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(en) US, The Agitator Index - Anti-Authoritarian Organizing By Paul Glavin

Date Wed, 17 Aug 2005 12:36:51 +0300


“Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” - Gary Webb
The ascendance and near-complete dominance of the US Empire
propels globalization, the process we are now experiencing in which
Capital expands and consolidates its rule. The US is the world’s
sole Superpower, demonstrating its ability to wreak destruction, and
reorder societies, as in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Much of the world opposes US rule but, as of yet, is powerless to
stop it. The expansion and consolidation of Capital on the other
hand, is facilitated and organized by capitalists around the globe.

Many anti-authoritarians today are involved in various anti-war and
anti-capitalist globalization activities. This, along with anti-racist
organizing, is a good place to put one’s energy. The saying, Our
Resistance is as Global as their Capital, is true. The question for us
is, How can we turn our resistance into the revolutionary reordering
of global society? What are the primary methods and organizing
models that should concern today’s anarchists and other
anti-authoritarians? What should be our means for creating a free
society? The following is a primer for anti-authoritarian organizing,
going over the basics to lay the groundwork for fundamental social
change.
Affinity Groups

A good place to start is by forming an affinity group. Being in an
affinity group, you can act together at demonstrations, or do your
own direct actions. You can write political leaflets and send delegates
to planning meetings for political actions, or to speak at public
forums. Affinity groups can also do ‘night actions,’ like
billboard alterations, or surprise civil disobedience actions, like
blocking the entrance to a Federal Building after the US bombs or
invades yet another country. Affinity groups have an instrumental
value, but are also places where social bonding, and emotional and
intellectual support, can take place. Generally, they function around
action.

Affinity groups first emerged in Spain, with the FAI, or Iberian
Anarchist Federation, during the Spanish Revolution. Translated
from the Spanish grupo de afinidad, the affinity group is a small
group of friends who come together to act politically.

In forming an affinity group, you should chose people you have
known for several years and trust. They should be people that you
have some fundamental political agreement with. With the passage
of the PATRIOT Act, which allows a greater amount of government
surveillance and infiltration of political groups, it is very important to
know the people you include in your affinity group well.

Having an affinity group is important for demonstrations. During the
planning of a demonstration, your affinity group can chose a
delegate to represent your groups’ views about the character,
politics and plans of an action. After discussing these things in the
group, the delegate is mandated to bring these views into the larger
discussion, sometimes called a ‘spokes-council,’ a delegate
body made up of people from many affinity groups. This model
allows the largest participation, with the most input. With the rise of
the Anti-Capitalist Globalization Movement, the spokes-council has
become the dominant form for directly democratic decision-making
leading up to demonstrations.

At a demonstration, being part of an affinity group offers you a
certain amount of safety. While you look out for your friends, you
also have several people looking out for you. This makes it harder for
the police to grab people, and if they try, they go up against several
people, all protecting each other, rather then just grabbing an
individual. At a protest against the first Gulf War in 1991, a Black
Bloc of 300 was organized by the Love and Rage Revolutionary
Anarchist Federation. During the march the Bloc ‘broke
away,’ smashing bank windows and spray-painting anarchist
symbols on the World Bank building in downtown, Washington,
DC. At one point, police attacked an affinity group, involved in
extra-legal action. The police grabbed one activist, but she was with
others in an affinity group, who grabbed her back –
‘unarresting’ her - and returned to the safety of the Bloc.
Not one anarchist was arrested that day.
Political Collectives


A political collective is similar in many ways to an affinity group, but
it exists beyond the confines of demonstrations and direct actions.
While an affinity group does not require a high degree of political
agreement – it is more a group of good friends – in a political
collective you come together around common politics. Friendships
may develop, but are not entirely necessary. Affinity groups can
evolve into political collectives, and political collectives can form
affinity groups.

A political collective is generally a longer-term commitment than an
affinity group. In some cases, affinity groups form for a specific
action, then dissolve. Political collectives are together more for the
long haul.

In the early 1990s I was in a political collective in Minneapolis called
AWOL. We met every week for three years. We formed
‘working groups’ to write flyers for events, organize
activities, or research issues. We also initiated study groups.

At our weekly meetings we would discuss politics, update each other
on upcoming events, plan activities, share our individual work, and
just check in about our lives. This was one of the most rewarding
political experiences of my life.

We had a high level of common politics. Most of us went to college
together, and had done politics together for years. We were all part of
continental organizations, such as the Youth Greens and the Love
and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation. The Youth Greens
were a continental ecological anarchist organization, which existed
for three years in the early 1990s. They had local chapters around the
country, engaging in local struggles, putting on public forums,
producing educational literature, and organizing demonstrations. In
1990, the group turned out 2,000 people for an Earth Day protest at
Wall Street to draw connections between capitalism and ecological
destruction. That action featured a Black Bloc of 50, who built
barricades on Broadway in the early morning light.

Being a political collective allowed AWOL to have a certain amount
of influence within the radical left and progressive scene in the Twin
Cities. After we formed, the local Communists initiated a study
group on anarchism to learn how to deal with the “intellectual
anarchists.”

We both participated in planned coalition actions, and initiated our
own actions. We sent speakers to local political forums and
organized workshops for conferences. We also organized
conferences, both for the continental organization we were part of,
the Youth Greens, and a regional network called MEAN, the
Midwest Ecological Anarchist Network.

For political actions, we would usually write a leaflet to hand out, so
much so that one of the many meanings of our collectives’
acronym was Anarchists With Oblong Leaflets (another was
Anarchists WithOut Lawyers).

The process of writing a flyer, in which a couple of people would get
together to work on it, was very good for democratizing theory in the
group. The members developing our public politics would change
from leaflet to leaflet, allowing everyone a chance to develop political
ideas and learn how to express them to the public. This helped
prevent the emergence of intellectual hierarchies in the collective,
and gave everyone involved a chance to develop our public politics. It
also gave us an avenue to express our views and get out our political
perspective.

Meeting weekly over the years, talking politics, participating in
political actions and then discussing them, allowed a great deal of
reflection. Through the years our group’s politics developed. For
instance, we started when radical ecology was an emerging
movement. The Greens still considered themselves primarily a
movement, with an emphasis on direct action, not a national
political party. Earth First! was big, and Judi Bari was making
headway connecting class issues to ecology in the Pacific Northwest.
All this inspired us.

We qualified our anarchism as ecological, but after some time began
to question this. Why emphasis ecology?, we asked, why not class,
or gender, or race as other anarchists did? Eventually we moved
away from a preoccupation with ecology, but the significant thing is
that the ecological anarchist perspective brought us to anarchism.
And anarchism is about opposition to all forms of hierarchy and
domination. Eventually you realize that being an anarchist means
being concerned with not just what brought you here - gender
perhaps - but being involved in efforts against all forms of oppression
and domination.

Study Groups
Study groups are a great way to increase our understanding of the
world. They also help democratize theory within a group, by sharing
knowledge. One thing to consider in organizing a study group is that
everyone’s’ learning experience is different, and is
influenced by their class, gender and ethnicity. People from working
class and poor backgrounds have a different learning style than those
from middle or upper class backgrounds. The same goes for Blacks
and whites, and men and women. If your study group is
heterogeneous, and hopefully it will be, everyone should bare these
differences in mind.

Your study group can choose a book or article to read, a subject to
study, or can plan out a whole syllabus covering a series of related
subjects. For instance, a study group in Portland recently formed
around reading W.E.B. DuBois’ Black Reconstruction. The
group spent a whole summer reading and discussing this critical
work. An earlier study group formed to study fascism, with a whole
list of articles and excerpts of books on the subject.

Study Groups can be formed within political collectives, or initiated
by political collectives but open to others. The latter is a good way to
infuse some new perspectives into your collective, and to share your
groups’ knowledge with others. Even if you are not in a political
collective, you can get some friends together, or people who work
together politically, to form a study group. Study groups are a good
activity for affinity groups as well, especially during political
downtimes, when there is not as much political activity going on.
This allows your group to develop ideas, and may lead to further
action. It can also provide insights and understandings about
previous actions; why something was so effective, or why another
action fell flat. Study groups aid not only our understanding of the
world, but also help develop strategies to change the world.
Working In Coalition


Affinity groups and political collectives can participate in political
coalitions for organizing demonstrations, public forums and
conferences. This is a good way to exert influence over the local
political scene, and learn from more experienced activists about how
to organize. It can also magnify your group’s influence on your
community, by coming together with like-minded groups to change
a policy or work on a particular issue.

Often one of the first subjects to come up at coalition meetings, is
the method of decision-making. Anarchists and anti-authoritarians
generally advocate direct-democracy. While a consensus-seeking
decision-making model is ideal in small groups with a high degree of
political agreement, in larger heterogeneous groups it is neither
possible, nor desirable, to reach 100% consensus.

While it is possible to strive for consensus, a vote model should be
employed to make decisions. In my experience, a 75% majority is
good for policy issues, such as the common politics in opposition to
a global trade summit, whereas more procedural issues can be
decided using a simple-majority threshold of 50%. Built into the
adopted decision-making process should be guarantees of the
minority to descent, to caucus around their views, and to try to
convince the majority of their position.

Another helpful model is caucuses. In larger coalitions women,
gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered, Blacks, Hispanics, etc,
have a right to caucus. This is helpful in allowing those from similar
communities to come together, share their experiences, and assert
their views to the larger body. Those from more privileged groups,
white men for instance, should come together and talk about race
and gender dynamics and how they are playing out in the larger
meetings while others are caucusing. Ideally, this will allow for
insights into how their behavior perpetuates domination, or
facilitates the empowerment of disadvantaged groups. Having white
men caucus at the same time also helps to prevent informal
discussion and decision-making to continue while other less
advantaged folks are meeting.
Anti-Racism


Since the 1980s race has entered into anarchist discourse in a new
and invigorating fashion. This has largely been due, initially, to the
work of people like Lorenzo Komoa Ervin, Noel Ignatiav, Kawasi
Balagoon, and to groups like the Love and Rage Revolutionary
Anarchist Federation, among others.

Race is an issue that makes many white anarchists uncomfortable.
Frankly, many of them seem to be living in the 1950s, a time when
whites did not acknowledge race, and when the early Civil Rights
advocates were seen as ‘trouble makers’ and
‘dividers.’ Race does divide us, but to overcome this
division, to achieve a society in which one race does not dominate
another, we first have to admit that it defines much of who we are,
and how society is organized.

Let me make an analogy to help explain this position. Substitute
class for race. For its entire history, anarchism has taken up class as
a defining issue. Now I am sure many liberals told anarchists over
the years not to make so much of class, because doing so is
'divisive.' Why further separate people? Well the reality is we live in
a class-based society, and to achieve a class-less society, we first
have to acknowledge class exists, and defines us. There are at least
two classes, and one, the ruling class, has to be abolished, in order
to rid us of this social division.

The same holds for race. We have to acknowledge that race exists,
and defines us. The White Race has to be abolished in order to
achieve a society in which race does not play a factor in perpetuating
domination.

Whiteness is a social construction, meant to get a segment of the
population to identify with ruling class interests, rather than the
interests of humanity. One can see how this plays out historically in
how the Irish became ‘White.’ As a category of domination,
“whiteness’ must be abolished, but this will not happen
through wishing it so, good intentions, or individualistic actions. It
will only be abolished through social and political struggle, in part by
incorporating anti-racism into the top of today's anarchist agenda
and by supporting people of color in their organizing against racism.

This is precisely what Love and Rage attempted, and what groups
like Anarchist People of Color, and the Bring the Ruckus folks are
doing today. To accuse those of us championing race as a central
issue for today's anarchists to tackle as being 'dividers,' smacks of
unexamined racism.

Ruling Class people say when issues of class are brought up those
doing so are engaging in 'class warfare' and are dividing people.
When women say sexism exists they are called hysterical and
diverting attention from 'more important' things. When gays and
lesbians talk about heterosexism, they are accused of being
confrontational and disruptive. And when people of color and
anarchists talk about race, and its centrality to our movement for
freedom, we are called dividers.

The initiation of this discussion makes many white anarchists
uncomfortable. That is because an anarchist anti-racist agenda
challenges white comfort and privilege. We cannot be serious about
establishing a free society unless we are willing to feel
uncomfortable, and to look at how we, perhaps unknowingly,
perpetuate hierarchy and domination in our unexamined beliefs.
This goes especially for those who are white, male, and well off
financially.

I am in no way advocating a politics of guilt here, or suggesting
previously dominant voices should shut up. However, those who say
that bringing up race is unnecessary should look at your comfortable
selves telling others seeking their freedom, not to be so
“divisive.” People of color will lead the struggle against
racism, but whites need to strive to be good allies.
Educational Work/Alternative Media


Admittedly, society today is a long way from our ideal visions. A big
part of our work is to convince people to reorganize things the way
we envision and to engage in discussions with people about their
ideals. This requires educational work and establishing democratic
forums to develop common visions.

We can engage in this work by putting on public forums, setting up
speakers, and hosting debates. We can advocate the establishment of
neighborhood assemblies to democratically debate what the local
community wants.

The experience of the Young Lords Party in New York is very
instructive. The Young Lords were idealistic young Puerto Rican
activists in the late 1960s. They started their work going to their
community and asking what they wanted. They were told, Clean
streets. Not exactly what they expected to hear, but they respected
their community’s opinion. So the Young Lords went down to
the local sanitation department, expropriated a bunch of brooms,
and started cleaning the streets. This lead to a huge movement
protesting the lack of city services in poor, working-class
communities in New York, and swelled the ranks of the Young
Lords Party.

Other educational work includes writing leaflets to be distributed at
demonstrations and public events; producing newspapers and
contributing to the existing large-scale indymedia internet network.
The main thing is to get the word out, and try to counter the
influence of the corporate media. We need to nurture a democratic
culture from below. Their work at the local level is a large part of the
reason the right-wing is so powerful today. Just going to the next
global trade protest is not going to really change things at a deep
level. That requires a life-time commitment to local work in
communities.
Counter-Institutions


Creating counter-institutions is essential. Counter-institutions create
an alternative to the existing market place, even as they exist within
it. Counter-institutions include, but are not limited to: info-shops;
food cooperatives; worker-collectives such as bike shops, cafes,
bookstores; etc. By creating counter-institutions we can bring the
type of social and economic organization we advocate for in the
future to the here-and-now.

Counter-institutions also allow us a place to practice directly
democratic, non-authoritarian social relations, prefiguring a free
society. They are an experimental arena in which we try to put our
ideals into practice. They represent to society the type of
social/economic organization we want, while allowing us to work out
the problems of such theoretical models.
Continental Organization


At some point in the future it will be necessary to form continental
organizations. Continental organizations are important in
coordinating action and keeping people around a large geographic
area aware of what is going on elsewhere. It also allows a large
number of people to develop ideas together and act in consort,
enabling a greater social impact.

In my experience with the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist
Federation, I think continental organization should be put off until
there is a great deal of activity on the local level and many local
collectives. Ideally people will confederate at the regional level first.
This is already happening with the development of the Northeast
Anarchist Communist Federation and the Northwest Anarchist
Federation. When there are a large number of local collectives and
regional federations, those groups can choose to confederate into a
continental organization.

Although Love and Rage had its share of problems, it did succeed in
bringing in hundreds of new people to the anarchist movement and it
represented anarchism to thousands more through its newspaper.
Through its existence, it created an anti-authoritarian pole within
the larger Left. It linked comrades in Canada, the US and Mexico. It
also influenced anarchist thinking on questions of race, gender,
queer politics, and the importance of theory and organization.
Black Bloc


Organizing Black Blocs for demonstrations is often a smart tactic. A
Black Bloc is a tactic, not an organization. It involves everyone in the
Bloc wearing black, masking up their faces, and usually having
goggles or gas masks available. Several people in the Bloc should be
trained as medics in the event the police get aggressive and people
get hurt.

There are many advantages to forming a Bloc. It is a fairly effective
way to avoid police surveillance. Often, the police will videotape
and/or photograph a demonstration to keep track of who is there and
what they are doing. Having everyone dressed the same, with their
faces covered, ruins this for the police. It also allows more latitude
for direct action in the streets. In the past, affinity groups have
broken away from the Bloc to spray-paint messages on walls or
corporate targets, break corporate or bank windows, or pull
dumpsters in the street to block police pursuit. The affinity group
then would blend back into the larger Bloc. If the police have seen
this extra-legal activity, they could not inform other officers of the
identity of who did it because everyone looks the same.

Marching in a Black Bloc also sends a powerful message about the
presence and organization of anarchists/anti-authoritarians. It is
usually clear from our banners and black flags who we are; this lets
the rest of the movement, the press, and the establishment know we
are in the streets. At the 1999 WTO Meeting in Seattle, the Black
Bloc responded to the first police attack on non-violent
demonstrators by breaking corporate windows and spray-painting
messages. This action caught the eye of the world and afterwards
references to anarchists were everywhere in the media.
Insurrection and Direct Democracy


If we are serious about creating a free society, we have to be serious
about revolution. Revolution is a process, not a singular event.
Educational work at this stage, along with self-organization, is
essential. Obviously many minds have to be changed in this world.
We also need to come together as revolutionaries, to work towards
the type of society we want. We can do this by forming affinity
groups, political collectives, local and regional confederations and
eventually, continental organizations. By being organized, we can
better influence the course of social and political events, playing a
more effective role in historical unfolding.

We need a wide diversity of people to come together in opposition to
the minority currently running the show: the capitalist bosses, the
corporations and their press. We need to find common ground
between people from differing ethnicities, genders, and sexual
orientations. People need to turn out in the streets, take over their
workplaces and communities. One of our central demands should be
that the people who decisions effect should be the ones making
those decisions. We can learn a great deal from the people of
Argentina who, following an economic crisis in 2002, took over the
factories they worked in, and began running them themselves,
without bosses.

The ruling class historically, and no doubt in the future, will use
everything to stop the loss of its power. This includes use of the
military against its own people. One of our objectives should be to
win over large sections of the military so that they will at least not
fire on the people, and ideally will join the democratic revolution.

During the Vietnam War the anti-war movement set up coffee shops
near military bases as a way to reach GIs. ‘Fragging,’ or the
shooting of officers by enlisted men, was very high. Morale and
anti-war sentiment was of grave concern to top military
commanders. While the resistance of the people of Vietnam defeated
the US, the breakdown of morale and discipline also contributed to
the eventual US withdrawal from Vietnam.

Today there are organizations of families, and veterans of the war in
Iraq, that are playing an important role in opposition to the continued
US presence there. While no group with as much visibility as
Vietnam Veterans Against the War has yet emerged, we should
support what does exist.
Conclusion


In this increasingly globalized world our movement must be
internationalist. We need to look beyond our own borders, and look
at our relations with other countries. Solidarity with the people of the
world, who are struggling against the US Empire and the vicissitudes
of global capital, need our support. We should seek to build links to
movements for social justice in other countries. A big part of this is
developing a critical anti-imperialist politics. Not an anti-imperialism
that says My Enemies’ Enemy is My Friend. But instead one
that looks to identify the libertarian elements in opposition to US
Imperialism and extends support to those elements. One that also,
no matter the nature of the opposition, opposes the US’
unilateral use of military force to subjugate other peoples in the
name of “freedom.”

Our movement must be feminist, recognizing the continuation of
sexism and (hetero)patriarchy. A large concern will likely become
women’s right to reproductive freedom, as Bush stacks the
Supreme Court with Conservative, anti-choice judges, and the Roe
vs. Wade decision becomes in jeopardy.

We must oppose sexism not only in the larger society, but in our
own organizations and movements as well. Women should be
empowered to speak and take leadership roles within our
organizations.

Our movement should concern itself with theory, with
understanding society today and how, historically, it came to be this
way. We should seek to avoid a theory divorced from reality
however, seeking a praxis, a theory informed by practical reality, in
which there is a ‘give-and-take,’ a dialectical relation
between our ideas and reality. We should also strive to democratize
theory, to help develop everyone’s ability to think theoretically
and speak and write about his or her observations and thoughts.

We need to do the hard work of community organizing, working
with everyday people to bring changes to their local communities.
This is hard work, certainly more challenging than going off to the
next global trade summit protest. It requires long-term commitment,
the kind necessary to bring about the type of society we want to live
in. These are good places to begin, and this is just the beginning.
Paul Glavin has been active in social and political movements for
over two decades. He is a former member of the Love and Rage
Revolutionary Anarchist Federation and the Free Society Journal
Collective. He currently works with the Institute for Anarchist
Studies and practices acupuncture in the Pacific Northwest. He can
be reached at Diggers16@Hotmail.com.
--------------
Further Reading:

Liberation, Imagination, and The Black Panther Party: A New Look
at the Panthers and their Legacy, Kathleen Cleaver and George
Katsiaficas, Eds. Routledge, New York, 2001

Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black
Panther Party and the American Indian Movement, Ward Churchill
and Jim Vander Wall, South End Press, Boston, 1990

On Fire: The Battle of Genoa and the Anti-Capitalist Movement,
One Off Press, London, 2001

A New World in Our Hearts: Eight Years of Writings from the Love
and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation, Roy San Filippo, Ed.,
AK Press, Oakland, 2003

The Black Bloc Papers, David and X of the Green Mountain
Anarchist Collective, Eds., Black Clover Press, Baltimore, 2002

Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action
in the 1970s and 1980s, Barbara Epstein, University of California
Press, Berkeley, 1991

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical
Democratic Vision, Barbara Ransby, The University of North
Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2003

The Battle of Seattle: The New Challenge to Capitalist Globalization,
Eddie Yuen, George Katsiaficas, and Daniel Burton Rose, Ed., Soft
Skull Press, New York 2002.

The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Michel Foucault, Vintage
Books, New York, 1990

We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, Mumia
Abu-Jamal, South End Press, Cambridge, 2004

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