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(en) US, Vermont, Alt. media, Power to the People - It may be dirty word, but "anarchism" is alive and well in Vermont.

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 13 Feb 2004 22:19:39 +0100 (CET)


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"Always remember, Dante, in the play of happiness, don’t use all for
yourself only… help the persecuted and the victim, because they are
your better friends." - Italian-American anarchist Nicola Sacco, in
his last message to his son before his execution in August 1927.
"Lady" has joined the revolution, but you’d never know it just
by looking at her. The petite, 26-year-old waitress from Barre has a
wide, friendly smile, dyed red hair, silver studs in her lower lip and
a powder-blue sweater with red cherries sewn on the yoke. But
this self-described anarchist also lives "off the grid" in a communal
house on the side of a mountain, about a mile from the nearest dirt
road. And when it comes to achieving the goals of her anarchist
collective — fighting fascism, ending global capitalism,
abolishing all authoritarian forms of government and creating a free
society without class difference — Lady can be as militant as
circumstances demand.

"Most of my comrades all call me 'Lady,'" she says, explaining her
reluctance to use her real name when being interviewed. "I come
from a heightened sense-of-security culture because of my
political beliefs and the work I’ve done."

Her safety concerns are understandable. While working with a
group called Cop Watch in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio, Lady
used to follow around police officers and videotape acts of police
brutality and civil-rights abuses. Once, she says, she was beaten
up by three cops and left by the side of the road. And in January
2003, she and some fellow anarchists helped organize a rally in
Lewiston, Maine, against the white-supremacist group, World
Church of the Creator, and roughed up a few of its members.
It’s the kind of in-your-face activism that gets results, she
says, as well as her picture posted on hate-group websites around
the country.

Lady is not an advocate of violence. But neither is she a pacifist
when it comes to confronting fascist influences in society, be they
Nazi skinheads or representatives of the Bush administration, she
says. Like other members of the Green Mountain Anarchist
Collective (GMAC), which formed in the fall of 2000 largely in
response to the 1999 anti-globalization protests in Seattle, Lady
grew up in a working-class household where she developed an
acute awareness of class difference and the inherent inequalities
of capitalism. Suspicious of anarchists? Perhaps it’s because
all you’ve ever heard about them are the same old clichés
— that they’re a bunch of bomb-throwing terrorists or
anti-technology primitivists. In fact, many of the core values
anarchists espouse are no different than those held by more
mainstream Vermonters: a fierce libertarianism, a deep distrust of
centralized government and a strong belief in equal rights, personal
responsibility and direct, participatory democracy.

Paradoxically, while the word "anarchism" evokes more than a
century of negative stereotypes, its philosophical influence on
many of today’s social movements — environmentalism,
anti-globalization and the peace movement, to name a few — is
perhaps greater than it’s ever been. "Want to know what
anarchism looks like?" Lady asks. "Think Town Meeting Day."

Anarchists can be found in Vermont’s labor unions, farmer
cooperatives, health-care organizations, even the halls of the
Statehouse. The Institute for Social Ecology in Plainfield, for
example, was founded on many anarchistic principles, among them
the belief that those who are directly affected by a decision should
have an equal voice in making that decision. First, let’s be
clear about the definition. "Anarchism" is not the same thing as
"anarchy" — a state of chaos, lawlessness and disorder. Quite
the contrary. Anarchism is a libertarian brand of socialism that
rejects all forms of hierarchical rule. It asserts that society should
be organized through decentralized, community-based bodies
where decisions are reached by consensus, not by the majority
imposing its will on the minority.

In the parlance of Lady and her peers, the word anarchism refers to
"social anarchism," a historical and political movement dating back
at least 150 years in the United States. It is not, as leftist writer
Murray Bookchin once dubbed it, lifestyle anarchism — that
"narcissistic" form of "rebellious chic in which Americans rakishly
adorn themselves with the symbols and idioms of personal
resistance, all the more to accommodate themselves to the status
quo."

Though the lines between social anarchism and lifestyle anarchism
occasionally blur — as when popular bands like Rage Against
the Machine sing about smashing the system — what
Vermont’s anarchists are talking about has more to do with
politics than punk rock.

In the post-9/11 political climate, where dissent has been equated
with sedition, being called an anarchist is like being branded a
Communist during the McCarthy era. Peace activists, union
organizers and anti-globalization protesters who identify
themselves as anarchists are practically inviting the Department
of Homeland Security to put them under surveillance. Members of
anarchist collectives, including GMAC and its larger affiliate
group, the North Eastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists,
routinely report having their mail intercepted, their meetings
videotaped, and their names red-flagged on national no-fly lists.

"The national media, specifically those in Washington, are doing
their damnedest to demonize the word 'anarchism,'" says David
(last name withheld), a GMAC member in the Montpelier area.
"They’ve started using the same words for us as they do for al
Qaeda, which is not accidental."

A November 23, 2003, article in The New York Times referred to
the places where anarchists and other protesters learn
civil-disobedience tactics as "training camps." According to the
Times, the FBI is now asking local law-enforcement agencies to
refer activities of "anarchists and other extremist elements" to its
counterterrorism squads.

Not surprisingly, most of the people interviewed for this article
— writers, lobbyists, union organizers, teachers — asked that
their names not be used or that they not be identified as
anarchists. Even the 83-year-old Bookchin, who is internationally
renowned for his writings on anarchist theory and who now lives in
quiet seclusion in Burlington, doesn’t want to draw attention to
himself by being called an anarchist.

"I was once warned by a very experienced anarchist who had
fought in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the working class in
Spain never to use the word 'anarchist' when I propounded my
view, and I probably should have taken his advice," Bookchin says.
"But anarchism, like a donut, has a big hole into which you can
pour anything. Consequently, I may have made a mistake."

Why is the word anarchism like the mark of Cain? In the United
States, it has been associated with violence and terrorism, often
erroneously, since the days of the Haymarket Riot in 1886 and the
assassination of President McKinley in 1901. But as an overt
political movement, anarchism has been largely out of the public
eye since the 1930s. These days, most Americans don’t have a
clue what the word means.

Actually, the anarchist movement has deep roots in the Green
Mountain State. Between the 1890s and the 1930s, the center of
anarchist activity in Vermont was the Barre granite district, which
supported an anarchist study circle as early as 1894, according to
Dick Hathaway, a professor of liberal studies in history and
political science at Vermont College. During the first decade of the
20th century, Barre was one of the country’s two leading
centers of anarchism — the other being Patterson, New Jersey.
That activity originated among Barre’s Italian-Americans who,
Hathaway notes, “literally carried their anarchist philosophy in
knapsacks on their backs as they emigrated to this country.”
The statue in Barre’s Hope Ceme-tery of stonecarver Elia
Corti, a well-respected Italian anarchist who was assassinated
during a political rally in 1903, is just one reminder of that
city’s radical past.

Another anarchist émigré to Vermont was a gifted Italian
orator named Luigi Galleani, who became editor of an anarchist
newspaper in Barre known as the Chronaca Sovversiva, or
Subversive Chronicle. Of the 100 or so Italian-language anarchist
publications of that era, Chronaca Sovversiva was one of the most
influential, enjoying a worldwide circulation of about 5000. Galleani
edited the newspaper until he was swept up in the Red Scare
deportations of 1918-19 and was sent back to Italy where,
Hathaway says, "he became a wonderful nuisance to Mussolini"
until his death in 1931.

Although anarchists didn’t disappear entirely from Vermont
after World War I, their numbers dwindled considerably as
immigration from Italy was sharply curtailed. And with the
execution of Boston anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti on trumped-up
charges in August 1927, anarchism as a viable political movement
all but disappeared from the Green Mountain State. But as an idea,
Hathaway says, anarchism persists in Vermont to this day.

Seated at a table in the back of Charlie O’s, a smoky,
working-class tavern in downtown Montpelier, David, one of
GMAC’s founding members, is dressed all in black, wearing a
goatee and puffing away on a corncob pipe. Though he can talk at
length about the history of anarchism in pre-Franco Spain and trace
anarchist theories to the writings of Thomas Paine, no one is likely
to mistake this construction worker and union organizer for some
coffeehouse intellectual. As David explains, the word "anarchism"
is largely irrelevant to the goals of his collective.

"Working people aren’t too concerned with words. They want
to see results," says the 30-year-old organizer, whose father was a
hospital orderly and his mother a plumber’s secretary.
"We’re not concerned about whether or not you consider
yourself an anarchist. We talk to people about expanding the
power of town meeting. We talk to people about taking power out
of the hands of Montpelier and putting it back in their hands. We
talk to people about building strong, democratic labor unions, more
democratic than they are now. And most people agree."

"Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys practiced a form of
direct, participatory democracy. They elected their own officers
and organized towns," Dave adds. "What we’d like to see
come to fruition is a system where decisions that directly affect
the local level are made at the local level."

In many respects, GMAC’s goals aren’t too different from
those of other left-leaning groups in Vermont. The Green Mountain
collective supports the living-wage campaign, expanded labor
unions, improved access to higher education, more affordable
housing and universal health care. David and other GMAC
members have lent their support to a number of local and statewide
initiatives, such as the Dairy Farmers of Vermont, the Peoples
Roundtable for a Fair and Healthy Economy and the Downtown
Workers’ Union in Montpelier, which has signed up about 100
of the city’s 800 or so downtown employees. David is quick to
point out that none of these projects is specifically anarchist-led or
anarchist-run. But neither is he concerned that associating these
causes with the anarchist label will sabotage their public image. "If
we can make phone calls and stuff envelopes for an organization
and help them make more money, it doesn’t really matter," he
says. "We don’t send out letters to farmers saying, 'There are
anarchists in this organization, so overthrow the state and start a
class war.'"

Another popular misconception about anarchists is that they are all
anti-technology and anti-progress. "I am not a primitivist and
I’m not a Luddite," says Lady. "The majority of anarchists I
know are working-class and believe in class struggle. And no
working-class person is going to be anti-technology because they
won’t have a job."

"John" (not his real name) is a 26-year-old anarchist living in
central Vermont. Like GMAC’s members, John grew up in a
working-class home, but he’s not affiliated with the Green
Mountain collective. He doesn’t identify himself publicly as an
anarchist to his co-workers, largely out of fear that it will
compromise his union-organizing activities. Anarchism, he says, is
so steeped in myths and misconceptions that usually it’s best
to not even mention the word.

"Myself and almost every anarchist I’ve ever met believes that
we’re not trying to lead a movement or take over anyone’s
cause," John says. "The classic anarchist catchphrase is, 'The
revolution will be won by the workers themselves.' What we’re
doing is helping people organize and stand up for themselves.
We’re not looking to create another political party."

John, who discovered anarchism at age 17 after reading a book by
Noam Chomsky, has organized and participated in a number of
protests in Philadelphia and Richmond, Virginia, ranging from
living-wage campaigns to anti-war demonstrations. He admits to a
certain level of militancy, though he’s never been a member of
the Black Bloc — those militant youths often seen at large
demonstrations who dress all in black and conceal their identities,
both as a symbol of solidarity and to protect themselves from
police surveillance and criminal prosecution for acts of civil
disobedience.

Militancy is a complex issue, John says. Its appropriateness varies
depending upon the nature of the protest and the cause for which
he’s fighting. In a living-wage campaign, being militant to the
point of causing property damage makes no sense, he says. But
when confronting racist groups, he asserts that violence can be an
effective tactic.

"Fascists attract young, alienated, mainly white, working-class
youths to their ranks by presenting a symbol of strength. And
these kids who are scared or have their backs up against the wall
say, 'Hey, there’s a crew for me,'" John explains. "So beating
the crap out of them, quite frankly, makes a lot of sense because
the converts on the fringe will be pushed away."

But John is quick to caution that being militant doesn’t
necessarily mean resorting to violence. "It’s not just about
throwing bricks. It’s militant to get a bunch of people who are
scared of their boss to confront their boss and say, 'Hey, I
don’t like what you’re doing.'" he says. "It’s about
empowering people so they can stand up and refuse what’s
going on at work, or with the cops, or in their community."

One morning at Burlington’s Radio Bean coffeehouse, Lady
and I share a table with some high school students from Bristol
who are in town on a field trip. As we discuss the current political
climate in the United States, her references to "comrades," the
"bourgeoisie" and "class warfare" sound quaintly anachronistic.
But the more she talks about the fascist tendencies she sees in
the Bush administration — media censorship, stringent
socioeconomic controls, political opposition crushed by acts of
terror and police repression — the more timely her words
become. And even before our interview is over, a teenager with a
shaved head and spiked dog collar sitting next to us asks meekly,
"How can I learn more about anarchism?"

Still, given the historical baggage and negative stereotypes
associated with the word anarchist, one can only wonder why Lady
or anyone else still identifies themselves as one. In 2002, for
example, an independent film shot in Texas called The Anarchist
Cookbook portrayed anarchists as a bunch of thugs, sexual
deviants, drug pushers and Animal House-like misfits. But Lady
just rolls her eyes and laughs it off. "I could live the rest of my life
and never say I’m an anarchist again because I’m doing
things to help people," she says. "It’s a movement that
continues to grow and make concrete gains. It’s here for the
long-run."

As if on cue, the young man’s teacher comes over, offers Lady
his card and asks if she would be willing to come into his
classroom and discuss her ideas. Lady may be right. The word
anarchism may be dead, but the idea lives on.

BY KEN PICARD


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