Alexander Riccio, a labor organizer based in Corvallis, Oregon who co-hosts the podcast LabourWave Revolution Radio, talks with Kevin Van Meter, author of Institute for Anarchist Studies/AK Press book Guerrillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible, available here!
Alexander Riccio: Some have read your book, Guerillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible, as an attack on organized labor in general, or as one that poses an either/or decision between supporting Left organizations, such as unions, versus championing forms of everyday resistance. What do you say to these criticisms?
Kevin Van Meter: I don’t see my work as an attack on organized labor per se, but as a critique of where organized labor has been and how it is currently functioning. I think one of the major problems with organized labor, at least in regards to business unions, is their inability to innovate, their inability to learn from their own historical lessons, and their inability to listen to the actual needs and desires of the working class outside of the union’s organizational frame.
Unions have a very particular way of going about organizing: a steward system, a contract vote, provide services, conduct a corporate campaign. For thirty years, labor unions have hired people predominately out of college rather than from within their own ranks, and during the same period, there has been a focus on corporate campaigns rather than building substantive relationships on the ground. The fact is that building relationships on the job and in communities is necessary for the Left to bounce back, pass legislation, organize unions, and be successful in the streets against forces like fascism. All of that means it’s necessary to reweave the social fabric, but unions have largely ignored this necessity.
For this interview we (carla and Nick) sent Marina Sitrin a ‘preamble’ outlining some of the ideas behind our book Joyful Militancy (available here!), and then included a couple questions based on Sitrin’s other writings (especially Horizontalidad: Voces de Poder Popular en Argentina). We do not include the preamble here because as time went on in the researching, interviewing and writing of the book our ideas and articulations shifted. For that, we are deeply indebted to all our interviewees who offered new insights and shed light on areas that needed reworking. Instead we have added a short overview about the book, below, so the interview can stand alone. Our website also includes the book’s introduction and other excerpts.
Joyful Militancy Overview
Why do radical movements and spaces sometimes feel laden with fear, anxiety, suspicion, self-righteousness and competition? In Joyful Militancy, we call this phenomenon rigid radicalism: congealed and toxic ways of relating that have seeped into radical movements, posing as the “correct” way of being radical. In conversation with organizers and intellectuals from a wide variety of currents, we explore how rigid radicalism smuggles itself into radical spaces, and how it is being undone. Rather than proposing ready-made solutions, we amplify the questions that are already being asked among movements. Fusing together movement-based perspectives and contemporary affect theory, Joyful Militancy traces emergent forms of trust, care and responsibility in a wide variety of radical currents today, including indigenous resurgence, anarchism, transformative justice, and youth liberation. Joyful Militancy, by carla bergman and Nick Montgomery, foregrounds forms of life in the cracks of Empire, revealing the ways that fierceness, tenderness, curiosity, and commitment can be intertwined.
Thank you to those who have responded to the Beyond Anti-fascism, But Not Without It statement/call put out by the Perspectives on Anarchist Theory journal collective. Clearly there are many people pursuing this conversation in a variety of networks. Stay tuned for pieces coming from Perspectives on the Institute for Anarchist Studies website and in our 2018 Beyond the Crisis print issue.
“The subtle and deadly change of heart that might occur in you would be involved with the realization that a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.”
― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
“To become what we need to each other, and to find power in friendship, is to become dangerous.”
“I have a circle of friends and family with whom I am radically vulnerable and trust deeply – we call it coevolution through friendship.”
—adrienne maree brown 
“These are not just words; they are clues and prods to earthquakes in kin making that are not limited to Western family apparatuses, heteronormative or not.”
—Donna Haraway 
(art by Pete Railand)
Back when I first began selling my labor for a wage in the wasteland of suburbia’s strip malls, I can recall the tedium of stocking shelves, summoning up insincere courtesy in the face of entitled customers and obnoxious bosses, comparing the stacks of money counted at the end of the day with the totals on our paychecks, and feigning adherence to whatever motivational façade management cooked up to mask the reality of our exploitation.
Yet I also remember, much more vividly and fondly, the latent and occasionally eruptive defiance among my co-workers. This included the constant collective complaining about the job, taking more and longer-than-approved breaks, working as little as possible, fudging time sheets, stealing, and the intermittent screaming matches with the boss in the middle of the store. Underpinning all these actions was an unspoken but broadly understood code of silence when it came to such transgressions and, when appropriate, expressions of support for them.
At the time, I didn’t think much about this, it was just how things happened and I’ve encountered similar experiences to varying degrees in every workplace since. Our actions weren’t guided by a political framework nor was there any attempt to organize them in a directed manner. It was more a spontaneous, innate reaction to experiencing the coercion of capitalism. I had cause to reflect upon this anew while reading Kevin Van Meter’s new book, Guerrillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible, published by AK Press and the Institute for Anarchist Studies.
Several factors played into our collective decision not to run a print issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory for the current year. We sincerely thank all inquiries and submissions sent for what was hoped to be an issue on Play. A call for submissions for a Beyond The Crisis print issue of Perspectives (2018) is here.
This is an article written by two Wobblies in response to our call for Play essays. These organizers bridge the gap between play and the practice of organizing skills via educational skits and fun activities led by the New Junior Wobblies, the young members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
The IWW globe logo holds three stars representing Education, Organization and Emancipation. This article looks at Recreation – a fourth star – from challenging uneven relations of power, to making joy central to organizing against capitalism, regardless of age.
Shortly after a wave of government repression and internal splits nearly destroyed the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) as a functioning labor organization, a group of Wobblies felt the immediate need to find new ways to raise the next generation of revolutionary unionists. As a part of solidarity support for striking IWW coal miners in Colorado, children of union members were invited to join an IWW organization of their own. These Wobbly kids formed “locals” to organize support for their striking parents, and alongside them, develop a rudimentary understanding of the world and how they might soon be a part of organizing to change it. To the IWW tripartite motto, “Education, Organization, Emancipation” they added “Recreation,” and in 1927, the Junior Wobblies Union was born.
(Junior Wobblies in the 1920s)
Lara Messersmith-Glavin and Kristian Williams, of the Institute for Anarchist Studies and Perspectives on Anarchist Theory journal collective, and Ayme Ueda, of the Black Rose Anarchist Federation / Federación Anarquista Rosa Negra, recently appeared on X-RAY FM in Portland, Oregon. The show is called Group Therapy, hosted by Natalie Sept. This episode features an hour discussion of topics including what anarchism is, what anarchists want and do, anarchist critiques of the world, and challenges anarchists face. Listen in below!
The Institute for Advanced Troublemaking Anarchist Summer Camp will be held August 11th – 18th, 2017 in Worcester, MA.
Maia Ramnath, Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS) and Perspectives on Anarchist Theory journal collective member; Cindy Milstein and Todd May, former IAS board members; and Hillary Lazar, IAS writing grant recipient, and author of the essay “Until All Are Free: Black Feminism, Anarchism, and Interlocking Oppression” in the current issue of Perspectives, are among many people presenting at this summer’s Institute for Advanced Troublemaking anarchist summer camp in the Northeast US. The summer camp is a week-long theory and action camp to be held in Worcester, MA August 11th – 18th, 2017.
Silvia Federici says it is “beautifully written” while illustrating “the power of the refusal of work of those capitalism has subjugated.” George Caffentzis believes it is an “important exploration of the revolutionary possibilities of our time.” Kevin Van Meter’s Guerrillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible is the latest Institute of Anarchist Studies book to be published in concert with AK Press.
This essay appears in the current issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory (N. 29), available here, from AK Press!
As a person who did not come to radical perspectives from academia, I’ve had quite the challenge trying to find community with people whose politics I respect.
I grew up in the suburb of Newton, Surrey, territory of the Katzie, Kwantlen, Semiahmoo and Tsawwassen peoples. I was an athlete and last-minute procrastinator who never understood why school should be taken seriously. Though I read newspapers every day, I didn’t have the words to describe the injustices I could see and feel. My lack of trust in the school system, and my dwindling trust in the politics of high level sports led me to believe I didn’t need validation from institutions. In grade 8, I started skipping class to find freedom. A couple of years later I found myself getting into hard drugs and failing classes. Eventually, I failed out of high school completely and was pretty proud about it.
(Art by Bec Young; Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative)
More than a missing diploma, more than my struggle with addiction, my biggest barrier to finding community in radical circles was a lack of exposure to their social expectations. I found very little compassion and support, and was often met with harsh judgment. Coming into these communities, I felt not smart enough and like an outcast. It took me years to understand the everyday language used in radical activist communities. Some words were long, some were short, but everyone said these words so casually I thought I would come across as stupid to ask what they meant. I’d go to talks and workshops, and some really smart dude would talk for an hour and then open up the space for questions. I remember feeling so lost by the jargon that by the end, I didn’t even know what the talk had been about. Clearly, I wasn’t going to ask the questions running around in my brain. “What do you mean by colonization?” “What is queer theory?” “Who is Marx!?” “Why are you speaking to us like my boring geography teacher?”