Where Are All The Anarchists?
I've been thinking about the Occupy Columbus and Occupy movement lately and feeling a bit uneasy about it. So, I decided to attend a General Assembly held on Saturday, December 17 in order to determine the source of my uneasiness.
Turns out, the cause of my uneasiness was a general lack of anarchism.
"At its core, anarchism is indeed a spirit - one that cries out against all that's wrong with present day society, and boldly proclaims all that could be right under alternate forms of social organization." (1)
To be fair, the General Assembly (GA) I attended had low attendance for various reasons, so it's not necessarily representative of all GAs. So, even though this spirit of crying out against all that's wrong was missing, I'm not suggesting that it's missing all the time.
But for this GA, it was clearly missing. What I heard from the people present was an eerie combination of non-profit speak and capitalism-loving, Ayn Rand Libertarianism with some U.S. military group structure sprinkled in between. No wonder I felt uneasy!
Out of the 18 people present throughout the meeting, only five were female and all of us appeared to be white. My five-year-old daughter later pointed out that the only people of color present were a Japanese film crew who were only there to film for their documentary. Apparently, there's a people of color working group that's working on changing this. They last met at the Urban Spirit Coffee Shop on December 12.
The lack of diversity of the group alone would suggest the presence of anarchists, seeing as anarchist groups often have the same problems with diversity. However, this particular grouping of white folks seemed to me to be far from anarchist. I guess the centrist and right-wing media can rest easy now.
An example of what I mean: One person announced an action with the goal of getting "a lot of people out there" during the announcement part of the meeting. Another action that person announced had a goal of doing theater at a corporation. It's ok for folks to announce these sorts of actions, but where are the actions that seek to create fundamental changes to our world?
"The circle A symbolizes anarchism as a dual project: the abolition of domination and hierarchical forms of social organization, or power-over social relations, and their replacement with horizontal versions, or power-together and in common - again, a free society of free individuals." (2)
The Occupy Columbus methods are certainly horizontal, but the desire to abolish domination and hierarchical forms of social organization seems to be completely missing. In fact, based on what I heard some of the participants say, some forms of domination and hierarchy are not only tolerated, but desired.
A few participants referred to a recent discussion about adopting similar group structure as the U.S. Marines. That alone isn't necessarily troubling, as the Marines are probably pretty well organized and efficient. However, there's likely a fair amount of hierarchy that's going to come with that type of group structure and I can't help but wonder how far this might be straying from some of the other active Occupy groups throughout the world. Did I mention that there's likely some hierarchy involved in that type of organization? So much for being horizontal.
To be fair, modeling our group structure after the U.S. Marines hasn't been approved by any GA yet and I'm not sure if it's even been formally proposed. But the fact that a few of the people present brought it up as a potentially viable course of action is troubling, at least as far as anarchism goes.
So, where are all the anarchists?
When I attended past GAs, I heard ideas that involved liberation, freedom, voluntary association, mutual aid, ecological orientation, accountability, fun, free-spiritedness, and other key ethical components of anarchism.
This GA lacked all of that. So, during the soapbox part of the meeting, I asked those present why they thought I should return to another GA.
At least two people said that this is "the last chance for social justice in this country."
Someone else said that "something big is going to happen" and we need to "establish routes of communication for the times ahead."
Another person said they come for the "committee updates and to exchange information." That person wants to be available when needed and when they can offer their skills in order to help.
The two latter responses are practical reasons one should attend just about any political meeting. What's missing from these responses?
What about the reasons we're all there in the first place, like our desire to dismantle the power of the 1% that control our lives? Or, what about meeting together in order to talk about how we can create and start creating alternative societies and economies where everyone is respected, free, and involved in the decision-making that affects their lives?
These criticisms and questions aside, generally, I support folks occupying space and working together in order to help one another. However, I do not support most of the ideas that I heard at this GA. And that brings me to my most important point.
Those of us who seek a better world for everyone, a world where people are involved in the decision-making processes that affect their families and communities, a world where people associate with one another voluntarily and without coercion, a world where domination, oppression, and exploitation are systematically rooted out and destroyed, a world where forms of hierarchy give way to horizontal forms that empower everybody ... those of us who truly want to work towards this type of fundamental change need to get involved in Occupy Columbus and stay involved.
We need to make sure our presence is felt in the GAs, the actions, and the occupation site itself.
The Occupy movement does not inherently privilege one viewpoint over another. Rather, it seeks to set up spaces for people to get together and learn from one another, debate one another, join together in order to fight common enemies, and learn to live with one another. Anarchism needs to be a part of this. And those of us who recognize this, need to be a part of this movement too.
"Anarchists create processes that are humane and substantively participatory. They're honest about the fact that there's always going to be uneasiness between individual and social freedom. They acknowledge that it's going to be an ongoing struggle to find the balance. This struggle is exactly where anarchism takes place. It is where the beauty of life, at its most well-rounded and self-constructed, has the greatest possibility of emerging - and at times, taking hold." (3)
(1) Anarchism and Its Aspirations (AK Press 2010) by Cindy Milstein, p. 11.
(2) Ibid, p. 13.
(3) Ibid, p. 15.