As usual guys, sorry for not posting lately. I haven’t been too busy with ALL-oNE as of late and I’m hoping that’s gonna change with Liberty Forum coming up next month as well as a tour of the new hackerspace TekArts. Not only that but there’s been talk of having an ALL-oNE office space for distributing zines, storing them and generally coming up with ideas to further the left-libertarian movement! So these are both exciting things but I’d like to get to the blog post now, but stay tuned!
So full disclosure: My friend Julia has already done her blog post so our blog posts may mirror each other at times (and in fact I’ll be reading her blog post at times just so I can remember some of the specifics just in case I forget!) but I hope to give a different perspective then what Julia gave (though I think she covered it well enough of course). With that in mind I certainly recommend reading her blog post as well!
Now I wasn’t sure what to expect or get when I got to the Lucy Parson’s Center but I was pleasantly surprised that although I felt a little out of place (as I typically do among the more social/communist-anarchist crowd) it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. Especially being with Julia and knowing that she had respect for my a lot of my opinions and that she was usually welcome among the same crowd put me at ease a bit. Not only that but my girlfriend Lauren was with me as well for some moral support and general interest since she’s an anarchist herself. Overall then although I was unclear on what was going to be said or the general demeanor of the crowd I was pleasantly surprised. The talk was titled “Occupy Anarchism” and was going to be delivered by (thankfully) one of the few contemporary anarcho-communists that I’m more familiar: Cindy Mlstein. Her talk was part of a speaking tour she’s been doing lately. I was especially interested to see a different take on the Occupy Movement then the typical right-libertarian glib about how it’s just a bunch of economic illiterate state-socialists for the most part.
Cindy’s take was better: It was more that most people were apolitical or at best liberals (she didn’t clarify what this meant to her but I’m guessing the sort of standard liberal today?) but either way my expectations were that she’d discuss in a different and refreshing way and she did.not disappoint. The idea that most people at #OWS were for the most part apolitical and just didn’t know much in general about what they’re doing makes quite a bit of sense to me. Basically a lot of the people went there because they’re upset at something and to a lot of libertarian’s credit they usually say that at least being angry at the system and showing it is better than nothing. With that I agree but of course Occupy was so much more than that and that was one of Cindy’s main points throughout the talk. She was trying to make the point that if it were not for the anarchists a lot of the so to speak “soul” of #OWS would not be there. This of course includes consensus decision making/direct democracy, direct action, lack of permits, lack of political involvement with the democrats and government-backed labor unions, selling out to one big leader and so on. If all of these things had not been in place then I doubt #OWS would’ve lasted as long as it did and indeed doubt Cindy would’ve either.
Her first impressions of the #OWS people were that they were “crazy”, “disorganized”, “lacking basic knowledge” and other related impressions. But she was also fascinated by them. She couldn’t get enough of the protest and told us she spent more than a week in New York when she had just accidentally showed up there to stay with some friends for a bit. She also accidentally went back to Philadelphia a bit before the Occupy Movement started there and immediately started getting interested in the ways that they operated there and tried to see what she could do in a more decentralized “organization”. What she found was that it was a generally pleasant experience even if a lot of people were just angry and didn’t know what to do about it. It didn’t seem like these people even had strict agendas and perhaps while they may support state policies and stuff like that it seemed from what Cindy was saying that they’d only do so because they lacked a direction. It was Cindy’s contention (and a good one at that) throughout the talk that the anarchists gave them some of this direction.
None of this about anarchists being one of the best parts of the #OWS movement is to say that anarchists were always welcome. I vaguely recall Cindy telling anecdotes (a lot of her talk was anecdotal which is fine with me) about how some anarchists were sometimes not welcome in some events or were greeted with hostility because people thought they’d break stuff or whatever. Either way even if what I remember is untrue it’s not hard to believe that anarchism and the occupy movement overall probably had a love-hate sort of binary relationship.
Cindy also recalled some “Ron Paul type people” (and some person in the audience didn’t know who Ron Paul was which was…surprising to me given the sort of libertarians I usually hang out with and know on Facebook) who carried guns and typically kept to themselves at the Philly occupy movement. And then she talked about when they actually did something of their own accord they asked Cindy and her other comrades for help even though they never did anything themselves to help them before according to Cindy. Nevertheless Cindy and her other comrades took it upon themselves to help them deal with the situation when they needed help. As Julia said it was…”amusing”.
Another divide that Julia talks about in her own blog post that I should repeat and stress since I thought it was so important was the divide between people who thought the cops were their friends and others who knew they weren’t. For instance Cindy mentioned at one point that some of the white people were saying things that indicated they sympathized with the police while the blacks and other minorities who were there (they were outnumbered in the Occupy Philly gathering but still present) weren’t so sure. And so as time went on though a lot of the people who thought the police were their friends eventually found out the hard way that they were not. This was a good divide to talk about because it really spoke to a lot of what had to happen at Occupy at times so people would recognize that the larger point that the state is not their friend. But of course when the state is largely trampling on black people and other minorities and poor people in general it’s hard to see that when you’re white and middle class I suppose. That’s not to say there’s something wrong with being that but that your blinders are probably on to some degree or another because of who you are.
That leads me into one of the last things I want to talk about in Cindy’s talk: privilege and power. She did discuss the ideas of white, male and other sorts of privilege that exist in society. And I being a bit of an oddball libertarian tend to agree that whites, males and straight people all have certain privileges over other people. These things would later cause some problems in the audience for one reason or another but I eventually spoke up and addressed the thought that the idea that talking about this stuff has to be condescending and so on (thanks to Julia for having such a good memory and quoting me near-exactly):
“When you address white privilege, you don’t have to be condescending. It’s not supposed to be about making people feel guilty because they’re white. It’s supposed to be about pointing out the fact that the culture and the system put you in a certain role because of who you are.”
I stand by this statement, but that leads us more into the discussion then the talk itself which I don’t want to get into here. So to wrap up here I thought the talk was overall well presented and the highlights for me personally were certainly talking about privilege and power (though I should note Cindy says she prefers power than to say privilege but doesn’t deny either exist), the discussion of anarchism in relation to occupy (so basically most of the talk) and the dividing sides about police and how they learned was particularly interesting. And of course Cindy’s view on the Occupy movement was refreshing for me too. So overall I certainly had a good time listening to her…of course there were disagreements and I’d be lying if I didn’t talk about them so let’s talk about it for a little bit but I’ll try not to doddle on it.
Problems with the Talk
Although they weren’t many since as I told Julia after the talk it was a pretty general talk that I think even people who weren’t anarcho-communists could get into they were obviously striking and reminiscent of the anarchist movement in general. I am (of course) not an anarcho-communist even though we may both support similar tactics like direct action and dual power as well as my view for labor to be fully compensated and preference for collectives and cooperatives as opposed to the traditionally top-down hierarchies that are in the big corporations of the day. Nonetheless I have nothing really against any interest, rent or whatever. Now I know that anarcho-communists (and mutualists as well such as Julia) wouldn’t force people who decide to do rent or go into those sorts of relationships would forcibly prevent them from doing it (and if they would I’d say their anarchist credentials should be heavily under suspicion) as long as the choices are not made (as they largely are in the current society) because of desperation and the way things like structural poverty, wage-slavery (also see here) and more that keep people limited in their choices to say the least.
Another big contention I have with Cindy but more appropriately is her (and the anarcho-communist idea in general) idea that property in general is theft. I tend to be of the position that a plurality of ownership systems would work out and compete between different neighborhoods insofar as they can still cooperate in mutually beneficial ways. As long as a culture of solidarity is crafted between people in the sense of people wanting to generally help others and trade with others in mutually beneficial and consensual trades then I think in general people can live together without too many huge disputes. That doesn’t mean I think there’d be no conflicts, suffering, struggles or whatever in a truly freed society but that putting in the principles of liberty for the individual and subsequently associations that form from that premise, equality of authority in decisions that directly affect all involved and (again) a culture of solidarity I can see anarcho-capitalists living side by side with the anarcho-communists to one degree or another anyways.
Finally, I’d like to point out that Cindy seemed to just treat anarchism as anarcho-communism and then that’s it. I mean, even though I’m a left-libertarian I don’t say that anarcho-capitalists aren’t anarchists (though sometimes I wonder…) I just say them and other right-libertarians are inconsistent anarchists. I don’t think they’re not anarchists at all (and I know that’s a contentious issue) because I’m not interested in that sort of discussion either way. My thing is le’ts talk about our premises and conclusions and where we get them from and why we believe them and see what we can work out. There’s no reason to dismiss (what I think) could at least be some useful single issue alliances or whatever even if we do want to write off the anarcho-capitalists (though I won’t and try not to) and I believe at one point Cindy actually said something along those lines.
Nonetheless I told Julia that I’m not an anarcho-communist but this talk wasn’t about this exactly but how anarchism (as Cindy saw it) and it’s relation to the Occupy movement and in that sense and most others I enjoyed it. But of course I figured it’d help to point out some disagreements before I get to the second hour of the talk which was the discussion.
The first person who talked was…well…let Julia tell you,
“The first person in the audience to speak started by throwing her finger up at Cindy. She ranted, “First of all, before people can be educated in all this philosophy, they need food on the table and a roof over their head. Grub before philosophy.” She went on and on for well over five minutes. “And another thing, enough with this ‘you know the movement is getting somewhere when the white cis males are getting involved’.” She ended with a nasty, “So all white cis-men in this movement need to shut – the – HELL – up.”‘
So yeah…I was twiddling my thumbs so to speak for most of her five minute rant but wow was it uncomfortable. Julia whispered to me as she started that, “It’s about to get really sectarian.” and man was she right with this lady! But either way I didn’t know what to think of her message. I mean it sounded like a familiar sort of argument (the “grub before philosophy” sort of thing) but Cindy just gave a calm reply that Occupy was a great example how we can do all of this and even have it be sustainable. And as Cindy said at one point in the speech, “If there’s anything anarchists know how to do right it’s Food Not Bombs!” and I think she was spot on with that. So the woman’s bad presentation and Cindy’s great response basically made me not want to take the woman very seriously even if she took herself…more than a bit too seriously.
Either way the conversation moved on to discussion of privilege and my girlfriend tried to talk about how we shouldn’t just discount people who are “privileged” just on that basis as irrelevant or not actually existing which was a great point. But again Cindy had a great response, she talked about how the guy who she didn’t have much respect for who she called “privileged” wasn’t because he was privileged but because what he did with his privilege and he was a known a-hole. So once again Cindy dealt with questions calmly and effectively, kudos to her for that.
I then spoke myself about slut shaming and how the talk of privilege might be better presented if we talk about the way it affects human lives in a negative way (and hopefully a direct way too to further the link between the two things). I was surprised to see that a girl in the front didn’t know what slut-shaming was since I figured most people in the room would. It didn’t seem like many people did so I explained it something like this, “When a woman’s sexuality is trivialized once she sleeps with more than one man regardless of the way she does it or how or why and so on.” I don’t think this is fair and you can see a long debate about it on the ALL Facebook page and why I think as much. Just do ctrl + f and look up the word slut shaming and you’ll find it. But my point seemed to be well received enough nonetheless.
A few other people talked about their experiences with the Occupy movement and I don’t think anything in particular stood out to me (and such seems to be the case for Julia as well on her blog post since she doesn’t mention anything either) but it basically revolved around other people’s experiences with the Occupy movement and where it’s heading and if it’ll be somewhere good. Cindy at that point just started lettinga bunch of people talk and I think as I remember it handled them all pretty well.
I was the last person to speak as the talk came to a close which is where I talked about the privilege discussion we had had and some more tips on how to perhaps talk about it better. Now I’m of course no expert on privilege or how to talk about it (though no one is probably but many are probably are better than me) it hasn’t taken me long to make these suggestions. Julia said I was being “friendly but blunt” on her blog when I was talking and I suppose that’s fair. That’s usually how I like to come across, I’m being friendly about suggestions or disagreements but I want people to know I’m disagreeing or what my position is so I’m as honest as I feel practical in the scenario.
All the Rest
After the talk Julia asked me what I thought of it and I told her basically what I’ve said here…well ok I shortened it to the much less verbose, ” It was a good talk. I’m in no way an an-com but I liked a lot of what she said. You have to find a common ground. Voltairine knew that.” (something like that…I’m using Julia for a reference here for something I said just to give you a sort of insight into how bad my memory with these sorts of things can be).
Julia then talked to Cindy and I gave her my thanks for the great talk. Lauren, Julia and I headed back to the train station (and along the way got in a small discussion of privilege again but Julia dealt with that well enough so just check out her post!) and soon after got back home.
…But what really really really mattered was that I got “The Haymarket Speeches 1895-1910” written by Voltairine de Cleyre for $1! Yeah, I was pretty stoked and I’m going to finish it as I wrap up here so thanks for keeping up with us and we’ll ALL be back together soon!