I became a father last summer when my daughter Fern was born. As little as she is, Fern is already an amazing teacher. The most precious things I'm learning aren't about babies or being a parent, but about what it means to be human and what is important about life. While I'm still too new a parent to feel qualified to write much and this is a little disorganized, here are my initial impressions.
In April, the anarchist collective CrimethInc published a new pamphlet critiquing accountability processes and suggesting ways forward. “Accounting for Ourselves” is not an introduction to accountability processes, nor to the concepts of restorative or transformative justice, but an attempt to evaluate the current implementation of these concepts in political subcultures.
My interest in this topic has come from participating and supporting friends and comrades in this work over the last ten or so years. Accountability processes attempt to put many of my values into practice—mutual aid, respect, direct action, a DIY ethic, an acknowledgement that “crime,” safety, harm, and support are complex. Accountability processes haven’t been a perfect solution, however, and many of the participants I know have left these processes frustrated. At the same time, a lot of the collective knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work is scattered, unwritten, and lost as ad-hoc groups come and go around particular crises.
A week and a half ago, when I first drove to Little Axe, Oklahoma, to take a look at post-tornado recovery efforts, the countryside was still in crisis mode. Mountains of rubble and garbage filled gravel roads and red dirt paths leading to the remains of homes. Neighborhoods that had been full of working-class houses were uprooted and dirty, unsafe tent camps were all that remained. Just 30 minutes away, the big NGOs and FEMA operated, bringing national attention to Moore - a badly struck area, to be sure. But not the only one affected.
The anarchists only close shop if it rains or snows. Otherwise, every Friday, you can find them here at Von King Park in Bed-Stuy, under tent and banner reading Brooklyn Free Store, handing out goods and sometimes services completely gratis. The tent sometimes blows away in a strong wind, and has to be duct-taped to bricks. Other times a brisk gust will catch the texts sitting on the infoshop desk: zines, commix and reprinted manifestos with ambitious titles like the The Abolition Of Work, big ideas on cheap paper with ink that runs. But most people don’t dilly-dally with propaganda of the revolution. There’s too much free stuff.
Changing the economic system to one that is more democratic is fundamental to shifting political power away from concentrated wealth and to people. However, decentralized and democratic economic systems will not address all of the crises that exist sufficiently. Some, such as finance, health care, energy, climate and transportation require national approaches and coordination. When political power begins to shift, these bigger solutions can be put in place and greater transformation will be possible.
Every Friday — weather permitting — a free shop pops up on the corner of Marcy Avenue and Lafayette at Von King Park in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Residents are welcome to donate goods and take goods at no cost. While passersbys look at the sidewalk with piles of neatly folded t-shirts and pants, bed sheets, and crates stuffed with old books and magazines, they cannot help but notice something that appears to be more than just a donation center. Some volunteers huddle underneath the white tent to stay warm, some help to fold clothes, and others hula hoop by crates of books. Just behind the folded clothes stands a table with stacks of anarchist zines, are two red banners hanging over head that read “ANARCHY” in hand-painted white letters.
ON Wednesday night, as a fierce northeaster bore down on the weather-beaten Rockaways, the relief groups with a noticeable presence on the battered Queens peninsula were these: the National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Police and Sanitation Departments — and Occupy Sandy, a do-it-yourself outfit recently established by Occupy Wall Street.
Midafternoon today, after doing some organizing work at Interference Archive (from below!) to help facilitate talks/discussions about “art and revolt” by the visiting Sublevarte Colectivo, a group of street artists that formed out of the 1999-2000 student strike at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and six of whose members will soon put up their “The Persistence of Dreams” exhibit here at our autonomous nonnational(istic) space at 131 8th Street in Brooklyn (opening reception/talk on November 16; http://www.facebook.com/events/183120365145843/), I headed over to the new Occupy Sandy Relief distro site for Red Hook at 83 14th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in Brooklyn to lend a hand for a bit. On my short walk there, I thought how the Occupy dream, which had turned into a nightmare for so many of us, was now not only persisting but in fact transforming into something far more dreamlike than any of us could have imagined a year ago — a self-styled and effective “hegemonic” force in what mutual aid looks like and indeed is all about, in sharp contrast to “The Persistence of Dystopia” in the wake of Hurricane Sandy for some many in New York and New Jersey.
On Saturday October 13th a couple dozen people gathered at in front of the Post Office on Franklin St. with banners, signs, and literature to counter election year rhetoric. Several banners were tied up around the square, free literature and food tables set up, and hundreds of anti-elections anarchist pamphlets handed out.
The history of co-operatives is of people pulling together their collective power to interact with, rather than counteract, capitalism, in a way that defended their interests against its worst excesses. The best known of the early co-operative societies, the Rochdale Pioneers, pooled resources to create a consumer co-operative. That is, a group of working class people could take advantage of bulk-buying staple products in order to access enough decent food to feed themselves and their families in a time of hardship.