What is it like to share your collectively owned/run house with 32 people, 7 cats and countless rodents and cockroaches? Well, if you’ve lived at Lothlorien Co-op in Madison, Wisconsin, you would probably remember and if you haven’t, I’d be happy to give you a tour.
As background, Loth was born sometime between 1972 and 1974 as a radical, hippy-something co-op house. In the 20-or-so years of its existence, Loth has housed, loved and healed people, cats, travelers, students, workers, idealists, slackers and little kids, among others. Loth, along with 8 other housing co-ops, make up Madison Community Co-op (MCC); our 9 houses make decisions by consensus with houses having representatives at the organizational level.
Loth also runs by consensus, with our ideal being a totally egalitarian household. We are queer-affirming, feminist and hold several boycotts close to our hearts. We boycott all forms of meat, alcohol, sugar, coffee, table grapes, bananas, orange juice and it seems just about anything you could find in a supermarket. We take turns cleaning, gardening, composting and cooking, serving 7 veggie/vegan meals per week.
Sounds great, eh? Well, it’s not all peaches and soy milk. Over time a hierarchy has developed because some people don’t care and don’t get involved (for whatever reason). This manifests itself mostly in house and membership meetings; in short, about 1/3 of the house makes all decisions and approves new people. So it becomes consensus of a sub-group, but it really doesn’t seem to matter because the people whose voices are silent don’t really give a flying fuck what happens. They’re here for cheap rent or they’re counting the days until the end of their term or they’re in crisis or whatever.
Other disadvantages are our location (Fraternity Land–ewwh, vomit), lack of age and experience diversity, assholes who assume that co-op is another word for freeload or mooch and (sometimes) general lack of direction.
But there are wonderful advantages, too. Our lifestyles mean 33 people being housed, fed and loved out of reach of a landlord’s grubby fingers. We provide a warm place for the mice during the winter (although they’re on their own with the cats), and we are learning and trying to work it out. We like to kick back and be freaky. But, best of all, whenever you feel the need to rant, sing, yell, laugh, be unemployed or tell about your shitty day at work, there’s always someone in the kitchen.
Two Thousand March Against Democratic National Convention & In Support of Political Prisoners by David Van Deusen
A coalition calling itself “Not On The Guest List” organized a march on the Democratic National Convention [Chicago 1996] in solidarity with domestic political prisoners.  Participants included Vermonter David Dillinger (Chicago 7) and Dennis Banks (American Indian Movement). The march was supported by a several hundred strong Black Bloc [largely organized by the Love & Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation]. The procession of protesters quickly strayed from its approved parade route so as to pass directly through the heart of a Chicago housing project. There it picked up hundreds of local supporters. Upon entering the “security zone” surrounding the United Center (site of the DNC) the protesters were met with hundreds of police (pedestrian and mounted) which blocked their entrance to the convention grounds. Thousands of police in riot gear were warehoused just blocks away.
At that point Dillinger led a sit-in across an intersection [in front of one of the convention entrances] while elements of the anarchist bloc formed a protective and confrontational counter-line to the police line [which faced it]. The police dared not break up the rally; the [anarchist] counter-line was not challenged and the protest continued.
After a nearly two hour stand-off, the ‘official’ leadership of the march decided to call for an end of the protest. David Dillinger proclaimed “We have proven our point. Let us go home and protest again tomorrow.” With that many, including those sitting across the intersection, left. On the other hand, anarchists and local supporters from nearby housing project refused to give up their counter-line or the streets.
Hundreds of people held the streets in the vicinity for several more hours into the evening. At one point a large fire was lit in the road. An American flag and cardboard effigies of prisons were burned. Still the police dared not attack the protesters (the world was watching…).
Eventually the number of protesters grew dangerously small. With this realization the anarchists (who were the bulk of the remaining demonstrators) marched in unity several blocks away. There they can in contact with a multitude of delegates seeking to leave the convention on busses. Without hesitation these activists (now numbering a couple hundred) blocked the streets a prevented the busses from moving. All this occurred while angry chants of “FREE LEONARD PELTIER, FREE MUMIA ABU-JAMAL, FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS, END CORPORATE WELFARE, SMASH THE FASCIST STATE, were echoing through the crowd.
As police began to arrive in large numbers, the demonstrators swarmed through the streets in a frenzy in the direction of downtown (which was about a mile away). Following a change of mounted police, the group became divided. Out of the mayhem a group of 50 regrouped and continued marching on the city. Police kept vigil but did not block their passage.
For this bloc of 50 the first stop was the former sight of the statue commemorating the police who were killed at the Haymarket incident in 1886. The statue was blown up by the Weathermen to open the Days of Rage in 1969, and blown up again by the Weather Underground in 1970. There the protesters spent several minutes paying respects to their comrades in struggle who came before.
Next, the group came across a restaurant which was playing host to a DNC delegate/congressional party. There they verbally brought their message of discontent to party goers. Following the mass arrival of police, the protesters moved on.
The demonstrators continued to Michigan Avenue (the Art Institute) where JFK Jr. was holding an event for his Democratic cronies. The protesters, now massively outnumbered by police, attempted to storm the party but failed. Their attempts to break police lines resulted in several grappling contests between them and the pigs. The anarchists did however manage to taint the Democrats made-for-tv evening by vocally and visually putting forward a voice of opposition to the capitalist ruling party and showed that The People can and do have the desire & ability to bring their message to the streets.
An hour after arriving on the scene, obviously exhausted by the days and nights events, the anarchists decided to break down into small affinity groups and quickly vacate the area in order to meet at a secure prearranged location to further plan actions for the following day(s). No official arrests were made.
48 hours later law enforcement illegally raided the Counter Convention (in retaliation?). Throughout the day police swept the city and made close to 20 arrests of suspected activists and leftwing sympathizers. Three people had to be hospitalized as a result of this police crackdown on freedom of expression. A law suit is presently  being organized against the City of Chicago.
 This article was first published in the Fifth Column Press, Marlboro VT 1996. Fifth Column Press was briefly the leftist publication of a group called The Liberation Movement which I, David Van Deusen, was a member of while attending three semesters at Marlboro College, Vermont (1996-1997). Fellow members/participants of the Liberation Movement included, among others, David Croken, Tino F., Katie S., Ariane B., and Parisa “Dove” Norouzi, (who went on to co-found Empower DC). The march depicted in this article was the first where I masked up. I marched in these rallies with my cousin Chris P. who is now an IBEW Union Steward. Truth be told, during a later day in the protests, myself and Chris P. ran down an uncle, P.B. who was in town as a Democrat to actually attend the DNC. For one night we called a political family truce; P.B skipped out on the convention, and Chris and I skipped out on the protests. Together we instead took part in cold beer and hotdogs at a White Sox game. America’s pastime aside, 20 years later I continue to see these days of action, no matter the small scale, as the direct predecessor of Seattle and A16 (if nothing else on a personal level).
Race is a biological fiction, but it is a social fact. The white race consists of those who enjoy the privileges of the white skin—freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, the inside track for jobs and careers, not having to fear for their lives every time they leave the home, expecting, if they are female, that the state will protect them from strangers. Its most downtrodden members enjoy a social status above any person defined as “non-white.”
From the standpoint of the working class, the white race is an attempt by some workers to cut a separate deal with capital, at the expense of the class of which they are a part. From the standpoint of capital, it is a cheap way of buying some people’s loyalty to a social system that exploits them.
The cops provide an example of how the white race is held together: the natural attitude of the police toward the exploited is hostility. All over the world cops beat up poor people, and it has nothing to do with color. What is unusual and has to be accounted for is not why they beat up black people but why they don’t normally beat up propertyless whites. The cops look at a person and decide on the basis of color whether that person is loyal to, or an enemy of, the system they are sworn to serve and protect. They don’t stop to think if the black person whose head they are whipping is an enemy; they just assume it. It does not matter if the victim goes to work every day, pays his taxes and crosses only on the green.
On the other hand, the cops don’t know for sure if the white person to whom they give a break is loyal to them. They assume it. The non-beating of whites is time off for good behavior and an assurance of future cooperation. White workers’ color exempts them to some degree from the criminal class—which is how the entire working class was defined before the invention of race, and is still treated in those parts of the world where race does not exist as a social category.
HOW TO ABOLISH THE WHITE RACE
But what if the police couldn’t tell a loyal person just by color? What if there were enough people around who looked white but were really enemies of the state so that the cops couldn’t tell whom to beat and whom to let off? What would they do then? They would begin to “enforce the law impartially,” as the liberals say. But, as Anatole France noted, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids both rich and poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” The standard that governs police behavior all over the world (except where race exists) is wealth and its external manifestations: dress, speech, etc. At the present time, the class bias of the law is partially repressed by racial considerations; the removal of those considerations would give it free rein. White poor would find themselves on the receiving end of police justice as black people now do. The effect on their consciousness and behavior is predictable.
The abolitionists consider it a useless project to try to win the majority of whites, or even the majority of working class whites, to “anti-racism.” They seek instead to compel capital to turn millions of “whites” against it, by rendering the white skin useless as a predictor of attitudes. How many would it take to rob the white skin of its predictive value? No one can say. How much counterfeit money has to circulate in order to destroy the value of the official stuff? The answer is, nowhere near a majority: in the past, five to ten percent fake has proven enough to undermine public faith in the other. Whiteness is the currency of this society; to destroy it would take only enough counterfeit whites (race traitors) to undermine the confidence of the police, etc. in their ability to differentiate between friends and enemies by color.
The abolitionist strategy depends on the coming together of a minority determined to break up the white race. What would the determined minority have to do to plant doubt about the reliability of the white skin? They would have to break the laws of whiteness so flagrantly as to make it impossible to maintain the myth of white unanimity. Such actions would jeopardize their own ability to draw upon the privileges of whiteness. That is what would define them as race traitors.
Just as the capitalist system is not a capitalist plot, race is not the work of racists. On the contrary, it is reproduced by the principal institutions of society. Therefore, the main target of those who seek to eradicate it should be the institutions and behaviors that maintain it: the schools (which define “excellence”), the unions and employers (which define “employment”), the justice system (which defines “crime”), the welfare system (which defines “poverty”), and the family (which defines “kinship”).
AGAINST FASCISM, AGAINST CAPITAL, AGAINST THE STATE
The collapse of the white race does not mean that all people now classified as white would suddenly become revolutionary. Some, whose class interests rest on exploitation, would remain faithful to the capitalist system. However, once color ceased to serve as a handy guide for deciding who gets a beating and who gets off, many victims of exploitation who previously considered themselves “white” would join with the rest of the working class in waging struggle against capital.
Others would take a different path, seeking to restore the privileges of the white race. Alongside class struggle, it is to be expected that militant white-supremacist movements with anti-capitalist slogans would grow among the poorest and most alienated sectors of white society.
The fascists are the vanguard of the white race; however, the big problem right now is not the white vanguard, but the white mainstream. Any anti-fascist struggle that does not confront the state reinforces the institutions that provide the seedbed for fascism. Moreover, every time the fascists are able to depict their opponents as defenders of the existing system, or mere reformers, they gain support among those whites who believe that nothing less than a total change is worth fighting for. An anti-fascist counter-rally where people gather to hear speeches, chant slogans, and shake their fists in rage is a display of impotence, and the more people who attend, the more they reveal their futility.
Fascism and white supremacy will only be defeated by a movement aimed at building a new world. It is not enough to declare this commitment abstractly, by waving the red or black flag; it must be expressed in the content and forms of the struggle itself. How to do that is no easy question. But it is the question of the hour.
Noel Ignatiev is one of the editors of Race Traitor: journal of the new abolitionism. Subscriptions are $20 for four issues, single copies $6 postpaid. Write [contact info removed from web archive version].
[Note from the Production Group: The women of the PG strongly disagree with Noel’s statement at the outset of this article that “not having to fear for their lives every time they leave the home, expecting…that the state will protect them from strangers” is a “social fact” for white women. As white women, we have all been harassed by police and fear that we will fall victim to the common practice of police rape and a legal system that still makes it nearly impossible for a woman to `prove’ she has been raped. Some of us have also been physically abused in the presence of police that have turned the other way.
Given that this is the only reference Noel makes to women in his article on class struggle and white privilege, we gave him the opportunity to delete this sentence. He refused, arguing that it is his viewpoint and that it should be left in to “provoke debate.” We find the claim offensive, and we want to point out that we believe it runs contrary to the newspaper’s commitment to recognizing the way in which state power is used to uphold patriarchy.]
First there was the waiting. The 1,111 Zapatista delegates to the Founding Congress of the FZLN (The Zapatista National Liberation Front) in Mexico City were supposed to arrive in San Cristobal de las Casas between two and five in the afternoon. A small crowd huddled under a tarp in the pouring rain to meet them in the cathedral square. Gradually the crowd grew. By eight o’clock the Zapatistas still had not arrived, but the rain had cleared and now about 2,000 people waited in the square. Music was playing from the stage; a few hot air balloons with “EZLN” painted on the side were released into the night sky, but still no Zapatistas.
Finally at ten o’clock, the Zapatistas entered the city of San Cristobal for the first time since they took over the city in the uprising of January 1994. This time though, they were not armed. The whole town lined up along Avenida Insurgentes to watch them come in. The Zapatistas marched down the street chanting “El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido!” (The people united will never be defeated!) and “El pueblo armado, jamas sera’ callado!” (The people armed will never be silenced!). Women carrying babies, little girls with no shoes, old men and young boys all wearing scarves or ski masks over their faces marched into the center of the city. The crowd watched in almost complete silence, with a smattering of applause here and there. The population of San Cristobal is largely made up of “coletos” who trace their roots back to the old Spanish colonial elite and are generally not supportive of the Zapatistas or any other Indigenous struggle.
As the Zapatistas continued to pour into the city, it became clear that this was not simply a parade of the 1,111 delegates. Fourteen thousand other Zapatistas had traveled from their remote communities to San Cristobal to see their delegates off. It took two hours for all of the Zapatistas to enter the square. On the stage, the leaders of the delegation were presented with a baton, representing the authority of the indigenous communities; the Mexican flag representing the indigenous demand to be a part of the country that has historically marginalized them; and the EZLN flag. Afterwards, hundreds of Zapatistas made makeshift beds and slept under the arches of the municipal building, while others danced the night away, leaving the city before the first light. The next day, walking around the city, it was hard to believe they had actually been there.
The EZLN’s march on Mexico City occurred in the midst of a deepening political crisis for the ruling Party of the Institutionalized Revolution (PRI). On July 6 the PRI suffered a number of major electoral defeats. (see article p. ??) The alliance of opposition parties that defeated the PRI drew support from people disgusted with a number of unpopular PRI initiatives. The privatization of much of the social security system, a colossal bail-out for investors in an ill-fated system of toll roads, and the loosening of price controls on a number of essential commodities have all inflamed public opinion against the PRI. (In the state of Tabasco, as if to demonstrate their complete lack of contact with reality, the PRI-controlled legislature passed a law against the sale of cold beer—predictably provoking a wave of protests). As the EZLN’s march drew closer to the capital the government responded erratically. In mid-August the Mexican Federal Army dismantled their fortifications and withdrew troops from a number of communities in Chiapas. This surprise move stirred speculation about a broader demilitarization of the region that the military promptly quashed when they first explained they were only moving the troops around and then proceeded to re-establish themselves in one of the communities from which they had just withdrawn. On the day the Zapatistas left San Cristobal the bodies of three young men were found who had apparently been executed by Los Jaguares, an elite unit of Mexico City’s police. The executions took place amidst a series of massive police raids on poor and working-class neighborhoods on the pretext of attacking organized crime, in which large numbers of innocent people have been beaten and arrested.
The Zapatista’s march route took them through several historical and contemporary centers of popular resistance in Southern Mexico. The march’s second major stop was the city of Juchitan in the state of Oaxaca. Where indigenous communities have risen up against a proposed canal that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and run through their lands. The Zapatistas were warmly welcomed by over ten thousand people who had waited for them for over ten hours in the rain. The crowd included the municipal leadership of Juchitan which is under the control of the popular organization, COCEI (The Worker, Student and Campesino Coalition of the Isthmus). In Oaxaca the Zapatistas were joined by 500 people from eight different indigenous ethnic groups in Oaxaca. Another thousand members of 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance from the neighboring state of Guerrero also joined the march.
The San Andres Accords
While the ostensible purpose of the march was to enable the Zapatistas to attend the founding convention of the FZLN and the second National Assembly of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), the march also served to put pressure on the government to comply with the San Andres accords signed almost two years ago between the government and the EZLN. The San Andres accords committed the government to making a number of changes in the law and in the constitution to guarantee indigenous communities a much greater degree of self-determination including the recognition of their own forms of self-government, and most crucially, control over land and natural resources. The government’s failure to comply with the accords led the EZLN to break off negotiations with the government last September. Compliance with the Accords has become the main demand of Indigenous Mexico and the Zapatista march has made the accords fiasco the primary example of the undemocratic character of the Mexican state.
By the time the Zapatista caravan rolled into Tepoztlan in the state of Morelos, it included over a hundred vehicles and stretched out over 9 and a half miles. Passing through the night they were greeted by crowds of people with flags, torches, and bonfires. Morelos was the starting point of the 1911 uprising led by Emiliano Zapata from whom the modern Zapatistas take their name.
Building the Frente
The process of organizing the Zapatista National Liberation Front (FZLN) began with the EZLN’s Fourth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle. In the period leading up to the founding convention of the FZLN, the leadership of the EZLN asserted with increasing frequency that the FZLN was not to be “the political arm” of the EZLN in the sense that, for example, Sinn Fein is the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.
Instead the Zapatistas envisioned the FZLN as an independent “political force of a new type” that explicitly rejected the pursuit of state power. The base of the FZLN was to be the hundreds of Civil Committees for Dialogue and Peace that had been set up across the country at the EZLN’s initiative. In their best effort to make lemonade out of lemons, government spokesmen effusively “welcomed” the Zapatista march on Mexico City as an indication that the Zapatistas were preparing to become a peaceful political force by participating in the FZLN. The spectacle of 1,111 EZLN delegates going to the FZLN convention no doubt reinforced this view. Imagine the shock when the EZLN declared that they would not be part of the FZLN and furthermore, that if the government did not comply with the San Andres Accords they were prepared to launch another uprising.
Nunca Mas Un MEXICO Sin Nosotros
A popular slogan along the march “Nevermore A Mexico Without Us” challenged the official mestizo mythology of the Mexican state and the national consciousness of the Mexican people as a whole. Under colonial rule Mexico was governed by a strict racial hierarchy. Popular participation in Mexico’s long struggle for independence and finally in the Mexican Revolution discredited the ideology of European supremacy. In its place emerged another mythology of the Mexican people as a homogenous mixed race of European and indigenous origins. But, this mythology excluded the large minority of indigenous peoples who were never fully integrated into the old colonial order and who have continued to occupy a marginal and precarious position in Mexican society. The Zapatista uprising and the following wave of political defiance on the part of indigenous peoples across Mexico has shaken the myth of a homogenous “raza” and forced Mexican society to confront not just its diversity but its criminal treatment of indigenous peoples. The struggle of indigenous Mexicans for their inclusion in Mexican society, but also for their autonomy as distinct cultures within Mexico has taken on a the moral force similar to that of the 1960s Civil Rights movement in the US.
The Zapatistas’ arrival in Mexico City preceded Mexico’s independence day by two days. The Zocalo (the main plaza of the capital) was decked out in red, green, and white flags and lights draped over all the surrounding buildings and main streets. 100,000 Mexico City residents filled the plaza and spilled over into the streets chanting “Zapata vive! La lucha sigue!” and singing the Zapatista hymn while waiting for over four hours for the Zapatistas and the delegations that had joined them along their five-day, 750-mile journey to the capital.
When the march finally arrived in the center of the city, the crowd was ecstatic. People cried, blew kisses, chanted, “No estan solos!” (You are not alone!) and thrust their fists or the V for victory symbol in the air. The Zapatistas, obviously weary and slightly overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and the city itself (some looked up warily at the buildings towering above them) returned the people’s show of love by waving and chanting back. Once they arrived at the stage, the Zapatistas called on the government to comply with the San Andres accords and to remove troops from Zapatista communities in Chiapas. The ferocity of the Zapatista demands in the Zocalo contrasted starkly with their purpose in the city, to participate in the founding of a peaceful and civil grassroots organization. Commandante Claribel declared, “If the government wants war, let’s go to it. We Zapatistas will fight with valor because we have one weapon the government does not. It is called dignity.” This was the first sign of many throughout the week that despite their dedication to creating peaceful civil and political space, the Zapatistas have no intention of putting down their arms.
The FZLN convention was divided into small groups, each charged with the same task of working through a number of proposals for the FZLN’s principles of unity, structure, and program of action. The positions of the small groups would then serve as the basis for formally establishing the FZLN. While there were many heated points of discussion, and a certain amount of general chaos, the central issue that emerged was the question of double membership. Would the FZLN be open to members of political parties? While it is still difficult to determine the ultimate shape of the FZLN, the convention made two crucial decisions. First, they rejected double membership but opened the FZLN to members of non-party social movement organizations and did not exclude the possibility of alliances with political parties in certain circumstances. Second, the convention decided on what it called a “horizontal structure” without a centralized leadership. The Civil Committees are to be transformed into local cells of the FZLN; a body composed of delegates from every state will make decisions on national direction. Finally, the FZLN chose as its program of action a national campaign for peace and demilitarization and compliance with the San Andres Accords.
The Second Assembly of the National Indigenous Congress began with an elaborate ceremony on the ancient pyramid of Cuilcuilco near University City on the southern edge of Mexico City. The leading Zapatista delegates and those of other indigenous organizations inaugurated the conference atop the pyramid with a three hour ceremony. Along with members of indigenous organizations from all over the country and other parts of North America, artists, intellectuals, students, religious people, activists, and ordinary folks attended the ceremony to show their solidarity with the struggle of Indigenous people for dignity and autonomy and to welcome the Zapatistas once more to their city.
The Assembly of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) was meant to prepare for the upcoming convention of that organization in October. Unlike the FZLN, the CNI is a relatively strong organization with a determined sense of mission. The CNI is the broad national umbrella organization of the various local, state, and regional indigenous organizations of Mexico. It was formed during the recent upsurge in indigenous resistance in the wake of the Zapatista uprising. While there is a lively debate within the CNI on many questions facing the indigenous movement the organizations generally agree that the Zapatista uprising put indigenous issues on the national agenda and that militant direct action is crucial to winning any serious victories.
On September 15, on the campus of the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM), the people of Mexico City and the Zapatistas finally got a chance to sit down and talk. Instead of the ceremonial formality that had marked all previous events on the Zapatista tour circuit, at UNAM the Zapatistas divided themselves into about seven different groups under the shade of scattered trees in the main quad.
Within these large groups, Zapatistas and Mexico City folk sat down in small groups to talk and it was a beautiful sight. People from vastly different circumstances spoke to one another about their families, their lives, their homes, their dreams. A soccer match developed between the students and the Zapatistas; the students won twelve to two. (You try playing soccer in a ski mask!) These two reporters were especially excited to meet the delegates from Santa Rosa El Copa, the base community of the Anarchist Project in the Mexican Southeast that we have been supporting for the past year. Jokingly called the “Picnic with the Zapatistas,” this event allowed the people of Mexico City to see the Zapatistas not just as symbols of resistance, but as real people. And it gave the Zapatistas who come from tiny, remote pueblos in the mountains and jungles of Chiapas a chance to learn more about the people and the life of a city they could barely comprehend.
The next day on the site of the 1968 slaughter of student protesters by the Mexican government, Zapatistas and locals performed a cleansing ritual; they took each other by the hand and danced the night away to the sounds of cumbia and salsa. Without the slightest sign of shyness or trepidation, smiling, laughing couples quickly filled Tlatelolco plaza.
Revolutionary Prospects in Mexico
The Zapatista uprising in 1994 initiated a period of intense political struggle in Mexico. Ever since the 1968 student massacre at Tlatelolco there has been considerable pressure for democratization and an end to the PRI’s one-party rule. In the early 1980s, in response to the struggles generated by a deep economic crisis, the PRI took the tentative first steps toward opening up the system. These resulted in the first opposition victories in local elections. This process accelerated rapidly under the pressure of the Zapatista uprising and the massive popular support it generated. Now it is massively evident that the PRI can not continue to rule in the old way; some sort of dramatic restructuring of Mexican political life is inevitable. The Mexican business class and foreign economic interests there are clearly committed to making a transition to some sort of multi-party “democracy.” Accordingly, the PRD and the PAN are rapidly filling up with ex-PRIistas, many of whom are no more than second-rate political hacks who felt thwarted within the PRI. The national leadership of the PRD has made it clear that while it is willing to use popular outrage at neo-liberal policies as a battering ram against the PRI’s political intransigence, it has no intention of seriously obstructing the imposition of neo-liberal policies. Cardenas’s term as Mayor of Mexico City is clearly a test of whether the PRD is capable of carrying out the ruling elites’ directives while simultaneously cooling the militancy of the popular movements that are a significant part of their electoral base.
The weak link in this plan are the indigenous communities, particularly in the poorer states of Southern Mexico. They have demonstrated quite clearly their willingness to turn towards revolutionary means to ensure their rightful place in Mexican society. It remains to be seen whether the sympathy they have in many other sectors can be transformed into effective political solidarity and whether they have the organizational capacity to fight and win. The Zapatista march on Mexico City was an important development in both these areas. It dramatically broadened the Zapatistas’ base of support and threw at least some of that support behind the FZLN and the CNI. Rather than coming to Mexico City to declare their eagerness to negotiate with the government or to transform themselves into a peaceful political force, the Zapatistas came to demand compliance with earlier agreements and reaffirm their determination to wage a revolutionary war if that compliance was not forthcoming.
Return to San Cristobal
The Zapatista delegation returned to San Cristobal on September 19 from their trip to the capital city exhausted but obviously excited and moved by the open-armed reception they received in Mexico City. The positive response from the people of their country throughout their journey reaffirmed the belief that “no estan solos” in their struggle for liberty, justice and dignity. While the chants of “Zapata vive! La lucha sigue! were a little less ferocious because of fatigue, the determination in their voices was even stronger. As they eagerly climbed into their trucks and busses to return to their villages, one could imagine the lively tales, reports and stories the Zapatista delegates would share with their communities over the coming days.
“In looking through old papers and chatting with people who were active in the anarchist movement in the eighties, this has been done before. There was a network. There was a paper/newsletter, Mayday, that rotated among affinity groups and served as a clearinghouse/bulletin board for the movement. The focal point for the participants was the initially fairly large, continental anarchist gatherings. The first, Haymarket Remembered…”
Excerpt from: Survival gathering : an anarchist unconvention, Toronto, July 1-4, 1988
‘DAY OF NETWORKING ‘Sunday from 9 am to 3 pm has been set aside for networking in the open-air setting of High Park. The “schedule” will allow time for all components of the schedule proposed in MAYDAY (evaluation of MAYDAY, Network organization and process, Joint Network Actions/Projects, organizing a date for the next network meeting) and proposals for the 1989 Gathering, with a good amount of time set aside for affinity group networking to occur (prisoner support, anarchist media network, etc.) as well as providing opportunity for people to network by region, for those who wish to do so. The agenda will be scheduled roughly as proposed by those who Gathered in Atlanta,and reported through MAYDAY, but all affinity group discussion will be organized spontaneously, according to need/ desire, within the remainder of the scheduled time (to 3pm) and may well continue throughout the day if desired.’
“Those people on the survival gathering address list may also be receiving the publication Mayday (a forum for more effective network-ing within the anarchist movement). Mayday has been compiling the network mailing list, which is published in Mayday each time it becomes updated.”
Note from the author:
Please read this piece critically and talk about it with other people. Its
purpose is to generate debate. Talk about it with me if you want. Don’t talk
about it with me if you want. Ridicule it if you want. But please read it
and talk about it with someone. And if you ask, I will freely admit to being
an accomplice in anything negative I describe.
Is the Earth First! movement dead? How many of you have thought, asked, or
heard someone else ask this question in the past year? My guess is that many
of us have. I know I’ve done a lot of all three. The first few times it didn’t
make much of an impression–just another unanswered question in a world that
seems woefully short on answers right now. But since it was such an important
question, it kept coming back, each time a little more insistent in wanting
an answer. Now, after many months of mulling, I have a few thoughts on the
question I would like the movement to consider.
To find my current opinion among the various feelings I have toward the
movement, I tried to carefully and honestly answer some basic questions about
the effectiveness of EF! in serving life on Earth. In addition to the broader
human and non-human communities we serve through our activism, I tried to
consider how the movement serves the activists who keep it alive. Does the
movement contribute as much to our lives as it takes, or are we mining people’s
lives to fuel the movement?
Other questions I asked included: What would galvanize and revive the current
EF! movement? What would do for EF! what EF! did for the broader environmental
movement a few years ago? What degree of unity can we achieve within a group
as diverse as Earth First!? Are the movement’s flaws and internal contradictions
so great that we are in fact just another oppressive system masquerading as
a revolutionary movement? If human endeavors are going to be tainted by the
dysfunctional system that produced us, is there within the movement a sincere
commitment to identify and overcome our shortcomings?
My answer to the broader question of whether EF! is dead is that it isn’t
dead, it’s just sleepwalking. I think we need to wake up and believe in ourselves
and our movement again! We need to remember that a life of earnest struggle
for deeply held values with close friends is the most joyous and honorable
life that is possible on this Earth. Sure we’ve got problems, but we also
have abundant reason to love each other and the cause that we as a group represent.
I think we should stop for a moment to remember that our lives here are important
and should be treasured. It was that intense love of life that made EF! different
to begin with. It is also the only thing I can see that is powerful enough
to fuel our future activism in the face of the increasing horror we must face.
So what is it that will make us believe passionately in ourselves and EF!?
I think we need to be more conscious of our history, our current situation
and our plan for the future. For a revolutionary movement to achieve anything
of significance in this world, it must have a sense of its past, present and
future. When I lose my appreciation for what we have already done, I lose
my primary source of solace and inspiration. Then I lose my interest in the
present and future and become paralyzed. I obsess on today’s nightmare and
the fact that in spite of our efforts we continue to lose so much that we
hold so dear. But when I settle down, my memories flow back and I remember
all the positive and significant things we as a movement have done.
I think Earth First! has made progress in all of these areas and that that
is why we are being targeted by the state. Other movements that have to some
extent provided for their supporter’s needs while simultaneously issuing a
severe challenge to the dominant culture have been dealt with severely. The
state cannot afford to allow revolutionary subcultures–even unstable ones
such as EF!–to exist for very long. Working models of alternative cultures
erode the fear the state uses to keep the populace subservient and give people
a means to express their discontent. We provide at least partial escape from
the prison work farm that is the modem corporate world. But we have only been
partially successful at escaping from or challenging the dominant culture.
Myself, I’m going to try to take pride in what we’ve done and accept the additional
commitment that the future will demand. To fail to recognize any good in that
which we’ve done would be disrespectful to the many necessary and courageous
things EF!ers have done. To think that we can get by in the future with the
level of commitment and coordination we have maintained in the past would
be unrealistic and arrogant. Please, can we now continue our activism with
the strength and wisdom we’ve gained through our past efforts and the humility
that the future demands?
I think we are being naïve if we don’t fully realize that Earth First!,
ragtag or not, is considered a serious threat by the corporate state. We’ve
seen that even the modest campaigns we’ve waged have been sufficient to elicit
a massive and growing response from the propaganda and security elements of
the state. We may not always have faith in our movement, but the state has
enough faith in it to want to see it dead. I now hear that there are congressional
hearings planned for us “eco-terrorists” this Spring. All this for what can
be easily argued as one of the most scrupulously non-violent revolutionary
movements the Earth has seen. I thought one of our fundamental goals was minimizing
the violence that is inflicted upon human and non-human life. Oh well, I guess
the FBI doesn’t read our publications.
So EF! is effective enough to get the attention of the state, is it effective
enough to slow or stop the vast destruction of life we are witnessing? I don’t
think so. To even have a chance at influencing such a vast phenomenon EF!
needs to replace with a just and resilient anarchy what is now too frequently
just chaos. Who is doing what and when? What have we done in the past that
we need to change? What things worked well and need to be repeated? Sometimes
we ask these questions, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we implement our answers,
sometimes they rot on the vine. Sometimes our meetings are focused and productive.
Often they are chaotic and confusing and alienating for newcomers. We cannot
afford to work this way any longer! Any even reasonably ambitious human endeavor
requires some level of ongoing commitment and coordination to be successfully
completed. A task as huge and complex as the societal transformation we seek
will take long term commitment and a fair amount of coordination among a large
number of people. Vague and constantly shifting goals and levels of commitment
will limit our effectiveness, waste scant resources and strain relationships
within the group. We cannot afford this! I’m not saying we need bylaws or
officers, just that we need to know who is doing what and when. And when they
get burned out or can’t do it anymore for whatever reason, we need to know
so we can get someone else to do it. I don’t think these requests compromise
the anarchistic ideals of our movement. To the contrary, I consider the creation
and maintenance of a just and resilient alternative culture to be true anarchism
and true radicalism.
When I consider what EF! has done for me, my circle of friends and the fight
for life on Earth, I feel sincerely grateful and compelled to keep it alive
and moving. I was a twenty year old biology major when I was introduced to
EF! by my sister-in-law who told me I might find people I could relate to
at an EF! meeting. I went to the meeting and through EF! developed friendships
that I continue to treasure eight years later. In fact, all of my closest
friends are people I’ve met through my involvement in EF!. If I hadn’t gone
to that meeting and had the support and guidance that comes from living within
a community of like minded souls, I don’t know where I would be today or what
I would be doing. Earth First! gave me something I desperately needed–a home
in a very hostile world. Because EF! has been there to bring people together,
entire communities have been able to form and maintain themselves. That function
alone is a very significant and necessary thing in today’s world.
There were enough positive aspects to the EF! of 1987 to win my allegiance,
and in the past nine years I think we have made progress in transforming the
movement’s philosophy and overall dynamics to something that is more just
and consistent. I am not saying that I think our work is done, only that there’s
a lot less about EF! that makes me wince than there used to be. This transformation
has been no small feat. It has involved many gut-wrenching debates about many
important issues that we’ve had to carry on at the same time we’ve been fighting
the most massive and virulently destructive society this Earth has ever produced.
A pretty tall order for a bunch of impoverished slacktivists.
So if everything is so great right now, why is everyone asking if the movement
is dead? What are the negative aspects of EF! that make us wonder if what
we are doing is of value to ourselves or others? On my short list I would
put spending a large part of every day talking to people about horrifying
things, having each day to try to some extent accept things about the world
that I won’t ever be able to accept, and living in poverty. Another thing
that is central to our movement that is extremely difficult is building and
maintaining positive relationships with each other. Frequently in the course
of our activism we are guilty of or the victim of disrespectful behavior.
I can remember many times I have been unnecessarily and unfairly harsh in
my interaction with other activists. I believe we have become so accustomed
to living lives of intense intellectual combat that out of habit we treat
our friends the way we treat our enemies. Rather than caring enough about
our relationships to develop effective means of communication and conflict
resolution, we blast away at each other with the verbal equivalent of automatic
weapons. I would here and now like to extend an apology to anyone that I have
pissed off and will sincerely try to forgive those who’ve pissed me off. Please,
can we strive in the future to resolve differences of opinion within the group
in such a way that relationships survive the process. If we can’t reform a
small portion of the human race then there is truly no hope of reforming society
in general. I refuse to accept that premise.
To sustain the fundamental challenge to society that Earth First! presents,
I believe we must continue to develop within ourselves and our communities
those qualities that the dominant culture lacks. We need to be open with and
supportive of each other since relationships within the dominant culture are
frequently closed and exploitative. We need to be forward thinking about our
lives and the movement since the dominant culture thinks only of today. We
need to strive for consistency and dependability since the dominant society
only consistently delivers pain, disillusionment and insecurity. We need to
be patient with each other and take care of each other since the dominant
culture is crazed and uncaring. Simply stated, I think we need to lead by
I also think our efforts to establish meaningful relationships with other
revolutionary movements depend upon our ability to create and maintain a just
and consistent culture among ourselves. How can we ask other movements to
consider what we stand for when we don’t always seem to know ourselves. I
do think we’ve had and still somewhat have a remotely coherent and comprehensive
concept of our movement’s ideals, we just seldom publish it or fail to effectively
distribute what we have published. Only if we continue to define the ideals
of our movement and communicate them to other movements can we form meaningful
alliances. Only then can we and our allies grow into a force that will make
the corporate monster blink.
So, a little faith, a sense of our past, present and future, ongoing commitment
and organization, collaboration with other movements…what else do we need
to focus and energize our movement for the struggle to come? I would argue
that we need to develop the ability to challenge society without making individuals
feel cornered. If our method of criticizing people’s inappropriate lifestyles
is so rigid and harsh that we make everyone feel like our enemies, I don’t
think we’ll win many converts. I try to remember how hard it was for me to
achieve the independence and strength that being an activist requires. If
we have compassion for those who are making an honest effort, I think we can
maintain the intensity of our rhetoric without attacking people who are, like
us, victims of an unjust system.
I also think we should spend more time encouraging people in general to
take individual action on behalf of life on Earth. There are many people who
agree with us who will never go to an Earth First! event. I know many of those
people care enough to take meaningful action if they just get some encouragement.
So what if I’m wrong about the various premises I have laid out in this
piece. I guess that would make Earth First!ers pitiful figures who are in
denial of the fact that their movement is dead or was never such a good idea
to begin with. I don’t think so. I know that many movements have had to wait
decades to see their efforts bear fruit.
I know that many movements that have been persecuted by the state have taken a while to regain their former strength and spirit. And I know, as anyone who’s been an activist for even a short period knows, that activism has its highs and lows. Please, let’s do whatever we have to do to make our lives as activists more positive and productive. And let’s care enough about each other and our cause to live through and learn from the lows. I think Earth First! is the best radical, anarchistic, biocentric movement we have going. I think it has served life or Earth well and that we should cherish it, make it stronger, and keep it moving. More than ever before, I feet that we have little time and little choice, that we must make the defense of the Earth and its precious life the central concept in our lives. Many activists have been saying the ’90s were supposed to make the ’60s look like the ’50s. It’s starting to sound a little ridiculous. I think we should fight like there were no tomorrow.