Monday, June 28, 2004
These are interesting times for Lawrence's anarchists.
The current administration -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft -- might as well be evil incarnate. The war on terrorism, the occupation of Iraq, the Patriot Act, environmental policy are all diametrically opposed to the anarchist (that is, minimal or no government) view of the world.
But though most members of the Lawrence Anarchist Black Cross (LABC) would like to see changes (if not a revolution) in the U.S. government, the bulk of the group's efforts are focused on change at the local level -- establishing worker's unions, maintaining a community garden and a library of alternative and radical literature, and doing community outreach projects like "Food Not Banks," a weekly dinner at 9th and Mass. for the city's homeless.
Last summer they created perhaps their most visible stir protesting The Dole Center dedication, which ended in 18 arrests but no convictions. An encounter with police led to accusations of police brutality, inspiring rallies outside the Douglas County courthouse.
This week, the LABC is hoping to create an equally visible but peaceful presence with its four-day conference dubbed "We Are Resisting" (W.A.R.).
Organizer Dave Strano is optimistic thanks to 100 attendees who have already registered and the likelihood of many more enthusiastic dissidents showing up impromptu (the 2002 anarchist conference at Clinton Lake drew 50 registered and 600 at the gate).
"I don't think our goal is to all of a sudden get a whole bunch of people to be like, 'Yes, we're anarchists!'" says Strano. "No matter what we identify ourselves as, if we're really looking towards real social change, we all want the same thing."
"Something we're trying to offer with this conference is more of an alternative to ... persuading politicians' opinions. We ourselves can create a movement for direct democracy" by organizing in our neighborhoods and workplaces, he said.
Movers and shakers
The conference, which will take place June 30-July 3 at Ecumenical Christian Ministries and KU's Burge Union, will bring together local and traveling activists, professors and anarchists for four days of workshops. Keynote speakers include American Indian activist Ward Churchill and women's liberation icon Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Workshops are planned on topics like imperialism, globalization, oil dependency, the War in Iraq and the history of Lawrence radicalism.
Saturday's events will also feature a concert of politically minded performers including Kansas City's Deep Thinkers, Lawrence's Savage Family and New York hardcore band Cipher.
"We are kind of trying to broaden the range of people that come, because when we organized the North American Anarchist gathering it was mostly a very certain part of the radical and progressive community that showed up," said organizer Wesley Teal, also a LABC member.
Another cause that the LABC has focused on is protesting what they perceive as a corrupt military-industrial complex that exploits prisoners as slave labor. Strano will lead a Saturday workshop on the history of Leavenworth Prison, and the conference will close Sunday with a protest rally at Fort Leavenworth.
"A lot of the mechanisms that keep the prison active are also the mechanisms that keep the military active," Strano said. "I think most of us know that prisons destroy human beings -- they hurt people -- and people become better criminals while they're in prison."
Other highlights include a walking tour of Lawrence's Vietnam-era resistance sites, a prisoner art show and a workshop that will allow participants to switch genders for an evening. Documentaries will be screened on topics like racial identity in punk rock, the Columbian drug wars, the aftermath of Desert Storm and the Stanford Prison Experiments.
Many of the events were coordinated by Students for An Egalitarian Society, a new organization created by KU students to bring an anarchist and radical presence to campus.
Group member Michelle Castor said one of the group's main priorities was trying to organize local workers' unions.
"I think a lot of people, when it gets down to it, they're getting sick of their jobs and they want to be able to afford to make rent and buy groceries," said Castor, who has volunteered for the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations).
"Sometimes it takes a lot to get a person to actually fight for their rights ... but I think it can be done."
Notes from the other side
Thursday's events will offer an opportunity to hear a unique perspective on the War in Iraq from former marine Chris White, who will give a lecture titled "9/11 in Context: A Marine Veteran's Perspective."
White, a instructor of history and Latin American studies at KU, has been an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq since its inception, participating in the tent city protest and anti-war marches. He frequently travels the state talking to high school students and trying to dissuade them from joining the military, an endeavor that has inspired contempt from local recruiters and even threats to his well being.
"There aren't that many veterans that are willing to come forward and resist," White said. "It occurred to me while I was in (the military) that the killer mentality they tried to instill in you was wrong ... Before we went to the Middle East they told us all kinds of bad things about Arab people that were completely false: telling us how dirty they were, saying that they don't wash their hands and that most of the men over there are homosexual -- just all this crap that made no sense at all. I looked at that and I said, 'This is bullshit.'"
White first got involved with the Lawrence Anarchists Black Cross when the group invited him to speak at their "Solidarity" library and meeting space, a small white building tucked away in the alley at 14th and Mass.
Though he doesn't consider himself an anarchist, White said he is sympathetic with Solidarity's dedication to social justice.
"I think that they are all very good people -- they do care about equality and human rights," he said. "But I don't go so far as to characterize myself as an anarchist because I believe you can't have an ideology that won't waver, because the times change, and I'd like to give myself the freedom of siding with some people in the United States government if they make a good point."
Behind the masks
Though Lawrence Anarchist-sponsored rallies have drawn public and police attention in the past (police outnumbered marchers at last year's Leavenworth protest), Strano said he expects the conference will create less of a stir than recent protests.
"I think that we've made some mistakes in the past years that have reinforced (anarchist) stereotypes, but we've also done a lot of work to undo those stereotypes," he said, noting that he regretted the decision to wear masks during the Dole Institute protests.
This year's conference is endorsed by The Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice, a partnership that Strano said speaks to goodwill between two groups that have often been at odds with their protest tactics.
"We were I think a lot more naÃive and immature (in the past) thinking that we as the young radicals had way more to prove than they did and knew a lot more about organizing," he said. "I think both of us have wised up to the fact that we need each other."
Lawrence Police Sgt. Dan Ward said the department had no response planned for the conference.
"We don't think they'll present a problem," he said. "If we get any calls we'll respond in an appropriate manner."
Strano's hopes of being taken seriously are echoed by his comrades in the LABC, who have been working overtime to raise money for the conference and pull all of its disparate elements together.
"Anarchists, especially as individuals, are being way more accepted in this town ... and whether a lot of groups realize they're working with anarchists or not, they are," Strano said.
"We live here -- this is our community -- and we want to be a part of it."