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(en) [MEDIA]US Eugene , Oragon, Idealism fuels anarchists' battles

From Chuck0 <chuck@tao.ca>
Date Tue, 15 Aug 2000 19:09:05 -0400


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Idealism fuels anarchists' battles 

A desire to destroy the institutions that impose order underlies the
actions of militant anarchists

Sunday, August 13, 2000
By Bryan Denson of The Oregonian staff

EUGENE -- To the anarchists at Third Avenue and Van Buren Street, it
appeared the entire police department was dropping into the Whiteaker
neighborhood at once. Officers came on mountain bikes, a motorcycle, a
sport utility vehicle and on foot, blanketing the corner in blue that
recent afternoon. It seemed an odd show of force given the target of
their attention: a daily coffee klatch.

        Nearly every morning for 18 months, sleepy-eyed anarchists have
parked a wooden cart on the sidewalk to share free coffee and days-old
pastries with the poor. Regulars at Cafe Anarquista sip strong organic
java and loose the occasional rant against technology and the cops. A
wooden fence rises behind them, a collage of graffiti and sun-faded
fliers that encourage resistance to authority.
        But on that recent day, there was no resistance, merely
submission to a police force that has had its fill of the local
revolutionaries. Officers assembled en masse, they later said, to thwart
a spontaneous uprising. They accused coffee drinkers of blocking the
sidewalk, issued $250 tickets to people who can barely scare up rent
money, and rode off.
        It was merely the latest brush between police and anarchists in
Whiteaker, a Bohemian neighborhood in west-end Eugene. Radicals complain
that they are being detained for as little as jaywalking so police can
videotape their tattoos, clothing and patches. A wooden sign at Cafe
Anarquista jokingly charts the intensity of the "police occupation." A
dial toggles from "ominously quiet" to "omnipresent (carry rocks)" to
"thoroughly agitated (fight back)." 
        City officials aren't laughing. 
        They blame the growing clan of anarchists for a series of
sometimes-riotous street demonstrations over the past 14 months. It was
a hometown fight until last fall, when a few of the local
revolutionaries helped turn downtown Seattle into a Beirut of shattered
storefronts, burning trash bins and spray-painted walls outside meetings
of the World Trade Organization. The revolt took an ominous turn in
June, when prosecutors accused two anarchists of trying to set fire to a
gasoline tanker in Whiteaker.
        Now anarchists are heading to the Democratic National Convention
set to begin Monday in Los Angeles. Mayor Richard J. Riordan already has
warned that police will "get tough" on troublemakers, although he
acknowledged most protesters would be orderly.
        "Unfortunately," he wrote in a recent Los Angeles Times
commentary, "there will be other types of demonstrators -- a small but
significant number of rogue demonstrators, anarchists whose sole intent
is violent disruption." 
        Some of Eugene's most militant anarchists, sometimes called the
"Black Bloc," wrote a retort. They told the mayor they wouldn't play by
his rules and would rage against those killing the Earth for profit:
"Our objective is not to target individuals, but instead the economic,
state and religious institutions which enslave us."
        The note ends, "See you in L.A." 
        And it seems they will. Some of Eugene's anarchists plan to
attend the North American Anarchist Conference in Los Angeles this
weekend. The event opens with three days of talks before some peel off
to protest the DNC.
        California state Sen. Tom Hayden, a Vietnam War activist accused
of inciting demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic National Convention,
jetted to Oregon on Aug. 5 to discourage some of Eugene's anarchists
from engaging in militant protests in Los Angeles. A Hayden spokesman
declined to comment on the meeting.

Goal is to destroy, not reform 

Clans of anarchists -- including growing strongholds in Eugene;
Portland; Seattle; Vancouver, British Columbia; and the San Francisco
Bay Area -- represent the most militant wing of an international
movement opposed to the global economy.
        But unlike their allies in the mass movement -- a much larger
coalition of peaceful labor activists, environmentalists and
human-rights workers -- hard-core anarchists have little interest in
reforming capitalism. They want to destroy the institutions, such as
government, that impose order on life.
        Many of Eugene's anarchists advocate "green anarchy," a theory
that suggests humans were better off before the advent of farming
thousands of years ago. They argue that primitives who hunted and
gathered their food enjoyed freedoms that modern humans, slaves to
technology and the capitalist treadmill, do not. 
        But the Black Bloc's concessions to technology -- electricity,
running water, public transport, the Internet and other urban amenities
-- seem to contradict their politics. Why not live in the woods?
        Steven Heslin, a 31-year-old anarchist, acknowledged the
criticism one day recently at a coffeehouse by the Amtrak station. He
and his cronies said there is no escaping the reaches of industrial
society, even in the world's diminishing wilderness; theirs is a gradual
retreat from technology, a revolt from inside the beast.
        They aren't the first anti-capitalists to set up a resistance in
the belly of the system they oppose. During the late 1800s, anarchists
in Chicago instigated laborers to rebel against factory owners who
resisted such reforms as the eight-hour workday. And in the Northwest in
the early 1900s, the Wobblies called for an end to capitalism and the
wage system.
        Whiteaker's anarchists know the general public's not an easy
sell on a utopia free of TVs and microwave dinners. They also know that
most Americans' image of anarchists -- if they have one at all -- is of
masked youths going berserk in the streets.

A new militancy 

One morning last October, sitting in his tiny moss-covered co-op home in
Whiteaker, former Berkeley hippie and anarchist author John Zerzan
sipped instant coffee and recalled the day the tide changed in Eugene:
On June 18, 1999, a routine protest against capitalism turned into a
spontaneous riot of broken windows and flying rocks.
        "I'd been waiting since the end of the  '60s to see real
opposition to the system," Zerzan said.
        When Zerzan moved to Eugene in 1981, just a handful of locals
advocated anarchism. But the 1999 riot and WTO demonstration illustrated
a new militancy. In Seattle, anarchists -- including perhaps two dozen
from Eugene -- rioted as police squared off with peaceful protesters.
They left the downtown a clutter of trash, smoking garbage bins and
broken glass.
        While vandalism at the WTO gave Jay Leno some gags, it raised
questions about why anyone would smash the window of a Gap store. So
anarchists posted an Internet communique to explain: They struck Old
Navy, Banana Republic and the Gap because owners relied on sweatshop
labor and invested in logging of Northwest forests. They targeted
Fidelity Investments because it was party to an oil project that would
uproot residents of the Colombian cloud forest. And they hit Planet
Hollywood "for being Planet Hollywood."
        After returning home from WTO, Zerzan praised the young
revolutionaries. And he noted he is not, as some suggest, a leader or --
he grimaced -- a guru. Theirs is a leaderless resistance. 
        Zerzan ducked out of his cottage after an interview with a "60
Minutes II" field crew one afternoon, leaving a panel of young
anarchists in his living room. It seemed to please him when he hadn't
recognized some of the young faces. 

"Guerrilla gardens"
The day after the Cafe Anarquista bust, a 6-foot-tall anarchist named
Geneva Johnson hiked to a grassy lot next to West Side Foreign Auto and
tiptoed into a garden. Her long skirt rode over a hodgepodge of
tomatoes, squash, cabbage, mustard greens and chamomile.
        The garden just appeared one morning, as if by elves, along with
a pair of wooden benches etched with the word, "Think." It is one of
several "guerrilla gardens" to take root in Eugene this summer on public
and private property. Johnson, a 21-year-old Minnesotan who uses a
different last name than her birth name, claimed not to know who
"liberated" the lot.
        Food yielded from guerrilla gardens often goes to Food Not
Bombs, a loose collective of anarchists and other radicals. They protest
poverty, violence and materialism by feeding vegan meals (those made
without animal products) to hungry people, including themselves. They
feed about 20 people -- and sometimes many more -- nearly every
afternoon, free of charge, no questions asked.
        "This is our vision for what things could be," said Johnson, who
wants badly to show that anarchists are more than just window-smashers.
"Cafe Anarquista should be happening all over town. Food Not Bombs
should be happening all over town. . . . We don't want a revolution
where everybody's starving and scared."
        The neighborhood radicals have set up a complex support system.
They take care of each other's children, teach skills such as knot-tying
and self defense in their "Free Skool," and trade used clothes from a
box on the corner. They provide "safe spaces" for battered women and run
the local "Copwatch" program to videotape police-citizen interactions. 
        The Eugene resistance is almost exclusively Anglo, a mish-mash
of radical environmentalists, feminists, philosophers, nomads and
outlaws. Many live in Whiteaker, and their median age is perhaps 25.
Most were raised in middle-class families, although some grew up poor.
They stay fed with oddly contradictory jobs such as telemarketing. They
are dreadlocked and tattooed, profane and sometimes profound. Mostly,
they are disappointed. 
        Some have suffered the consequences of parents cast aside by the
whims of industry. Others have fought relentless battles to save ancient
trees from logging.
        Many strike back at the system in subtle ways, although some of
their methods sound less like politics than excuses for boorishness.
They brag about dropping litter in wealthy neighborhoods and shoplifting
from corporate chain stores. 

End of negotiations
It's hard to pinpoint the moment Eugene went from being a liberal
college town to a hothouse for the revolution. The city of 133,000 has
long been a drop zone for hippies, free thinkers and militants. In 1970,
protesters torched the ROTC building on the University of Oregon campus.
        But the nature of the revolt has changed, said Officer Jennifer
Bills, who has worked in Whiteaker for four years. Police and activists
used to negotiate terms of arrests before protests, but anarchists now
rarely talk with police, she said.
        Tensions came to a head in June, when two days of street
demonstrations resulted in 63 arrests. Some Eugene residents complained
that police -- firing beanbag rounds and pepper spray -- overreacted.
        "It's not the anarchists we're afraid of, it's the police,"
Eugene resident Craig Miller testified at a June 27 public forum.
However, Miller, 43, acknowledged "there's a lot of foolishness on both
sides."
        Later that hot night, a few anarchists took a table at the Pizza
Research Center, analyzing the public forum. They agreed the June 18
demonstration -- brought to order by 100 officers from Eugene and two
other agencies -- was overkill that merely inflamed the public. Which
was more or less good news, said Robin Terranova: "The police are much
better at radicalizing people than we are."

The conflict continues
The day after police swept Cafe Anarquista, the regulars were back,
hand-rolling cigarettes, drinking java out of Mason jars and petting
"Riot," the striped cat. 
        A few hours later, police returned and tacked a notice of their
own on the "free space" fence: Because of complaints from neighbors,
officers would strictly enforce all sidewalk, roadway and trespass laws
there beginning July 24. 
        The regulars showed up that Monday with cameras and a few
reporters. Coffee was served, pastries eaten. But police didn't show.
When they cleared out, sunshine fell on the free space fence.
        And if you looked real close, you could read a bold slogan
fading in the sun: "We're Not Leaving!"

You can reach Bryan Denson at 503-294-7614 or by e-mail at
bryandenson@news.oregonian.com.

<< Chuck0 >>

This was the year *everything* changed.
      -- Commander Ivanova, 2261

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"A society is a healthy society only to the degree 
that it exhibits anarchistic traits." 
        - Jens Bjĝrneboe

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