At a little after three in the afternoon, people began arriving at the Gold Student Center, many of them barefoot and sporting anarchist fashions. Most of them appeared to be college-aged, and there were a few people of color among them. Tablers began setting up, and an image of a capital "A" in a circle was projected onto a large screen.
Conference organizers handed out schedules and introduced themselves. "We're going to start with a sort of 'lightning round' of speakers, mostly on local topics, then we'll get into the main round of speakers, so make yourself comfortable." While waiting, we discussed the conference's line-up and local actions such as the previous day's protest of Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist
The first speaker discussed the critical mass phenomenon and showed a YouTube trailer for the film Still We Ride
, which documents police crackdowns on critical mass bike rides in New York.
He was followed by a speaker from the Friends of the Bernard Field Station. The field station is an undeveloped plot of land owned by the Claremont Colleges just north of the campuses, and he discussed efforts to preserve the land from development. "A lot of the issues that we're talking about with the field station is how, as a community, as a college community, how we use our space. And what we value, what our values are." He went on: "To students, it's a no-brainer that this should be--not only is this something that is good to not build on, but it should be the heart of the Claremont Colleges."
One audience member asked what the Friends of the Station were going to do during the summer to ensure that the land will not be developed while the students are away on break. "There are two reasons why they're not going to be building in the summer. One, the administrators have told us that." This answer elicited chuckles. "Secondly, because of the city of Claremont's permitting requirements, environmental impact reports, to get permits to build, some of us are registered to be informed if someone is planning on building on the station."
The third speaker was an expert on urban planning then shared some theory with us, explaining how social and political norms influence our urban environments. "Right now in the field of urban planning, desperation is very high. Current theory, I would say, is demented and blind and we need a new moral theory based not on ownership, but on anarchy."
"Ownership is the claim of exclusive control over a person, place, thing, or idea. Capitalism is the systematic implementation of that ownership construct. Authority or authoritarianism is the forced application of that ownership concept."
"This has repercussions in zoning and standardization in urban planning. In urban planning, we want everything the same. Capitalism wants this because it facilitates exchange in the marketplace."
The alternative she proposed for urban planners and others in the art design world was to strive for uniqueness. "Because when you make it more and more unique we all tend to assign more meaning to it."
A poet discussed the effort to recover the lost contributions of the anarchist poets, graphic artists, and writers of Argentina. The goal of the collective behind the Voices of the Lost Cannon Project is to "capture some of the lost canon of culture, art, poetry, of political thought that's been systematically excluded from the academy, from the English department, from the history department..." To do so, they are sifting through the archives of anarchist organizations, "particularly with the FLA of Argentina," and republishing writings and artwork they find there. They do this out of a belief that "the poetic expression of the anarchist movement from around the world is a vital resource to the continued struggle for social justice." The speaker talked about the authors of the poetry (most of them are anonymous) and then read several poems from the collective's first book.
The next speaker's mere presence caused some consternation among certain participants, and this is where the story gets a little weird. He is the webmaster of anarchy.net, and, lest the following reflect poorly on him, he may not be aware of what follows.
Apparently, anarchy.net is part of a large network of websites with extremist-sounding domain names. These names range from the far left (eg. fuckcapitalism.com, anarchy.net), to generally radical (eg. fuckchrist.com), to the racist far-right (eg. hessian.org, churcharson.com, and burzum.com, the website of a Norwegian hate-metal band). Some of these sites are just linkfarms to porn sites and the like, but most of them have political content and link to each other, a main site being corrupt.org. These domains are all registered to, or are sometimes separated by a degree or two from, "Throne Networks" based in McLean, Virginia.1
The common thread among these sites is support for a "third position" of "national anarchism." Trying to find the reason in this ideology is pointless; it soon reveals itself as nothing more than an "anarchist" front for white nationalism. This so-called "third position" is promoted by a small band of European racists (many of whom are former leftists), including Troy Southgate, the late Julius Evola, Richard Hunt, Flavio Gonçalves, Peter Topfer, Keith Preston (who is American), Hans Cany, and Otto Ernst Schuddekopp.2
The suspicion is that the intent of this network is to cast a "wide net" out to youth disaffected with the current political system, and use it to introduce fascist ideas to them.
Some activists spoke to some of the conference organizers about this weirdness prior to the conference, hoping they would un-invite the speaker in question. The action seemed a little drastic to them, and they assured the worried anti-fascists that they could bring the issue up during the question-and-answer session.
The speaker was credited with being the founder of anarchy.net, and the talk centered on a flowchart
instructing members of the US Air Force on how to make pro-Air Force comments on blogs.3
The speaker informed us that "the US government is currently employing counter-bloggers to lurk insurgent websites," and that "[w]hat this all means for we, internet folk, is that the posts that we make are being watched by the US government in an attempt to change our view." These military people, he told us, "are told to act as civilians so perhaps people will just see a seemingly-intelligent post and not think of the [inaudible] plot [inaudible] media."
He then went on to talk about the website, reading aloud questions from readers and his answers. He took no questions.
The fourth and final speaker of the "lightning round" was Pitzer College professor Dana Ward, founder of the anarchy archives
. His gave an overview of the archives and expressed a concern for the future of the study of anarchism at Pitzer once he's no longer there. He also discussed his research on Reclus and his intention to write the history of anarchism in the United States.
"The main focus of the archive, of course, is classical anarchism," he said, but he hopes to "expand anarchy archives to include a modern section." He elaborated, "it will basically be organized by blocs. (Have people talked about blocs yet? I just got here. Well basically, the modern anarchist movement is divided into four different blocs. Many of you may be familiar with the black bloc. They get a lot of the attention at the G8 or the G20 or in Seattle and so forth, and the black bloc is engaged in direct action. There is a white bloc that is also involved in direct action but the white bloc is non-violent direct action, the black bloc is willing to use violence to defend peoples' rights. There's also the green bloc, which is environmentally oriented, a pink bloc, which is organized around gender issues.) Anyway, that's what I hope students at Pitzer are going to be able to help me produce in the next coming years."
He emphasized the importance of the accessibility of anarchist texts. "Marxism has basically proven its incompatibility with human liberation, and the natural home then, for those who believe that we should live free lives, is anarchism."
The next speaker, from the Central Arizona Radicals Opposing Borders (CAROB) gave a well-researched and thought-provoking talk that centered on the criminalization of undocumented people, drawing several parallels between the war on immigrants and the drug war.
She was followed by a compañera who talked about Anarchist People of Color (APOC), which is "not an organization, it's more of a network, an affinity group, a series of gatherings." She briefed us on the history of APOC since 2003, and then provided updates on what is going on in Los Angeles. Finally, she discussed her academic research on anarchist theatre in Latin America, "to see how they're performing their politics today."
We took a break for some vegan eggrolls and noodles and to chat, before one of the conference organizers invited us back in for "the moment we've all been waiting for," an address by Keith McHenry, co-founder of Food Not Bombs.
Just prior to his introduction, Clair sounded an alert about an upcoming police checkpoint and briefly discussed the struggle against checkpoints in the local Latino community.
Then the co-founder of the recently-established Pomona Food Not Bombs introduced "a really cool guy."
Brimming with a smile, McHenry spoke for almost an hour, seemingly without taking a breath the whole time. His trajectory, beginning by studying under Howard Zinn at Boston University and getting involved in the anti-nuclear Clamshell Alliance, brought him into contact with nearly every social justice movement and action around the world over the past thirty years. He then showed a video about his trip to Nigeria
and took a few questions from the audience.
One man stood up and asked, "It's kind of a pressing issue... in a couple weeks, May Day weekend, the city [of Santa Ana] is basically shutting down one of our last family shelters, which is going to put 150, 200 people out on our street with cops to beat them and move them, disappear them, whatever they do to them, just get them out of the area. How do we defend ourselves and our communities against that when we're being attacked violently? How do we react to that non-violently?"
McHenry suggested organizing a contingent to live in the shelter during the days leading up to the eviction to organize from within, and to simultaneously organize support outside the shelter. Then, on the day of the closure to organize a sit-down strike and occupy the shelter to keep it.
The last speaker, who appeared on the screen via Skype, was author Derrick Jensen, who began by addressing the issue of violence versus non-violence. This beginning did not sit well with certain sectors of the audienc, particularly the pacifist contingent, who objected to his acceptance of violence as a tactic in the struggle. His point was that the human race has inflicted so much harm on the Earth and the other species, a push for collapse would go a long way toward bringing about environmental justice. Many were not satisfied with his reasoning, and one person attacked him verbally. However, due to the technology involved in the connection, Jensen had difficulty hearing the discourse going on in the hall. He was nonetheless able to launch a counterattack. After the talk, the audience engaged in a debate, which, according to one conference organizer, "Unfortanetly people ended up focusing on the points where they disagree, over the points where we have commonality.... and it seemed ideological issues became more important than alliance-building or organizing."
One compañera asked an organizer what "the big deal" about Jensen was. He explained his perspective, "one of the reasons the Vietnam War ended, and this was one of the Trotskyists' strategies, is that they went into the army and started organizing from within. They started their own anti-imperialist newpapers at every base, and eventually started taking out their officers. Once that started happening, the troops got pulled out. Right now I don't see how anyone involved in Food Not Bombs, or who goes to anarchist meetings, could be involved in any kind of [violent] resistance. That's the thing about Derrick--he has the potential to reach people people in the army and the Marines who are disaffected and disillusioned with the system and who have the training and capability."
Despite the conflict, most people had positive responses to the conference overall. There was a lot of excitement about the participation of big-name anarchists McHenry and Jensen.
After the speakers, musicians performed, among them the group Lux Nova Umbra Est.
1. Much of the investigation into this network is discussed in these two threads: http://libcom.org/forums/thought/anarcho-fascism-07022008 and http://libcom.org/forums/thought/anarchist-fascist-website-13032008
3. Shachtman, Noah. "Air Force Releases 'Counter-Blog' Marching Orders. Wired.com, 2009-01-26. Accessed 2009-04-23. http://blog.wired.com/defense/2009/01/usaf-blog-respo.html
Many thanks to researcher Andrew Davis for his contributions to this article.