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(en) mourning commute collective Dovetail #2 - The Eugene Media Sensation - by Andrew Hedden

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 9 Sep 2003 10:24:57 +0200 (CEST)

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Corporate media have always been, to varying degrees,
sensationalist. Unfortunately, the "anarchists of Eugene" have
always been up to the task of being the latest sensation: The
Wall Street Journal, 60 Minutes and Time magazine have done
features about them, and so has Newsweek. On November 27th,
the Seattle Times took it upon themselves to again feature
Oregonís "black-clad mob," this time in the context of
September 11th.

The front-page article, titled "Anarchists' muted applause: 'The
big bully got a black eye,'" carried on the pattern seen in each
preceding feature: a gross emphasis is placed on Eugeneís
"black-bloc" property destruction, and Unabomber pal John
Zerzan. Apparently, post September 11th, sympathy for mass
murder has entered the mix. Of the World Trade Center attacks,
"make no mistake," the Times asserts, "(anarchists) are
applauding, if only among themselves." With such extreme
examples on display, the term "anarchist" serves solely as an
indictment of some sort.

What the Times has thoroughly failed to accomplish, as have the
other media outlets, is to offer any definition, let alone accurate
depiction, of the theories of anarchism. The theatrical extremes
present in the infamous Eugene camp are apparently utterly
enticing to a media who hardly cares to acknowledge that the
mutant strain of anarchism these anarchists tout is a relatively
recent development.

The brassy statement that anarchists' heralded a "muted
applause" to the events of September 11th is fraudulent to an
infinite degree: any anarchist lauding such a horrendous act is
immediately in the minority. In the weeks following the 11th, an
anarchist affinity to those outraged by the attacks, though careful
to escape the temper of blind patriotism, had been unremittingly
expressed in print. Two major examples include the Florida-based
anarchist quarterly Onward, which condemned the attacks as
both "indefensible," and "certainly careless in the brutality they
inflicted;" and Cindy Milstein, a prominent anarchist at the
Institute for Social Ecology college in Vermont, produced a
lengthy essay furthering the assertion that "September 11 will
always be a day to condemn."

A third example can be found in Noam Chomsky, perhaps the
most well known anarchist in the world, who described the
terrorist attacks as "a horrendous atrocity, probably the most
devastating instant human toll of any crime in history, outside of

To label Chomsky as the most well known anarchist, however,
may mislead one to the assumption that he receives the
furthermost media exposure. Though the New York Times has
labeled him as "arguably the most important intellectual alive,"
and, according to the Chicago Tribune, he is "the most cited living
author," Chomsky is inexplicably not the one the media runs to
when in need of anarchist opinion.

What mainstream media demands is not only sensation, but also
concision, meaning short quotable "sound bites," often void of
content. In light of Chomskyís tendency towards in-depth
rational explanations and long informational tracts, he fails on
both demands. The Eugene anarchists' undercooked philosophies,
on the other hand, cater instantly to the fussy appetite of the

As often as "anarchists" are mentioned in major media, an
elaboration on the term is incredibly overdue. Going on the Times
article alone, the only rational conclusion, it would seem, is that
"breaking windows and starting fires" wholly comprises the
"anarchist play book." In fact, any definition of anarchism is
completely and unequivocally absent from the article.

So as long as this trend of exclusion persists, a sad myth will
continue to be perpetuated: that anarchism is simply a nihilist's
wish for disorder and chaos. However, as Alexander Berkman
wrote at the turn of the last century, "Anarchism is the very
opposite of all that." Berkman himself adhered to the most
accurate definition of anarchism available: that which is found in
it's history, theory, and revolutionary practice.

Applying these criteria, anarchism has always been, first and
foremost, the conviction that authority, hierarchy and domination
require the utmost justification, and that more often than not, this
standard is not met. This does not end with the political sphere,
but also extends to that of the economic, and personal arenas of
life. In order to nurture such an inquisitive tendency in society,
and avoid the negatives constrains of domination, anarchism
aims to develop a more participatory and interactive elaboration
of democracy built upon mutual aid and free association.

Anarchism promises utopia no more than any other serious
insight: rather it proposes a more inclusive, decentralized social
structure, where the tendency to dominate can be marginalized.

Such a model, in fact, is available for study. In 1936, amidst the
Spanish Civil War, an estimated 3 million anarchists successfully
established a bonafide grassroots democracy, not only
collectivizing the political structure, but urban and rural means of
production, police patrols, public services such as the phone
system, and so on. A noteworthy account of this period is
available in George Orwell's memoir of the war, Homage to
Catalonia, including a discourse on the revolution's untimely
demise. This was an ending not due to the weakness of the
revolution's devices, but as a result of the strong opposition
posed not only by Franco's Fascist forces, but also the
Republican government and Soviet-directed Communist party.

Eugene anarchists owe little if any to the Spanish anarchists.
Murray Bookchin*, a scholar of the Spanish Revolution,
co-founder of the Institute of Social Ecology, and perhaps
Eugene's most vehement anarchist critic, observes that "This
anarchism celebrates the notion of liberty from rather than a
fleshed-out concept of freedom for." The Eugene style of
anarchism seemingly denounces organization itself in exchange
for a "liberal ideology that focuses overwhelmingly on the
abstract individual, supports personal autonomy, and advances a
negative rather than a substantive concept of liberty."

This extreme, in turn, manifests itself in the tactics of "breaking
windows and starting fires." Add a little media exposure to the
mix, and the end result is a mass overshadowing of anarchism's
traditional and far more constructive elements.

This entire affair runs curiously analogous to the events of a
hundred years ago, 1901, when a self-proclaimed anarchist
named Leon Czolgosz assassinated U.S. president William
McKinley. Cries of an "anarchist conspiracy" swept through the
press, contributing to the loss of a significant fact to the crevices
of historical record: four months before he shot McKinley, the
anarchist journal Free Society had issued a warning concerning
Czolgosz, fearing he was a spy, "pretending to be greatly
interested in the cause, asking for names, or soliciting aid for
contemplated violence."

As was the case at the turn of the last century, the uncaring and
unthinking words and actions of a few miscreants can be
enlarged into a venerable spectacle, furthering the
misunderstanding and perversion of true anarchist ideals. "Alas,"
laments Murray Bookchin, "we are witnessing the appalling
desiccation of a great tradition..."

Bookchin's recommended solutions, and tactics, are a sober
contrast to the prattle of the Eugene outfit. Through such
organizations as community gardens, producer and consumer
cooperatives, and study groups, Bookchin asserts, "we can
become more socially responsible and more skilled at
democratically discussing and deciding important social

Unfortunately, even if such ventures as the above prove
enormously successful, the chances are slim that they will ever
overcome the public assumption that anarchism is simply a
Loverís boutique of chaos, turmoil, and little else. That is,
until media enters the business of objective, critical entertaining
of ideas, and not simply the business of selling product and
entertaining people. A pattern now more than a hundred years
strong, it remains unlikely that it will ever be broken without a
concentrated effort.

From the http://mourningcommute.tripod.com/
Welcome to the website of the Mourning Commute Collective, currently
operating in the King County and Eastside Seattle areas. We are a
group of individuals organizing around, expanding on, and propagating
the ideals of Social Anarchism. Anarchism, as defined by its history,
theory, and practice, is the proposal that humanity can and should
operate without the negative constrains of domination. Social
Anarchists seek to reorganize the economic, and political institutions
in a decentralized and nonhierarchical manner, as to ensure
opportunities for all people to participate in decision-making. The
building of community-oriented alternatives to current institutions
enables society to do away with unnecessary hierarchies.

* [Ed. Note: Though Bookchin is no more concider himself anarchist,
his criticism is standing on its own merits.]

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