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The Anarchists Next Door

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  • Clore Daniel C
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo August 3, 2001 The Anarchists Next Door Two divisive local groups are planning to chart
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 8, 2001
      News for Anarchists & Activists:

      August 3, 2001

      The Anarchists Next Door
      Two divisive local groups are planning to chart their next
      move in a passionate but fractionalized movement.

      By DEAN KUIPERS, Special to The LA Times

      It's August again, which means it's time for anarchist
      conferences. Two Los Angeles gatherings are in the works,
      and both address the central debate now raging through the
      burgeoning global anarchist community: to hop or not to hop?

      After the grim violence that left hundreds injured and a
      23-year-old anarchist dead during July mass protests against
      the Group of Eight economic summit in Genoa, Italy, the
      "summit hopping" of the anti-globalization movement is in
      question. Mass demonstrations are irresistible to the media,
      but the attendant clashes with police also scare the public
      away from anarchism's core ideas. Riots tend to alienate
      huge numbers of nonviolent activists within the movement.

      Among local anarchists, the split over tactics and focus is
      reflected in the nature of the two conferences. The
      organizers of this weekend's invitation-only Strategic
      Resistance in Santa Monica and Venice feel a need to chart
      anarchism's forward momentum and perhaps carry it into the
      building of alternative communities. But some of the
      anarchists behind the Human, Earth and Animal Liberation
      conference, or HEAL, who were not on the Strategic
      Resistance invitation list, see the goal-oriented structure
      of Strategic Resistance as an authoritarian drag.

      Open to all comers Aug. 17-19 at a location to be disclosed
      on the opening day, HEAL is more of a smorgasbord, offering
      presentations ranging from "Black Bloc—Stay Smart, Stay
      Free" to "Open Relationships" to "Basic Chemistry." Though
      the conferences are not competing events, their divergent
      organizing styles reflect two strong tendencies among the
      estimated 500 to 1,000 anarchists in the Southern California

      In many ways, the question at hand among anarchism's mostly
      young and stubbornly irreverent converts is their role in
      the local community. Should anarchists unplug from mass
      culture, or plug into new anarchist institutions, or both?

      Anarchists answer that question not by voting or joining
      political parties but via lifestyle, and the identity
      politics that distinguishes one sect from the next often
      involves splitting hairs over, say, whether it's OK to use a
      flush toilet.

      One "social anarchist" earns a PhD in order to work in
      higher education, while another who calls himself an
      "individualist" sets up backyard punk rock shows and finds
      escapist liberation in the Radical Anarchist Bowling League.

      One "primitivist" lives in a tree to protest logging in
      Santa Cruz and advocates a return to Stone Age culture,
      while her friend the "green anarchist" is more modern but
      supports the Earth Liberation Front, which has burned down
      luxury homes all over the country.

      All type get together for occasional demonstrations and when
      necessary support each other in jail, but day-to-day life is
      where a lot of the philosophy plays out. And for all of
      them, the question of how much to push for another street
      confrontation modeled on the Battle in Seattle is far from
      benign. As some have discovered firsthand, association with
      street actions can turn life as a local activist into an
      exercise in paranoia.

      Eclectic People

      Drawn to Radical Action

      A year ago, when anarchists Anne Kelly and Brendan Crill
      hosted organizing meetings for the 2000 North American
      Anarchist Conference, their downtown Pasadena neighborhood
      was crawling with cops. Federal agents sat in unmarked vans
      across the street, radios squawking. Visitors' cars were
      followed. Once, a phone call to their house was answered by
      a woman who said flatly, "FBI." A quick redial assured them
      that it wasn't a wrong number; they were certain the phone
      was tapped. "I sat right here in this chair talking on the
      phone and saw the same woman walk past the window five
      times," remembers Kelly, 21. "She was an agent, going 'round
      and 'round the block."

      The problem, of course, was that their perfectly legal
      conference was timed to coincide with the Democratic
      National Convention. After almost a year of anarchist
      uprisings from Seattle to Washington, D.C., to the
      Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, authorities
      were on the warpath. Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks
      announced he'd be watching the anarchists, and Mayor Richard
      Riordan warned businesses around L.A.'s Pershing Square that
      anarchists were plotting "violent disruption."

      The two academics, both now graduates in physics from
      Caltech, had not embraced anarchism for the drama of some
      clandestine underworld. They held open news conferences and
      met with business owners, explaining that they weren't
      planning riots and mayhem. They were drawn to anarchism
      because they felt liberal politics had completely sold them
      out to corporations. And the Democratic Party? Forget it.

      Kelly, who's job-hunting, and Crill, now a community college
      instructor, are "social anarchists," those who believe in
      creating new alternative institutions, like co-op schools or

      "My parents are Catholic Democrats, so I was imbued with a
      sense of social responsibility from when I was young," Kelly
      says. Politically active in high school, she found that
      attacking specific social or environmental problems was too
      stop-gap. Protesting oil exploration in the Arctic National
      Wildlife Refuge, for instance, just meant oil drilling would
      move somewhere else. "That made me very suspicious of
      liberal politics."

      Crill, 28, was a serious punk rocker who came to anarchist
      ideas through the music and the libertarian scene it bred.
      He found the politics of the music scene to be "weak"; fans
      were into awareness but not political action that challenged
      their lifestyles. He met Kelly while working on his PhD, and
      together they formed an anarchist study group. Like an
      overwhelming number of young people who would have been
      leftists in another era, both believed that "statist"
      Marxism—like that which had produced Maoist China or
      Stalinist-Leninist USSR—had been utterly discredited. These,
      they say, just traded one elite for another, replacing the
      tyranny of the market with the tyranny of the party.
      Anarchism, by contrast, had refined a method of consensus
      decision-making that eliminated the "boss" and seemed, to
      Kelly and Crill, like real democracy.

      They went to Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization
      in 1999 and saw exactly the kind of political action they'd
      been searching for. Before their eyes, anarchist-led
      democratic organizing took over the city.

      The 2000 conference, which brought several hundred
      anarchists to Los Angeles, was their first taste of what it
      means to be linked to "radical" action. Police surveillance
      quickly wore them down. They thought they might be set up. A
      planted bag of pot, maybe. So they went through the old,
      wooden two-story house, already furnished like a college
      crash pad, and removed everything they could do without.
      "All we had left was, like, some Comet," Kelly says.

      The fear of ending up in jail on false charges pushed Kelly
      to do something else she'd been avoiding. She called her
      folks and told them everything. That she was an anarchist
      and was organizing a conference on destroying American
      society in order to rebuild it. She's still close to her
      parents, so apparently they took it pretty well. In the end,
      no raid came. And, despite the hovering police helicopters,
      the conference was not connected to any of the angry rioting
      attending the DNC.


      Among Militants

      This year, if Strategic Resistance has come under less
      scrutiny, it's only because there's no DNC in town. The
      police, like the public, seem to notice the anarchists'
      presence only when they take to the streets in actions like
      the hastily-called anarchist march May 1 through Long Beach,
      where black-clad youths skirmished with police and 92 were

      Questions about the effectiveness of the Long Beach May Day
      march represent the current global anarchist debate in
      micro. Many anarchists, though loath to criticize militants
      within their tribe, believe it's time to deepen their roots
      in community organizing. While utopian, the subtext of
      institution-building is still a belief in institutions, and
      that draws howls of derision from militants.

      "People equate anarchism first with chaos, but what
      anarchism is is community organization," counters Beth
      Baker-Cristales, 34, an anthropologist teaching at a local
      college whose name she prefers not to disclose. A longtime
      anarchist and a married mother of two, soft-spoken
      Baker-Cristales works in a collective with Kelly and Crill
      on a new publication called Regeneration. At her open,
      ranch-style home in the mountains above Tujunga, she sits
      with her 2-week-old son, Carlos.

      "I can clearly imagine a society in which we have local
      neighborhoods that run their own sources of energy, that
      produce their own goods, and that organize in national and
      international consensus-based organizations," she says.

      That idea, she says, holds the seeds of an entire reworking
      of our economic system. "But it wouldn't be a state-run,
      centralized economy," Baker-Cristales adds. "It would be
      driven by cooperatives, by membership-based organizations."

      "That's the reason why I would like to have this
      conference," says Crill, referring to Strategic Resistance,
      which is expecting about 200 registered participants. "To
      develop an organization where we can really bring a lot of
      people together and put forward our politics."

      The idea of building community institutions is hardly new to
      anarchist politics. Anarchist meeting houses, cooperatives
      and coffee houses are common throughout the U.S. and the
      world. Many contemporary activists take inspiration from the
      Spanish anarchists of the 1930s who, during the Spanish
      Civil War, created a network of cooperative farms,
      democratic village councils and even a telephone exchange.

      "Anarchism is a natural fit with the neighborhood
      empowerment movement," notes professor Larry George,
      director of the program in international studies at Cal
      State Long Beach. George is writing a book on the
      international movement against corporate-led globalization.
      "Revitalizing community centers, challenging public
      corruption, holding businesses accountable, making noise
      when the natural environment is sold out—these are things
      that anarchists are already doing. We may begin to see whole
      neighborhoods being transformed into anarchist communities,
      as has happened in Eugene [Ore.] and the Bay Area."

      Most of the key organizers of the Seattle protest came from
      such Bay Area anarchist groups as the Art & Revolution
      affinity group and Global Exchange. Similarly, an entire
      bloc of about 100 militant anarchists blamed for smashing
      windows in Seattle hailed from the radical "green anarchist"
      community of Eugene.

      A proposed Community Feast center in Pasadena gives a good
      idea of how anarchists might find a niche in your local
      community. Now in the "fund-raising" stage, the center is
      the brainchild of collective including anarchist Shawn

      "Northwest Pasadena, a historically black, working-class
      part of town, is now about 35% black, 55% Latino. The five
      of us in the core collective all live there," explains
      McDougal, 30. "[Community Feast will] be a space to bring
      people together across boundaries of race, age and language
      and have simple projects that help people unplug from the
      matrix through the power of collective action. For example,
      a tool library. Why does everyone in the neighborhood need
      to have their own tools?"

      This idea flies directly in the face of America's belief in
      so-called rugged individualism. "That individually wrapped
      mentality is one of the key things that we need to break in
      order to build an anti-capitalist culture," McDougal notes

      McDougal sees Community Feast as an expansion of his paid
      work with the American Friends Service Committee, an
      80-year-old Quaker group with which he organizes against
      gentrification and homelessness in Pasadena. "Alternative
      institutions are a long-term trend within anarchism,"
      McDougal adds. "Direct action is not just about blocking
      processes that are destructive. It's also about creating
      alternatives and living what we believe."

      Green Anarchists,


      Yes, under a model like McDougal's, anarchists might even
      sway local elections. Don't, however, look for an Anarchist
      Party anytime soon. Unless, of course, it's a radical punk
      rock bowling party.

      On a backyard patio at an activist house known simply as
      Mid-City House, in a slightly worn neighborhood near LaBrea
      and the Santa Monica Freeway, some of the anarchists who
      plan to attend HEAL gather around a vegan grill to relax,
      drink beer and listen to punk rock music. The occasion is a
      party for the Radical Anarchist Bowling League, or RABL. The
      group usually meets once a month for bowling and laughs "to
      do something other than talking," explains Christophe, a
      friendly young man in a Rosie the Riveter apron who lives in
      the house. "All anarchists ever do it talk."

      There's a difference, though, between what is implied by
      Christophe's statement, and the community action envisioned
      by the Regeneration collective. For many of the punk rockers
      at this gathering, the alternative to talking is shoplifting
      or fighting the police.

      This particular day, a few seem to be nursing hangovers from
      a HEAL fund-raising bash at the house the night before. When
      a reporter shows up, some members of the Alternative
      Gathering Collective, who helped organize HEAL, quietly
      leave the party.

      Privately, some say there is a lot of tension over the
      question of street protest. "The three of us are green
      anarchists and insurrectionists, and [Strategic Resistance
      organizers] are syndicalists," says a young woman who calls
      herself Woodrat. The day before the RABL party, she and her
      two comrades, a woman named Mouse and a man named Decoy, sit
      around a table at what they term a "bourgeois vegan
      restaurant" in Orange. All of them were arrested in Long
      Beach May Day protests this year.

      Green anarchists, they explain, are radical
      environmentalists who want to destroy contemporary
      civilization in order to restore wild nature. Woodrat, 18,
      and Mouse 18, are also primitivists, who advocate a return
      to pre-capitalist hunter-gatherer society.

      "I'm a primitivist supporter, but I believe in the use of
      things like solar power," says Decoy, revealing the delicate
      nature of these distinctions. He is wearing black cargo
      gear, from boots to hat.

      Woodrat is not against building alternative community—she
      works with Food Not Bombs, a radical network feeding the
      homeless. But her idea is to unplug from the system

      Woodrat's commitment to this difficult idea is total. She
      quit high school and keeps no permanent address, phone
      number or e-mail. She eats mostly by "dumpster diving"
      discarded food. Her anarchist lifestyle involves, she says,
      "not working. Not paying rent. Not paying for your food or
      clothes. Being in revolt against the system."

      Mouse adds, "It's just not feeding into the system,
      supporting it financially or otherwise." Mouse has just quit
      her job at a telephone answering service and left the
      cooperative house where all three once lived. She says she
      is going to live on a beach and rough it in the wild,
      working to stop logging through long-term tree-sits.

      Mouse also acknowledges that this plan has caused her
      "bourgeoisie hippie mother" a lot of grief. But, she says,
      this is the nature of revolution. Freeing herself from the
      system robbed it of power.

      Woodrat, Mouse and Decoy understand that theirs are choices
      that not many people of any age, race or class are able or
      likely to follow. But their first responsibility, they say,
      is to their liberation.

      All three support ramping up armed attacks against corporate
      and governmental institutions. They regard the death of
      Carlo Giuliani in Genoa, shot by police whose vehicle was
      under attack by masked militants, as provocation.

      "We should be avenging Carlo," affirms Woodrat. "I
      personally think that it should inspire us to fight back
      more, to withdraw from the system more. We're fighting for
      our lives, for our own freedom."

      Dan Clore

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