May, 2011 Archives
by aragorn in General
Ever since I saw the Void Network give their presentation on the “Greek situation” I have wanted to seriously think, and put into practice, my understanding of what they meant by “an assembly”. Since I am in Greece now (updates of my Amsterdam trip will have to come later as I don’t want to lose my way regarding this topic) and have attended my first significant assembly I feel far more informed about what is possible to transfer from my Greek experience and from the several conversations I’ve had with different people on the composition of their model compared to what we do in the States.
Asocial @ vs the pigs at the Polytechnic: Photos by Insurgent Photo
Preliminary sidebar: What is broken in US meetings
I have taken a generally hostile stance towards meetings, particularly with people who have a different political center of gravity, for over a decade. I tend not to go to them, as I believe many others do also. This deep ambivalence towards “working with others” has a couple different sources.
One, multi-tendency meetings tend not to be about anything. This isn’t to slight the necessity of people sitting in a room together as part of their individual and group growth process but in terms of actually getting anything done, it tends to happen intra-tendency not inter. A harsh example is to discuss the summer 2010 attempt at an assembly in the Bay. This was an incredible opportunity missed as it ended up being a general directionless gripe session rather than a place where people (outside of a few specific Statist Marxist types who were there) could articulate either general proposals or examples of the kind of work their particular tendency or affinity group believed was appropriate. Here is an excerpt from the call out that exemplifies the problem.
Although any actions that come out of this assembly will be on people’s own initiative – whether they do so alone, through small affinity groups, or in more formal meetings – we should all feel compelled to make a mark on the world we inhibit and not passively let history pass us by!
The intention here is fine. It implores something be done, puts the onus of that something on the participating groups, but leaves the action delightfully vague. Who is going to try to measure our groups initiative with the flow of history?
Two, multi-tendency meetings in the Bay Area (or any other US city) have a life-stealing/soul sucking tendency toward creating ridiculous Manichean mission statements that serve as statements of purpose and/or litmus tests for participation. Here is a particularly egregious example from the brand new call by UA in the Bay for an upcoming quarterly General Assembly.
We’re asking anyone who agrees with the following to attend:
– A rejection of all forms of hierarchy, including capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, heterosexism, colonialism and party based politics
– Organizing on a consensus based, non-hierarchical basis, that promotes autonomy, solidarity, and the agency of those most affected by each decision
– Embracing a diversity of tactics based on practicality, regardless of legality
– Working actively to build relationships and institutions that are based on equality, self determination, and sustainability
This is a laundry list of loaded terms that is, or should be, entirely unnecessary if your goal is to have, or to call for, an Anarchist General Assembly. At some point we either assume that we are dealing with units-of-active-agency (aka adults) and stop treating each other like children, or worse like people who can’t be trusted, or we just stop dealing with each other. I can tell you that even if I was in town this passive-aggressive checklist would make me seriously doubt that this event would be worth my time or would be capable of resulting in (meaningful, interesting, potential building) activity.
Three, multi-tendency meetings in the Bay Area have a proven track record of bringing out the worst kinds of behavior in people, this includes lack of respect, bad faith, general wingnuttery, and unending evil eyes. I, for one, don’t enjoy going into a room where it feels like everyone in the room hates each other, speaks entirely in (historically loaded) jargon, and can’t pull their heads out of their asses for long enough to accomplish more with more people than resentment and enmity. I have enough hate in my life dealing with people who absolutely hate the idea of anarchy to waste my time with my frenemies who will not actually work with me anyway due to misunderstandings and half-knowledge.
Four, multi-tendency groups tend to confuse friendship with politics. Especially in the Bay Area where the groups with the strongest political disagreements also do not socialize with each other (I often refer to the Bay as have 4-6 different anarchist scenes that do not talk to each other) this is a particularly thorny problem. We do not see eye to eye politically but we don’t really know that because we don’t really know each other. When we do experience each other it is in an atmosphere of hostility. This is a chicken-and-egg problem.
We begin: What I saw in Greece
This is a time of incredible tension in Athens. After the general strike on May 11th an anarchist comrade was hospitalized by an attack by the police (putting him into a coma by blunt force trauma to the head). In the days following the informal nationalist/fascists forces attacked immigrants (including a mass stabbing incident with over a dozen victims) and have made serious violent incursions into the public space (with a square next to long standing squat Villa Amalias being a particular target). At the same time some “asocial” anarchists attacked the Exarchia police station with molotovs to disasterous effect. The following day included an attack on the Skaramanga squat (which I happened to witness first hand and it was 1) terrifying and 2) intense for its political consequences) and then a mass arrest (the next day) of residents of the same squat.
To the extent to which there is a central body (which is in no way a central body) of anarchists that would even discuss the incredible week and series of events it is the Assembly of the Polytechnic. The Polytechnic is on the edge of Exarchia and, from what I’ve seen so far, the rumors of it are true. It (it is an architectural school) is a “free zone” from the police. It is the location from which young anarchists stage hit-and-run attacks against fascists and the police. It is a meeting space that is also a place of occupation. We cannot imagine such a place in the US today as nothing even a 1/4 of it has ever existed in my memory.
The Assembly met there on Wednesday night to analyze the events of the past week and to discuss what action makes the most sense to take as a result. The meeting went on for three hours with very few pauses (more on them later). The meeting was smoke filled, multi-generational (mean age: 30), packed by US standards (60 down to 40 by the end) but supposedly small by Greek standards, and totally respectful and productive (even when there were disagreements which there were a number of serious ones). This was a focused serious meeting about what to do in crisis.
Structurally it began with a person introducing the Assembly and then one person after another speaking. There was no structure to the event other than particularly long winded speakers being cut off for talking too long (and at least 8 people talked for 10+ minutes at a go). At the end of the event the proposals (that would be finalized next week) were fairly specific (orientation wise) and agreeable/disagreeable along lines that would cross most political lines. They were different plans along strategic, not ideological, lines.
We end for now: Conclusions
Before we end a note on the interruptions of the Assembly. The day of the Assembly also happened to be the day of student elections at the Polytechnic (which, remember is a university). Traditionally (?!) the anarchists (some faction or another) attack these elections and… they did. Obviously I was inside a meeting room (and none of the @ in the room were involved) but it was clear that at least 4 bombs (bigger than M-80s smaller than a cluster bomb) were thrown, sticks (and helmets) were deployed and the area outside the meeting room (but inside the Polytechnic) was a standoff of mostly leftist (meaning Statist Communists) students in a paranoid stance against the anarchist interlopers of their election. Fucking crazy.
I will end this write up with a few cautious conclusions about what I have seen from Greece that I think is directly transferable to the American context.
1) Treat each other like adults. It makes a substantial difference in the attitude of the participation and, I believe, makes a long term difference. This means no lifestyle restrictions, no “stacks” or “vibe checks”, and freedom of expression of the participants (especially insofar as they demonstrate that they are doing as well as talking)
2) Leave labels and group identification at the door. While it is important to have participation of people from many concerned parties at your event it is not important for everyone to end every sentence with “class” this or “insurrection” that. It is also important that our rooms look more chromatic (and that doesn’t just mean red and green).
3) Our ideas can be communicated without jargon or loaded terms.
Cheers from Athens
by aragorn in personal
I’ll stop being in “report back” mode since there isn’t really a way to report back events where nothing really happened… except in my mind! I’ll instead ramble along as I usually do trying to recreate those features of the events of April 30th to May 5th that interested me.
I raced across the country because one of the two “formal” events with the “Accused of Tarnac” (abbreviated from now on as IC) was a private meeting with them and “allies”. I am glad that I did because I had a really good time on the first evening and it made what transpired during future events far more comprehensible. Mostly they prefaced the conversation that we were going to have the next night at S40 with a bit more context and were responsive to some of the wide-eyed attention they were getting (and that the next night was lost in the crowd).
Here is the salient controversial point that the IC made that caused a bit of a ruckus the next evening. They do not embrace Marxist dialects as being at the heart of the radical project or, perhaps more importantly economics as a necessary, useful, or appropriate discipline for the same.
Why is this so controversial, since it really shouldn’t be? Because the hipster (insurrectionary) communist has confused (again) complexity for correctness. In terms of not wasting the past 150 years Marxists of all stripes are striving to hold the ideological framework together, especially insofar as it serves as the method by which they can maintain control over the theory landscape. Yes, it is about control & ideology (like usual).
In the IC formulation (as I understand it) power (broadly understood) replaces the “little dialectical engine” as the simple machine that maintains the existing order. To refer to value, profit, & (perhaps) even exhange confuses the point that power relationships dominate and force compels us, not economy. We are not consensual participants in a relationship but subjects of violence.
This IMO reclaims the IC project for anarchists and provides us a way to stop losing our “best and brightest” to the tendrils of the hipster communist. I look forward to understanding a bit more of their reading list to see where they pull some of this from and how shaping this argument can develop a theoretical terrain that we can develop during my life.
Anyway, the commies got angry at the IC right out of the gate with KK storming out in a huff of ad hominems and ressentiment and the professor trying to explain to the IC that it is all just a big misunderstanding. The lengthy French Theory style responses that the IC made to simple questions totally confused the audience (as I said at the time, Americans demand the answer to A + B = ? to be C. If it isn’t C then the question must not be understood) which was funny. The structure of the event was such that the audience was pretty much already lost before the Q&A really began.
I also went to the NYC event (the Anarchist Turn) but it was very very very boring. I’ll try to pull the most interesting bits out of it for the next TCN Radio and you will be able to hear for yourself.
I am going to try to catch up with my writing because I am now sitting in a squat in Amsterdam and am anxious to talk about my intense & awesome day today but first things first…
I love to drive. I can handle 500 miles before lunch and absolutely love the headspace that I get in during drives that span the night. I mostly tolerate driving during the day, but the night…
Which is a good thing because after leaving Houston on Sunday night we went to St. Louis (Monday), Milwaukee (T-Wed), and then streaked the 2000+ to be back in Berkeley on Friday by 2 pm. Monster driving was required.
If I could calm the fuck down and smell the roses, or seriously consider moving back to the Midwest, this would probably be the second place on my list. (I am from MI so that would be first) The people who comprise the St. Louis scene are the most, I hate to use the word sophisticated, but perhaps experienced and not-backwards of any place outside of the coasts. During my event there were a dozen people who had entirely thought through (and discussed with each other) topics that many places were hearing said out loud for the first time. I would not feel lonely in St. Louis, neither would you.
Like idiots we scheduled an event on the day that Black Bear Bakery was closed which meant we didn’t have a chance to hang out there and enjoy the @-Bakery. Suffice it to say that their bread is really good and the atmosphere is IMO the best of any @-work project in the US.
There is an urban squat project in St. Louis that I will not spoil by talking to much about. The US doesn’t have a squatting culture and so building one (both a squat(s) and a culture) is an incredible task filled with trepidation and awesome. I mostly think that people shouldn’t visit St. Louis for their squats but think seriously about what extra-legal land projects are possible in their location and how to learn the lessons of other US & European experiences.
Milwaukee has shown me different faces during different visits. I’ve seen punk Milwaukee, some version of @ Milwaukee, and I’ve passed through a few times. This time I saw the Riverwest neighborhood and the adorable coop & CCC. A total treat and a total Midwest intersection of space (meaning they have a lot of it) and comfort (meaning a short walk to great food & their community center + comfort food).
I have decided on the next LBC project. It is the biggest risk and reward potential yet. It hopefully will be what will get more people involved in the project and connect us more to the people that we like. It isn’t a project of reaction but doing shit I’ve been fascinated with for a decade… I can’t wait. Oh, except I have to because I can’t even get started on it until I get back from this damn three month vacation.
End of US trip
by aragorn in LBC
I am going to try to give a reportback on my recent trip around the US. My goal is to give the reader a taste of each town rather than of my presentation or the lessons I learned regarding my own projects. I’ll leave those for another time when the reader can safely ignore them.
I took a quick loop visiting Tucson, Phoenix, Austin, Houston, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. At the end of the trip I raced back to Berkeley to be present at a private event with the Invisible Committee. I’ll discuss that a bit later.
The Dry River Collective has come a long way since the last time I visited it (during the first months of its life in a different location). The new space is very nice, appearing to be located in a small church rather than a small warehouse. It has a free store corner and all the accoutrements one would expect from a space of this sort. My event was prefaced by one by Keith McHenry (co-founder of Food Not Bombs) who is a great cheerleader for his cause. His presentation was well attended by the local FNB chapter and other interested parties. They filed out as he concluded.
My event was, essentially, abandoned by its organizer which impacted its attendance, passion, and relevance. I’ll respond to the organizers abandonment another time but suffice it to say I was disappointed.
The presentation was mostly interesting for its Q&A which was highly interested in gossip & the Internet (clearly not a theme in a talk on illegalism). I was quite surprised how closely the 1/2 dozen people followed the mundane (and not) Internet drama of @. This makes sense, given the size and scope of their own scene but is likely a dangerous direction given how much personal detail they knew about people they will never meet or befriend.
Lesson: Make sure you do your own legwork before you do an event in Tucson.
I arrived a day early in Phoenix which meant that I had an opportunity to go to Flagstaff and visit the Infoshop there. I also participated in a protest against the development of the San Francisco Peaks which entailed me holding onto an embarrassing banner and mumbling along with statements I’m not particularly comfortable with… but when in native land one should show a full unit of humble respect (a humbleton).
Suffice it to say the Taala Hooghan is entirely impressive. It is an “indigenous infoshop” rather than one oriented toward a particular sect of (anarchist) politics. It shares its expansive space with a native media group and as a result has a atmosphere of Internet era “new media” along with a concrete and run down aesthetic.
The space is huge. It has a children’s room, a semi-gymnasium, a (or several) mural walls, garden plots, common rooms, kitchen, and the aforementioned media space (which includes sound-proofed rooms and other nearly professional equipment). The content of the space relies strongly on a “zigzag” vibe but as I am inclined towards that I have no complaint. It is also heavy on the PM/AK vibe which I am not inclined toward but I understand the appeal of free credit (and recognize the marketing & social impact of it).
The people of the space were very friendly and generous with their time. I was even challenged to defend my position and perspectives which I greatly enjoyed (and wish happened more often).
My event in Phoenix itself was pleasant and a bit of a let down in comparison to the conversations I had earlier (and later). I will say that the audience in Phoenix was (25%) well informed and those who weren’t seemed generally interested in the connections I was drawing, so much so that the main criticism I received was that I wasn’t fully accelerating on my point. Fair enough.
The PCWC (my generous-with-their-time hosts) were alarmingly unorthodox (or as I usually deride them “into American eclecticism to a fault”) and seemed somewhat interested in a point that I share an interest in. What is the position of repression and lone wolf actions in a denatured political site. I look forward to engaging them on this in the future as their hopefulness about people (generally) shocks and concerns me.
I had an entirely pleasant time during my stay in Austin. This was entirely due to the company of my accommodations as my event at Monkeywrench was a waste of my time… Perhaps that is not fair as I often have experiences like the Monkeywrench event that later turn up lasting relationships but my general sense of the space was of exhaustion and obligation and not joy and fruitful collaboration. Perhaps this is due to the preponderance of leftist crap adorning their bookshelves as the people associated with the space were friendly enough just… tired.
Austin is a sleepy town that was already too hot for human life (95 degrees in April). This means a slow, relaxing life filled with a spectacular mineral water (Topo!) and languid siestas. Only in the evening to people perk up and engage in hours of good conversation sitting next to the goats and chickens.
Ostensibly my reason for going to Texas was to attend the first annual Houston anarchist bookfair and this is what I did. The Houston organizers did two things I haven’t seen before. 1) They scheduled 12 hours of events for each of the two days (having their film festival conclude each evening) and 2) had three meals a day provided for the entire attendance by the local Food Not Bombs.
The event itself was well run (allegedly there is a howto document forthcoming). There were table, chairs and most importantly an audience of more than just the organizers friends. This is very important for other @ who want to throw a bookfair. The better your outreach the better the event, period.
The demographic was younger and punker than I had seen in a while but the political attitude was definitely laid back and positive rather than jaded-urban-knowitall so good for Houston. Especially for not making any particular connections to the town itself I came away feeling very positive about my time there and about the organization of the event. GJ Houston!
Up next… St Louis, Milwaukee, & 2000 miles to meet the French
by aragorn in personal
There will probably be a time in the future where apologizing makes sense again. Where you can honestly say you were sorry for some transgression or when one will be able to articulate an honest position that looks like an apology, but that is not today.
Today is the time of frowny clown emo bullshit that just covers lies, or hides the possibility of a lie in tears, or maudlin tales. Every apology is a weak kneed limp avoidance of the real. Of real consequences, real choices, and the very real possibility that forgiveness is worst that the status quo. Words cover the fact that the small parts of truth that are somewhere in there are corpses. Suffocated by what is actually the dominant form of expression… static.
From now on I will not apologize and that may make me an asshole but not someone who is trying to split the difference between mediocrity and deceit.