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(en) US, LA, On SCAF-LA Disbanding - J.C and J. R.

Date Sat, 10 Jun 2006 12:11:23 +0300

J.C. -- I want to continue the discussion on the disbanding of
the Los Angeles Chapter of the Southern California Anarchist
Federation. I agree with a lot of what J. has to say, so I’ll try not
to repeat the same points. Overall SCAF was a great idea, and I’m still
dedicated to building a revolutionary movement regionally, in our
communities and internationally. I think there were some problems that
existed in the organization in SCAF, and also have some self-criticism.
I think when we set out to start this organization; it
was JUST open to anybody who called himself or herself an anarchist to
join. One thing we did do though, is have an organization that was
diverse, and made up of oppressed people (in the majority). We did
however have some early squabbles. It was difficult for the people who
made this organization up to find political unity and a praxis to
organize from. We had some basic agreements which included: long term
organizing, building dual power institutions, helping in the process of
community, worker, and student self-organization.

The organization was also politically diverse; there
were people that came from different experiences in organizing, from
socialists, to green anarchists, Trotskyites, Maoists, individualists,
and people who were new to politics altogether. We all wanted to be
part of something different, that we weren’t being offered by liberals,
reformists, and top-down organizations.

SCAF-LA for the most part, gave us experience in
organizing ourselves, and for a lot of people helped figure out what
they wanted to do politically (and what are some mistakes and victories
we can learn from). None of us were burn out by this organization (at
least the core members weren’t).

Personally I think that I still want to build a
federation, that has more clear politics and isn’t obscure North
American Anarchist politics. I want to organize with people who I DO
see eye to eye with and share common experience. I want to be part of a
revolutionary organization. In SCAF-LA I think there was a divide
politically and practically between the people who wanted to be part of
a revolutionary organization and the people who wanted to be part of
another anarchist network. So there was a feeling of a constant tug of
war, of the organization in different directions (and I think I felt
into that as well). At one point I wanted to leave before, because I
did not want to waste my time being part of another activist group – who
only focused on actions with no clear strategy on fighting for
liberation, just jumping on whatever issue was hot at the moment, and no
clear connection to people’s everyday lives.

I think in a revolutionary organization you have to have
discipline and dedication from the membership, you have to be open to be
challenged and challenge yourself in the process of changing the world.
There has to be a way to integrate new members more efficiently into the
organization and to the community – without just throwing them into a
collective that has no real strategic aims for the long term. SCAF-LA
didn’t have any of these things, and in fact I think people struggled
against it, so this is one of the reasons why it failed.

In any organization who takes it self seriously, or that
is serious about taking on the state and capitalism and all oppression,
you need a strategy and you need a praxis. The best way to do this is
collectively with the membership, so that the organization can be owned
collectively. Some members just argued for disconnected individual
actions without any coordination, which defeats the purpose of having a
federation. There was no foundation being built besides the rhetoric of
some of the members (myself included in that).
There was no discipline around studying -- and discussion, to actually
formulate some analysis and political unity through. Studying was
included in the structure of SCAF-LA, yet we only had 2 study groups in
the year that we existed.

A revolutionary organization needs to have clear
political positions, even though this might sound rigid, this a
necessary way to outreach to people and let them know what we’re about
--- rather than just saying I’m an anarchist – and every person gives a
different definition for the organization.

There were a lot of liberal positions taken by members
regarding things like criticism. We would not call out members who
would take up responsibilities and not follow through. We would even
continue those people to take on more responsibilities and let us down
again and again. Other liberal positions included things around race,
gender, class, and sexuality – in fact we never even discussed these
things in how they relate to us. We only talked about these things in
theory. One instance we argued with one of the white members who was
talking about reverse racism and how it was real. Oppressed people were
not taking up leadership, within the organization you had white middle
class males attempting to or blatantly positioning themselves in the

I want to continue to grow and develop collectively with
people who I trust and have ideas and experiences in common with. I
think that everybody that came out of SCAF-LA will continue to support
each other informally; there are some folks who will continue to
organize and fight for our freedom. This is all want and nothing less.

I don’t want to be in an organization that connects me
to other anarchists, I want one that is building, and reflecting,
learning, making mistakes, building collectivity and autonomy and
destroying the system that is killing us while building the world we
dream of. I want to be part of an organization that is integrated and
comes from oppressed communities, is made up of the oppressed
specifically as in people of color, working class people, women, queer
and trans folks (and has support and allies from privileged communities
and people) – because the politics will be real and more genuine. I
want to be part of a federation of revolutionary community councils,
where we don’t have illusions about the police or the state. Where we
prepare and learn from each other, and train ourselves, and give
ourselves practice in organizing ourselves. Where we fight to retake
our communities, and overthrow imperialism and the neo-colonialism in
our communities. Some of us are already not just talking about that,
but looking to actually organize to make this a reality.

I’m fighting for my liberation and looking for comrades and allies who
want to do the same.

Always in struggle until humanity is free,

J. C.


Learning from our experiences: Reflections on the rise and fall of SCAF-LA

J. R.

I wanted to reflect on the achievements and failures of the Southern
California Anarchist Federation and hopefully start a dialogue so that
we can reflect as a group and learn from our mistakes. First of all, I
want to say that any criticism that I make of SCAF is a self criticism.
I think its silly to critique an organization that I was very involved
in as if I was had nothing to do with its short-comings. If things
didn’t work out, it was because we messed up, so I want to take
responsibility for my actions. Second, I want to acknowledge that what
we tried to do and what we are continuing to try and do is extremely
difficult. Taking on Capitalism, Patriarchy, White Supremacy,
Heterosexism, and the State is not an easy task and there are tons of
forces working against us; the police, our bosses, the media, and most
importantly the internalized messages that we hold within ourselves.
With that said I think that it is important that we move forward as
individuals and as collectives to try again (not necessarily to reform
SCAF, but to continue in struggle). Realistically, we probably wont get
it right the next time around either, but I don’t think there is a magic
way to organize that will bring on the revolution, it is through this
process of organization and reflection that we move towards the world we
want to create. Like we said in our mission statement, we make the road
by walking.

SCAF, at least in the LA chapter, was different from most Anarchist
groups in the United States, because of who made up the organization.
Unlike most Anarchist groups in the US, SCAF LA was composed primarily
of people of color and working class folks. This is not to say that we
were naturally free of racism or classism because of this (this was
hardly the case) but I do think this fact influenced our group greatly
and added a realness to our actions. People were not merely theorizing
about the working class, but bringing their own experiences growing up
in the hoods of LA, with mothers who were housekeepers, working shitting
jobs, going to shitty schools, and struggling to get by. Because of this
I don’t feel like we fell into many of the pitfall North American
anarchist fall into, namely symbolic activism that is totally
disconnected from the community.

I also think that we tried to come together with a common vision
(however broad) and grew together doing so. While our mission statement
was not a blue print for revolution, and was not all-encompassing (nor
do I think it should have been), I do think that creating it
collectively was an experience which helped us grow. Similarly, the
retreat in Big Bear also helped us form theory together and learn from
each other.
I also think we were able to challenge some of the activism in LA. For
example, the discussion groups after the Answer march, gave people there
an experience in popular assemblies. The propaganda workshop and the
“When Anarchists Organize” also challenged many people’s vision of
anarchism as chaos.

Mostly I think SCAF LA helped plant a lot of seeds. Out of SCAF, a lot
of projects and collectives have started, not all of them are
continuing, but many of them are. Similarly, many people who were not
yet active, or who were not at the time active before the formation of
SCAF became active and learned a great deal. Mujeres Libres, Cop Watch,
the youth Collective, Si se Puede, the CIPO tour, the newly formed study
group, the after school program, all sprung up from SCAF. And while it
is not clear where all of these projects will go, the fact that an
organization was able to be the spring board for all of these is pretty
amazing. As far a personal development, I can at least speak for myself
and say that I learned a lot. Before SCAF formed I was not doing much
except for labor organizing, since working with SCAF I have begun
working with many more people, working in the community, and really
challenging my own shit more. I hope that others feel the same.

On the flip side I do think we have a lot to learn from our experiences.
Looking back (which is always easier than looking at the present) I
think never really gelled into a cohesive group. I guess what I mean by
that is that we never were able to come to agreement on exactly what we
were going to do, or fundamentally how we saw the world. As a result we
never really worked on anything as SCAF, and it ended up being more just
report backs. Which was fine, but I think realistically it was more of a
Coalition than a federation. For example we never could come to an
agreement on what SCAF should do as an org, the limited things we did
try were events and one time actions, not projects or long term
campaigns. We didn’t even work to really support the collectives work,
most of the time a collective put on an event, SCAF was MIA. As a result
SCAF often seemed disjointed or scattered, and I think because of that
as well, we became disjointed and scattered and many people ended up
flaking over and over again.

But why weren’t we able to ever form more political unity? I think there
are two basic reasons: First we came together from a very loose call of
“Anarchists”, which doesn’t really explain who we are as much as explain
who we aren’t. From the beginning, there was never a real level of
common political theory to start with. But I don’t think that all we
needed was to all have the right “line”. In fact I think that what was
necessary was for us to really work together to create our own theory
for liberation, not fit ourselves into a pre-existing formula for
revolution, even an anarchist one. But the only way to do that I think,
is through practice, not just theory.

One thing we could have done to help in our formation of theory and
action could have been to look at the problems that we see in our
communities, and try to do something about them (which I think we
tried). Then we could have gone out and talked with folks in our
communities and try to figure out what they saw as the most pressing
issues , and start from there. (something I don’t think we did very
much). From there, we could have come back and done a reality check on
our theory and practice. I think it was this element of going out and
talking to people in our communities, which we were really lacking. I
know that many of us did this regardless, but I think its different when
people do it consciously as a group and discuss it afterwards.

I also think we didn’t do a very good job of passing on knowledge and
skills between us. Many of us have been around organizing for a while
and have skills in facilitating meetings, organizing protests, reaching
out to other groups, writing speeches and papers, as well as political
theory. We were not very conscious about passing that information on, or
for that matter, validating the knowledge and skills that every member
of the group brought, whether that be knowledge of Marx or knowledge of
how they were being fucked over at work. As a result I think we missed a
lot of opportunities for growth, and we also kept power in the hands of
a few. I know that I ended up talking a lot in meetings, and a number of
us always dominated discussion and were the ones to bring ideas to the
group. One of the most important aspects of any organization should be
individual growth, and I think we failed in that.
Lastly I think we lacked a bit of Revolutionary Love. By revolutionary
love I mean solidarity, honesty, commitment, and respect. I mean a
commitment to each other to check in when someone doesn’t show up, or is
upset, a commitment to challenge each other on our own internalized
oppression (racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc), and a commitment to take
criticism and being checked and really think about it and make changes.
I Lack of revolutionary love led us to build more and more divisions
between ourselves, not talk to people when we have problems with them,
talk behind each others back, and not have each others back when they
were facing racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. In that I think we all
failed in our own way, at least I know I did.

So where do we go from here?
I’m not sure all of us are on the same track, in fact I’m sure we are
not, but I do think that any of us shouldn’t toss in the towel, we can’t
afford to. I do think this is a time for reflection so that we can
determine where each of us wants to work and then from there link up
with people with a similar vision. Then maybe as we form collectives and
we want to link them up we can re-form the federation. I also think now
is a time for us to create our own path and our own theory. I personally
am not really interested in the title Anarchist that much anymore, I
think it is much more useful if you have to really define what you
believe instead of putting yourself in a box. One thing that some of us
are doing is starting a study group to learn together and create our own
theory, and possibly form some kind of new organization once we have
more of a common understanding.

I hope that some of my thoughts are helpful to people and that they help
trigger discussion. Thanks to everyone who has been part of SCAF and I
hope to work with you all in the future.

In love and struggle,
J. R.

“My basic sense of it has always been to get people to understand that
in the long run they themselves are the only protection they have
against violence and injustice…. People have to be made to understand
that they cannot look for salvation anywhere but to themselves”
-Ella Baker
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