Fig. 1 Does this look like the face of an anarchist?
This year over Christmas break I made what seemed like an obvious, perhaps slightly snarky observation that president-elect Trump, “seemed to be putting a lot of billionaires in his cabinet.” Imagine my shock when, as a response, I heard: “That’s confrontational! People like you are fucking anarchists!” People like me? Really? That’s anarchy? This is someone, who has known me literally my entire life. People like me. Well, I do own the hat, I suppose, but is that really the face of an anarchist? Smart alec, most definitely, but I have no history of outwardly rejecting authority, and I’m not interested in mutiny or in supporting violence. I seek truth, I believe in the rule of law, and I rely on the system of checks and balances to prevent any one person regardless of political affiliation from wielding too much power.
When the dust settled, I understood that this important person in my life wasn’t attacking me specifically but was simply parroting rhetoric coming directly from his favorite news outlet. At the same time, the encounter did speak to me. At its core, my comment expresses a sincere and serious concern with the policies promised by 45’s big money cabinet, and when the response moved directly past any opportunity for open dialogue and directly to the charge of anarchy, it opened my eyes to the way that our current administration plans to characterize or perhaps to even criminalize our constitutionally protected rights to dissent. It also reinforces the danger of relying on a single media source for information, but engagement with this topic is coming in a future post about our entry into a “Post Truth” America.
Okay, my eyes are open – wide – so now what? I wish I could say that I have always been politically active and have always known exactly what needs to be done next, but this is all relatively uncharted territory for me outside of a cyber punk context So, here’s that backstory. My first meaningful protest experience happened entirely by accident when I was teaching and studying at Ruprecht-Karls University in Heidelberg, Germany as a grad student in 1996. One Saturday in December I was on my way to experience the famous Christmas market in Nuremberg, but when I got on the train that morning, I was not greeted by the usual Saturday travelers. On this morning, I noticed a surprising mix of “punkers” and also quite a few Neo-Nazi skinheads on board. At each stop, more punkers and more Neo-Nazi skinheads got on the train, which further piqued my curiosity. I decided that I was going to see where they were all going.
As it turned out, they were also going to Nuremberg. When we got to the main train station around noon, we all started piling out with the Neo-Nazis going in one direction and the punkers gathering near the town center. I couldn’t believe how many people had crammed themselves into train after train on that day. That was the largest crowd I’d ever been in – prior to the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. – and even weirder was that the police acted relieved once they saw all the punkers showing up. I remember hearing one police officer saying to others standing nearby something to the effect of, “Oh good, the punkers are here. Maybe we’ll make it through today without any problems;” definitely not the response I’d expect under such a circumstance.
I heard the hate speech almost immediately, but I couldn’t see where the rally was taking place. That certainly explained the Neo-Nazi presence on the train, but what role would the punkers play? In my experience hanging around punkers in Heidelberg and southern Germany, I had always known them to be pretty chill and accepting of a diversity of people. I’d never really associated any particular ideology with them, other than being radical, and they didn’t assume a political identity for me – well, until after this day. Some were your typical looking punks with colorful Mohawks, safety pins, spiky edges, and dressed in their own variety of ripped jeans and patched jackets. Others seemed a little darker and more closely aligned with the old school Goth sensibility and aesthetic of Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees, which had been going on for quite a few years by that point.
Seeing that they were heading to a central assembly area, I tagged along with some of my new punker friends, and I would decide from there what role, if any, I’d play in the event. Their plan was pretty ingenious. We made ourselves into a huge, human wall, lined up at the edge of the square where the hate rally was taking place, and we just started moving slowly forward, deliberately pushing the Neo-Nazi audience away from the speaker. The police were standing by and watching. They didn’t intervene. The punker wall didn’t threaten anyone. No one said anything. We just moved one step at a time until the entire Neo-Nazi crowd had been pushed out of earshot of the speaker. We also turned our backs to the speaker, so when the creep realized that his only audience was a square full of punkers and Goths and a Montanan/Bavarian girl with their backs to him, he stopped talking, and the rally was over.
Fig. 2 Berlin Members of the ANTIFA Movement Against Fascism and Nuclear Power
Since that time, I’ve learned that punkers, goths and anti-fascist skinheads – the good skinheads – have joined forces in anti fascist (ANTIFA) groups to resist, to engage, and to protest Neo-Nazi hate and fascist ideologies perpetuated by individuals they now refer to as shitheads rather than as skinheads. This refashioning of the skinhead identity transpired through the direct, public work of the ANTIFA movement. I find this to be a particularly apt new title, since the reason mechanism of these shitheads certainly must be gummed up.
Now in terms of anarchy, the ANTIFA groups embrace this title. Their propaganda performs a strong, united front, made up of members willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve their desired result. If that above ANTIFA image taken in Berlin tells us anything, it informs a literal and potentially violent war on ideology that is ongoing, now international, and taking place on the streets. Interestingly, though, is that while this title of anarchist seems self-imposed and intentionally integrated into the group’s messaging, they also depict their relationship with the police as positive and mutually beneficial, because each group has the common mission to preserve order rather than to overthrow it.
For me that experience inspired and informed my young adult identity. I was surprised by how effective and peaceful the disruption of that hate rally was, although I suppose it could just as easily have gone downhill. Nevertheless, I try to recall that spirit of resistance and act when I recognize an injustice or see someone performing hate. Today, for example, I am trying to complete one of the “10 Actions in 100 Days” campaign organized by the Women’s March on Washington group.
Not that I was cognizant of it at the time, but I realize looking back to that event that it marked my own symbolic membership in ANTIFA . For about ten years when I was an active member of the underground cyber punk electronic scene in West Hollywood, Riverside and Long Beach, my band mate and I would openly challenge the young people we saw in the clubs, who were flaunting Nazi regalia or otherwise promoting messages of hate or exclusion. We’d task them to explain how they could justify the promotion of hate and fascism. In most cases, people didn’t have any idea that what they were wearing had any rhetorical import. Heightened awareness accomplished. New friends secured. Once in a blood red moon, however, these people turned out to be legitimate racists and haters, and it didn’t take long before all possibility for communication was halted entirely, someone got a fist to the head (luckily never me), and bodies were ejected from the clubs.
Fig. 3 Pictured above are some of my Anti-fascist patches.
The frustration for me was that there was and would never be common ground between us. There no way we might be able to foster open and intelligent dialogue, because both sides were anchored in such an absolute position – even though you and I hopefully have no trouble recognizing that the anti-fascist position is the only one that makes any rational sense – if not, let’s visit about it – especially in the context of Empire and the Ruins and human wreckage that result from empire building. It is Twilight Zone weird to think that this example even shares a similarity to today’s unbridgeable gap between the conservative and liberal (and even moderate) positions. Social Media is currently blowing up with one-sided discourse, children aren’t able to talk to some of their relatives – in some cases even to parents – about politics, and all sorts of people are being “unfriended,” “untagged,” and otherwise “written off” rather than messaged, texted or called.
So the question remains, are people like me anarchists?
Traditional definitions of the term characterize anarchy as: disorder caused by an absence of authority, lawlessness, individuals left to fend for themselves in a chaotic society lacking government or law. Susan Brown, a self-identified anarchist, explains that there is a common misconception that, “anarchism is a violent, anti-State movement,” when actually it is not that simple. Anarchism does not merely express an “opposition to government power.” According to Brown, “anarchists oppose the idea that power and domination are necessary for society, and instead advocate more co-operative, anti-hierarchical forms of social, political and economic organization” [The Politics of Individualism, 106].
Given these definitions, I am not an anarchist, but rather an active, informed and engaged citizen ready and willing to dissent injustice, oppression and marginalization. I recognize that this nation revolted against one empire on the basis of escaping tyranny to establish and to build its own empire. As we have discussed throughout the year, however, is that historically empires are replaced by others – in our case, we initially built up our wealth and power through the oppression and marginalization of human beings and deprived them of their inalienable, natural rights in the process.
As a nation, minority and marginalized populations have marched and protested and engaged in a variety of public work in an attempt to improve their rights. And we had come a long way, but a lot of this good work is being stepped back as some new orders are being attempted by our current administration . That will not do. To refashion a quote from an iconic figure, the dude does not abide. Whether I agree on every issue or not, I am so proud and inspired by the millions citizens around this nation, who are coming together to enter into the public record a loud voice of dissent to our new leader, who rules by impulse and governs by ignoring and defying the rule of law. I mention “the dude” Lebowski, precisely because I imagine he would join me and the so many other people with no predilection toward activism, who are engaged, speaking out and dissenting as a means of preserving order. In the process we are establishing new and stronger bonds between us.
At the base of the Statue of Liberty is a plaque bearing a line from a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus, a contribution from her work New Colossus to raise money for the current base on which this amazing gift of friendship from the French government sits. Although this is not inscribed on the statue itself, its words carry on the spirit of friendship and welcome that so many in and around the world have associated with the United States. I offer the sonnet here in its entirety:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
My mother came to this country from Germany in 1964, and she remembers standing on the deck of the ship as they were entering New York waters, and the Statue of Liberty came into sight. She has intimated to me that she thought of herself as special, like other immigrants and refugees past, who felt new hope and security in seeing this powerful symbol of freedom in a welcoming nation. I’m also proud – of her – and to know that I come from a heritage of people from different places around the world: Germany (now Bohemia in the Czech Republic), Scotland, England and Turkey (in what was an Armenian village named Parchang). I come from people, who journeyed here for a better life. I come from people, who saw in the United States the promise of the American Dream (not as it was originally meant, but as we have re-infused it with the spirit of unity and belonging for all Americans). I also come from people, who were persecuted on the basis of religious difference, watched their families murdered and were lucky enough to find safe passage here. As a daughter of this legacy, I will stand up against policies that dishonor these and other paths to America, but that does not make me an anarchist.
In my mind, the most compelling characterization of anarchy is to act with the intention of bringing a society into a state of lawlessness and chaos. In his first week in office, president Trump signed five executive orders and 8 Presidential memos designed to censor truth, to divide, to conquer others (“take the oil”), and to discriminate, among other things. These people…