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(en) US, Modesto Anarcho, Jjournal - Against 'Anarcho-Charity': For actions of solidarity - not pity

Date Mon, 08 Jan 2007 13:38:54 +0200

This article appears in the upcoming issue of Modesto Anarcho, a journal published by anarchists in the Central Valley of California. Out in Jan. 2007! More info: www.geocities.com/anarcho209
> Recently, after the disbanding of D.A.A.A. Collective, many of us have been discussing, as have others around us, the poverty and reformism regarding the nature of such activities as Food Not Bombs, Really Free Markets, and other memes that basically amount to ?anarcho-charity"?. After the publishing of the last issue, perhaps the lengthiest reply that we received was from one person who wrote about how while the first issue claims itself to be ?revolutionary"?, ?militant"?, and ?against politics"? (or the mediation of the state), and against the left (the culture and process of mediation of struggle with power, and the recuperation of struggle and action against the forces of domination), we were in fact doing the exact opposite. The person stated that we were not in fact living up to our own (or perhaps the author?s), conceptions of our (anti) politics. Largely because a lot of our activity (or at least that presented via the first issue), revolved around things like Food Not Bombs.
[Up with Something, Down with Other Things!]

?Food Not Bombs"?, those three words will cause quite a reaction in any anarchist circle. Class struggle anarchists will label the activity as pointless and stupid, and would advise you to go off and ?organize a union??, or something. More insurrectionary anarchists would downplay the activity as pointless, because the action does not get to the heart of the issues that FNB is trying to address, or attempt to attack the problems it is addressing. ?Crimethinkers?, (generalization of course), would defend the activity to the end, claiming that it is anarchy in action, and a fine example of mutual aid working in a public environment, and is an open door to anarchist activism for many people.

In the end, perhaps all of these critiques and arguments are right, although perhaps some more than others. For those that would label Food Not Bombs a pointless activity because it does not speak towards a specific audience that is the most ?revolutionary??, then perhaps they need to give homelessness another look. First off, many people on the street actually are ?working poor??, and do hold down jobs (at least in our area). According to reports issued about the emergency shelter that operates in Modesto during the Winder, around half of those attending did have jobs. Class society creates homelessness. The reality of living pay check to pay check means that at any moment millions of people across the country can face being without shelter. The high cost of housing, low paying, (or lack of) jobs, high medical costs, etc. all relate to the threat of homelessness that class society puts upon us all. Many people out on the street are also in need of some sort of communal help, either with their mental or physical problems, which are often related to, or caused by alcohol and drugs. The point of bringing all of this up, is that fighting homelessness is part of the class struggle. But the question is, is this the best way to fight it?

How we fight it is exactly what more ?insurrectionary anarchists?, (this of course is a broad term) wish to address. Most would probably contend that Food Not Bombs is an ultimately pointless activity that really does nothing to actually combat the problems that it is trying to curtail, and thus is generally a waste of time for anarchists. I find that this critique holds a lot of water. If actions are the most important weapon of dialogue between the oppressed, and we are seeking to maximize self-organization, and self-emancipation of the exploited (ourselves included), via them/ourselves, then how are Food Not Bombs, and the rest of the ?anarcho-charities?? doing this? Even the name, ?Food Not Bombs??, implies that we want the government to provide ?food?? instead of ?bombs??. In reality, we don?t want the government to do anything; we want to abolish the state, and have complete autonomy and self-determination over our lives and communities. It is perhaps even more foolish to think that we can ?pressure?? the government into changing it?s policies by feeding people.

Of course, some credit must be given to Food Not Bombs groups all over the world, who in are probably the largest ?radical? network actively feeding people. The history of resistance by Food Not Bombs groups is also impressive. The San Francisco chapter faced hundreds of arrests and occupied Golden Gate park serving communal meals and squatting on the land. Food Not Bombs activists have spilled over into working on other issues, such as Homes Not Jails and Copwatch, which bring even more skills and networks into the anti-authoritarian milieu. Food Not Bombs groups were crucial in the anarchist relief efforts that followed the Katrina disaster. This has all been done as chapters across the world have faced at times brutal police repression. Moreover, FNB collective have worked to bring many people into the anarchist/anti-authoritarian movement, by conducting an activity that is easy to do, and gets people active and talking to others. The question is, is this any different than what the churches do?

Many Food Not Bombs activists would contend that the work that FNB does is very different than the activities of churches and other groups who see homelessness as an unfortunate occurrence, not something that is a result of a class based economic system. Many would point to FNB?s critique of capitalism and its wastefulness, and its importance for taking over public space, that Food Not Bombs is in fact a radical project.

The problem with this conception of FNB though, is that fundamentally nothing is really different in the social relationships which are created through these types of programs. There is still the division between the ?servers and cookers??, of the food, and ?the homeless??. Also, while to many the idea of dumpster diving as a way of getting food to cook is radical, most homeless people already engage in this activity on a day to day basis. For them, their eyes are already open to the realities of what the system is dishing out at them. For many FNBers though, they want to ?speak truth to power?? by showing people that homeless people do exist within their town, and that ?something should be done about it??. The problem with this is that it ignores the direct needs of people who really could use solidarity, and also neglects that fact that homeless people out on the street are often there for different reasons. Some will probably be there for the rest of their lives due to mental, health, or drug problems. Others might be there for only a short while, and are victims of landlords, lay offs or job issues, abusive husbands or boyfriends, or a whole range of other problems. There are also some homeless people that are there by choice, although this group is usually small and young.

Within this context, there seems to be so many other things that anarchists could do to attack homelessness. Forming base organizations of renter and workers councils to fight against slum lords and abusive bosses. Starting up and maintaining women?s shelters and safe spaces, that help women survive and escape abusive patriarchal relationships. Forming support groups for substance abuse problems that exist outside of 12 Step (the use of religion as a drug) programs. Starting up networks of squats, and using abandoned buildings as places to house families and those looking for somewhere to sleep. Sharing shoplifting techniques in order to spread resources. Making up flyers showing where all the good dumpster spots are?The point simply is, we need to attack problems at their roots (the definition of being radical) not simply help alleviate the symptoms. Any anarchist approach to attacking homelessness should realize that actions must be acts of solidarity, not charity, in the realization that our struggles are one. This means militant responses to when police attack or harass homeless people. Occupation of public spaces when cities try and kick homeless out, etc. We must also recognize that the sharing of information will ultimately get more people to help themselves. If we do want to continue to share communal meals, (and also participate in the joy that comes from eating something that wasn?t paid for), then perhaps we can also change our approach to food preparation as well. How about cooking outside and having all types of people bring food to share? Or organizing with homeless friends to go and raid dumpsters, so they can take the spoils back to cook at their own camps? People should not have to rely on others (be they Christian or anarchist) to bring them food, clothing, or shelter. This dependence just continues to enforce the divisions between us that capitalism has already created.

Another problem that I have with Food Not Bombs, and other ?anarcho-lite?? activities, is that they ultimately provide a poor introduction into what actions might actually bring about a total social transformation of society. Many participants within Food Not Bombs are drawn to the project out of pity for others, not an immediate desire to radically change their environments around them. Food Not Bombs has become the fall back activism for those first looking to ?do something?? as ?an anarchist??. Instead of re-creating past projects that may or may not be the best thing for us to be doing - let alone directly correlate with our immediate environment - we should be thinking about the things that we can do to get what we want, and actions that will seek to transform the things that make our lives and communities miserable. We must also think about if these actions will seek to open up the possibilities for wider revolt against the forces that hold sway and control over all our lives.

In short, there are many things anarchists, most of all the young, can be doing to make a dent in their communities. It could be that a Food Not Bombs type program is one of those things. However, I would stress that Food Not Bombs or another of the ?anarcho-charities?, should not be the fallback project. I would also like to see people combat things like homelessness and housing issues in new ways outside of simply serving veggies to people once a week. Our actions need to not only inspire, but also get people engaged so they can solve their own problems, and find their own solutions. We cannot be the saviors of all, simply fellow proles in revolt.

?Activism?? (attacking single issues) will not get us where we want to go, i.e., a social revolution. It will take the destruction of the old world, and the creation of a new one, based on our desires for an existence without hierarchal organization. Within that scope, we will have to question even many of the projects that we may have spent years doing, or ?cut our anarchist teeth?? on. But, being critical and thoughtful about your praxis is part of what being an anarchist is all about.
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