Greens and Reds in Basic Black By William Booth Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, August 15, 2000; Page C01
LOS ANGELES The Democrats are not the only ones holding their convention in the City of Angels. Over the weekend, the North American Anarchist Conference convened the first large, organized national gathering of the tribe in more than a decade, even though, as a general rule, anarchists do not like large, organized national anythings.
Since this correspondent is, sadly, a boot-licking commodified lackey for a corporatized media giant serving the interests of a globalized, capitalist elite, our welcome was a bit frosty.
"It's not that you're not welcome," said one of the organizers from the August Collective. "But it's not that you are really welcome, either."
We could live with that.
This is what we saw at the revolution:
The meeting took place at an industrial arts space beside a pretty stretch of the Los Angeles River in a working-class neighborhood not too far from Dodger Stadium. There were no cameras or recording devices allowed. But if a member of the press paid the $25 fee, he was allowed inside and was welcome to the chow, which was earthy but tasty--bagels, salads, soups and stews. You were supposed to bring your own bowl. After registering, you got a little pebble with the anarchist's "A" symbol as a keepsake.
One of the first things a visitor would notice is there was a lot of concern about infiltrators. This is a big deal with anarchists. Signs were posted on all the walls warning of media and infiltrators. The atmosphere wasn't necessarily clinically paranoid, but they did keep worrying that the police were about to come in at any moment, swinging billy clubs and firing rubber bullets.
This attitude may have been justified by statements from Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who warned this city in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times that "determined" and "organized" and "international" anarchists were coming to town, "whose sole intent is violent disruption."
At one point on Friday, one of the organizers freaked everyone out by shouting that the cops were on the way and that each anarchist needed to decide what to do "with their own body." They all jumped up and began milling around and putting bandannas over their faces.
Alas, it was a false alarm.
Anyway, there were about 200 people attending the convention, almost exclusively white people in their twenties. Most of them wore black. Black T-shirts with revolutionary slogans and the names of punk bands. Black pants that hung just below the knee. Black sneakers. Some of the pants were old and torn, and covered with patches. Some of the pants were new and covered with patches. A lot of anarchists sported tattoos and piercings. There were a goodly number of nose rings. Anarchists believe deeply in the individual's right to do whatever he wants, yet they all looked alike.
Inside, it was very hot. Over the long afternoons, during discussion sessions on primitivism, liberation pedagogy, state control, combating homophobia and other matters, some of the attendees simply sprawled out on their bedrolls and backpacks, sucking down water and trying not to faint.
After a day or so, the meeting space smelled faintly of warm bananas. The revolution, apparently, will not be air-conditioned.
There were tables along the walls offering free pamphlets and booklets about the history of anarchism and the tactics of disorderly conduct and civil disobedience.
An intense guy selling T-shirts and booklets offered us the pamphlet titled "You Can't Blow Up a Social Relationship." It was about the anarchist case against terrorism. A century ago, many anarchists, particularly in Eastern Europe, considered assassination a viable option. That is no longer the case.
Intense Guy was willing to explain some tenets of anarchism, as long as we did not identify him. "I don't want to get blackballed and lose my job," he explained.
Intense Guy began by describing the central, unifying principle of anarchism, which most outsiders wrongly assume is "chaos." Nothing could be further from the truth.
The word "anarchy," he explained, comes from the Greek word anarchos, meaning without a leader. Anarchists believe that centralized, hierarchical authorities--such as the state and all its tools--exist to keep the human species under control. They also believe that people should be free from governments and that communities of like-minded individuals should form loose, decentralized units based on "mutual aid" and "doing it yourself."
The perfect size for these units--known as collectives or affinity groups--is about a dozen, and no bigger than 20.
"Any time you have a hierarchy," Intense Guy says, "you are corporatized. You're letting someone put the boot on your neck."
Some people insisted on wearing bandannas over their faces inside their own conference. One young woman from the Black Bloc collective, which caused so much mischief in Seattle, wore a green kerchief over her nose and mouth, but it was made of a meshlike material, so you could sort of see what she looked like.
She looked serious.
Her name was Warcry.
Warcry said that direct action and confrontation with authority were required because the state "enslaves us and brutalizes us on a daily basis." She also said that the corporate media had "betrayed us" at the Republican convention in Philadelphia, and that the media were "a viable target."
"They're the problem," she said. "They're the reason why fascists get elected."
Some anarchists derided the efforts of other protest groups appearing in Los Angeles, such as DAN, the Direct Action Network, which one anarchist described as "Do Absolutely Nothing."
One anarchist named DeeDee described the Direct Action protesters--who were gathering across town to make puppets and banners and plans--as "trust fund brats," poseurs flying around the country and getting off on being quoted in the mainstream press. Those social-justice types were, apparently, not radical enough. DeeDee even accused them of "living in $600-a-month apartments in San Francisco." The audience did not really know how to respond to that charge, since many anarchists live in rented apartments.
The anarchists are a fractious lot, and debate currently reigns among the various wings of the movement. Some old-timers think the young people who came into the tribe through punk music have no ideology and little understanding of what anarchism is about, except raging against the machine. And there were some young people who did not know Emma Goldman or Noam Chomsky from Bart Simpson.
But the punker-anarchists said some of the older, more academic set (and there were not a whole lot of those at the conference) spent too much time yammering about poli-theory, and not enough time mixing it up with the state--or taking their message about The Man to the community, whatever the community is.
But the more serious divide was between the so-called "green" and "red" anarchists. The green anarchists, sometimes called "primitivist," have a deeply ecological bent. As the journal Green Anarchy puts it: "Primitivism views technology and civilization as an unnecessary evil and believes humanity would be much happier and healthier outside the modern industrial world."
They like "land-based agricultural communes."
A lot of them live in Oregon.
On the other side are the reds, the "anarcho-syndicalists," who are more into the working classes and organizing themselves into collectives. Some are into one big union, sort of nouveau-Wobblies. Others are into many, many small guilds.
"Anarchists are pretty interesting because we all sort of hate each other, but we also all hate the same thing, which is the authoritarian state," said one anarcho-syndicalist who called himself Chuck.
Chuck pointed at a banner above the conference hall/garage. It read: "Whoever they vote for, we are ungovernable."
Sometime later, on a voice vote, we got ejected from the conference--the first purge of the week.
© 2000 The Washington Post Company
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