So, uhm, I’m calling out pretty much every anarchist in the US.
edit noon eastern time, elaborated on the last few paragraphs.
I’ve had a long history as part of the anarchist movement/community/scene. More accurately, I’ve had a long history on the sort of fringes of the anarchist movement/community/scene being othered and and silenced and relegated to indentured servitude and accused of being an FBI agent. I’ve put up with all sorts of things I shouldn’t have had to put up with, and shouldn’t have put up with.
This post describes many kinds of oppression, alienation, and marginalization.
It’s hard to know where to begin, really, but I’ve had three conversations today that were basically about the utterly ridiculous ways I’ve been treated by the anarchist scene, so obviously SHIT IS ON MY MIND and I need to fucking get it out.
I guess I should start out by pointing out how fucking othering it all was to me. From the start it was very clear that whenever an anarchist would talk about an issue that actually affected me, be it anti-queer violence, police brutality, the existence of prisons, homelessness, whathaveyou, it would be in a very othering way that made it very clear how little the solidarity they chanted about differed from the one-sided charity I experienced as a homeless person all the time. The Salvation Army handed out its literature and the anarchists handed out theirs. The Christians promised me their utopia and the anarchists promised me theirs.
I appreciate it that anarchists brought attention to my plight, just as I appreciate (most of) the shelter provided to me by many non-profit organizations. I just wish I could see how, exactly, waiting in line for Food Not Bombs differed from waiting in line for MREs at the homeless shelter, except in that the MREs weren’t periodically forty minutes late and had shorter lines.
It quickly became clear to me that to anarchists and in anarchist literature, people like me were the other, we were there to prove a point, to illustrate the meanings of big words like prison-industrial complex and to be a faceless victim for an overwhelmingly middle-class youth movement to understand why a class-structured society, which most of them seem to be doing quite well in, was a fundamentally flawed idea.
When I wasn’t actively involved in some local struggle, I spent a lot of time as a traveler kid. Unfortunately, while anarchists don’t romanticize that lifestyle as much as a lot of other people, they don’t really respect it either. Anarchists have often been willing to let a stranger sleep on their couch for a night, or a couple nights, and I don’t want to understate how valuable this is. On the other hand, it gets creepy when they expect something in return, and they so often do. Often they would demand rent; when I had no money to pay they demanded work. Now, personally, I’m incapable of doing most kinds of housework because of my disability. The housework I could do, I would do, but this obviously didn’t guarantee me any kind of stability or dignified existence.They were privileged over me and knew it; my very presence made them uncomfortable and was allowed only in an attempt to assuage their guilt. After a few days, they would kick me out and I’d have to hit the road again.
Repeat for a year and a half.
I don’t think I ever really had too many honest and open discussions about how my privileges and oppressions intersect with that of any anarchist; while many were happy to call me on my own (often in extremely problematic ways; apparently it’s appropriate for someone whose parents pay for their college to decide that my disability check is “disposable income”) I had a harder time being heard when talking about their privilege over me.
We never talked about why we lived in an overwhelmingly black area in Oakland but our friend group was damn near exclusively white. We never discussed why so few of the POC who set foot in our house ever came back. We never discussed if we were othering the actual homeless people participating in our park occupation by holding a meeting while they were all asleep, or if the upside down cross in our doorway (or on our pamphlet, or tattooed on your arm) was potentially alienating to people who practiced a religion. No, when we discussed oppression it all took place in the abstract absent the input or even acknowledgement of the people we were oppressing in the room, sometimes by our very presence in a space.
As an example, many of the people I squatted with… you know, could have done things in other ways. Most of the people I squatted with had recently left college or their jobs of their own free will. A minority were still attending college or working rather cushy jobs and could have done things differently. I’m genuinely homeless, and there aren’t that many houses to go around. While I’m sure this was liberating and reclamatory for some people, as a genuine uneducated, unhoused, unemployed, homeless person it felt like fetishization of my lifestyle and appropriation of my experiences, and again I’d like to emphasize that their privileges over me went unacknowledged and unspoken of. One incident that particularly stings is when I was kicked out of my room by someone who my housemates had just met a few days ago smoking weed downtown. This person, who had their own car and had attended several colleges, argued that they needed my room more than they did, because, among other things, I hadn’t “done anything with it” and they “really needed a room of their own to do homework.” For the record, I was busy trying to pull together the lost pieces of my mind after being raped and couldn’t put too much energy into the interior decorating. After that incident I was kicked out of the house and spent some of the most delicate and emotionally volatile months of my life in rather precarious living situations.
For all the talk in such circles of marginalized queer youth, I’ve sure had a hard time meeting any. I’ve sure read a lot about marginalized queer youth in BashBack! literature, but I’ve had a very hard time finding any in these spaces. That experience again is often used to prove a point about how some queers are marginalized in comparison to others, which is a very valid point to make… but the marginalized queer is so often me and the other, un-marginalized queers are very, very often queer anarchists who I spent time with and we never. ever. discussed this fact.
At the same time, the marginalized queer tends to be idealized as an archetype in these spaces, and the scene more or less demands that its members minimize their parents’ influence in their lives. It has been the norm in my life to encounter with regularity people who will eagerly compare the hardships of their experience branching out from their healthy, cushy childhood into finding their adult selves to my experience as a homeless, often friendless, marginalized queer with no family and no financial support. This is clear and flagrant privilege denial.
At the same time it is alienating to queers who do have families who they love. Some of my best friends have parents, and that’s okay, and frankly I have a much easier time getting along with the ones who acknowledge their privilege. It’s a big fucking deal to alienate your own parents, and if someone doesn’t want to or have to then it is all kinds of beyond fucked up to expect that. And it makes it a hell of a lot harder to tell when I’ve found people who share my experiences, and when I’ve found people who think it’s just so cool that I’m emotionally incapable of having any contact with my parents and strive to be like that.
And you know what, maybe I want kids one day. Maybe I don’t find the idea of being married inherently oppressive. I don’t think that alienating everyone who is married or wants or has kids is an okay thing to do. I think that, again, anarchists underestimate what exactly it is they’re asking for in demanding that everybody choose between their families and anarchism and it’s a gross reflection of their privilege to assume everybody can or wants to do so.
I mentioned earlier how I spent a lot of my time in the scene in utterly failing mental health. It’s not like I didn’t look to anarchism for answers. After all, the ideology is something like centuries old, surely at some point someone has said something about mental health? Hadn’t I spent a lot of time rioting in response to police killing people, and weren’t most of those people neurologically complicated?
I found that in this scene, people like me weren’t even acknowledged enough to be othered. I found that we were represented in the pathologically pacifistic, in the corporations who meet all the diagnostic criteria for a personality disorder, the insane lumberjacks, the rape of the salmon and civilization as an abuser, in capitalism as suicide and in the god delusion.
And about the whole god thing.
I don’t talk about the religious experiences I was going through in the time leading up to my I guess, pretty concrete enrollment in lifestyle anarchism or the fact that I continued, in some ways, to practice Islam in secret for a few months afterwards. Eventually I had to pick one or the other. I had a bit of a rant prepared, but honestly, I don’t really even feel like I have to say anything beyond that the anarchist scene is a harshly unwelcoming environment to anyone with any sort of religious beliefs. This will surprise nobody, anarchists often go out of their way to ensure this, and what the fuck, anarchists, why is that ok at all? I had the privilege to choose, but as for the remaining ~80-90% of the world who practice a religion, a ~revolutionary movement~ like that could be, y’know, just a little alienating?
I don’t particularly care if you had a Repressive, Christian Upbringing. I had a repressive alcoholic upbringing, and you don’t see me trying to make a space unsafe for people who drink. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time going out of my way to accommodate people who drink, even if it means curling up in some obscure room of a punk house trying to keep myself calm during my flashbacks while everyone else gets drunk and triggers the hell out of me.
The fact is that in many parts of the US, especially in the liberal college towns where anarchists tend to congregate, atheism isn’t a new thing. It isn’t persecuted, it isn’t subversive. It is privileged. It is pretentious. It is fully possible to create an entire social movement with militant atheism not as a current but as a fully assimilated part of the ideology, and that is what anarchists have done.
By contrast, when I talk about my alcohol trigger as someone who was abused as a child, anarchists have by and large been dismissive and unaccommodating. My triggers were presented as my own flaw to work through, and am I sure I don’t want anything to drink?
I’m upset that I spent so much time in that scene, internalizing and perpetuating all those oppressive things. And it’s super disappointing that all this goes on, because honestly I think that opposition to hierarchy is a pretty solid idea that I’m still totally behind. It’s a shame that, well, y’know…
this is such an excellent post about (predominantly) western, white anarchist politics.