Towards an Anarchism with Principles: A Response to “Freely Disassociating”

The below is the introduction to a piece I wrote, published today on the Institute for Anarchist Studies’ website. Please check out the full essay there.

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.

Hopefully my summary fairly characterizes his piece, though I suggest people read it themselves. As I am currently undertaking an evaluation of how I personally engage with radical politics, events and movements, I am drawn to the concerns he raises and his proposal of an “anarchism with principles.” In the spirit of dialog, I would like to offer up some thoughts of my own on the topic.

Read the full essay.

This Week in the Prison Industrial Complex (July 28)

end-aetaA weekly roundup of news and action alerts about political prisoners, prison struggles, and organizing against the prison industrial complex (PIC), both nationally and internationally. If you’ve got something you’d like to see included, leave a comment or send me an email.

  • A Los Angeles police officer was sentenced to 16 months in prison for kicking and striking a handcuffed woman who later died in the hospital.
  • The Move organization is holding a community town hall on August 1 in Philadelphia and all are invited to attend. The occasion marks 37 years of imprisonment for the Move 9 and discussion will revolve around working to win parole for the Move 9.

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What is spirituality?

candles-wave“What is spirituality?” he asks me.

I stop to think. Or rather, I stop to try to stop myself from thinking. Instead, I try to redirect my focus down to my gut in order to feel forth an answer.

“Faith.” That’s what I want to say. But I don’t. Still trying to turn my brain off, I spit out, “Spirituality is that sense that tells me when everything seems to be going to shit, it is going to be alright in the end.”

He smiles, knowingly. I can always tell when he is about to say something he thinks is profound – and therefore likely is – by this very specific smile that appears on his face right before he says it. Turning to the paper in front of us, he says, “It’s this.” And he draws an arrow pointing from where I have written “vulnerability/honesty,” connecting it to where I have written “spirituality.”

On the paper is a jumble of shapes, each labeled with something I believe I need to work on: spirituality, vulnerability/honesty, acceptance, willingness, wholeness/being myself, anxiety, and forgiveness. I’ve connected them with arrows. Hence the initial question and his proposal that vulnerability/honesty → spirituality. I contend that the opposite is the case, that spirituality is necessary for me to be open to being vulnerable. That the faith provided by spirituality that things are going to be ok if I get vulnerable is what allows me to do so.

“No,” he says. “Vulnerability is what allows spirituality in.” The time for smiles has passed. The conversation ends and I’m left to mull this over.

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This Week in the Prison Industrial Complex (July 21)

end-solitary-confinementA weekly roundup of news and action alerts about political prisoners, prison struggles, and organizing against the prison industrial complex (PIC), both nationally and internationally. If you’ve got something you’d like to see included, leave a comment or send me an email.

  • From July 9 – 14, Israeli occupation forces arrested 28 Palestinians, including seven children, in the occupied West Bank.
  • Four political prisoners in Mexico have been on hunger strike since June 27 against abuse and maltreatment they have faced inside. The prison has refused to respond to the prisoners’ demands. More information in Spanish is available from the Anarchist Black Cross – Mexico.
  • Actions against the use of solitary confinement are happening around California and elsewhere in the U.S. on July 23. Similar events are held on the 23rd of every month in response to a call by prisoners and their supporters to build an ongoing campaign against solitary confinement.

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Locating and challenging racism

paulo-freire-quoteIn a recent post – Racism, privilege, guilt and social justice – I say a couple of times that “I was racist,” in relating my process of becoming aware of white supremacy and white privilege. That realization was a powerful moment for me that I’d like to unpack a bit more. In part, I said it for effect, to put myself out there in no uncertain terms, to bring the issue home to self, because that is where it resides. Racism is not something that happens “out there” but inside of me and everyone else in this society. (This is clearly not an exact formulation and obviously racism plays out very differently internally and externally for people of color than it does white people.)

It is easy to find racism in the most heinous of acts, such as the Emanuel AME Church shooting or the burning of Black churches. To point to something outside and identify and judge it as racist also provides a false sense of separation and distance between the ordinary white person and racism. But what of the seemingly inconsequential, mundane racism that daily insinuates and reinforces itself in our society and culture? The type of racism that truly sustains the system of white supremacy and is the cornerstone upon which is based the fanaticism that leads to atrocities such as the one in Charleston? That is the racism that is reproduced societally but also impacts individually, as I encountered at age 17 and what led me to realize that I was/am racist.

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This Week in the Prison Industrial Complex (July 14)

khader-adnan-free

Palestinian political prisoner Khader Adnan upon his release from Israeli prison on July 12.

A weekly roundup of news and action alerts about political prisoners, prison struggles, and organizing against the prison industrial complex (PIC), both nationally and internationally. If you’ve got something you’d like to see included, leave a comment or send me an email.

  • Professor and former political prisoner James Kilgore wrote a piece reflecting on “Why Dylann Roof’s Racism Will Only be Nurtured in Prison.” A second piece by Kilgore this week discusses the current political climate regarding mass incarceration in the U.S. and the opportunities and pitfalls it poses for social justice organizers.

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This Week in the Prison Industrial Complex (July 7)

prison-bar-fistA weekly roundup of news and action alerts about political prisoners, prison struggles, and organizing against the prison industrial complex (PIC), both nationally and internationally. If you’ve got something you’d like to see included, leave a comment or send me an email.

  • From June 25 – July 1, Israeli occupation forces arrested 17 Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank, including seven children and two women.
  • On July 1, more than 60 of the currently 401 Palestinian administrative detainees held without charge by Israel announced their intention to “boycott the Israeli Occupation’s military courts in protest of the administrative detention policy and the false trials they are subjected to.”
  • Al-Jazeera conducted a lengthy interview with Gerardo Hernández, former political prisoner and one of the Cuban Five who was released in December 2014 after more than 16 years in prison.
  • U.S. political prisoner Robert Seth Hayes is suffering from “undiagnosed and untreated chronic bleeding and abdominal growths.” Supporters are being asked to call and fax New York State prison officials this week requesting Seth gets the medical attention he needs.

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Complicating the Fourth of July

Declaration-of-IndependenceI planned to write a post exploring the implications of July 4th, but became overwhelmed realizing it would necessarily have to touch on patriotism, nationalism, symbolism, colonialism, and imperialism, at least. Much is wrapped up in an apparently simple holiday commemorating the independence of the United States from Great Britain. And I realized that is what does not sit well with me, the simplicity with which July 4th is usually treated.

For many people, the day is no more than a welcome respite from waged labor. That perspective, with its inherent expression of alienated labor and preference for spending time with family and/or community instead of at work, could be seen as anti-capitalist in a certain light and is worthy of consideration.

But I am more concerned with the underlying narrative that implicitly goes along with the acceptance of July 4th as something to be commemorated and the often consequent proactive, uncritical impulse towards patriotism and jingoism.

It is not my intent to tell anyone to celebrate July 4th or not. It is my intent to call for reflection on what one is celebrating. Most of us operate on a worldview where many behaviors and attitudes are taken as a given. The answer to “Why?” we do certain things is simply “Because.”

– “Why do we celebrate the Fourth of July?”

– “Because that is just what we do.”

If pressured, one can probably throw in a “freedom,” or a “democracy,” or a “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Ask for a definition of any of those concepts and how it relates to July 4th and things get a little more messy and/or hostile.

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