interview with an anarchist

this is an interview I conducted via e-mail towards an article on the Finding Our Roots Conference for Streetwise. Not sure when it's coming out yet, sometime after the 15th? See your local, friendly neighborhood homeless dude to get a copy. Also, if you happen to be in Pilsen and with a thirst for knowledge, check out Lichen Lending Library (more on this some other time, but you can google it).

HK: When did you become involved in the anarchist community, and what drew you to it?

KBunny: I first became an anarchist in high school, in the mid-1980s. I had become involved in anti-nuclear and anti-Apartheid activism, and was investigating political theory on my own. I actually initially got into Marxism, mostly because it was the only anti-capitalist philosophy that I could find material on. Plus I knew some Marxists and socialists through activism. I was also reading a lot about sixties radicalism. Like many my age I had heard of anarchy through the Sex Pistols, and was drawn to the idea without really knowing what it was. Then my senior year a friend showed me a flyer for an anarchist youth group that had begun meeting in the East Village (I grew up in New York), which at the time was not at all the arty yuppie enclave it is today, but rather the center of a militant squatters' struggle against the city housing authority, the police, and the forces of gentrification. I went to a meeting and met people who openly called themselves anarchists for the first time. I got involved in the community and the local political punk scene, and got access to all kinds of anarchist literature, from zines to historical writings. During a lot of the 1990s, after I graduated from college, I drifted away from anarchism in any active sense, and toward progressive liberalism (I actually voted for Clinton!). I moved to Chicago in 1999 for grad school. I slowly became re-radicalized by the events of 1999-2001: the Seattle uprising and the so-called "anti-globalization" protests that followed, the theft of the 2000 presidential election, the murder of Carlo Giuliani by police at the 2001 anti-G8 protests in Italy, and finally the imperialist reaction to 9/11. By the end of 2001 I was openly calling myself an anarchist again and participating in various radical efforts in Chicago. I guess I was drawn to anarchist community initially because for the first time I found folks who seemed to see the world more like I did, who were dedicated to politicized rebellion and divesting from the status quo, rather than just reformist protest, or replacing one totalizing doctrine with another. As a teenager it was exciting to meet people who dressed outrageously, lived as they wanted, and subscribed to all kinds of practices and ideas that made sense to me, such as veganism, feminism, polyamory, queerness, DIY culture, squatting, and sharing food, work, and living space in community. As I've aged I've certainly become more jaded about anarchist community, but I still feel compelled to create resistance with others, and it is still really the only "political home" that makes sense for me.

HK: How do you (and/or the community) define anarchy?

KBunny: Whew! Ask ten anarchists this question and you'll get about 50 different answers. Anarchists tend to be naturally free-thinkers who don't automatically accept what they are told, but rather must consider the evidence and arrive at their own conclusions - therefore each person tends to have their own working definition of anarchism, and their own vision of what anarchy means to them and would look like. A few things these visions tend to have generally in common include: hatred of and opposition to all forms of hierarchy, domination, and oppression - including the understanding that these things are inherent in the current system (and pretty much all others that have existed in human history); belief in mutual aid and the equal sharing of resources and work; and belief in individual and community autonomy and self-determination, which goes hand in hand with a belief that human beings are not only capable of but best suited to self-sufficiency, voluntary cooperation, and consensus - that people don't need and shouldn't have a "higher authority" to police our actions and tell us how to act and how to live. Of course, all of what I just said fits in with my own ideas of what anarchy is - another anarchist might give you a different answer to how "the community" defines anarchy. But probably their answer would contain at least some of the same elements. However, I don't know if you could accurately say that there is one "community" definition of anarchy, as we are always arguing the point amongst ourselves, and there are many different "schools" of anarchism. One thing I really value about Finding Our Roots is that folks from many different tendencies can come together and discuss, network, and strategize across ideological differences - which after all are much less significant than the differences between us and the mainstream political world. For my own version of anarchy I would also add that I tend more toward an individualist anarchism, meaning that I feel individual autonomy and self-determination trumps most concerns, unless it spills over into curtailing the individual freedom of others (for example, I don't believe that we are "free" to rape, assault, or imprison another). This means I struggle a lot with things like my ethical veganism, because as much as I believe that the meat industry is grossly oppressive to animals, I also believe that what one chooses to ingest is a personal decision that should not be dictated by another. However, I also feel that the supposed divide between "individualist" and "collectivist" anarchism (and here we're getting into multi-layered debates that have raged for decades in anarchist community) is actually a false dichotomy - because I enthusiastically support the idea of collectivism, and as an individual I can and do choose to work in many different types of collectives. This includes sometimes choosing to subsume my individual desire to the will and work of the collective, because I believe that the collective's goals and existence are more important. This doesn't always happen, though, and this is when the consensus process gets tricky: if someone feels so strongly about something that they would leave the collective if certain decisions are made, we have to keep working and debating until we can arrive at a decision that everyone can agree to. Consensus is definitely a much slower and more difficult decision-making process than majority rule or representative so-called democracy, but anarchists tend to feel that it is worth it to have decisions made in a truly non-hierarchical manner. By the same token, sometimes individual initiative is what makes things happen, and anarchists usually do not expect one another to wait for permission to act. It's a delicate balance of trusting the people you're working with, and not acting in a way that imposes your individual will on others without their consent.

HK: How does the anarchist lifestyle compare to the "average american's'?

KBunny: Again, there isn't a single "anarchist lifestyle." Some of us spend our time traveling around and living in the cracks of capitalist society. Some of us live collectively, dumpster-dive and/or grow our own food, and otherwise try to live as low on the food chain as possible, and try to avoid the need to sell all our time to capitalists for subsistence. Some of us are queer, and might be in open or multiple-partner relationships; some are straight and/or monogamous. For some anarchism is all about unionism, community organizing, or issue-based activism, while for others it's more about creating pockets of the world we envision now - and for many it's both. Some of us avoid TV and mass media, some don't. And some of us have spouses and children, own homes and cars, and have full-time jobs just like most "average americans." We have to find ways to survive under capitalism just like everyone else, and that takes different forms for different people. There are plenty of anarchists you might take for "just another average joe" if you saw them on the street - and in most respects they are "just folks," it's just that personal conviction and/or experience under the heel of capitalism have brought them to anarchism.

HK: There seem to be a lot of fears and misconceptions about anarchists; how would you respond to people who consider your ideaology dangerous or akin to nihilism or communism?

KBunny: First I should say that there *are* some anarchists who favor nihilist ideas and/or would claim the label "nihilist," as well as some who call themselves anarcho-communist and envision an essentially communist political structure, only without a centralized authority, and with community autonomy and collective, non-hierarchical decision-making. Most Americans equate "communism" with Soviet Russia, which is actually quite inaccurate - most radicals (anarchist and otherwise) would say that the USSR actually equaled "state capitalism," not to mention fascist imperialism more or less of the kind practiced by the US - only the power mechanism consisted of the state, rather than private corporations supported by the state. But because of widespread misconceptions about what communism is - as well as its implications of ideology and individual action being dictated by a central, controlling body - I myself think anarchists should not seek to embrace this term, even though a lot of what I practice and believe could be described as "communistic." In my view, anarchists are not communists precisely because of the value we place on self-determination, decentralization, and individual freedom. Other anarchists would of course disagree. I would say the single biggest misconception about anarchists is that we only want to destroy and create disorder, that anarchy equals chaos and "everyone for themselves." As you saw at the conference this is just not the case. I don't know how many times I've heard someone quip, "An anarchist conference - isn't that an oxymoron?" - as though getting together for a weekend and talking about stuff is somehow anti-anarchist. Yes, most anarchists *do* want to destroy capitalism, or at the very least create alternatives to it as it slowly crumbles under its own weight. But almost all the anarchists I know are much more about creating something - growing food, maintaining community spaces, organizing grassroots coalitions - than about destruction. That doesn't mean that some of us don't also subscribe to notions of direct action that involve actually destroying some part of the capitalist structure. But this is far from being destruction for its own sake, and many anarchists don't consider property destruction to be "violence" - especially when compared to the massive violence perpetrated by the state and the corporate power structure it protects. So, while anarchism does involve an element of "destroying what destroys you," at its essence it is about *creating* a world based on equality, cooperation, and the non-exploitation of one another and the earth. The notion that anarchism equals violence and wanton destruction is perpetuated by the existing system and its media to ensure that people continue to hate and fear us - because, in fact, anarchist ideas *are* dangerous to the capitalist power structure and the state that protects it.

HK: What is the purpose of the Finding Our Roots Conference?

KBunny: The initial idea for FOR materialized in 2006 as a response to organizing efforts taking shape around the coming presidential political conventions. Folks felt that, while they prepared for planned protests, anarchists should also work on educating ourselves about our history, ideas, and practice, and creating more space for open exchange and networking. The original idea was to have a series of three conferences within two years - the first on theory, the second on organizing, and the third on direct action. We did use the first two themes for the first two FORs. But by the time the first conference was over the idea had evolved into establishing an annual anarchist conference in Chicago. When folks met to begin planning this year's conference, it was generally felt that direct action was not an inclusive enough theme for a whole conference. So, FOR's purpose quickly expanded to be an annual opportunity for anarchists and the "anarcho-curious" in Chicago, around the midwest region, and beyond, to gather in order to discuss and debate ideas, network, learn about one another's work and our collective history, build community, and create bases for further organizing. It is also, secondarily, a chance to celebrate everything our community is and to connect with far-flung or seldom-seen comrades. While "outsiders" may have the perception that all anarchists know each other and work together all the time, in fact we spend most of our time involved in our own projects and immediate networks. In Chicago there is the added factor of the different neighborhoods being so spread out and isolated, as well as segregation across lines of race, class, age, etc. One of the things I love most about FOR is the way it brings together anarchists not only of different tendencies and with different focuses, but also of many different ages, class and racial backgrounds, genders and sexualities. To me this type of cross-sectional meeting is vital to our community and our collective struggle, so I'm very grateful that FOR seems to be sticking around as an annual opportunity to make these connections, and hopefully build on them over time.

HK: It seems that anarchist ideals may require a different approach to organizing something like this, how is this accomplished?

KBunny: See above, what I said about consensus. Also I'd add that an event that is anarchist in nature includes the assumption that no central authority dictates how it unfolds - so anyone is invited to get involved with the organizing, propose and put together a workshop, or take initiative in helping shape the event while it occurs, and all input is added to create the whole. For example, a common practice at anarchist conferences (which FOR has used) is to set aside space for "guerrilla workshops" - meaning that anyone can announce and hold a workshop that is not on the conference schedule. When you are organizing anything using consensus, the end result comes together through a combination of individual initiative and group decision-making.

HK: The theme of this year's conference was space; what can you tell me about the vitality of alternative living arrangements such as co-ops in Chicago?

KBunny: Stuff like that always waxes and wanes. Right now we seem to be in a period of abundance with regard to anarchist/anti-authoritarian spaces and collectives (housing and otherwise) in Chicago. One of this year's workshops that I helped plan was on collective living spaces. I was impressed by the sheer number of collectives that were represented there - easily more than a dozen, and that was only the folks who actually showed up! It seems that more and more people are seeking some kind of collective living arrangement, because they recognize the non-viability of the capitalist model where you choose between the nuclear family or solitary existence. More and more people are realizing that capitalism is increasingly going to fail to provide for our needs, and that we had best join forces now to try to do so for ourselves.

HK: What do anarchists do to improve their communities?

KBunny: I'm not sure I can adequately answer that question - again, there are at least as many answers as there are anarchists. Also, I'm not sure what you mean by "improve." I will say that being an anarchist is a process of continual self-critique and trying to figure out how to do things more effectively, and more conscientiously with regard to not perpetuating systems of oppression. We are all, especially here in the "belly of the empire," products and inheritors of this racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist world, and it's our responsibility to work continually to counteract these forces, as well as to overcome them within ourselves. As human beings all of us fail at this at least sometimes. But most anarchists are perpetually engaged with trying to live as close to our ideals as we can. One problem anarchist community always faces is being primarily populated by young, white children of privilege. It is always necessary to keep trying to push beyond these limitations, not only to "reach out" to people of color, poor people, and older people - but to support other struggles for liberation, and to make our community open and welcoming to people who may already be practicing anarchy, whether they call it that or not, in their own lives and communities. But as I said, one of the great things about FOR is the broad range of anarchists who show up and participate (I think the age range at this year's conference was 2 months to 70 years), proving that our community is not *as* homogeneous as it often seems.

HK: What are the biggest challenges to the scene?

KBunny: See above. Also, I would say that a big challenge is not getting so caught up in our own internal debates and differences that we lose sight of the larger struggle against oppression in which we're all engaged in some way. It can seem so impossible to get a roomful of anarchists to agree on anything, that we forget that in the eyes of the system and its adherents we're all the same.

HK: What do you think/hope the future of the anarchist scene will look like?

KBunny: Oy, another huge question! As an "older" anarchist - meaning not in my 20s (I'll be 38 this year) - I think about this question a lot, as it pertains to growing older and living a whole lifetime within a community of resistance that can tend toward young people who think they know it all and are quickly distracted. For one thing, I'd like to see anarchists make greater efforts to learn about and from our history, and to understand ourselves as part of a tradition of resistance, culture, and thought that goes back almost two centuries. I also hope that our community will continue to diversify and expand - maybe in another decade or two "anarchist" won't be automatically associated with the image of a young, white "alternative type." As far as my predictions, I think the current trend of collective living, building permaculture systems, and working toward food and energy self-sufficiency will continue to grow. I think and hope that this will be increasingly true - out of necessity - throughout first-world society, and I think it's encouraging and appropriate that anarchists are on the frontlines of this trend.

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