Last month, we concluded the To Change Everything US tour, bringing together anarchists from Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and North America to compare notes on the uprisings and social movements of the past decade. In the course of 65 days, we presented 59 events in 57 towns, speaking with well over 2000 people altogether. To hear an audio recording from one of the presentations, tune in to episode 44 of the Ex-Worker Podcast.
Many people have seen the booklet and video we are distributing on the theme To Change Everything; we wanted to follow up by initiating intercontinental conversations about strategy and liberation. In the digital age, it is more important than ever to meet and debate and form bonds in person. If you met us on this trip, please stay in touch and help brainstorm what we should do together next.
We had a wonderful tour. For those of us from the US as well as overseas, it is instructive to take in the entire country in a single continuous trip. It gives you the lay of the land. Here is what we saw.
What We Saw
The good news is that plenty of people around the United States are newly interested in anarchism. Most of our events were better attended than anyone anticipated, drawing crowds of more than a hundred in a few cases. In the Midwest, for example, not known for being a hotbed of radicalism, we were surprised how many people wanted to talk revolution, especially in cities within a day’s drive of St. Louis, Missouri. This is the generation radicalized by the Ferguson protests. Even as state repression intensifies and survival gets more difficult, that creates windows of opportunity.
At the same time, it seems that the forms of infrastructure and organization that would enable people to follow through on this interest are largely missing. In Washington, DC, once an epicenter of anarchist activity, after we spoke to a full room, many people asked how they could get involved with local in anarchist groups—and none of the longtime locals in attendance knew what to tell them. Over and over, in perhaps a dozen cities, we heard that our event was perhaps the largest gathering of anarchists their community had seen for years. This is not good news. Rather than waxing nostalgic about the structures of the past, we urge our comrades across the US to experiment with new ways to bring people together.
Having to articulate our experiences and critiques on a nightly basis in dialogue with a wide range of people enabled us to learn from others and to refine and clarify our own views. In addition to introducing the basic tenets of anarchism, our talks focused on the distinction between democracy and autonomy, the pitfalls of organizing around demands, and how nationalism, fascism, and militarization are spreading in response to the same crises that anarchists hope to address. That last subject proved especially timely, as our tour coincided with the so-called “migrant crisis” in Europe, itself brought about by borders and nationalism. Additionally, on the northeast and northwest coasts, a comrade from the group that published Para Cambiar Todo in Argentina joined us. She concentrated on the ways that the gains of the Argentinean revolution of 2001 have been reintegrated into the prevailing order there, to encourage critical thinking about how to resist the processes of cooptation.
Different threads from our presentation resonated in different parts of the country. In the northeast, where some of our events were booked by members of the Black Rose Anarchist Federation, the discussions often focused on basic strategic questions, as comrades coming from a background of activism or labor organizing struggled to understand our critique of demand-centered organizing. Elsewhere, attendees were more focused on how to respond to the spread of nationalism and how to act in solidarity with targeted populations. Occasionally, we got to debate supporters of Syriza or leftist movements in Argentina—proponents of a reformism for which the prospects seem to be increasingly bleak.
This was an ambitious tour. The last comparable anarchist speaking tour of the US was probably in 2010, when our Greek comrades came to present We Are an Image from the Future. We hope that our efforts will inspire others to go further in similar ventures. The tour gave us an invaluable chance to get perspective on our immediate struggles, to engage in collective critical reflection on the challenges ahead, and to start new friendships that will continue to inspire us for a long time to come.
Along the way, we saw the coastline on all four sides of the continental US, three of the Great Lakes, Niagara Falls, and several deserts and canyons. We climbed mountains and swam in a dozen lakes, rivers, and oceans. We got lost in Mexico and wandered downtown Los Angeles on Halloween night with nowhere to sleep. We held correspondence between Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman in our hands at the Labadie Collection, the largest archive of anarchist material in North America. We visited Goldman’s grave and the graves of other comrades at Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago, and the memorial near the site of the Haymarket massacre. We deplored the aesthetics of Las Vegas and the gentrification of the Albany Bulb in Berkeley. We saw llamas, skunks, sea lions, coyotes, snakes, turtles, elk, deer, rabbits, raccoons, and thousand-year-old Redwoods. We argued in six languages. On some days, we paid visits to as many as four towns, with a different activity scheduled in each of them. We had a lot of adventures.
Thanks to Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness and Hayes Auto Service for help with transportation, and the generous individual who loaned us a minivan while we replaced the transmission in our own disabled vehicle—not to mention countless other comrades who organized events for us, fed us, housed us, raised funds to help cover our expenses, mailed things that we had forgotten, and shared their insights and enthusiasm with us. Above all, we are grateful to all the courageous people who risk their freedom and sometimes their lives in pursuit of liberation.
Here follow a few stories from some of the places we visited, recounted in seven different voices.
In Baltimore, we saw traces of the riots sparked by the police murder of Freddie Gray in April 2015.
The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space in Manhattan.
New York, New York
As soon as we arrived in the Big Apple, we went and gave a presentation on overseas occupation movements at the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space on the ground floor of Manhattan’s notorious See Squat. Afterwards, we squatted a disused apartment in Brooklyn, where we stayed for the duration of our stay in New York City. Gentrification is sweeping the world, washing away radical social centers and squatting movements everywhere—and New York has been one of the worst hit. See Squat itself is marooned in a bourgeois wasteland of expensive eateries, literally reduced to a museum marking what once was. That’s exactly what we were warning against in our discussion of the uses and pitfalls of focusing on infrastructure. But for a few days, gentrification be damned, we lived the dream—complete with the roaring subway right outside our rent-free front window.
There is such a thing as American exceptionalism. Americans are certain that however bad things are in the US, they must be worse elsewhere. This notion of America as the promised land is deeply engrained in the American psyche. Over and over, we heard audiences explain that the resistance movements we were describing in other parts of the world are inspiring, but that people won’t revolt like that in the United States because they have it easy—they’re seduced by material comforts and middle-class apathy. This was dramatized for us at our first presentation in New York, when a woman stood up to express solidarity with our squatting struggles in Eastern Europe, and to ask how to help. She said that people don’t have it bad enough yet in the US to be ready to fight back. To put that in perspective, she was an unemployed middle-aged HIV-positive African-American woman whose housing project was being evicted. Maybe the problem is not that people don’t have it bad enough here, but the idea that it must be worse elsewhere.
The following night, we had a packed event at the Base in Brooklyn. Thanks to all our comrades there, for the fancy letter-pressed posters and everything else.
A decade and a half ago, Boston was one of the centers of old-fashioned anarcho-communist organizing in the United States, boasting a chapter of the Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists that published NEFAC’s regular English-language journal and even took the lead in calling for the black bloc at Bush’s inauguration in 2001. We [CrimethInc.-affiliated anarchists] had our differences with that crowd, and were bemused by the love-hate relationship certain NEFACers had with our efforts. But they were an essential part of the anarchist movement of the time, and proportionate to their numbers, they accomplished a great deal.
It would be nice if they were still around. We could debate why workplace organizing never regained centrality in anarchist strategizing: they would insist that this is why anarchists haven’t made more inroads into reaching “the masses,” while we would counter that precarization driven by capitalist globalization and the transition of the majority of workers from industrial production to the service industry has relocated the epicenter of economic struggles from the workplace to the street. We could tell each other “I told you so” about the crises and uprisings of the past decade. They would grant that we had a better grasp of how to open dialogue with people outside the anarchist milieu, while we would acknowledge that in our halcyon youth it was only thanks to their stodgy, steady efforts that we could present ourselves as the prodigal children of freedom.
Unfortunately, there’s little sign of our old rivals in Boston today. It’s ironic that our informal network has outlived all their carefully federated infrastructure. This may be because, as we once argued about insurrectionist anarchism, some forms of organization produce more energy and resources than they consume, while others cost more than they produce. But it also speaks to the transience of anarchist projects—and social networks of all kinds—in North America. Our talk drew intelligent and committed comrades from a variety of struggles and backgrounds, but the class struggle perspective was represented by a very small number of activists who are striving against the current to revive anarchist labor organizing in Massachusetts. The last thing we want is to win arguments by attrition; it’s better to be part of a vibrant range of anarchist practices and strategies, with room for disagreement and debate. Don’t drop out, comrades, especially if you disagree with us.
After the discussion, taking a scenic foot tour of the city, we saw the hotel where both Ho Chi Minh and Malcolm X once worked, serving as a pastry chef and a busboy, respectively. The indignities of the service industry will surely go on producing revolutionaries; the question is whether anarchists will be involved.
The Flying Squirrel Community Space in Rochester, NY.
A group of comrades were waiting for us on 28th and Liberty Street. One of them had thoughtfully prepared a historical tour of the neighborhood for us. Though we had never met, we were treated as old friends.
Our host told us a story from almost 140 years ago. After years of wage cuts and layoffs, railroad workers across the US went on strike. It began in West Virginia in the summer of 1877 and quickly spread to several other states. Workers spontaneously rose up, independent of their unions, preventing trains from moving and destroying train cars and stations. The strike lasted 45 days, and was eventually put down by local, state, and federal militias. Apparently, the worst violence occurred there in Pittsburgh.
He led us through some streets to different spots where workers had fought against 300 militia members from Philadelphia. The workers armed themselves and the conflict went on for days, forcing the militia to the street, where they where shot at from all directions.
We were taken back in history for a moment, just as if a friend were telling me about a riot he participated in a few weeks ago. It is a gift to tread in the footsteps of rebels past, to understand that whatever happened is never lost, it’s still there.
Earlier that day, we had spotted an impressive but strange building as we drove through the town. It was a high tower, like a cathedral or a castle out of a desert-empire-fantasy story. We took some photos and didn’t give much more thought to it, but as one of us put it, “It’s just typical of my fate that that’s where our presentation will be today.”
In fact, the building was part of the university; though it looked like a school of wizardry inside, we found our designated classroom. It looked quite normal.
While we were fooling around with the rollable podium, the room filled with over 120 people. Most were students, but there were others, young and old. An interesting discussion followed, ranging from powerful political wonderings and loving fiery statements to basic questions like “Who will clean the streets in Anarchy?” Many might laugh (so did I), but it led to a conversation about valuing people’s lives over their labor, individual responsibility in a community, and the brutal force of money and the economy. Whoever feels like their question is not “clever enough,” forget about that and speak up! Usually great things come out of being honest.
Later that evening, yet another event had been planned with us; we found ourselves in a lovely home with a living room filled with local anarchists. One of the goals was to strengthen the city’s internal web of radical individuals, especially since many people did not know each other. For me personally, this is one of the things I wish to see more of in any context, whether at home or in places I visit. To challenge ourselves to make our lives, joys, and problems a collective matter, a collective concern.
A public monument in Pittsburgh, PA autonomously placed by the Howling Mob Society to celebrate the riotous Railroad Strike of 1877.
Another longstanding public installation in Pittsburgh.
Three days after our presentation in the Cathedral of Learning, we sat around a fire on logs in the grass and dirt of a lovely community garden on a squatted field surrounded by asphalt and low buildings. People said the city was called ”Little Detroit,” probably because of the economic (and architectural?) similarities. I don’t know, but the GPS had taken us to Toledo.
While the sun was still up, I explored the little paths around the vegetable and sunflower beds. A big, colorful mural of fable animals, badger gardeners, and squirrel anarchists decorated the side of a brick house facing the garden. Children were running around the romantic setting; even the compost piles of rotting plants looked beautiful in the orange autumn light. Next to the fire circle was an outdoor kitchen, built DIY out of wood and clay. While the sun was setting, people put out stews brought for the occasion. We all shared a meal together and our fire grew while the darkness spread.
The atmosphere of this presentation was very different from other times on this tour. Introductions and discussion intermingled as people came with thoughts from all directions. A warm welcoming feeling to anyone who looks inward in a circle, who accepts, listens, and teaches horizontally. To be next to everyone, but also to face them from the opposites we come from. It was a magical evening and I would like to thank everyone who shared their powerful and confrontational insights. Even in the asphalted terrain among domesticated, modern human beings, I felt the presence of humble warriors.
The squatted community garden in Toledo.
Detroit, Michigan (I)
In Ayn Rand’s classic work of capitalist propaganda, Atlas Shrugged, she depicts a Detroit that has been ruined by socialism. Without the impetus of free market competition, the economy has collapsed along with the buildings it erected. The survivors linger on in a bestial state, sullen and unmotivated; Rand hints that they are even losing the power of speech. Worse yet—at least by her standards—they have ceased to use currency for their economic transactions.
Detroit today is indeed a ghost of its former glory, with entire neighborhoods abandoned and destroyed. Ironically, this was brought about by the globalization of the very same unbridled capitalism Ayn Rand considered the wellspring of all life. Bicycling around downtown Detroit, it often felt as though we were passing through a sprawling ghost town, the sort of rural wasteland produced by the emergence of industrial metropolises like the Detroit of the early 20th century. Rand’s beloved market economy produces apparent abundance by sucking resources into tremendous concentrations, then burning them up, leaving only wreckage in its wake. To quote Sole, “Look at Detroit, now look at the world.” If the impact of the boom and bust of the US automotive industry is represented by the present state of Detroit, what will the rise and fall of Google do to us all?
Derelict houses turned into art in one of the nearly abandoned neighborhoods in downtown Detroit. The blossoming of creativity in spaces abandoned by capitalism… or incipient gentrification?
Detroit, Michigan (II)
Detroit. I never saw so much emptiness in one city, not even in Balkan cities, torn by war, and yet inhabited by people determined to live. In Detroit I saw that emptiness in the abandoned avenues, train stations, skyscrapers, and neighborhoods, everything over-dimensioned for an army of giants—all for industry long disappeared, with nothing but these empty relics of Fordism to indicate it ever was.
But I saw that emptiness among comrades too. Even the room in which our presentation was held seemed oversized, the empty chairs at what was a well-attended event by Detroit standards seemed to me to represent comrades long gone.
During the discussion, I notice an older comrade, sitting in the back row in the dark. It takes a while before she speaks. She comes from a rundown neighborhood, where they have to fight fiercely to keep the electricity on in a building that is soon to be evicted. “But even if we win this one, there are so many more people about to be evicted,” she says. There is no despair in her voice, though. No lack of confidence. No thought of defeat. “We must fight, even if we put our bodies in danger, all together,” she concludes in language much more radical than what I have heard from most comrades on our tour. She and her friends are obviously fighting for their lives.
Her simple yet powerful words haunt me deep in the night as I crouch over the computer, trying to answer the emails that keep piling up and to refine my part of our presentation. In the middle of my struggle with words, I hear a loud noise—is that a crowd of people smashing up the pantry?
I was raised from childhood on tales of restless spirits who wander the land on unfinished business. Did our stories about the courageous actions of modern-day anarchists wake the revolutionary spirits of the industrial workers that I saw in Diego Rivera’s murals at Detroit’s Institute of Arts? Is it the poets, the bandits, the hobos, some other mystical creatures of the night? Or did our dreams of freedom awaken the present-day inhabitants of Detroit, the armies of the unemployed, the precarious workers sick and tired of running from one graveyard shift to the next? Did they stop to make a riot? As the commotion intensifies with devilish banging and rumbling, my curiosity draws me from my seat.
I steal carefully into the kitchen—only to find it empty and abandoned. Then I realize I am not alone. A pair of eyes glances at me from a high shelf, from which food has been torn out of its containers and thrown all over the floor. A rat. A single rat.
We stop and stare for a moment, our eyes locked together. We need no words to understand each other. We are accomplices in the crime of living in the city of sleepers. I turn off the light so she can continue looting the kitchen. She won’t disturb me organizing my thoughts on the struggle for freedom. We feel it differently, but we fight the same kind of hunger.
The following night we meet again. This time I see the rat carrying a tin twice her size up the wall. The weight of her loot pulls her down, yet she rises and keeps climbing.
I encountered that stirring, determined, courageous gaze in the eyes of unseen fighters many places on our trip. Maybe not in the places you would expect; rather, in the unexpected geographies of struggle. In the eyes of those who lived through the battles of Ferguson, in those who fight against borders in Arizona desert, in the stares of those living without papers in Las Vegas, in deported migrants on the abandoned streets of Tijuana, in eyes of those being gentrified out of New York.
They might not be many. Their light might be—darkness. People might not expect them to rise. But we’ll hear them roar.
Who is going to roar with them?
Passing around Emma Goldman’s press credentials at the Labadie Collection in Ann Arbor, Michigan—the largest archive of anarchist material in North America.
The Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument at Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago, where Emma Goldman, Lucy Parsons, Voltairine de Cleyre, August Spies, Boris Yelensky, Ben Reitman, and other anarchists are buried.
We spoke in an occupation, one of the few in the United States and the first openly squatted building that we saw on this tour. It’s a big house with a lovely back yard, to which we moved the talk from the basement, which had been prepared with rows of chairs and banners on the walls. The neighborhood is inhabited by immigrants from Guerrero, Mexico, and many people at the talk were from there as well; it was good to feel a bit at home and to practice my Spanish. The day before, there had been an event in Chicago to remember the 43 students disappeared in Mexico a year earlier, and before my presentation I spoke about that and about the massacre in Carandiru prison in São Paulo in 1992, the anniversary of which was the same week.
After weeks of speaking to people who were mostly new to anarchism, I was glad to exchange perspectives with comrades who have been involved in these struggles already, so we could get into some subjects in greater depth. Near the end, some people pointed out that this was the biggest gathering of anarchists in Chicago for a long time. It was good to feel that the tour was bringing people together and motivating them to do things. At the conclusion of the presentation, someone pointed out that the eclipse was in full effect in the sky, and everyone hurried to the back of the yard to admire the blood moon. What a magical night!
A few of the projects we encountered in Chicago:
Warzone zine distribution, an anarchist vegan straight edge collective from Elgin, Illinois
Book’Em, an anarchist lending library
South Chicago Anarchist Black Cross, a longstanding ABC group
Graffiti in solidarity with eco-prisoner Marius Mason.
A sticker we saw on a colonialist monument at the juncture of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers in St. Louis.
After the first three weeks of non-stop touring, we drove overnight yet again, this time from Evansville, Indiana to Carbondale, Illinois. We didn’t know what to expect, most of us coming from metropolises of millions. Just having finished traveling the overcrowded East Coast and Chicago and Detroit, another small town sounded exciting to me, especially after the amazing time we had in Bloomington the day before.
Arriving late at night, we were welcomed by three friendly people who showed us their house and offered snacks and refreshments. One of the first things that took my attention was a bow and arrows by the wall. Then there was another bow, but this one was really tall. While I lost myself in childhood nostalgia, one of our hosts began talking to me. Yes, its big, she said, once we took down an elk with it. Being vegan, like almost everyone involved with the tour, I didn’t really share her excitement.
I thought about it for some time later that night. I have to admit that I never met people who would hunt animals for food with a bow. This time I felt different. I see this wasn’t another macho person determined to “kill everything that moves,” one of those who my comrades in Brighton risk their lives to sabotage when they go hunting. She seemed to be very kind, considerate and conscious, connected to the surrounding environment. For the first time after many years, I didn’t feel uncomfortable the way I usually do when people start to talk about animals as food or products.
Sharing bed with another two friends was cozy. Suddenly it was morning and our hosts were preparing breakfast. Most of us were excited to go out to check the infoshop and go hiking. The more people we are, the more time it takes, but finally we got out and joined all the comrades in the parking lot by the forest. This was one of the things I really liked: in many places, we were taken care of by a large group of people who dedicated a day to showing us around. For me, it is very important to see the natural surroundings; too often, we focus too much attention on the cities and urban life. Playing with the idea that cities can’t exist forever, I find it interesting to go out and see flora and fauna and learn something about them from locals. This time we climbed, walked over logs, crawled through caves, saw good views, learned about poison ivy, and heard legends about the forest and southern Illinois.
On the way back, we saw a youth prison, which quickly reminded us what kind of world we live in. We went swimming in a lake, as well, and to my surprise these comrades joined us in our skinny-dipping culture. So unusual in the US.
The Flyover infoshop in Carbondale was our home base for the day. While we prepared to present an entirely different and challenging talk in St. Louis the next day, one by one we were treated to a massage by one of our hosts. I believe he saved my back for the rest of the tour. Soon the rest of the crew returned with pots of great vegan food, and we all shared a tasty and healthy dinner.
The infoshop seemed quite big for a town size of Carbondale, but the event was held in the university because the organizers said there wouldn’t be enough room in the shop. To my surprise, over 120 people showed up. Looking up the internet, Carbondale has little more than 24,000 inhabitants; that means that one out of every 200 residents came to the talk. I hadn’t heard of Carbondale before, but I learned that it has a radical history going back several generations.
Afterwards, we returned to the Flyover for informal discussion and snacking before yet another overnight drive. And I didn’t have enough time to compare notes and exchange experiences with my new comrade about prisoner support and anti-repression organizing. They had so much to say, but the road was calling. People brought us food from the guerrilla garden just across the street, and that reminded me about the bow. I still don’t see animals as food, and I’m not changing anything about veganism being part of my anarchism. But this time I met people whose lifestyle (harvesting from the garden, gathering fruits in the forest, maintaining their own herbal apothecary in the infoshop, and occasionally hunting by bow) is probably more sustainable and less harmful than the habits of some posh soy latte vegans I know in the big cities. Not to say there are only two ways or it makes one a better person if they do or don’t eat something, but rather, let’s not get stuck believing that some consumer choices we make take us closer to “better” lives. I think that our relationship to the land is an essential aspect of understanding what we are fighting for!
Iowa City, Iowa
Iowa City was yet another town in the Midwest where we had an unexpectedly big turnout. It was a full room of fifty or more people from many different walks of life. There was even someone else from Brazil! Another person, a local participant in the demonstrations in Ferguson, said that he knew nothing about anarchism except for what he saw anarchists doing there to support the protesters, and he had come to express his appreciation for what they contributed. We had a really energetic discussion.
Iowa City was also one of the places where people came to me asking about the movements associated with Especifismo in Brazil. Originating in Uruguay and adopted by many organizations in South America, this anarchist tendency is famous outside Brazil but is still not very known by people here. Some of the autonomous movements (the networks where we find the greater part of the anarchists and anti-capitalists) involved in the most important moments of the uprising in 2013 against transit fare hikes or in the resistance against mega-events use some strategic tools praised by the especifistas, like federalism. But some of its principles seem to go in the opposite direction from the broad tendencies adopted by groups resisting capitalism in the cities of Brazil. The especifista praise of tactical and ideological unity has not been relevant to the autonomous movements and individuals finding each other on the streets, in the occupations, and other fronts where theory and discourse are being built during the fights and not by selected groups of intellectuals trying to sell a finished and closed program to the “masses.” Maybe the Especifista turn is still to come, and its contribution is still to be understood by the broad sectors of society, like the autonomous movements have been over the last few years. But for now, it has found no opportunity to spread outside academic milieus in Brazil.
To our surprise, the venue hosting one of our events in Denver, Colorado was displaying this petition requesting police to intensify their harassment of poor people in the neighborhood. Denver police are already notorious for killing and harassing people. At the conclusion of our presentation, we tore up the petition in a gesture of solidarity with everyone targeted by police violence.
The Boing! anarchist collective in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Anarres Infoshop in Portland, Oregon.
As we rolled into Portland, the distinctive smell of smoke filled the van; when we got out to have a look, our right front tire was indeed smoking. Predictions varied as to the cause… everything from “I’ve seen it before, just too heavy on the brakes that last stretch” to “The end is nigh, the van will burst into flames any moment.” We decided it was worth checking out.
The next morning, after visiting a series of mechanics, we were advised that we would need a new transmission…to the tune of $2500. As we counted our coins and considered where we could cheaply rent a vehicle that could get us to Eugene, our host from Portland offered us his van until ours was repaired. This kind of unmeasured solidarity and trust between comrades is part of what made this tour so inspiring, shifting a moment of isolated stress and despair to one of collective strength and resolve.
We continued on to events in Corvallis, Eugene, and Ashland in our new friend’s van, until we received word from the mechanic that our old tour van would be ready the next day. Two of us left in the middle of the presentation in Ashland—practically midsentence—and drove back to Portland, arriving at three in the morning. We slept a few hours and headed on to see the mechanic, who gave the van one last loving test-drive and sent us on our way.
Insanely vowing to arrive in Eureka, CA in time for that day’s presentation, we drove nonstop, propelled only by our unfailing sense of humor, deep and intimate conversation, and truly terrible Southern Oregon radio. As we navigated the last curvy stretch of coastal redwoods, we realized that there was no way we would make it to the event. The moon was a thin sliver hung just above the Pacific; the stars hummed. We stopped at a turnout overlooking the ocean and got out, spinning in wonder at the shift from the van’s tense interior to the breadth of the landscape. As the moon set into the sea, we held each other, breathing deeply… and then continued driving.
We arrived to hugs and delicious plates of food, and slept like heroes after the long drive, glad to be reunited with the tour. The next morning it was on to San Francisco! But incredibly, as we loaded our newly-repaired van, we were met by yet another marvelous tour irony… a flat tire! Epic as the day before had been, this was only a minor hangup—but it was good to be reminded of life’s constant and humorous unpredictability.
The board at the co-op house where John Zerzan had supposedly booked us an event. He had not promoted it elsewhere, and didn’t bother to show up. Then, on his radio show, he criticized what he speculated might have been the content of the talk that he never saw. A poor reciprocation for the massive events one of us had organized for him overseas!
The event in Eugene was a tragicomedy for many reasons, not all of which bear enumerating here. But the sparse attendance led to conversations among ourselves that we rarely had reason or opportunity to engage in during more packed presentations or crammed together in the close quarters of the van. This, for me, was magical. With tender honesty we talked about burnout and how to know when we are overextending ourselves, at the same time as we discussed the territorial distinctions of fighting neo-Nazis in urban settings in Eastern Europe compared to the rural enclaves of the Pacific Northwest. Even with an audience of just fifteen people, I found myself challenged and captivated, learning from every word of those sitting next to me on the panel.
Part of the joy of being on tour with anarchists from multiple continents and communities is how much we can learn from one another. In giving presentations to people who may be “brand new” to anarchism, every night I talked to folks who seemed to assume that those of us on the panel might have definitive answers to some of their most pressing questions about radical struggle. While it is true that we have many years of individual and collective experience in distinct parts of the world, what we can share is always already past: we are never entirely prepared for the next moment, for the constantly shifting terrain of struggle. So what we can offer are experiences to learn from, and some good guesses on how to build the infrastructure (material, relational, emotional, and ephemeral) to be a little better prepared. Demystifying our past successes and failures among ourselves or wondering out loud amid comrades—willing to admit that we don’t really have a final answer—can be a great way to spark insight into what we may previously have thought of as unremarkable processes in our own lives.
I suppose the success of an anarchist informational event can be measured in multiple ways—great debates and massive attendance being a few superficial ones. Personally, it was worth remembering, especially with the exhaustion of traveling many thousands of miles in a few months, how much we really are refueled and reshaped by the time we spend hearing from each other—and even the tiniest event can be the venue for a very memorable exchange of ideas.
For once, the Bay Area lives up to its reputation: driving over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.
The Omni in Oakland, California, an hour before some 150 people crowded in for the presentation.
Murals in the Bay Area: the occupied garden at the Oakland community center Qilombo, Bound Together Books in San Francisco, and People’s Park in Berkeley.
On October 20, we spoke in Berkeley at a longstanding infoshop, the Long Haul. The presentation was hosted by a reading group that has met for 17 years. Instead of making our usual presentation, we discussed questions posed by the organizers and other participants in the reading group.
In the course of the conversation, I tried to make the point that texts and information from Europe and United States can spread all around the world, but the converse doesn’t seem to be true: there is disproportionately little familiarity with the Brazilian context in the United States. In general, the gringos don’t look for or translate what we do—only a few groups are seeking this dialogue across nations and borders.
Every time I walked into the house of a host or found a social center library, I looked for new stuff and to see what they had from brazilian authors. The biggest anarchist bookstores had some academic authors that are only known outside Brazil because of their “for export” texts. In a house in Olympia, I found a book called Outlaws of Sertão, translated by Wolfi Landstreicher. I never heard about this interesting book, but it was one of the very few books I found with stories about Brazilian people. It was written by the 1980s French collective Os Cangaceiros in reference to the bandit groups from the northeast of Brazil, famous in the early 20th century—a very important historical subject. But the original Cangaceiros were not anarchists. And it was necessary for French people to write something about Brazil for this guy be interested in translating it! This kind of warned me about the way information flows around the globe—even inside anarchist circles.
Another text from or about Brazil that I found on this tour was in a book collecting articles and interviews with outlaws and others “hated” by society. It was a translation of an interview with a famous narcotics kingpin, Marcola—that was actually a work of fiction by a journalist, which became a meme circulated via email years before today’s social media networks. The text was just a fabrication, but it was not presented as a work of fiction. Many people in Brazil took this interview as a real thing more than a decade ago, and it seems that this is still happening in the US.
Thinking about this made it feel especially important to meet with people face to face, along with comrades from other peripheral countries, in order to counteract this imbalance in communication, and to show how all of these struggles have points in common even in very different contexts. I found this to be true especially in the cases of native, black, and feminist struggles, as all of the Americas share a similar background of colonization. True dialogue and solidarity across borders can be a way to strengthen struggles for freedom and against capitalism.
Santa Cruz, California
Exhausted and tired after almost seven weeks of touring and meeting so many interesting people and experiencing so much, I didn’t really have time to look up anything about Santa Cruz. If I hadn’t heard great references and hadn’t met several people from Santa Cruz already, I would have expected a surfer tourist city with not much happening.
We again arrived late at night, driving straight from our talk in nearby city of Monterey. Some very friendly people welcomed us. It was Wednesday. And yes, it matters. Our hosts set aside every Wednesday as a day without electricity. An interesting and unusual thing, especially in a house occupied by three generations of people. They had some food prepared and we had a nice late talk by candlelight. Later, I realized that anarchists from Santa Cruz are largely anti-civilization oriented. We got an invitation to see more of that the following day.
After a quick breakfast, we left for the forest. Another comrade joined us to show us around the woods. We saw many different kinds of forest life, non-human and otherwise. Then we came to a big circle of redwoods with a space in the middle like a cathedral. Our host explained that redwoods, which can live for two thousand years, can be reborn from old roots. So in the middle, where there is a space today, there used to be very big tree. It fell down and around its diameter there are new trees growing. By new, I mean already several hundred years old. This place felt magical. I never expected to encounter a formation with such a long memory. I guess the indigenous people who used to live just few minutes away on a meadow between two forests, before they were killed or forced to move away, already knew the cathedral and probably had some unique use for it.
After lunch, we went for a walk on the pier to watch sea lions. For a person living in a landlocked country in central-eastern Europe, seeing redwoods and sea lions on the same day feels exotic indeed.
Sharing a yard with a DIY bike shop, the infoshop Sub Rosa felt comfortable. The discussion went on long into the evening, and people had some new questions. What I remember most clearly, though, was that after we broke up into smaller groups in informal discussion, I got to talk with a person who was used to be a soldier and became conscious and dropped out. To my bigger surprise, his mate came to me and said that he liked everything I had to say and he agrees with my radical anti-militaristic and antinationalistic points. Then he told me that he was an active-duty soldier. We had a long discussion, with me speaking from the position of total military objection while he expressed the idea that he could influence people from the inside, in order that they might one day disobey the order to kill. I can only hope that as long as the military exists, there can be people like him, and that one day they can threaten its functioning. As another friend says, people like him are a much bigger threat for the US government that any anarchist group. I agree, but I add that they are also a much bigger threat to people in the Middle East or in Baltimore or Ferguson than any anarchist. We shook hands and I felt I was really challenged in my opinions. I hope they won’t kill us when the time comes that there is no choice other than to take one side of the barricade or the other.
Later that night, I was invited to go running. We jogged to beautiful beaches, along shores where no one else was around.
Before we left for our long drive to Mexico, we had breakfast and talked more with our hosts. One of them focuses on moderating and resolving conflicts. I think this is an important topic, an activity we don’t focus on enough. In general, many of the people I met from Santa Cruz seemed to be wise and sensitive to group dynamics. There is so much to learn and the more I know, the more I feel I need to learn.
In terms of learning, these were the most intensive time of my life. I was learning not only about politics and new ideas, not just about a new country and exotic places, not only about history, but also about different people, different opinions, different experiences, different dynamics, about our limitations, our potential, relationships, care, and so many other things. But mostly I learned about myself and that I need to learn a lot, that I want to progress and never stop. I will always be grateful for all the people I got to spend time with on the road. Thank you all.
In California: signs of the times.
Café A Infoshop in Tijuana, Mexico.
Just across the border in Tijauna, a space emptied once by the drought and the second time by police. Until recently, this whole space was crowded with the encampments of the deported and homeless. Now its empty expanse speaks to all the state-imposed suffering we never see.
Crossing one of the bridges in Tijuana, only few meters from one of the most militarized borders in the world, I look down at an empty canal that used to be a river. Yet another sign of the drought plaguing this part of the West Coast. No water has run there for a while, but only a few months ago this canal was full of life: the encampments of deportees.
The United States deports hundreds of people without papers to Tijuana, Mexico every day. The cartels often get first pick of the deportees, taking women and men of their choosing. Some for sex, torture, and death, some for the drug business. Others end up living in the canals, some not even speaking Spanish since they spent most of their lives in US. Most have nowhere to go.
Earlier this year, Tijuana authorities “cleaned” the canal. When you walk across the bridge now, you no longer see tents and a river of people. But everywhere in the city, you see the silent reminders of thousands and thousands lost in the machinery of the border regime. Abandoned shoes here, an empty sleeping bag there.
In the evening, when dusk falls on the city, we walk through the red light district, still full of sex tourists. We stop in the square next to a church and set up the table for Food Not Bombs. “Free food,” comrade shouts in Spanish. In a second, the square that looked empty becomes alive. People come out of the dark corners, grab food, and disappear back into invisibility.
For a second, I try to imagine how the scattered millions on both sides of the border could stand up against the wall together. Then I am violently wrenched from my dreams by a hoarse voice barking at me: “Papers!”
I stop after a steep hike for a second to catch my breath. I look around. No shade, everything looks the same, even cactus are lying rotting across the path. Death, nothingness, desert for as far as the eye reaches. Even though it is early November, the temperatures are still high; the absence of humidity dries me up and a bottle of water barely suffices to keep me hydrated.
Unexpectedly, we reach the top of the ridge and climb down into the bottom of a canyon. I hear the last sound I had expected in the middle of the Arizona desert: water. We follow a little stream until it runs into babbling waterfalls. I sink my legs into the cutting cold water. Relief.
“This is very rare,” explains our comrade who took us to the desert. “Most people who cross US-Mexico border don’t stumble across this kind of oasis. A lot of them become dehydrated or have heat strokes. Some of them die.”
The only water they see is the bottles left along the route, along with food and first aid supplies, by tireless comrades determined to help people survive the deadly desert crossing.
“I sometimes wonder if this is enough,” my comrade ventures, his eyes locked to the horizon. “Maybe we’re just doing humanitarian support work when we should be looking for ways to fight borders more directly.” His forehead furrows, his cheeks beaten up by the rough desert wind. I wonder how many lives he has already saved.
This takes my thoughts back to Europe, to the millions of refugees from Middle East, risking their lives to cross border after border, only to arrive in lands where people are organizing themselves into fascist formations and gated communities. What will it take to bring down Fortress Europe?
The Mohave desert.
We’ve been driving through the desert for hours, having watched the sun rise over the dusty bleak khaki and orange expanses of northwestern Arizona. Yet arriving at the home of our host in Tempe, on the outskirts of Phoenix, we blearily file out of the van onto soft green grass, a well-manicured lawn that wouldn’t look out of place in any well-watered suburb east of the Mississippi. I’m reminded of something I read once that attributed the shrinking of the Colorado River—which no longer reaches the Gulf of Mexico, an environmental reversal of staggering proportions—to the expansion of the Phoenix metropolitan area, with over four million people flushing toilets and watering lawns. So maybe it’s that dim recollection, or just my weariness from the overnight drive, but as I stumble into the apartment, for whatever reason my mind keeps slipping back to that vivid green lawn glistening against the pale concrete sidewalk, a southwestern non sequitur whose very normalcy reveals an incomprehensibly vast apparatus of control deployed against the unforgiving landscape. A mode of producing a certain form of life that renders others impossible, that by its very structure erases or immiserates many as it eases a gauzy, sedative veil over the eyes of the few it ostensibly benefits. Neatly trimmed green grass lawns in the desert as a biological neon advertisement for itself, the tenuous triumphalism of the American Way of Life™ over and beyond any and all constraints of common sense or ecological capacity, the banal aesthetics of ecocidal power and self-destructive collective denial.
But before long, my bleary mind is diverted from such concerns by the siren song of a well-stocked bookshelf, brimming not only with classic and contemporary anarchist favorites but substantial blocs of intriguing history, theory, fiction, and even an ample smattering of titles pertaining to some of my more specific and obscure interests (pre-revolutionary Irish history, the 1990s journal Race Traitor, and other divergences too embarrassing to enumerate). Unable to sleep past 9 AM in most circumstances—unlike my tour mates, who are already sprawled snoring on the couches—I resign myself to a few hours of gleeful solitary delving into the treasures of this well-curated collection. But before I manage to slip down that rabbit hole, I’m swept into conversation about politics in Arizona, a peculiarly horrifying landscape in which the right wing arrives to protests visibly armed with semi-automatic weapons, neo-Nazis rub shoulders with Republican officials in scheming how to hunt and exploit migrants, and identity politicians and nonprofits deploy guilt-driven notions of “allyship” to domesticate resistance that might exceed their limits. Or so it would seem; this is my first time in the state, and amidst my sleep deprivation I’m struggling just to keep up with the litany of different protagonists and conflicts, both inter- and intra-, let alone evaluate them critically. I emerge from the conversation with two impressions. First, that this area might be a fruitful space in which to introduce some of the critiques and questions we have been discussing on the tour. Second, that we’re stepping into a minefield in which a complex web of local alliances, conflicts, and backstories raise the stakes in ways we may not fully understand. Gulp.
Blink—did I doze off? It’s afternoon, and we’re scrubbing the last traces of beans and guacamole from our plates with tongues or tepid tortillas before scrambling back into the van to head to the event. As one of our tour mates has lost his voice, tonight will be my first time presenting the introductory and concluding chunks of our presentation, and I feel like a high school student cramming for an exam, sifting through sheets of notes and trying out different phrasings as I mumble to myself in the back of the van. In an innocuous strip mall, amid laundromats and pre-fab Chinese restaurants, we find ourselves at a surprisingly cozy cafe, already humming with people setting up rows of chairs and laying out zines and pamphlets from a range of different projects. As my tour mates set up our literature, mingle with the arriving crowds, and attempt to sift through the range of groups and personalities in anticipation of the discussion to come, I hole up in a corner, trying to shoehorn the last bits of what I plan to say into my overstuffed couch of a brain. My body tingles with that exhilarated, not quite frantic anticipation of a challenging but not overwhelming ordeal to come.
Come here, my tour mate tells me, interrupting my reverie; we’re going to meet some local O’odham organizers and talk about the panel. Shutting the laptop and pulling together my sheaf of papers, I think back to the question I asked our host about the indigenous land acknowledgment with which we prefer to begin our events when and where we can; the event tonight will take place on traditional Akimel O’odham territory. I’m still trying to mold my tongue to the unfamiliar words in preparation for the introduction, as we step outside and introduce ourselves to new friends who are active in O’odham struggles and have come to share the event with us. They offer us some context about the land we’re on, some of the struggles folks on their reservations are engaged in against environmental destruction and desecration of sacred sites, and their experiences doing radical organizing in the area, including with anarchists from settler backgrounds like those that form the majority of the evening’s audience. And, as they politely but pointedly make clear, as of yet they have no particular reason to trust us, or any miscellaneous mostly-white group of anarchists for that matter. What are we about? What do we stand for? Gulp, once again; suddenly my seemingly minor role introducing and concluding our presentation seems strikingly high-stakes.
The panel is beginning; my mind is racing. We’ve agreed that four of us from the CrimethInc. tour and three O’odham folks will share the stage. They will open with a welcoming and introduction, followed by our presentation, and then they will share some of their responses as well as discussions of their struggles locally. We’ll share the Q & A and discussion afterwards. As the rumble of conversation dies down and attention focuses on the stage, the O’odham comrades stand and one sings a song of welcome in his native language, then, in English, greets us and the audience. With a flash of embarrassment, I recognize the tingle in my sinuses that foretells tears rising to my eyes. To be welcomed—somehow this gesture cuts to the heart of some powerful and previously unspoken disquiet and longing inside of me. Beyond any discourse of “rights” or entitlement, amidst the shameful histories of conquest and deception and betrayal, the simple act of being welcomed onto the land where someone lives feels indescribably powerful, humbling.
And yet the welcome is not merely for the crew of us who’ve arrived in the van and will leave a few hours later, some of us likely never to return. It’s also directed at the folks from settler backgrounds who do live in the area; in one subtle gesture, the welcome both reveals and defuses the tension that crackles beneath the surface of a “radical” gathering of mostly non-native folks on occupied indigenous land. I watch the faces of folks in the audience as they are welcomed into the place that perhaps they thought of as already “theirs.” Such a welcome performs a nuanced operation, reminding us of the submerged violence that our very presence connotes while encouraging us not get stuck in guilt over it. Rather than excusing or justifying our feeling of entitlement to be here in the first place, it invites us to contest and transform our relationship to the land we inhabit—whether for a night or a year or a lifetime—and to the unjust reality that structures our occupation of it.
Thus welcomed, I rise to my feet, thanking our new friends and introducing ourselves and the evening’s event. Long-rehearsed words slide off my tongue even as I try to pan back, reformulate insufficiently nuanced thoughts, insert new language that contests old assumptions, and remain conscious of the specificity of the context into which we’ve been invited. As the panel unfolds, I’m delighted to see our international comrades absorbing and reflecting the paradigm shifts introduced in our conversations with the O’odham and other local organizers here. In the conclusion, I attempt to synthesize the reflections of Slovenian, Brazilian, and Czech anarchists into a framework engaging themes and questions that might open into local concerns and contexts. After I finish, the three O’odham panelists layer on their experiences and conclusions, sometimes parallel to our own and sometimes constructively challenging them. As questions pour in from the audience, we’re collectively able to address them from several different perspectives, alternately diverging and overlapping, making for a challenging and insightful discussion.
In defiance of received wisdom about the limits of American attention spans, the joint panel and discussion lasts a solid three hours and beyond, and nearly the entire audience remains raptly attentive throughout. At last, we reluctantly conclude to enthusiastic applause, and break into a litany of thought-provoking smaller conversations as the night slowly winds down. Unfortunately, the hectic tour schedule demands that we once again drive overnight, so after barely twelve hours in the area we’re boxing up the zines and books, bidding our new friends farewell, and piling back into the van once again to drive south. Feeling energized from all of the challenging conversations, I offer to drive, but a perceptive tour mate sees the slightly deranged quiver of sleep deprivation in my eyes and gently but firmly insists that I climb into the back. It turns out that I’m actually too exhausted to disagree.
As I drift off, packed amidst my friends in our sardine can of a tour van, I reflect on our too-short trip through Tempe/Phoenix. Over the course of the evening’s panel I’ve absorbed more about indigenous and anti-colonial politics in the southwest than I’d learned in years of anarchist organizing beforehand. In the part of the US I’m from, discourses of race have been constructed around a foundational black/white binary, with a growing Latino/a migrant population perched somewhere around or between. Indigenous peoples and struggles, despite their ongoing presence and the fierce resistance of folks like Lumbee anti-police organizer Eddie Hatcher, remain relegated to history or obscurity in most discussions of race and power, even among activists or radicals. In the context of Arizona, however, some of the largest and most actively organizing indigenous populations in the so-called US rub shoulders with an enormous Mexican and Central American migrant population, which is internally divided along lines of citizenship and status, language, education, and other factors. While these groups are often jointly targeted by a reactionary white settler/citizen population, they don’t necessarily share strategies or interests as “people of color,” with divergent perspectives and goals around their relationship to the state, the border, and the land. And white would-be allies, be they earnest liberal activists or militant anarchists, may inadvertently reproduce some colonial dynamics in their approaches to organizing in this context.
At the same time, there are also many inspiring examples of cross-community actions, projects, and relationships that have managed to build trust. Some white anarchists and radicals have forged long-standing relationships with folks on the O’odham reservations, connections that made it possible for us to organize the joint panel in Tempe. Collaborative Dine, O’odham, and anarchist/anti-authoritarian blocs at marches against racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the border patrol provided explicit opportunities for indigenous and non-indigenous radicals to come together against the institutions that jointly oppress them. In Flagstaff, an indigenous infoshop, the Taala Hooghan, operated for years, connecting radical youth from different communities. Despite the grim conditions in Arizona, I left both inspired and humbled by how much we have to learn from folks who are refusing to simplify their situations or promote the struggles of some oppressed communities at the expense of others, instead striving to build trust and the capacity to resist while unflinchingly confronting the realities of poverty, racist violence, border militarization, environmental destruction, and attempted indigenous genocide. And it’s not just a question of learning about an exotic context remote from our lives; the popularity and wide circulation of the text “Accomplices Not Allies,” to take just one example, indicates how much the rest of the US (and beyond) can learn from the specific conditions and experiences of anti-colonial and anti-authoritarian rebels in Arizona.
But what would it mean to extend these analyses of settler colonialism, border imperialism, and the complex nuances of white supremacy to other contexts? How can anarchists and other radicals connect to indigenous resistance in places with very different colonial legacies? How might our anarchist critiques of nationalism be complicated by indigenous concepts of nationhood and territory? Are we, as one of our O’odham comrades said, in fact “all indigenous to somewhere”? How do white people engage with that question without reinforcing narratives that have been appropriated by European fascists? How can we overcome the limitations of identity foisted on us by states, markets, and oppressive social systems, while cultivating a deeper sense of who we are rooted in a land base and an organic community, not predicated on borders or exclusion?
We still have a lot to learn. But listening deeply to each other, building connections and building trust, we might find that our seemingly insurmountable differences could become a source of powerful strength. Eventually, inevitably, the last well-manicured green lawn will vanish from the desert. How, and how soon, and whether there will be any humans left to see it replaced by the regeneration of desert flora and fauna, is ultimately up to all of us.
I’ll close with a few links to projects by our O’odham comrades:
Akimel O’odham Youth Collective
The struggle against the Loop 202 freeway
O’odham Solidarity Across Borders
…and some politically motivated music:
Hip hop from Phoenix: Shining Soul
Akimel O’odham Ska Crust from the Gila River Reservation: Requiem
Epilogue: Ljubljana, Slovenia
For me, the presentation upon my return home was event number 60 of the tour. The end of every tour is the beginning of a new adventure. I was excited to return to my comrades, to share my experiences in the US with those with whom I had formed my ideas.
It often happens that you can go away for months and yet when you return home it seems like you never left. This time, though, it felt quite different coming back to Europe. While I was gone, the world had turned upside down. More than a million refugees entered the European Union. With their courageous struggle, migrants temporarily knocked down the walls of Fortress Europe. The governments responded with forms of force not seen in Europe for a long time. Everywhere, there are barbed wire fences, soldiers, tear gas, police, hatred, and new border controls—both in the fields and in people’s heads.
Rushing to inhale all the information about what I’d missed while preparing for my presentation about the US tour brought some of the lessons from the trip into a completely different light.
“We need to win small things, demand something realistic, so people get a taste of victory.” We heard this many times on our travels throughout the US from comrades who believe that small victories give people more determination to carry on the struggle, so they will demand more and more. We sometimes made the counterargument that in times of austerity, when the economy offers less room for compromise, it’s not strategic to foster a taste for victory, but rather a taste for the fight itself.
Maybe people in the West might still be able to win a $15 minimum wage, setting this as the purpose of their organizing and centralizing their struggle around it. But when anarchists looked around themselves in the Balkans in the end of summer 2015, it was clear that we needed to be talking about destroying the entire border regime along with racism, Fortress Europe, and the states and their militaristic expansionism if we were to even begin to address the problems people are facing here.
On this tour, it came up over and over how being granted rights is first of all a matter of privilege. It might have worked as a Fordist compromise for workers in the past, at least in the US; it might to a certain degree still work for those who are most privileged in the global North; but negotiating with the governments for scraps is no longer even an option for a lot of people who are pushed to the margins. What we want is not something politicians can grant. In case of the latest migrant situation, for instance, opening up the borders and ensuring free movement for all is unthinkable under the prevailing power structures; when we push to do this, we are immediately confronting them, force to force. When my friends were at the borders when they were collapsing, it seemed clear that increasing control and militarization was a sign of state’s weakness and panic. Migrants have broken down one Balkan border after another, showing everyone how to fight and advance, rather than negotiate and compromise.
But if three months ago my comrades were urgently responding to new inhumane border regimes in Europe, these had already became normalized by the time I returned. People are no longer massively drawn to this topic; in many ways, the window of opportunity has closed. We heard many times in US, how it is easy to imagine a demandless movement at the moment of a riot or uprising. But what do you do when you are dealing with a single-issue campaign about an invisible topic? What do you do when you know migrants have no access to social housing, no chance to travel on public transportation, no chance to become part of the society? In such a situation, maintaining our position of refusing to negotiate becomes much harder—yet even more necessary. “If we have learned anything from last three months along the so called Balkan route,” one comrade reported to me, “it is that it was the migrants themselves who courageously fought their way north. If we do not want to erase their stories of struggle, or to reduce ourselves to their advocates, we have to continue to claim border struggles as our own, organizing and broadening the space in which we can imagine bringing about the end of this regime of separation.”
Listening to my comrades at the discussion in Ljubljana, it seemed to me that frustration and uncertainty about what solidarity means in practice resonate on both sides of the Atlantic. The solidarity struggles we have seen in and after Ferguson have been an inspiring point of departure. We have shared the concerns of our friends in the US who talk about privilege, warning about taking up space that should go to the people who are most oppressed in our society in order that they might organize themselves. We have also taken into account the stories that sometimes we do not even know how to approach communities that are more targeted than us. It is not just the language that is separating us, it is the lack of connections that is most problematic. When tens of thousands of migrants are being industrially transported out of sight of the public—prohibited from speaking, incapable of making connections—this forces the question I often heard anarchists in the US asking: what is our role? When we see migrants or poor black teenagers fighting the police, should we stand back for fear that we could not join in without taking over? Or is the best way to break our privilege to organize ourselves around the same topic, in hopes of finding ways that our struggles might converge?
“Well, one thing we can do is to build infrastructure, that can later be available for people in different communities in struggle.” We often heard this recommendation during our conversations in the US. Holding this discussion in a decades-old squatted complex buzzing with migrant solidarity efforts, that question felt immediate. Some comrades along the tour remarked that street fighting is a lot, but not everything. It is not just the fact that repeating a certain tactic is not likely to be effective. It is also that our endeavors should be open for many different people to participate in a variety of ways. However, this cannot be an excuse for not taking risks, or for failing to defend the gains of our struggle. Anarchist infrastructure extends beyond our skills and spaces. It is a practice of being, becoming, and overcoming our own limitations. Being confrontational means never taking your autonomy or freedom for granted, never mistaking infrastructure for a goal instead of a tool. It means that we never let ourselves fall into merely defensive struggles, but always seek to expand the space for articulation, for struggle, for life. That is what we were trying to do on the tour, and that is what we are trying to do back home in Slovenia.
A flier for a report back from the tour in Slovenia.
Appendix: A Few of the Books We Read and Discussed in the Van
The Oresteia Trilogy, Aeschylus
Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus b/w Prometheus Unbound, Percy Shelley
The Haymarket Tragedy, Paul Avrich
The Murray Bookchin Reader, Murray Bookchin
The Alienist, Machado de Assis
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
On Ugliness, Umberto Eco
Fire And Blood: A History Of Mexico, T. R. Fehrenbach (a racist, colonialist perspective, but not entirely without historical merit)
Anarchy Works, Peter Gelderloos
The Failure of Nonviolence, Peter Gelderloos
William Blake: Visionary Anarchist, Peter Marshall
The Guillotine at Work, Vol. 1: The Leninist Counter-Revolution, Gregory Petrovich Maximoff
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
Work is a crime & De Moker Group, Herman Schuurman and Els van Daele
A Small Key Can Open a Large Door, Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness
Introduction to Civil War, Tiqqun
A Cavalier History of Surrealism, Jules-François Dupuis [Raoul Vaneigem]
Undoing Border Imperialism, Harsha Walia
Baedan: Journal of Queer Time Travel, Issue 3
Perspectives on Anarchist Theory: Issue 28, “Justice”
“Fire to the Houseprojects” and “Malevolent Europe,” Ill Will Editions