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News :: Gender : GLBT/Queer : Organizing : Race
Anarchist Ideals in an Ideal Community: Boston Anarchists Talk on Strategic Resistance
by Sofia Jarrin-Thomas
Email: sofiajt (nospam) yahoo.com
14 Feb 2007
Anna Marie’s father was an Italian immigrant with anarchistic ideas but who in the 1920s didn’t identify himself openly as an anarchist. He raised his daughter in the rough and demanding environment of a working class family where hierarchical powers were not to be trusted and human relationships were critical for the survival of shrinking societies. Later in the 1940s and 50s, Anna Marie felt naturally attracted to the beat poets and dharma bums, but it was only when she read Emma Goldman that she connected with the “deep desires of anarchist ideals.”
“I didn’t know anarchism could be group thing,” said Anna Marie, “I always thought it was very individualistic.” So when her son joined an anarchist group—maybe because of her influence but not at her urging—she once again got to reflect upon what anarchism could be, its philosophy and organizational possibilities.
On Saturday, January 27, a significant group of fifty-plus people gathered in Boston to discuss anarchist-community relations and concerns that many local anarchists have about interracial and cross-gender relationships with their communities. The event, Boston Strategic Resistance, was formatted with a panel followed by several participatory workshops to explore collectively these topics in more detail.
“There seems to be a general feeling of distrust,” said Thomas as he explained that many of their invitations to panelists of color and women were turned down. “They assumed they would be speaking in front of an all-white, mostly male group.” Which in fact was true. Participants at this event were in their majority white and male but nevertheless seemed committed to address these commonly known problems affecting the Boston anarchist movement.
One of the panelists, Charlie, said that her personal experience with anarchist groups in Boston had been so far very alienating. “Why is it that it is always men that are speaking, it's always men that are on the spokes councils, it's really male dominated,” she said, “I don’t see any overlap often between anarchist circles and community organizing.” And she added that the anarchist punk culture itself is not very open to queers and gender liberation ideologies, a suggestion that resonated with many females in the audience. Then she asked if she didn’t feel welcome in anarchist circles, how could people from other communities do so? “It is very important as anarchists to see how we’re developing relationships with others. Are we going to be a part of the bigger social movement? Is it time for us to ask, ‘How do I support you?’”
Anarchists have long been formulating theories about sexism, racism, and classicism in society but what about their own micro-communities? The themes of inclusion versus exclusion is something that participants at the event asked themselves, including the idea of working with groups who don’t necessarily share their ideas or analysis of society as a whole. “Are we acting sectarian? Where is our power? Do we have to re-assess the whole process?” asked Camilo from Homes Not Jails.
“We need to have time for self-reflection and self-analysis. We can do all the right things and still fail,” said Camilo and explained that Homes Not Jails recognized early on that they didn’t want to deal with homelessness through lobbying and charity but wanted to work together with poor people to find solutions. But that meant working with other home organizers—liberals, progressives, and democrats—outside the group. “Maybe we didn’t make more revolutionaries and anti-capitalists, but we connected with more people,” he said.
The event on Saturday also focused on the difference between studying and understanding historical oppressive structures, and the need to evaluate direct action through relationships with other people. One participant volunteered how he does not try to force his ideals on the people he works with. “I’m just a participant,” he said about working with others against CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) discrimination. It is through fostering one-on-one relationships that he has been able to address questions of sexism and patriarchy in a larger context.
Dominic talked about his experience with the Boston Angry Tenants Union, which was a group fighting eviction in Jamaica Plain. He said the leadership of the group was mostly composed of people of color and women, but it wasn’t something that they actively sought after nor could he explain how it happened. Yet the group only lasted a couple years as people moved out to a different block or other neighborhoods. “The question is what’s the difference between taking action (i.e., avoiding eviction, organizing a rent strike) versus building a movement. How can we build relationships with organizations that have been around for a long time?”
But it was Anna Marie who put it more concisely. “In order to find value in relationships, I have to find what is their desire to change this world,” she said. “For me, anarchist ideas become my energy. It is in my expression of these ideas—less oppression, less racism, less sexism—where change happens.”
In retrospect, Anna Marie might be onto something when she sees anarchism both as an individual and communal experience, by practicing anarchism while actively and openly engaging with the community around her. “The song that comes to mind when I think of this is ‘Teach Your Children Well’ by Crosby, Stills and Nash,” she said.
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.
Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.
Don't you ever ask them why,
if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh
and know they love you.
And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.
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