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(en) Praxis #2 - Spineless Fucking Liberals: A Case Study By Beck, Kazm Collective (RAAN Rockville - MD)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 14 Feb 2004 08:28:23 +0100 (CET)


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I became involved in activism at the beginning of this year in the
mainstream anti-war movement with a coalition of high school
activists in the "peace and justice" tradition. The group I had joined
was drawn together for the purpose of organizing walkouts, permitted
rallies in the Washington DC area, and marching together in the large
demonstrations occurring almost weekly in the city. Unfamiliar with
activism and organizing, but already radical in my ideology, I quickly
became frustrated with the pervasive "no protest without permit"
attitude of the group and after just a month I transferred my energy to
another, Students for Peace and Justice (SPJ). It seemed less
stereotypically liberal in activity and membership, but despite the
purportedly anti-authoritarian ideals of some its participants and the
occasional unpermitted demonstration, the same reformist tendencies
thrived in this group and extinguished any radical effort from within, as
I discovered was the case with the liberal protest movement in
general.

For the purposes of this essay, I'm only going to spend time recounting
the problems in the organization that I believe to be mostly a result of
its liberal and "inclusive" nature. For the sake of space, I will not be
addressing some other important issues, such as the tendency of adult
activists (especially those campaigning for statist "youth rights") to
develop extremely predatory relationships with self-run student
groups, particularly whenever the latter manages to raise any kind of
money.

THE LIBERAL DISEASE

Any group that forms in reaction to a war needs to connect that cause
and accompanying fervor of immediate opposition to some type of
permanent endeavor. Otherwise, the movement will die out as we
have seen: at the whim of the corporate media's attention span and the
state's tolerance. In SPJ, every time one of the few anti-capitalists in
the group made literature about or organized demonstrations to
illustrate the obvious connections between the war machine and the
class system, we were sure to hear "Don't alienate the moderates!"
from those who would rather complain and debate instead of simply
making their own literature or just get more involved in the organizing.
Exacerbating the reactive quality of anti-war organizing was the
"movement's" insistence on limiting our protests to only those
avenues allowed by the state. Liberals wade through permit
paperwork, ignoring the absurdity of having to ask permission from the
entity against which they protest (but do liberals really ever know
what they're protesting?).

Liberals are fixated on popular causes-they make no effort to
transform their immediate surroundings and their own communities,
where they could more easily make a noticeable difference. In the
throes of anti-war organizing, the radical elements of SPJ attempted to
steer the larger group towards regular food distribution in the "feed the
streets" tradition. Such actions would have made the organization and
activism in general more relevant to the participants' lives, not to
mention it would have been more rewarding and effective in an
immediate sense. Even so, SPJ was only able to put together one or
two servings before a lack of participation forced us to abandon the
idea. Such failures demonstrate the essentially tourist nature of the
anti-war movement, which drew in thousands of people who were
happy to chant their approved slogans and wave some peace flags, but
had no more time to donate when it came to building actual cultures of
resistance.

FAILURE TO CONFRONT PATRIARCHY

As often happens in any group, sexually dictated roles surfaced, and
in SPJ they began to dominate. One male participant became the
informal leader of our purportedly "leaderless" group; meetings would
be re-scheduled if he could not attend, decisions wouldn't be
considered final without his input, and his frequent and blatant sexist
remarks were ignored, tolerated, or encouraged with laughter and
passivity. This kind of dynamic can emerge in any group whether
liberal or radical, the difference being that many radical groups have
strived to develop mechanisms and processes to address and combat
such problems, whereas liberal groups will for the most part
contentedly deny the existence of oppressive relationships within
their ranks (could this be because such relationships do not
fundamentally contradict with their agenda?). After months of dealing
with his condescending and sexist attitude, I conferred on the issue
with some of the more outspoken females of SPJ, along with a few
males who I had assumed would be sympathetic. Though not everyone
would acknowledge the existence of the problem, everyone I spoke to
was in agreement that we should establish a process for dealing with
sexism “in the event that it should occur." A tentative meeting to
work on such a process was scheduled, but it never happened
because the only people radical enough to recognize the problem and
want to take action against it were too busy doing all of the work in
organizing for SPJ's events (which of course doesn't mean that those
events weren't still subject to the same censorship as our attempt to
distribute anti-capitalist literature).

REFUSAL TO BUILD ALTERNATIVES

Around the same time, there was a discussion in the group regarding
how we should spend a relatively large sum of money that had been
raised at a benefit concert. By then it was already the end of April,
and the past anti-war fervor had died down. Despite having loosely
united students from several local high schools, SPJ had neglected to
make any sort of plan for a long-term existence, and the group did not
have any mission statement beyond an affinity for the vague and
subjective ends of "peace and justice" (this is representative of the
tendency in most liberal organizations to focus on poorly-defined ends
without paying enough attention to the means). Almost everyone in
the group thought that it would be a good idea to give the money to an
organization that was doing humanitarian aid work in Iraq. I suggested
that we donate some portion of our funds to a local activist space and
community living room that had been struggling to re-open due to the
indifference and inaction of the decidedly liberal suburb in which it
was located. The idea of supporting this project - or any local project -
was widely rejected in favor of giving the money to a well-funded
mainstream organization such as Doctors Without Borders. Lost on
the membership of SPJ was the fact that donations under $1000 rarely
have the kind of "make or break" effect on international aid groups
that they can when directed at struggling grassroots projects.

“ACTIVISM” AS A “HOBBY”

Just as liberal activists refuse to act in their own communities, they
also fail to make their struggle relevant to their own lives. As youth,
we are subject to coercive relationships in school and we are the
constant victims of ageism in society. Had SPJ chosen to explore
these problems and their connections to an overall authoritarian
structure, it could have become an instrument of youth liberation - or
at least a prominent forum for such an under-appreciated cause. Near
the end of my time with the organization, after much of the
membership's participation in the group had dissipated along with the
anti-war fad, some of the other anti-authoritarians and I attempted to
organize such an instrument in the form of a radical wing within SPJ.
We had shared frustration at the anti-war movement's failures, and
even agreed to a large extent on the cause of those failures. I outlined
some unifying principles for a youth liberation group, and planned to
begin focusing my attention on that project. But when it came time to
make something happen, even those who I had thought to be more
radical, those who had shared my enthusiasm for personal and youth
liberation, proved to be reluctant to abandon the directionless,
meaningless, and vague banner of Students for Peace and Justice. Or
worse, they refused to recognize high school as an oppressive, ageist,
and authoritarian institution, and could not commit to something that
was interested in true social change. The group planned to meet once,
never did, and just like our supposed forum on sexism, the project died
before it could even take shape.

The last event I organized with SPJ was its most radical: an
unpermitted street party as a counter-celebration to the 4th of July.
Dubbed "The [No Government Can Give You Your] Independence
Day Street Party", members of the group who had not attended the
planning meetings or contributed in any way to the organization of the
event began to complain about the name and radical nature of the
party. I helped author a call for a radical bloc at the action with the
Red & Anarchist Action Network, and we signed it "Disgruntled SPJ
anti-authoritarians." When I told a few people that I was planning on
disassociating myself from the organization after the event, I was
called "selfish" and "irrational." Despite such convincing arguments, I
have not involved myself with the group again since that day. As for
the rest of Students for Peace & Justice, they have not had an action
or meeting since that July 4th street party.

NO COMPROMISE

Infuriated by the glaring failures of SPJ and "mass" organizations like
it, and hoping to find a way to connect the divide between activism
and our immediate surroundings and lives, two friends and I have
recently started a collective affiliated with RAAN. The Kazm
Collective, which at this writing has met just three times, has already
given birth to a Food Not Bombs and a bike collective which will soon
host our town’s first Critical Mass/Critical Thrash. Participants
have been introduced to radical culture via group dumpster diving and
wheatpaste campaigns, and we’ve already established ourselves
as a very effective group in the area. In fact, so far the only meeting
that hasn't been totally productive was one in which a Leninist
showed up (mind you, he was already familiar with the network’s
anti-Leninist Principles & Direction) and derailed a good chunk of the
meeting by insisting that we talk about "politics."

Liberals are not our allies – they will thwart any radical action at
every turn. "Uniting" with them means the inevitable dilution of our
ideals. It is exhausting for the individual and totally useless to the
movement. Uncompromising revolutionaries united can achieve
successful actions and build community, while a few lone radicals in a
reformist organization will accomplish nothing. Their actions will be
infiltrated and their energy will be wasted.


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