Monday, February 4, 2008
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
To Gavon, all at lawrence.com, and especially to Galen Turner,
I am writing in response to "A Guide to Political Hackery," an interview between Gavon Laessig and Galen Turner that was published in the January 22 print edition of lawrence.com.
As one of many anarchists active within Lawrence, Galen's response to a question about the effectiveness of Lawrence anarchists certainly took me by surprise, and even angered me. I wasn't angered with the fact that yet another mainstream publication had gone out of its way to badmouth anarchists, because that's really not shocking nor cutting edge by this point. I was angered instead by Galen's absolute lack of understanding of what the local anarchist movement has been up to for the last seven years.
The question posed by Gavon was: "Anarchists-ineffectual or counterproductive?" The answer from Galen: "If it is possible, both..."
Galen then went on to substantiate his answer with some very ill-informed comments that made me even wonder if he'd ever met a local anarchist or even knew what work we were engaged in as a political movement.
I by no means am trying to take on or even win an argument over whether the anarchist movement is effective in this town. However, I think it's important to understand the many projects that the anarchist and radical movements are responsible for, and to better inform Galen and the readers of lawrence.com (though I hold out no hope at all that you will actually do anything with this response other than make sarcastic comments about it at the lawrence.com office) as to what anarchists really do in this town.
During an average year, hundreds of people are involved with local anarchist projects. On any given day, dozens of anarchists are hard at work within a variety of community-driven initiatives.
Among these projects, anarchists and the radical movement are responsible for a seven-day-a-week presence in downtown Lawrence called the Solidarity Revolutionary Center and Radical Library, a local lending library and community center. In 2007 alone, the Solidarity Center's Library saw over 400 community members check out over 3,000 books. Hundreds of community members also utilized the free public computers, viewed dozens of films, listened to speakers from all across the country on a wide variety of topics, and otherwise utilized the space. We are the only political movement in this city to have a seven-day-a-week, year-long presence in this town. The Democrat and Republican parties barely have their offices open for several months every two years during the election cycle.
Kansas Mutual Aid, another local anarchist project helps maintain a community garden project that gave away hundreds of pounds of free food throughout the last several years. KMA also takes on many other projects, including the publishing of a quarterly 24-page paper that is sent out to over 1200 prisoners across the country that covers a range of prison issues. KMA also focuses on countering military recruitment in Lawrence, and has specifically been able to shut down the military recruitment centers several times in the last two years, keep several well meaning high school students from joining the military, and has worked with local high school students to further educate young people about other career options that won't leave them stranded in Iraq.
KMA takes a role with working with other local organizations around a wide array of social justice issues, including fair wages for farm labor, Indigenous people's rights, environmental justice, and combating organized racist paramilitary groups such as the KKK and the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.
Anarchists are also involved with the opening of a community-based market and cafe called the Eastside People's Market that will be located in the East Lawrence neighborhood and will provide high-quality, healthy, and local food to the residents of that area.
Besides having no clue what anarchists are involved in every day out of the year, Galen's comments also showed a lacking understanding of who organizes many of the marches and rallies in this town.
While anarchists are present at many protests and marches, the contention that we "take over the rallies" is slanderous at best. Of the five major marches that had an organized anarchist presence in 2007, all of them were organized by anarchist organizations. Anarchists organized the only anti-war marches of 2007. We organized the march from Liberty Hall with members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War. We organized the neighborhood based anti-war march on June 2. We organized the march on the 4th anniversary of the war. This idea that we just march at the front and take over positions is weakly founded. We are the people that make many of these protests happen in the first place.
Furthermore, anarchists are present within dozens of local organizations, are on the board of local neighborhood associations, and work within schools and youth groups. We're not the "Mad Max" characters that Galen described. 99% of us would fit in more at an Outdoor Sports Show with other working folk than would fit in at a punk rock show or even Neon on a Thursday night.
Anarchists are among the "college professors, blue-collar workers, and local artists" that Galen claimed we push aside. We are workers, teachers, and artists. Some of us are students. But most of us are workers, and probably serve your food, drive your kids to school, clean your sidewalks, manufacture your garage doors, and deliver your packages. The overwhelming feeling I get from the interview is that Galen falls for the stereotype that we're just a dozen or so 18- or 19-year-old, patched-up, trust-fund kids. Nothing could be further from the truth for a political persuasion that has hundreds of participants in this town from diverse backgrounds.
If Galen's claims were made in 2001, I'd understand. Many of his claims were self critiques we were offering of our own work during that time period. That's why the Lawrence anarchist movement has changed a lot since the first marches against the invasion of Afghanistan. However, It seems that Galen has no clue what we've been up to since then.
I would openly wonder whether it's actually more "counterproductive" to sling fantastical images of dirty and rude anarchists in lawrence.com than doing the on-the-ground daily community organizing that most anarchists are entrenched in. I also wonder whether an anarchist movement that continues to grow, take on more community projects and initiatives and continues to see increases of support from wide sections of the Lawrence community somehow isn't more effective than debating which dwindling party I'm going to vote for to somehow change the world.
Mr. Turner, I personally wish you well with whatever you're doing in the Lawrence community. All I ask is that before you talk about a subject and group of people you know such little about, you do some research instead.
In understanding and solidarity, among other "stupidly simplistic slogans,"
- Dave Strano, January 29, 2008