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
Perspectives, N. 28, on the theme of justice
Introduction, On Justice by Maia Ramnath, Paul Messersmith-Glavin, Sara Rahnoma-Galindo, and Lara Messersmith-Glavin for the Perspectives Collective.
Interviews from an Uprising, by Sarah Coffey reporting from Ferguson, MO where she spent six months.
The cover for Angels with Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prisons and Redemption, Walidah Imarisha’s new nonfiction book on prisons, coming out on AK Press in conjunction with Institute for Anarchist Studies in early 2016! We’re excited to be involved in editing and publishing this work.
Come celebrate the release of the new anthology Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements!
Featuring readings by:
Co-editor Walidah Imarisha
Contributor Gabriel Teodros
Contributor David F. Walker
Audio recording of Mumia Abu Jamal reading his essay
Onsite collaborative print making with attendees–walk away with a FREE print!
1001 SE Division, Portland, OR
Monday, June 15th 7 – 9 pm
Supported by: Independent Publishing Resource Center, Bitch Media, Momentum Alliance, Institute for Anarchist Studies