David Graeber for Al Jazeera: Occupy Wall Street’s anarchist roots.

It certainly is an exciting time to be an American anarchist. I never dreamed that direct action would involve (tens of?) thousands of Americans and capture the attention of the media for more than a month.

To whet your appetite:

“How are you going to get anywhere if you refuse to create a leadership structure or make a practical list of demands? And what’s with all this anarchist nonsense – the consensus, the sparkly fingers? Don’t you realise all this radical language is going to alienate people? You’re never going to be able to reach regular, mainstream Americans with this sort of thing!”

If one were compiling a scrapbook of worst advice ever given, this sort of thing might well merit an honourable place. After all, since the financial crash of 2007, there have been dozens of attempts to kick-off a national movement against the depredations of the United States’ financial elites taking the approach such journalists recommended. All failed. It was only on August 2, when a small group of anarchists and other anti-authoritarians showed up at a meeting called by one such group and effectively wooed everyone away from the planned march and rally to create a genuine democratic assembly, on basically anarchist principles, that the stage was set for a movement that Americans from Portland to Tuscaloosa were willing to embrace.

That said, I think winter is a great time to head home, hunker down and organize locally. Building local economies is a hugely important if this movement is to be successful. It’s also essential to recruit EVERYONE, including cops, religious groups and the “1%” as we try to build a society that doesn’t need “armies, prisons [or] police.” Extend the olive branch to EVERYONE, but let NO ONE take the reins.

Anarchism envisions a society based on equality and solidarity, which could exist solely on the free consent of participants.

Graeber goes on to explain how none of the Founding Fathers believed true democracy could work in America, taking notes from Hobbes’ Leviathan:

According to the official version, of course, “democracy” is a system created by the Founding Fathers, based on checks and balances between president, congress and judiciary. In fact, nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or Constitution does it say anything about the US being a “democracy”. The authors of those documents, almost to a man, defined “democracy” as a matter of collective self-governance by popular assemblies, and as such they were dead-set against it.

This is one area I slightly disagree with Graeber. Jefferson and the Anti-federalists were in favor of a much more democratic model than the one we ended up with. From what I remember about my course in American Political Thought,  TJ envisioned a landscape like Greece made up of hundreds of free city states, most of which allowed more-or-less direct democracy for most of the land-holding white males. I think OWS builds on that idea. I also think that mentioning TJ early and often can really help us start a conversation with right leaning Americans who might look on OWS with disdain.

To read the rest of David Graeber’s article click here:



The 60s in Reverse: Part II

Recently, there are countless examples of liberal writers wringing their hands about the upcoming elections in November. Tea Party candidates have won a few nominations and republicans threaten the balance of one or more houses of congress as well as a number of governorships across the US.

So it makes sense for traditional liberals to be worried about all these things. But I’m not a liberal at all. I’ve just gotten used to siding with liberals because we agree on most social issues (except gay marriage, fuck marriage in general and fuck the State’s role in people’s love lives). This has made me somewhat conflicted regarding the Tea Party movement. They are the largest (maybe?), most vocal (definitely.) disorganized group of Americans to get angry about federal power since the civil war. However, there’s a whole range of social issues that are worrying to an anarchist: restricting reproductive rights & gender equality, racism & religion spring to mind. Can these be addressed? How would the landscape for dealing with these issues change in a Tea Party world? I don’t know, but tendencies toward limited government interference among Tea Partiers are super handy regarding social issues. This sphere should absolutely be outside of government influence. In exactly the same vein of separation of church and state.

Here is what I propose for anarchists who are unsure what to make of anti-government sentiment among white middle class baby boomers:

Stop voting defensively. (Stop voting entirely?) Don’t vote for liberals just because of their stance on social issues. This is the same as Kansas conservatives voting against their economic interests.

We are not part of the Tea Party movement. We are what it should have been. An anti-government movement emboldened by the bailout. Disgusted by collusion between the State and Capitalism, but not living in fear of “the other.” We can stand alongside middle class whites as well as lower class blacks and people of color. We know better than to look down on someone based on their statistics: anarchists don’t have any more right to look down on white middle class Tea Partiers than any other group of Americans.

However, we must stand against them when they are wrong. For example, if Tea Partiers ever forget the bailout and start supporting laissez-faire expansion of corporate power, we must stand against them. We must be vocal and stand against them when they use hate of the ‘other’ as an organizing tool. Unless that other is a non-human entity such as BP, Exxon, Enron, Humana, Blue Cross Blue Shield.

We should stand with them against monumental collusion by government and capitalist forces. We should remind them that government intrusions such as the Patriot act in our lives should be fought by citizens such as ourselves.

Rally up some crust-punks, radical cheerleading squad, drum core, anarcho-queers, manarchists and whoever else you can find. Go to the nearest-tea-party-rally-near-you™ with your awesomest get-ups, signs, flags and street theater teams and make a joyful noise. Talk with Tea Baggers. The middle class can be radical.  (If you haven’t guessed, I grew up middle class white & suburban. I like to think I am still capable of bringing shit down and causing a ruckus as well as the next radical anarchoqueer.) Capitalism benefits so few people in this country that its opponents are of all stripes. While fewer oppose the State, it’s time for liberals to start thinking hard about what it is they’re defending. It could bring together the same people that opposed one another in the 60s. It’s the 60s in reverse. A chance for the 60s as they should have been.

The 60s in Reverse: Part I

Liberals are afraid of change.

(Speaking of fear, I just woke up and started writing this post because I thought I heard someone trying to kick my front door down. (I think the noise came from somewhere else in my apartment building, and maybe I just inaccurately interpreted some noises in my sleep).)

Liberals are afraid of the social change that the Tea Party could represent. Tea Baggers views on reproductive rights, queerness and outright racism are often rather shameful frankly, but in keeping with the beliefs on non-interference, keeping them honest on reducing government power seems a dandy way to deal with these issues.

Liberals also buy the idea that government programs are necessary to keep the playing field even and promote social mobility. I think it’s clearer than ever that the government is failing in this regard (Google “The great divergence”).  Government insurance plans (a rally point for liberals who thought “if we get this one thing, things will start getting better”) might be a lot less necessary if insurance companies were not the sole drivers of cost. Reducing corporate power seems to have fallen out of discussion in the Tea Party even though the Bailout was a major catalyst in developing their movement. (Of course, I’m no Tea Bagging scholar or anything.)

Hope™ and Change™ mottoes brought about more bailouts and gridlock in Congress (okay, so the Republicans drove gridlock, but the only major pieces of legislation that I think are likely in the coming decade are crony capitalist Republicans’ bills after the next presidential election.)

This is one thing Obama supporters are in the process of learning: Change can’t be won with an election. Stunning victories by Democrats in ’08 brought about approximately ZERO change and NEGATIVE hope as far as my limited calculations can figure. I imagine Tea Party supporters will eventually learn the same, even if they do win the next couple elections.

The complete failure of Democrats to execute anything following the past election might not be enough evidence that radical change is the only option, but it is clear Leviathan has grown, but may no longer be powerful enough to counteract the great divergence & unrestrained growth of corporate power. Government and capitalism are too intertwined. Bureaucrats would have little influence upon the dynamics of the system, even if they operated with a unified will (Unless perhaps they struck down corporate personhood, but that would be the most radical change of the past 200 years and would have to either pass congress by supermajority or by state amendment convention and any legislation would likely be struck down by the Supreme Court based on precedent provided by Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad).

Leviathan was too well designed to be inefficient and slow radical change. Capitalism is the major element of change in our society and it has scared citizens on the Right (perhaps only subconsciously, but there is no arguing that the bailout has been a rally point for the Tea Party). Why has it not scared citizens on the Left? Are we just too caught up in the threats the Right could make in the realm of social issues?

Perspectives on the aftermath of “Hope”


If I was less lazy (or less in grad school) I would write more articles like the following:


A Turn to the Dark Side of Politics

The American media, large segments of the public and many educators widely believe that authoritarianism is alien to the political landscape of American society. Authoritarianism is generally associated with tyranny and governments that exercise power in violation of the rule of law. A commonly held perception of the American public is that authoritarianism is always elsewhere. It can be found in other allegedly “less developed/civilized countries,” such as contemporary China or Iran, or it belongs to a fixed moment in modern history, often associated with the rise of twentieth century totalitarianism in its different forms in Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Even as the United States became more disposed to modes of tyrannical power under the second Bush administration – demonstrated, for example, by the existence of secret CIA prisons, warrantless spying on Americans and state-sanctioned kidnapping – mainstream liberals, intellectuals, journalists and media pundits argued that any suggestion that the United States was becoming an authoritarian society was simply preposterous. For instance, the journalist James Traub repeated the dominant view that whatever problems the United States faced under the Bush administration had nothing to do with a growing authoritarianism or its more extreme form, totalitarianism.[2] On the contrary, according to this position, America was simply beholden to a temporary seizure of power by some extremists, who represented a form of political exceptionalism and an annoying growth on the body politic. In other words, as repugnant as many of Bush’s domestic and foreign policies might have been, they neither threatened nor compromised in any substantial way America’s claim to being a democratic society.

Against the notion that the Bush administration had pushed the United States close to the brink of authoritarianism, some pundits argued that this dark moment in America’s history, while uncharacteristic of an aspiring democracy, had to be understood as temporary perversion of American law and democratic ideals that would end when George W. Bush concluded his second term in the White House. In this view, the regime of George W. Bush and its demonstrated contempt for democracy was explained away as the outgrowth of a serendipitous act of politics – a corrupt election and the bad-faith act of a conservative court in 2000, or a poorly run election campaign in 2004 by an uncinematic and boring Democratic candidate.

According to this narrative, the Bush-Cheney regime exhibited such extreme modes of governance in its embrace of an imperial presidency, its violation of domestic and international law, and its disdain for human rights and democratic values that it was hard to view such anti-democratic policies as part of a pervasive shift towards a hidden order of authoritarian politics, which historically has existed at the margins of American society. How else to label such a government other than shockingly and uniquely extremist, given its political legacy that included the rise of the security and torture state; the creation of legal illegalities in which civil liberties were trampled; the launching of an unjust war in Iraq legitimated through official lies; the passing of legislative policies that drained the federal surplus by giving away more than a trillion dollars in tax cuts to the rich; the enactment of a shameful policy of preemptive war; the endorsement of an inflated military budget at the expense of much-needed social programs; the selling off of as many government functions as possible to corporate interests; the resurrection of an imperial presidency; an incessant attack against unions; support for a muzzled and increasingly corporate-controlled media; government production of fake news reports to gain consent for regressive policies; use of an Orwellian vocabulary for disguising monstrous acts such as torture (“enhanced interrogation techniques”); furtherance of a racist campaign of legal harassment and incarceration of Arabs, Muslims and immigrants; advancement of a prison binge through a repressive policy of criminalization; establishment of an unregulated and ultimately devastating form of casino capitalism; the arrogant celebration and support for the interests and values of big business at the expense of citizens and the common good, and the dismantling of social services and social safety nets as part of a larger campaign of ushering in the corporate state and the reign of finance capital.