As the recent presidential election has now (finally!) drawn to a close, I believe it is time to discuss the recent events to better understand what collectively happened. After the election results, it became very clear that a majority of Americans were ready for different leadership in the White House. The unfettered war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and (in light of the recent findings by The New York Times) other secret locations, the global state of the economy, and the sense of despair after the reign of the Bush regime, most people were ready for different leadership. The new darling dandy of the liberal and progressive Left in this country is a former state senator from Illinois, who happens to be African American.
As an activist, scholar, and an anarchist, the spectacle of the U.S. elections caused me nothing more than serious despair over the entire process. When I informed colleagues and friends that I would not be participating in this year’s electoral madness, I was met with funny looks, glares, gasps, and general puzzlement. The idea that someone would choose, willingly, to not participate was akin to committing a grievous crime against democracy. This is doubly true as my role as a social studies educator here at the Warner School. However, I want to include a quote by David Blaine, an anarchist from the U.K., in a recent list-serv discussion on the election of Barack Obama:
I really don’t get how the blatant co-optation of black/working class/’grassroots’ struggle as a means by which to accumulate huge (State) power over the (US and international) working class can be anything other than a huge cause for despair. Those TV images of the public cheering in the street just made me realize how far we are from a society organized around (collective) self-determination; and how easy it is for the state to switch personnel and suddenly for everyone to be in love with it again. And to be honest, I really don’t see how anarchists can find some source of hope in the whole ridiculous spectacle…
What Blaine summarizes so nicely is the deep sense of dread and frustration that radicals like myself feel over the entire electoral process and the way(s) in which political action and participation are so neatly defined and delineated within the contemporary United States. Conservative and liberal political agendas push for changes to occur within institutional structures, instead of fundamentally questioning those structures and if they are, in fact, legitimate. For example, walking into a voting booth once in a predetermined time and place is constructed as “active citizenship”. Or that advocating for sanctioned legislation will alleviate oppressive conditions in our society. Now, I am not going to argue that voting may have a place in a new social movement. Indeed, voting may be one of the ways in which a social movement gains momentum. However, that cannot be the only place in which to locate political, economic, and social struggle. This is where I believe that, as a guiding philosophy, anarchism serves us quite well in rethinking strategies for social change.
For anarchists, replacing one hierarchical structure (in this case, a single man) with another will only produce, at best, cosmetic changes. Without addressing the fundamental and systemic problems that exist in this country and in others, simply switching personnel will produce no tangible results. Unlike mainstream approaches, anarchism provides a much more direct and sustained attack against oppressive features found in today’s society. Although anarchism has been demonized as “chaotic, bomb-throwing, disorder, and violence,” anarchism is instead a guiding philosophy that seeks to allow human beings to form their own collectivities and communities that are non-hierarchical, are community-based, shared and mutual authority structures, and promote an agenda for social justice for both human and nonhuman animals on the planet. In fact, anarchism promotes direct action, which Richard Day defines as, “communities of various sorts working together in a circulation of struggles that are simultaneously against capitalism and for the construction of alternatives to it.” From an anarchist perspective, direct action can be large projects to smaller and/or everyday interactions we have with our social world. Here are some examples of direct action:
- Deconstructing popular media images, such as representations of African Americans, women, or the poor.
- Providing workshops that discuss alternatives to electoral politics.
- Tearing down campaign signs for conservative or liberal politicians.
- Starting a campaign in your place of employment for people to rely less on automobile transportation and more on bicycles and other alternatives.
- Starting (or participating) in a Food Not Bombs (www.foodnotbombs.net) or Critical Mass (http://critical-mass.info/) in your area.
- Defacing billboards that support military recruitment or advertisements from corporate entities, such as Wal-Mart, McDonalds, etc.
- Getting involved in independent media outlets
- Supporting local, organic farmers and food.
- Becoming vegetarian or vegan. Or, not (whenever possible) consuming corporate, mass-produced food (Tyson Foods, Angus Beef, etc.)
Direct action recognizes that systems of representation or processes (like the recent elections) that emerge from oppressive institutions will not fundamentally address the systemic nature of our problems, whether they are economic or social. The nature of capitalism, the ways in which capitalism is tied vigorously to the State and its various apparatuses of control (the police, the military, corporations, etc.) leave little room for change occurring through electoral politics or other “approved” measures. It is not surprising then that career politicians, the government, the media (which is overwhelmingly corporate owned), and other official entities push for us to line up at the polling stations once every four years and “participate.” Instead, I urge people to take actions in their local communities that will produce tangible results that may sit outside of approved ways of bringing about social change. If we examine any successful historical movement, they have included both sanctioned and unsanctioned practices. The Civil Right Movement for example, utilized not only voting, but also direct action strategies of sit-ins, marches, protests, and boycotts. Without these outside practices, the Civil Rights Movement would have not been as effective. But, the way participation is defined is not the only troubling idea to have emerged from this past election. In fact, conservatives have used the election to further support that racism is now, “dead.” This has demonstrated the danger of conservative and liberal politics (for further study, see, http://www.townhall.com).
In fact, Douglas Giles claims in his most recent editorial, “Should Christians honor Barack Obama?”, that,
Personally, I think it is great that our nation has a black president, and I say this officially ends all the “oppressive white devil” blather. Yep, no mas “blanco el Diablo,” por favor. We have now “evolved.”
Giles is not alone in his uninformed opinion that racism is “dead.” If you read the undertones of many prominent conservatives, this line of thinking is being promoted. However, this completely omits the systemic nature of racism and does not address the deep-rooted nature of racist practices and its manifestations in our various institutions (likes schools and the media), cultural representations, and within the criminal justice system in particular. Without changing these oppressive structures, racism will not be “solved.” Mainstream liberal and conservative calls for voting and other socially sanctioned measures allow Giles and other conservatives/liberals to believe that racism is dead just because an African American man was elected. Anarchism pushes us to recognize that systemic changes must also accompany cosmetic changes and that class and gender are also powerful social categories that cannot be overlooked when discussing issues of race.
I urge everyone to think of strategies outside socially sanctioned ways of political participation. Opening our minds and hearts to new ways of examining the world around us can produce beautiful results, and historically, we have many examples that we can look at to see strategies in different historical times and locations (for example, the Spanish Civil War; The Civil Rights Movement; Paris, 1968; Seattle, 1999). I urge the reader of this blog to explore anarchist literature and their theories, and those interested can contact me for direction. Begin a reading group with others who may see the world in similar ways as you do. Also, let us begin to rethink political participation to move us out of the voting booths into our communities, schools, places of worship, or other social venues. In this way, we can begin to make our practices revolutionary and empowering for the communities in which we live and inhabit everyday and for our own mental health and well-being. I will end with a quote from the anarchist collective Crimethinc, “Expect resistance, the future is unwritten.”