In case you missed it, we had op-eds in both the Mountain Xpress and the Citizen Times this month.
Sound-bite vandalism: An anarchist response to media hysteria
by Members of Firestorm Cafe & Books in Vol. 16 / Iss. 42 on 05/12/2010
Collectively written by Emma Chandler, Evan Edwards, Scott Evans, Meg Hen, Daniel Lee, Sara Lynch-Thomason, Joe Rinehart, Eli Scott and Rebbecca Soup.
Note: We speak only for ourselves and not on behalf of those accused, who may or may not identify as anarchists.
As anarchists working in the Asheville area, we feel compelled to respond to the coverage of the vandalism committed May 1 and the subsequent, ill-informed portrayal of anarchism by the media.
Throughout the media coverage, no serious definition of anarchism has been offered, making it unclear if reporters are familiar with the long, rich history of the anarchist movement. Instead, anarchists have been mischaracterized as wanting "no rules, no organization, no government, no niceties of modern society" ("A Few Questions for the Anarchists in Asheville," May 4 Asheville Citizen-Times). Green anarchism, meanwhile, is "associated often with eco-terrorism" ("Asheville Now Part of Widespread May Day Violence," May 4 Asheville Citizen-Times). These media sound bites portray anarchists as alien and dangerous, shutting down any possibility of constructive dialogue by creating a culture of fear around the anarchist movement.
As anarchists, we're used to being misunderstood. It is important to remember that "democracy" once conjured up images of mob rule, just as the word "anarchy" today is used as a synonym for chaos. This is convenient for those who would have us believe that a society without centralized control would degenerate into a Darwinian nightmare. Such portrayals necessarily marginalize the complex history of anarchism, which was articulated as a philosophy in the 1860s based on observations of peasant self-organization and cooperation in nature. Lost, too, are the contributions of contemporary anarchists, among them such noteworthy individuals as linguist Noam Chomsky, novelist Ursula K. Le Guin and recently deceased historian Howard Zinn.
Anarchism advocates the liberation of the human spirit through the abolition of all forms of coercion. We believe in self-ownership, voluntary association and cooperativism, placing a high value on forms of organization that are organic and consensual. Throughout history, this has led anarchists to reject state capitalism and other authoritarian ideologies, such as fascism and state communism. We do not offer a one-size-fits-all approach to social and economic organization, recognizing the need for a diverse set of solutions in a complex world.
We are members of Firestorm Cafe & Books, a community-event space in downtown that operates along the cooperative, libertarian principles of anarchism. As a worker-owned cooperative, we strive to create a workplace that provides valuable services to the community and fulfilling work to ourselves, while treating the earth in a dignified and respectful manner.
Our organizational model avoids unnecessary and involuntary hierarchies, relying instead on team structures that maximize input from all our workers while giving everyone opportunities for creativity and entrepreneurship. As an anti-capitalist business, we oppose the creation of profit, and when we are able to compensate our labor with a livable wage, we intend to invest 100 percent of our would-be profits back into the community. We provide a space for a diverse range of events and ideas, computer and Internet access, a variety of valuable, hard-to-find titles, and a visible economic alternative to business as usual. Firestorm is an example of the creative power of anarchism in action.
Although seemingly on the fringe, anarchism plays an important role in the culture of Asheville.
Even if you don't think you know any anarchists, it is certain that you are interacting with us on a regular basis. Our kids play together at school; we make lattes at your favorite cafés; we swap gardening tips with you at the grocery store. Local anarchists are deeply engaged with the community, working to improve the lives of their neighbors. Besides Firestorm, anarchists run a community-exchange network (Asheville LETS), started an adult-education program (Freeskool Asheville), serve food to the homeless (Food Not Bombs) and maintain multiple programs assisting the incarcerated. Beyond explicitly anarchist projects, we volunteer widely in our community, involving ourselves in community gardens, The Global Report, the Asheville ReCyclery, Our VOICE and the Asheville Currency Project, to name only a few.
All of these positive contributions stand in stark contrast to local media's recent portrayal of anarchists and anarchism. Most egregious in the media hysteria has been the tabloidesque reporting of the Citizen-Times, whose May 4 edition sported the sensationalist front-page headline "Suspects' Tie? Anarchy." John Boyle's open letter, "A Few Questions for the Anarchists in Asheville," leads us to believe that he either has no knowledge of anarchism's existence outside of anti-social, criminal activity or that he embraces a philosophy of collective guilt, holding all anarchists responsible for the actions of a small group. This same impoverished reasoning could be used to blame all Christians for the recent spate of gay bashing in Asheville. Journalism of this sort is unprofessional and, when directed at more mainstream social groups, it is rightly condemned.
In the midst of crumbling mega-institutions, political and economic solutions are in short supply. Anarchism offers viable, community-based alternatives to these failing institutions, and if we're willing to look beyond the media hype, it can provide tools for building a more sustainable, just and free world.
For more information on anarchism, please consider the following sources: Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction by Colin Ward, The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader by Voltairine de Cleyre, A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, the Alternative Media Project (http://Infoshop.org/), the Center for a Stateless Society (http://C4SS.org/) and Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchism).
[The authors are all members of Firestorm Cafe & Books in downtown Asheville, a worker-owned cooperative.]
Anarchists offer answers to John Boyle's cynical questions
By Scott Evans • And Emma Chandler • May 12, 2010
In the week since the vandalism that occurred on May Day, the inhabitants of Asheville have engaged in fervent discussion, attempting to sort out the motives behind, and significance of, what occurred.
Eleven people were arrested under suspicion of participating in the vandalism, but they have not made any statement to the press. It is, at this point, entirely unclear whether or not they were involved in criminal activity or simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time” and all speculation as to the motivation of the vandals appears to be an exercise in creativity.
What should be clear, however, is the meaning and history behind the philosophy of anarchism. In spite of the wealth of material available online and in print there has been widespread misinformation and mischaracterization of anarchists in local media over the past week. In the age of Wikipedia and Google, is it too much to expect for journalists to equip themselves with fact rather than broadcasting ill-informed assumptions?
A key example of this sensationalistic misreporting is John Boyle's piece, “A few questions for the anarchists in Asheville”
Instead of constructing insightful questions about the vandalism and its potential link to May Day, Boyle merely lists uncharitable and unresearched assertions concerning the arrested individuals while making a series of absurd and incorrect statements about anarchism in general. We would like to take advantage of this opportunity to clarify some of the misconceptions presented in Boyle's open letter.
Anarchism is not, as Boyle seems to believe, some nihilistic outgrowth of the late 20th century. Anarchists, often identified simply as “libertarians” outside the United States, have been at the forefront of the struggle for the liberation of the human spirit since the early 1800s.
From the battle for the eight hour day in America to the war against fascism in pre-WWII Europe, anarchists have lost their lives to expand and preserve our liberties. Important too is the pioneering role anarchist theoreticians have played in such diverse fields as urban planning and progressive education.
Boyle characterizes anarchists as wanting “no rules, no organization... Do whatever you want when you want.” This perception seems far removed from the actuality of anarchism and its principles of mutual aid and voluntary cooperation. Such practices require a high level of accountability to others and the community at large. Anarchists create organizations which are organic in nature and derive power from the informed consent of all participants rather than coercive hierarchies.
Boyle goes on to suggest that, in the absence of state capitalism, which anarchists oppose, “we'd run through a couple thousand years of misery and fighting” before returning to a democratic system “that tries to help the weakest members and provide basic services for everybody.”
Leaving aside his apparent contempt for pre-capitalist societies (in the absence of Wall Street, did Native Americans live in misery?), Boyle's reliance on the benevolence of American democracy is hard to swallow. In the wake of mega-bailouts, unshackled corporate spending and hijacked healthcare reform does anyone still believe that bureaucrats and CEOs have our best interest at heart? To the degree that democracy exists it is a result of struggle against authority and to accept present maldistributions of power is a betrayal of our revolutionary heritage as Americans.
Anarchism is not “utterly impractical and self-indulgent,” simply maligned and misunderstood. Our movement seeks an organic response to the rapidly changing world in which nothing lasts forever and new models constantly usurp the old. Solutions, we find, result from the directly democratic and spontaneous fulfillment of needs.
Boyle contemptuously demands to know why local anarchists are not working to resolve “child sexual abuse or world hunger or illiteracy or poverty,” revealing his own lack of connection to the community; a community in which anarchists are actively engaged with each of these critical issues. Although you might miss it if you're just looking for shattered glass, we run projects to provide community space (Firestorm Cafe & Books), feed the homeless (Food Not Bombs), facilitate the exchange of resources between neighbors (Asheville LETS), offer adult education opportunities (Asheville Freeskool) and assist the incarcerated.
Anarchists are the entrepreneurs of the future because we see the need for new structures that are consensual, sustainable and decentralized. If you are still uncertain as to the creative potential of anarchism within our community, stop by Firestorm Cafe & Books, and see what it means to work without coercion, co-managing with peers invested in the creation of a new economic model.
This commentary was collectively written by Evans, Chandler, Lani Bouwer, Evan Edwards, Meg Hen and danny lee. We speak only for ourselves and not on behalf of those accused, who may or may not identify as anarchists.