This piece was originally published in the current print issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, #28 on Justice and is available for purchase from AK Press.
On June 7,th 2014 multiple organizations in the Los Angeles-area hosted an event called “Transformative Justice: Our Movements and Our Struggle” at the Asian Americans Advancing Justice space in downtown Los Angeles. The event sponsors included the LA Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Communities Organizing in Liberation (COiL), La Voz de l@s Trabajadores, and included the efforts of multiple other individuals in Los Angeles and other cities. Participants came from as far as Portland, Oregon and Minneapolis, sharing their own experiences with accountability processes and transformative justice. The event was ambitious because it was a daylong event, separated into multiple areas of discussion. Due to the subject matter and the need for discussion, the organizers found it necessary to set up an unusually long set of presentations and discussions. Close to one hundred people participated in the event throughout the day. The majority of participants were women of color, workers, and college students.
The Transformative Justice event was organized in response to a series of incidents of both sexual assault and major disagreements in our organizing spaces about what to do with perpetrators of assault. Those who came together and the organizers of this event realized that the heart of the problem was that our organizing spaces never held serious discussions about the subject. We were all aware of our opposition to patriarchy, sexual assault, and gender violence, yet there was no commonality about how to support survivors of assault and how movements should engage with perpetrators.
Many revolutionaries and activists found themselves conflicted since California is where the prison industrial complex exploded and our political work has been impacted by questions of prison abolition. How can we oppose the police and prisons and yet support acts that parallel state violence? There were also assumptions being made that because we are all part of social movement organizing that we share similar visions of how to confront these issues. These disagreements led to long lasting fissures in our political circles. This was not a development particular to Los Angeles, and there is a striking similarity with political debates in other cities.
After Jessica parked, she was too busy juggling her phone and keys to notice the crowd of teenage boys moving toward her vehicle. As she got out she immediately recognized what was happening. It wasn’t the first time. She began walking to the café as quickly as possible and they began hurling insults about her weight and appearance. “Hey you, I bet you’re just starving, bitch!” “Watch out, an elephant is coming through!” The lines turned aggressively sexual as the door closed behind her.
She waited at her table in front of an empty cup of coffee for almost two hours. The shop was getting close to closing, yet the staff could see why she was hiding and gave her a few minutes after they switched off the sign. The boys had decided to stay, waiting for her to come out. She gathered her things and decided that she had to get back to her car as quickly as possible. As she exited the building she looked at the several yards between the doors as what it was: a public walk of humiliation. Their words were followed by pieces of trash, some throwing scraps of food that strayed across her face, hiding what tears were starting to form. As they surrounded her the fury of objects became a sort of violent pornography, covering the face of a person they saw as nothing but a parasite. Threats of rape, which they said she should welcome, were only a small piece of the desecration. When she closed the car door she was covered with smears of rotten fast food, and she could hardly hear her own sobbing over the laughter of the teenage jury.
The fat liberation movement came out of the 1970s, given strength by the rise of feminist voices, liberation-oriented queers, of anti-war punks, and social ecologists, in a time when challenging even the most fundamental types of injustice seemed to blow with the wind. (1) It was swallowed up in the consumerism of the 1980s, the obsessive yo-yo dieting that became branded and turned into a middle-income commodity, and in narratives like the “obesity epidemic” and the food justice culture around anti-GMO and processed food activism. Today we are seeing a strike back, the movement climbing up out of the recesses of a fragmented past and demanding recognition.
Fat bodies exist. They cannot be eliminated. They will no longer be subject to ridicule, hatred, and displacement.
The ideas implicit to body liberation are steeped in revolutionary meta-politics, when we see how deeply they tie to systems of oppression and stratification. So where is our ‘fat anarchism?’
The Radical Turn?
For a book that advertises itself as a “shift in strategy and tactics,” Deep Green Resistance (DGR) has an overwhelmingly dispiriting tone, and is riddled with contradictions. While DGR provocatively addresses many pressing social and ecological issues, its opportunistic, loose-cannon theoretical approach and highly controversial tactics leaves it emulating right-wing militia rhetoric, with the accompanying hierarchical vanguardism, personality cultism, and reactionary moralism. By providing a negative example, DGR does us the service of compounding issues into one book. Take it as a warning. As we grasp for solutions to multiple and compounding social and ecological crises, quick fixes, dogmatism, and power grabbing may grow as temptations. By reviewing DGR, we are also defending necessary minimal criteria for movements today: inclusivity, democracy, honesty, and (dare we suggest) even humility in the face of the complex problems we collectively face. None of these criteria can be found in DGR, and its own shortcomings are a telling lesson for us all.
I read with interest Kevin Van Meter’s recent essay, Freely Disassociating: Three Stories on Contemporary Radical Movements published by Perspectives on Anarchist Theory on the Institute for Anarchist Studies website. In it, he discusses the current climate within the anarchist movement, painting a grim picture where increasingly meaningless labels and judgments get tossed about like political hand grenades, shutting down discussion, utilizing guilt-by-association, fomenting an atmosphere of anti-intellectualism and devolving into moralizing-outrage-as-activism. In his third of the three anecdotes he shares, he also elaborates how association with the anarchist movement can lead to unreasonable expectations and standards being placed on an individual. As a result, the radical movement has largely become a void consumed by the loudest voices or the latest controversy, leading people to disassociate from it.
Facing this scenario, Van Meter argues for developing an “anarchism with principles” based in a milieu of “working class, and revolutionary, intellectual culture.” The principles would emerge through dialog, debate, organizing and application in struggle.
We always felt that the police were the real enemy. —Sylvia Rivera
Bright lights shattered the dark anonymity of the dance floor. The flicker warned of the danger of the coming raid. Well experienced, people stopped dancing, changed clothing, removed or applied makeup, and got ready. The police entered, began examining everyone’s IDs, and lined up the trans/gender-non-conforming folks to be “checked” by an officer in the restroom to ensure that they were wearing the legally mandated three pieces of “gender appropriate clothing.” Simultaneously the cops started roughing up people, dragging them out front to the awaiting paddy wag- on. In other words, it was a regular June night out on the town for trans and queer folks in 1969 New York City.
As the legend goes, that night the cops did not receive their payoff or they wanted to remind the patrons of their precarious existence. In the shadows of New York nightlife, the Stonewall Inn, like most other “gay bars,” was owned and run by the mafia, which tended to have the connections within local government and the vice squad to know who to bribe in order to keep the bar raids at a minimum and the cash flowing. As the first few captured queers were forced into the paddy wagon, people hanging around outside the bar began throwing pocket change at the arresting officers; then the bottles started flying and then the bricks. With the majority of the patrons now outside the bar, a crowd of angry trans/queer folks had gathered and forced the police to retreat back into the Stonewall. As their collective fury grew, a few people uprooted a parking meter and used it as a battering ram in hopes of knocking down the bar’s door and escalating the physical confrontation with the cops. A tactical team was called to rescue the vice squad now barricaded inside the Stonewall. They eventually arrived, and the street battle raged for two more nights. In a blast of radical collectivity, trans/gender-non-conforming folks, queers of color, butches, drag queens, hair-fairies, homeless street youth, sex workers, and others took up arms and fought back against the generations of oppression that they were forced to survive.1
Are you an organizer or activist currently engaged in movement work? Are you interested in taking time to reflect on the lessons and ideals of this work in order to help advance anarchist praxis? Do you have ideas, experiences, or questions that you would like to develop and share with a wider audience?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, the Perspectives on Anarchist Theory editorial collective would like to hear from you. As the global political terrain continues to shift and tremble, it is crucial that those of us with visions of a free society share our work and ideas so that we can create a solid, common foundation on which to build a better world.
We are currently interested in reading work related to the following themes on Anarcha-Feminisms for our next issue.
The introduction to the new issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, available from AK Press.
We know what injustice is.
We know instinctively from the time we’re little. Even if she can’t describe it, a child’s protestations of “That’s not fair!” “He cheated!” “She got more than me!” “That’s not FAIR!” signal what she senses on principle.
But what is justice?
Is it a code of ethics, how you’re supposed to treat people on the individual, interpersonal level? Or is it that which promotes conditions for what is fair and equitable on the structural, systemic level?
Justice is one of the great aspirational, universal values, meaning of course, that it is also infinitely malleable. Notions of justice have ancient roots, often religious but also secular, and usually framed as part of a broader ethical framework. Variations abound – cultural, historic, ideological – but justice is more often than not equated with fairness, equality and the absence of unfulfilled needs. Yet contemporary notions of justice almost inevitably overlap with law, in terms of both process and content. Justice is implicated in both negative and positive guises – law is the site where injustices are ostensibly remedied as well as the repository for justice guarantees, primarily through constitutional, civil and human rights instruments.
Communitarian and antiauthoritarian traditions resonate deeply with foundational approaches to justice and often add a crucial focus on collectivity and interdependence through notions such as solidarity, mutual aid and cooperative action. Kropotkin argued that social organization is based upon notions of “equity, mutual aid, and mutual support – of common law, in a word.” Radical approaches to justice can help revive – and even expand – the ethical and moral ideals underpinning ancient precepts of equity, generosity and truth in our relationships with one another. In other words, there appears to be a core of justice, as an ideal, a goal or as a good seen mainly through its absence, that progressive organizers and activists ought to claim as our own. In the North American context however, that core is often coopted by the legal system and/or hidden by the cozy relationship between dominant paradigms of justice and the tenets of liberalism.
I don’t know how to begin because I am no longer sure for whom I am writing. I am concerned that there is no longer an audience to write for.
As a necessary aside: with the disappearance of Left print media and the rise of blogs, there are few places left to publish. Journals with limited circulation or preselected audiences dominate the landscape and the contemporary radical media cannot reach fellow adherents, much less the larger public. Often, it seems that all that remains is a smattering of decrepit publications that speak for the ‘dead institutions’ of the American Left or function as the Daily Worker of a non-existent party — or, and possibly worse, blogs that only run the poorly written position papers of minuscule sects too self-obsessed to see their vanguardism coupled with, and only overshadowed by, their irrelevancy.
Climate, Capital and Change: Lara and Paul Messersmith-Glavin on Organizing Against Climate Catastrophe
Saturday, June 20th, 3PM Ballard Library, SPL, 5614 22nd Ave NW, Seattle, WA