldwide global anarchist revolution. It's much more complicated than all that.

If you're really curious, I'd suggest reading Desert (http://www.mediafire.com/?ljllh0lrcx64xl…)... It's basic premise is that industrial civilization is fucked and it's only a matter of time before things begin to seriously break down. For anarchists, this will both open up and close possibilities. There will be peripheral areas where the state will withdraw and have little to no control--these places have the greatest potential to become anarchist areas. We already see this happening in parts of the Midwest, in rust-belt towns where squatting is relatively widespread (for the US).

Instead of mass culture, where you can drive a thousand miles and still encounter the same sort of shit, it is more likely that people will (re)shape their communities based on a) the characteristics of the bioregion and b) who is around. This process will happen top-down (through states or other hierarchical institutions/organizations) or non-hierarchically, depending on the place.

Anyway, this isn't so much the anarchist endgame as it is what is most likely to happen. Where anarchists come into the picture is how we will prepare for this eventuality and take advantage of "openings" as they develop.

There are anti-civ, post-civ, techie, trans-humanist, and primitivist anarchists... so anarchist "utopias" look very different to different anarchists. What they all share is a commitment to non-hierarchical, autonomous self-organization and concern for the environmental consequences of human actions.
Posted by bdurruti on May 11, 2012 at 10:31 AM · Report this
58
@56/clowntears24

Listen, it'd be great if people actually did some nonviolent direct actions, but I don't really see it happening too often in Seattle. And honestly, most of the nonviolent actions that have happened here since Occupy Seattle began have been organized *not by nonviolent activists* but by anarchists and other anti-authoritarians who embrace a diversity of tactics.

You did read this article, right? The basic point is that most of the stuff that anarchists do is not violent.
Posted by bdurruti on May 11, 2012 at 10:39 AM · Report this
59
@39 @40: What you are missing in ocelot's and blackgreens' arguments (and what is missing from the article, as well), is that the "legitimacy" you keep talking about is itself a social construct. You are enmeshed in it, so you don't see it. You believe and operate in that construct in such a way that you cannot discern the relative morality of stealing a loaf of bread versus the eviction of a family of four from a house. To you, violence is only "legitimate" when it flows downward in the hierarchical matrix. When it flows the other way, it is, by definition, "illegitimate."

If you do not come to see that construct for what it is, you cannot understand the core principles of anarchism. Further, a failure to recognize your encapsulation in, and complicity with, that construct, renders your analysis of the effectiveness (or "legitimacy") of black bloc tactics monochromatic.

You are trying to convince people that they shouldn't break things, and we just shake our heads, because you fundamentally do not know what you are talking about. Because you don't know where you are talking FROM. You are still plugged in, and we can see your wiring.
Posted by Bow on May 11, 2012 at 10:53 AM · Report this
60
@59 Actually I think I have a pretty good idea of your reasoning and motivation. If people such as yourselves had the power to smash the capitalist-statist hierarchy, then whether or not you ought to do so would be a complicated issue. Because you do not your May Day antics are akin to the temper tantrums of spoiled children. I agree with Mr. Kiley, that the vast majority of anarchists are harmless eccentrics who ought to be allowed to live their lives as they see fit. If your violent behavior brings the wrath of the state down on them I will be sad.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on May 11, 2012 at 2:48 PM · Report this
61
Brendan got it less than sixty percent right;only an Anarchist can explain Anarchism (and to understand Anarchism is to become an Anarchist!).Kiley's no Anarchist (couldn't help notice,Brendan,how you never mentioned Kropotkin,Goldman,or Guerin).And to imply that each (alleged)Anarchist has different meaning for the word "Anarchy" is insulting.After all,I'M an Anarchist myself!!! (A) http://www.infoshop.org
Posted by 5th Columnist on May 11, 2012 at 3:37 PM · Report this
mtnlion 62
@55: Thanks for responding. Based on all that, it sounds similar to how I've felt since biology 101. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that the way things are going is not sustainable, and one day some tough choices will have to be made. My plan is to secure land and guns and see what happens next.

I'm not sure humans are capable of large, non-hierarchical groups. Even the smallest tribes have leaders; lines along which to give respect exist for arbitrary reasons in most communities (elders, shamans, chiefs, etc.) And animals have hierarchies as well. I believe these things happen naturally and it's pretty hard to go against that even if you *sincerely* feel everyone's concerns are of equal significance.

Posted by mtnlion on May 11, 2012 at 3:42 PM · Report this
63
Anarchy would be a state of Humanity.It wouldn't be everybody being an Individualist/Selfish Prickist!(Each person affects,and is affected by,every other person;there's no way around this fact).Catalunya in the 1930s wasn't Anarchy because not all humans were living in that part of Our World at that time.
Posted by 5th Columnist on May 11, 2012 at 3:48 PM · Report this
mtnlion 64
@59: If by "plugged in," you mean not living in a fantasy world where I expect everyone to respect and appreciate my big rebellious smarter/better/holier than thou ideals, then sure, I'm plugged in.

You and other anarchists I've met deduce that I'm a simple drone because I don't agree with everything they say/do, or even for something as innocuous as saying that smashing windows is not effective. That disagreeing with it equals "not understanding it." That's pretty hypocritical, don't you think? Fighting against those who try to make you think a certain way and then telling other people how they should think?

Eli's article is about people who live their lives resisting the principles they oppose. I think that's awesome, and that everyone should do the same. The thing is: you can't make people live by the same principles as you, only make them aware of what's really going on and see you as a thoughtful person they want to listen to--smashing shit not necessary. And then you hope they care.
Posted by mtnlion on May 11, 2012 at 4:02 PM · Report this
65
@60 People who are oppressed feel desires to act on their frustrations; people like you who infantilize them for it only serve to deepen their alienation, to recuperate their energy back into the capitalist system, and to prevent them from acting in ways that build networks of solidarity among those who likewise feel the need for "temper tantrums." Below the surface in everyone, some much further repressed than others, is a desire, perhaps inchoate and nonverbal, to act out against what destroys them. It's basic self-preservation, writ large -- on the scale of entire communities. It's the same shared tension that led people to join in the destruction of San Francisco City Hall and police cars in the White Night Riots. It's the same that leads "everyday" people to become looters against the capitalists that loot them on a day to day basis.

That's not about being "spoiled." The *parents* are the ones with power in this analogy, and they're the ones who are spoiled on it.
Posted by ocelot on May 11, 2012 at 4:58 PM · Report this
66
@62: Actually, this isn't true. Capitalism and competitive systems prey on insecurities and drives for power that people experience, and these feelings are more prevalent in the first place in times and places when people are socialized to experience them. Middle-class people who are raised in meritocratic capitalist families and schools (public state schools in general) that ignore the material differences between people are presumably much more likely to see this Darwinistic sense of competition as "natural" than, say, people who are consistently on the short end of the stick, or raised in more communitarian environments. I would suggest reading some Kropotkin, such as Mutual Aid, the basic premise of which is that life is inherently social and interdependent, rather than cutthroat and competitive. Psychologically, this makes sense as well.

For a quick read, I would also really recommend reading this section in Gelderloos's Anarchy Works: http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/Pete… A basic observation here is that what holds together an anti-oppressive community on any front (gender, race, etc.) is an intentional commitment to egalitarianism/equality/non-oppression. Talk about shit, set intentions, and these intentions become remarkably more workable than before a group of people ever mentioned them.

Feel free to explore elsewhere in Gelderloos's work as well.
Posted by ocelot on May 11, 2012 at 5:04 PM · Report this
mtnlion 67
@66, Thank you, I will review the link you showed me. I am open to changing my perspective on anarchy if the literature so shows it may be reasonable (not that it doesn't *sound* nice, because it does).

But I would also like to say that it's hard for me to take seriously anarchists who are less articulate and quick to judge me because I think the concept is unrealistic, or that I reject their values and am okay with hierarchies and working my way up and carving out a niche in my life that gives me a little bit of power.

That viewpoint isn't one I hold, but it is one that even those at the bottom of the totem pole prefer in many cases.
Posted by mtnlion on May 11, 2012 at 5:41 PM · Report this
68
@67: I think that self-identified anarchists, just like everyone else, get frustrated when they know that something hurts them and people they care about and it seems like another person isn't able to appreciate that. I don't think that's unique to anarchists, other than that people who identify as anarchists probably appreciate how fucked up things are in a way that's more comprehensive than a lot of people (this is partly through reading and talking about things a lot, but also through experience).

Anyway, I could write a lot more (I actually had a few paragraphs written about the experiential nature of knowledge, and the way the reproduction of ideology shapes the way we think to preserve the status quo ... but I decided to drop it). But the best suggestion I could probably make here, more so than reading Gelderloos or anything else, has to do with experiential knowledge. I would strongly suggest coming to an event or two at the Wildcat and engaging with ideas and people there:
http://thewildcat.org/
From there, there are (some) Occupy actions and other ways to experience more. Best of luck!
Posted by ocelot on May 11, 2012 at 6:55 PM · Report this
69
@62 It's difficult to imagine an anarchistic society surviving very long. Groups of people willing to submit to a strong central authority have to many military advantages over those who will not. Historically non-heirarchal human societies have done alright, until somebody else wanted something they had.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on May 12, 2012 at 7:29 AM · Report this
70
@69
Actually, the real problem is creating an anarchist area to begin with. If that is possible, that means that social conditions have changed so much that we can barely even imagine what it would be like.

A lot of anarchists I know find the expression of their passion for freedom in acting against the status quo. This activity is *towards* the possibility of creating anarchy, but whether we will see this happen is secondary to the actual struggle (which happens NOW) to create a rupture in the mundane horror of life under capitalism. There is an insurrectionary-anarchist idea that freedom lies in action, not in some future utopia. It is something like this: To remain complicit and complacent is to be a slave--to rebel is to be free.
Posted by blackgreens on May 12, 2012 at 1:39 PM · Report this
71
One important group left out of the list of those practicing "functional anarchy" is Alcoholics Anonymous, which operates completely voluntarily, cooperatively, and authoritarian-free. Here's a great article explaining in depth how AA was created and continues to exist as a 'benign anarchy': http://www.olywip.org/site/page/article/…
Posted by Anonymous Alcoholic on May 12, 2012 at 11:27 PM · Report this
72
I know someone who was working nearby, during the protest you describe, and she was terrified during, and angry afterwards.
Posted by The Raven on May 13, 2012 at 6:40 PM · Report this
73
Smashing things during a protest is like losing your temper at someone you care about. It's much more likely you will end up regretting it (and it will be worse if you don't.) People who don't know the issues are just going to see the violence and reject you and your politics.

Circle, circle, circle...
Posted by The Raven on May 13, 2012 at 6:45 PM · Report this
74
K-k-k-k...I just keep coming up with more thoughts. You knew that the protesters weren't going to attack people. I thought it was likely that property was being targeted. But my friend who was there...she didn't know. Neither do most of the people who read about it, or get caught up in it.
Posted by The Raven on May 13, 2012 at 6:47 PM · Report this
75
BTW, claiming that smashing windows is not violence is a Really Dumb Thing. If I were you I'd dump that whole line of argument. All the violent people I've know smashed things as well as people, and the thing smashing was always for threat or assault, or it was a sign that they had lost control and that I might be next.
Posted by The Raven on May 13, 2012 at 6:54 PM · Report this
76
Great title/hook and book-end. You sucked in lefties who were probably thinking you were dissing them, as well as Pinks who wanted to sneer along with you, and proved them both wrong. And all who've experimented with anarchism might agree that the "thick muck of group decision making" is, indeed, boring. After the San Fran and Vancouver gatherings, I couldn't take it anymore -- possibly precisely due to the tediousness (not to mention the creepy peer-pressure, mob-psychology-Borg-thing) of consensus-building (especially when you get a merry-prankster or anti-social personality disorder type (see #7) in the mix, who traffic-jam all that idealistic mojo, night after night....
Posted by jwj098 on May 14, 2012 at 8:37 AM · Report this
77 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
78 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
79
Agreed, very good article. Although I'd probably find more complexity if I looked a little closer, unfortunately down here in Olympia our local anarchist group far too often lives up to the negative cliche view of the wider public: a platform of Kill the Cops and not much else and a thuggish propensity to threaten anyone who disagrees with them with violence (like a local journalist who wrote a story about them, or members of the local Occupy movement, which finally got them kicked out).
Posted by niluvian on May 14, 2012 at 9:23 AM · Report this
80
Agreed, very good article. I'd probably find more complexity if I looked closer, but unfortunately down here in Olympia it truly seems like our local anarchist group too often fits the negative cliche time and time again: an agenda of Kill the Cops and nothing else and a thuggish propensity to threaten violence to anyone who disagrees with them (like a local journalist who wrote a story about them and members of the local Occupy movement, which finally got them kicked out).
Posted by niluvian on May 14, 2012 at 9:31 AM · Report this
81
Oops, sorry...double-posted.
Posted by niluvian on May 14, 2012 at 9:32 AM · Report this
82
Your critics weren't jumping on you for "asking questions" or because they were threatened. You didn't even ask any questions. You came up with some hackneyed justifications for a group devoted to malicious actions with out interviewing anyone.

Now you interviewed a bunch of thoughtful Anarchists who weren't out busting window. It is as if you tried to justify the ELF by having coffee with John Muir.

I wish someone from the black bloc would admit the whole purpose of smashing windows is to get windows smashed. The justifications are there to get most of us off the fence, but really the more broken windows the better. Someone has to break the first one, but eventually, once there is enough broken glass, even regular everyday people will start throwing bricks and they'll be living in the anarchistic utopia they were hoping for.
Posted by d.m.stone on May 14, 2012 at 6:37 PM · Report this
83
@ 82. Quick point of clarification: All of the interviews in this story were conducted *before* May Day, sometimes several weeks before. And I interviewed many people who helped give context to the issues, but were not quoted. (In my experience, there are always more sources than room to quote them.)

I just want to make clear that the interviews were not an after-the-fact justification of anything. They were well underway before May 1.

As for the rest, you are entitled to your opinion.
Posted by Brendan Kiley on May 14, 2012 at 7:31 PM · Report this
HollowMan 84
Trying to fight corporate power and the rule of force by throwing out the systemic checks on corporate power and rule by force is impressive in it's optimism, but it is a losing proposition almost by definition. There's a reason corporate Libertarians embrace the same root philosophy.

Beyond that, far too many anarchists make a virtue of refusal to compromise, see other positions, or consider practical rather than quixotic solutions. That might look pretty noble at first, but ultimately it's intellectually on the same level as religious fundamentalists and the flat earth society. It won't get us anywhere.

Posted by HollowMan on May 14, 2012 at 8:51 PM · Report this
85
I agree with 82, Brendan. You weren't attacked for "asking questions" and it's incredulous to play the victim. The truth is that you espoused views that most people don't accept, so some others on the Internet vocally disagreed with you. The article you wrote shows an interesting side of the anarchist community, but in no way is it nuanced nor does it seriously confront questions that an anarchist would be uncomfortable to address.

I feel it's only from a place of a privilege that your typical American young man can declare what's best for a poor factory worker in China. What's worse is that this Chinese worker so far removed from the debate that he's basically a stereotype used to advance said young man's worldview; the Chinese worker simply isn't a real person. Having an opinion is one thing, but to use that declaration-from-privilege to start destroying things...

Damaging property is rightfully illegal because the government has no place deciding that Forever 21's property is less valuable than my property. I'm not convinced that a group of agressive young men should instead make that decision. It's best for a society to organize around the idea of private property that government helps keep safe. People can choose whether they want property, but they are not allowed to make that choice for others.

And for what it's worth, it seems pretty obvious that poor factory workers in China have a much better life than subsistence farmers in the rest of the country.
Posted by John Jensen http://seattletransitblog.com on May 14, 2012 at 8:55 PM · Report this
86
People were in those buildings that they attacked. You may have felt safe in the middle of the mob, but REAL people had to watch as people attacked their place of work, a place they should be able to feel safe. REAL people felt fear as glass shattered and flew at them as rocks went through their windows. Those people did not get the luxury of feeling safe. There is no justification in their violent actions, ever.
Posted by JMFC on May 15, 2012 at 5:51 AM · Report this
87
Very good article.
Posted by jim m67itchell on May 15, 2012 at 3:42 PM · Report this
88
Thank you for doing real journalism.
Posted by I'm a stranger on May 15, 2012 at 6:27 PM · Report this
michijo 89
This is a good piece of writing. As someone who lives in a city that regularly has non-violent protests downtown, it seems clear to me that Washington State is a very annoying place that drives people to hate. Many places in the USA have non-violent protests daily. It's clear that Seattle is the cause itself of window-smashing, especially as I read some commentators who called for protesters to have their knees shot. It's clear that they are egged on to violent action.
Posted by michijo on May 19, 2012 at 10:51 AM · Report this
90
You know what is boring. Seattle people who are too cool, meaning jealous, to find anything of interest.
Posted by Rize on May 20, 2012 at 7:24 AM · Report this
Wanda Fooka 91
The local anarchists should move to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
Posted by Wanda Fooka on May 25, 2012 at 1:19 AM · Report this
Ballard Pimp 92
I agree that this is an excellent explanation of anarchism. It leaves us to draw our own conclusions. My first conclusion is the self-destructive nature of Black Bloc actions: The first rule of all human societies is reciprocity: What you do to me is what I may do to you. The Black Bloc has no place in any society, and should be destroyed.
Posted by Ballard Pimp on May 25, 2012 at 3:57 PM · Report this

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