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(en) US, NY, MEDIA: Anarchism Is Catching on

From Dan Clore <clore@columbia-center.org>
Date Sat, 18 Jan 2003 17:40:05 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

[This is not at all bad considering the source.--DC]
AP World Politics
Despite poor image, anarchism is catching on among young
activists disillusioned with capitalism 
Wed Jan 15, 7:56 PM ET
By MALCOLM FOSTER, Associated Press Writer 

NEW YORK - Brien Gartland goes "Dumpster diving" every day
for his food. He raids the garbage bags outside gourmet
groceries looking for slightly bruised mangos, unopened
containers of rice pudding and the like. 

Known as "Deadbolt," the bearded 21-year-old sleeps in a
vacant building and refuses to get a job because he's
disillusioned with capitalism and Western democracy, systems
he believes exploit the poor and give power to the elite. 

Gartland is an anarchist. He views government or any
hierarchical structure as coercive and ultimately

Anarchists have drawn attention in recent years as key
participants in sometimes violent protests at meetings of
international organizations, such as the World Economic
Forum, a gathering of government and business leaders that
begins Thursday in Davos, Switzerland. 

The world would be a better place, Gartland and other
anarchists argue, if everyday people were directly involved
in making decisions through group consensus about their
communities instead of leaving that up to elected lawmakers
and corporate executives. That's true democracy, they say. 

"I don't feel like I have a say in what goes on around me.
My vote doesn't matter," Gartland said recently at Mayday
Books, a tiny anarchist bookstore in Manhattan's East
Village where he volunteers. 

"I believe in working together with people to create a
society that benefits everyone, not just a few." 

He says he tends to avoid demonstrations because he's afraid
of getting beat up by police. Instead, he prefers to play a
supportive role, cooking food for protesters. 

Gartland's lifestyle is extreme even by anarchist standards.
Most try to strike a balance between their disdain for
capitalism and the need to make a living. 

But anarchist views are spreading among young activists,
thanks largely to the anti-globalization movement - or the
global justice movement, as its supporters prefer to call

Some anarchists have grabbed the spotlight with aggressive
tactics - confronting police and breaking store windows -
from the demonstrations that shut down a World Trade
Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999 to protests in
Quebec City, Prague and Washington. Clashes with riot police
in Genoa, Italy, during a Group of Seven summit in 2001 left
one protester dead, killed by police gunfire. 

Many anti-globalization protesters reject the anarchist
label and condemn combative acts. Yet the protests have been
shaped by anarchism, both in theme - a call to return power
to the local level - and in structure - small groups
cooperating without central authority. 

"Seattle was a large coming-out party for anarchists," said
Mark Lance, a philosophy professor at Georgetown University
and an anarchist. "Anarchism has certainly become much more
visible through the global justice movement." 

It's hard to know if the number of anarchists has risen in
America, particularly because of their disdain of structure.
Even in Europe, where anarchism has a deeper tradition and
is considered less odd than in the United States, they are
well outside the mainstream. 

But Lance and other experts believe anarchism is more
widespread today than at any time since the 1930s,
surpassing its revival during the 1970s anti-nuclear

AK Press, a publisher of anarchist and other radical
literature in Oakland, California, said its sales have risen
about 20 percent annually the past several years. 

Food Not Bombs, an anarchist network that serves free
vegetarian food, has grown to about 150 chapters across the
United States, up from 100 a couple of years ago, said Keith
McHenry, who helped found the group in 1980. 

On the academic front, more anarchists are invited to speak
at conferences and more scholarly work about anarchism is
published, said Cindy Milstein, a faculty member at the
Institute of Social Ecology, a small leftist institute in
Plainfield, Vermont. 

"It's OK to call yourself an anarchist now," Milstein said. 

Due to student demand, Lance taught a class on anarchism at
Georgetown last term. In true anarchist fashion, there were
no assignments - at least from the professor. Instead, the
class of 50 used consensus, a key anarchist concept, to
decide on readings, papers and discussion topics. 

"Everyone shows up having done the reading and ready to
discuss the material," he said. "And that's not normal for a
college class." 

Still, anarchists fight an uphill battle for a positive

Many people equate anarchy - Greek for "no rulers" - with
chaos. Its critics say that removing authority structures,
particularly in this age of global terrorism, would be

Soviet communism also started with utopian visions of
egalitarianism, but it led to dictatorship, noted Brink
Lindsey, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a
conservative think tank in Washington. 

Anarchism, he said, is based on a naive understanding of
human nature and would lead to a backward, village-based
society incompatible with the complex division of labor in
the global economy. 

"The sober thinking is that this is a fantasy," Lindsey
[Note the irony of the "free market", "libertarian" Cato
Institute speaking up in favor of "authority

Anarchists counter that terrorism, war and poverty are a
direct result of the inequities created by capitalism and
political systems that give power to just a few. The whole
system is corrupt and needs overhauling, they say. 

Chaos is not what they're after but a purer form of
democracy - "direct democracy" rather than the
representative form. 

"Capitalism isn't asking, 'Is it right?', but, 'Can we make
a profit?'" said Milstein. "I get these false choices
between Coke and Pepsi, but I don't really get to determine
what my community is going to look like." 

Using a model developed by anarchists during the Spanish
Civil War in the 1930s, today's anarchists function in
autonomous "affinity groups." 

These groups interact through "spokescouncils," particularly
leading up to and during demonstrations. Delegates - known
as "spokes," a rotating post with no decision-making
authority - relay information between affinity groups and
the council. Decisions are made by the group as whole. 

Kate Crane, 27, was drawn to anarchism's emphasis on
egalitarianism and community. 

"I want a society that's not authoritarian, where everyone's
voice is important," said Crane, who has joined protests in
New York and Washington. She now works as a copy writer in
New York and volunteers with a group that promotes community
gardens and other public spaces. 

Amy, a 27-year-old who declined to give her last name,
learned about anarchism during protests at last year's World
Economic Forum in New York and liked its emphasis on
communal aid and group consensus. 

"I'm still learning about anarchism, but I like the idea
that there are no leaders," she said. 

Amy helped form a mothers' group to oppose the proposed
closure of a birthing center near her. 

Noam Chomsky, probably the most prominent American
anarchist, believes the philosophy's appeal comes from the
"discontent of people feeling they have no control over the
decisions that concern them." He points to declining voter
turnout over the years as evidence. 

Chomsky, a linguistics professor at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, describes anarchists as "radical
democrats" who constantly question the legitimacy of
hierarchical structures. 

"If it doesn't meet the burden of justifying itself, it
should be dismantled," he said. 

Still, very few anarchists today advocate overthrowing the
government, Milstein and others say. 

That wasn't the case at the turn of the last century, when
anarchists committed numerous violent acts, including the
assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. 

Today, most anarchists say they strive to transform society
from within, working toward a day when government will
shrivel and disappear. 

"You have to build the new society in the shell of the old,"
said Eric Laursen, 42, from New York.
[It should be noted that this phrase dates from the
nineteenth century.--DC]

As for the window-breaking, many anarchists defend such acts
as a way to draw attention to bigger problems. They define
violence as harm done to people - which they disavow. 

Damaging the buildings of major institutions doesn't hurt
anyone, they say. Corporations, governments and financial
institutions are guilty of committing violence against
humanity, they argue. 

Here Chomsky disagrees to some extent. 

"Breaking a window is violence. We all know that," he said.
"Like any form of violence, it requires justification. You
need to have a good reason for that act." 

Anarchists also wrestle with their participation in an
economic system they oppose. Lance, the Georgetown
professor, concedes he participates in capitalism "in a
million ways." 

"I'm not crazy about that, but I have a kid to take care
of," he says. 

More unusual is Gartland, who says he "eats well" on food
from the trash and estimates he lives on about $4 a month. 

Unbound to any job, he spends much of his time helping out
with a Food Not Bombs group in Manhattan and compiling a
monthly pamphlet on free events in New York City. 

"I just don't want to work for something I don't believe
in," he says. 


On the Net: 
Anarchist information site:
AK Press:
Food Not Bombs:

Dan Clore

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