anarchism, meet 21st century feminism in the land of the free (draft one)

Posted on November 30, 2013


As usual, this is a very rough draft, and because of my noobs status in understanding anarchism i feel very uncertain and nervous putting this out there. (What if i have it all wrong omgggggggg) so be gentle, but as ever criticism, questions, insights, and ideas are ALWAYS welcome.  It is only together that we can develop truly revolutionary ways of understanding and acting upon this world we find ourselves in.

Some Definitions (will add as paper grows)

1. Queer theory fills in the gaps left by traditional feminist theories, and relies heavily on intersectionality and questioning normalized frameworks. One working definition I will rely on is:

Queer theory and practice challenge some of the basic assumptions around gender and sexuality that form the basis of modern society. They question the idea that human beings throughout history have fit neatly into the categories of “male” and “female,” both physically and in their social selves, and that heterosexuality is the normal and natural way of sexual expression. Queer theory shows that gendered identities as well as sexualities are not fixed and “natural” but rather… socially constructed, fluid, and changeable – both socially and with regard to physical bodies.[6]

2. I had always understood anarchism to be synonymous with chaos and destruction. Never had I understood it to be:

The philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful…
…Anarchism, then, really stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and free enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations. [7]

Women know the dominion of religion, the need for her body to be liberated, and to be free from institutionalized oppression, and thanks to intersectionality and radical feminism we understand that it is not enough that some women, some queers, some people of color are living in the upper class and thus “have made it”. How can we be content, let alone feel accomplished and liberated when our brothers and sisters in this country and around the world are suffering still, and that many atrocities done to them are done by our government, in our names? While I will be exploring the myths and misconceptions around Anarchism in detail, this very basic definition will be helpful.

3. Praxis is key to my Unified Theory of Everything. As Freire says, “Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it.”[8] Incorporating lessons learned and seeing the most recent strides toward liberation as a learning experience, not merely a failed revolution attempt, and how we can move forward.

The Disclaimer

“We approach this project with a sense of experimentation, not to point out any final answers or truths about pedagogy, but to push the borders of utopian thinking and implementation”
– Jamie Heckert , Deric Michael Shannon & Abbey Willis[9]

This is not exhaustive. It is not meant as a rule book, or The Answer. Rather it has been, and continues to be, an exploration of concepts and lived experiences as this humble individual seeks a praxis where theories and action converge, where we honestly look at the shortcomings of the American feminist movement thus far – taking accountability for the injustices we perpetuate ourselves and allow to be done in our name – and where ideals and values no longer need to be compromised. It’s uncomfortable. And it won’t be easy. But we owe it to ourselves, to our foremothers, and especially to our future generations, to at least try.

What is Anarchism? Why is it helpful to a revolutionary feminist practice?

If we are to understand how a queer anarchist framework could provide a new liberatory praxis for the feminist movement, we first must understand what anarchism is and what it’s aims are. To fully exonerate Anarchism from common misconception could constitute a book in itself. However, I agree with Shannon when he says, “While feminists have engaged broadly with the aforementioned perspectives [Marxism, poststructuralism, radical environmentalism, critical race theory, post-colonial theory, queer theory, etc.], often times, particularly in academic feminist writing, anarchism is left out of the discourse altogether… Articles articulating or utilizing a distinctly anarcha-feminist perspective are rarely found in academic journals”. [10] This was my experience as I began this project, and in lieu of the lack of common knowledge of anarchism, some vetting is required in order for the concept of a queer anarchism not to be clouded or misunderstood.

Like many radical ideas throughout history, Anarchism has been turned into a boogeyman of sorts. Goldman says, “The emotions of the ignorant man are continuously kept at pitch by the most blood-curdling stories about Anarchism… Therefore Anarchism represents to the unthinking what the proverbial bad man does to the child – a black monster bent on swallowing everything; in short, destruction and violence” (67). This is not an issue faced only by anarchists of the turn of the century. We see this trend re-emerging in recent years in the form of media campaigns smearing protesters at the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle 1999, and even more recently during Oscar Grant Protests in Oakland and during the Occupy Wall Street Movement. The authentic meanings behind Anarchist beliefs are replaced by reports of “extremists” planning or executing property damage or trying to incite violence at otherwise peaceful demonstrations. Propaganda is an effective tool. This paper is not the space to deconstruct Black Bloc tactics or hash out if property damage is violence or even effective. Countless others, more qualified than myself, have undertaken such endeavors. It is, however, important to make note of the strategy being employed when anarchists are smeared as nothing more than violent, chaos-loving rebels. It keeps the general population afraid and can turn other radical activists who might otherwise join together in solidarity against those with anarchist beliefs.

This “violence is bad” message is also hypocritical; it would be more accurate to say “Some violence is bad.” Our society is founded on violence, both implicit and explicit. Marginalized peoples know intimately the way in which violence and the threat of violence are used to keep us in line by various institutions, authority figures, and other people. The LGBTQIA community experiences violent homophobia often at the hands of those who find “alternative” genders and sexualities repulsive; people of color disproportionately experience violence at the hands of police, the prison industrial complex, and in the form of poverty; our U.S. foreign policy rests on the threat of violence globally.

Then there are the more mundane ways in which we all are coerced and manipulated into becoming productive (read profitable) lives:

The Anarchist analysis of our present society… has always held that capitalist property relations are based on a legalized robbery of sorts. That is, we allow (and our laws defend) a system in which things like housing, food, water – the things that everyone needs access to in order to live dignified lives of their own choosing – are privately owned and sold for profit… We also livein societies in which we are alienated from the means of decision-making… If we go against the dictates of these political bosses, we can be beaten, kidnapped, caged, or even killed by police” (Queer Meet Anarchism – p. 7).

We boast of our freedom in this country, yet are forced to sell our labor, hundreds of thousands of hours of our lives, simply to obtain the most basic neccessities of survival like water, food, and shelter, which in itself constitutes violence – It should not cost money, a man made invention, to survive.

We are forced into debt to achieve higher education and to establish good credit in order to obtain homes and vehicles, even jobs. We pay taxes – including property taxes on land which was violently stolen. If we do not adhere to these most basic of rules we face fines and possible imprisonment. I read reports weekly of activists, usually peaceful, being beaten, pepper sprayed, having their homes raided, yet those who have perpetuated mass injustice in the form of crippling an economy, poisoning the Gulf Coast, or engaging in war crimes barely pay a price. The message being sent is clear: abide by the rules set forth by the ruling class, or pay the price.

Goldman was writing during the shift into the industrial age, where individualized crafts and working from home were fast being replaced by mass production in factories.  She writes, “Strange to say there are people who extol this method of centralized production as the proudest achievement of our age. They fail utterly to realize that if we are to continue in machine subservience, our slavery is more complete than was our bondage to the King. They do not want to know that centralization is not only the death-knell of liberty, but also of health and beauty, of art and science, all these things being impossible in a clock-like mechanical atmosphere” (75). Given our current society, her words are eerily prophetic. I would add that these things – health and beauty, art and science, and liberty, are also impossible when profit is the bottom line, as it is today. She goes on to quote Ouida: “’[The State’s] highest attainment is the reduction of mankind to clockwork… the State requires a taxpaying machine in which there is not hitch, an exchequer in which there is never a deficit, and a public, monotonous, obedient, colorless, spiritless, moving humbling like a flock of sheep along a straight high road between two walls’” (77-8). In classrooms nationwide students are taught to be docile and obedient, to regiment their bodies and their time, to memorize and regurgitate information without questioning its validity or relevance to their lives. They are taught to respect authority, not question it. They are being conditioned into mechanated modes of being which better support an obedient workforce. Paulo Freire says “our advanced technological society is rapidly making objects of most of us and subtly programming us into conformity to the logic of its system. To a new ‘culture of silence’” [12]. Such silence and conformity comes at a high price, and few philosophies I have encountered thus far attack this regimenting of human behavior and potential the way Anarchism does:

Anarchism directs its forces against… the greatest foe of all social equality; namely, the State, organized authority, or statutory law, – the dominion of human conduct… Just as religion has fettered the human mind, and as property, or the monopoly of things, has subdued and stifled man’s needs, so has the State enslaved his spirit, dictating every phase of conduct

The feminism I knew hit the mark with its criticisms of religion, railed against essentialism, and even eloquently attempted to deconstruct capitalism. But not once do I recall the State itself being deconstructed. We look at inequality, all the –isms, preach about glass ceilings and other such by-products of an unjust system, all the while failing to see the forest beyond the trees! “Indeed, the keynote of government is injustice. With the arrogance and self-sufficiency of the King who could do no wrong, governments ordain, judge, condemn, and punish the most insignificant offenses, while maintaining themselves by the greatest of all offenses, the annihilation of individual liberty”[13]. This idea, the sacrifice of liberty for the sake of freedom, is common enough in our post 9/11 world. It started with the Patriot Act and most recently we’ve discovered that the NSA surveils our electronic communications. All in the name of safety. To protect us.

Anarchism’s goal is the abolition of government and authority. “Instead of a state that stands above society, directing it, anarchists typically propose federations of neighborhood assemblies, workplace associations, community councils, and the like as coordinating bodies comprised by the people. We would collectively make decisions that affect our lives rather than having those decisions made for us or left to the whims of the market” (Queer mt. anarchism – p. 9). Our political and governing processes have been hijacked by lobbyists and corporate interest and influences. Each political party is more concerned with maintaining their political power and futhering their careers than what is actually best for the people they supposedly serve. During election seasons it takes a serious committment to uncover what each ballot initiative, proposition, and candidate are truly about – who funds it? Who sponsors it? Who wrote it? What would it look like if enacted? It has become a point of pride to deceive voters with confusing jargon and ploys, where voting “yes” means something will not happen or masking true intentions with emotional words. Currently, our government does not function like a system which has the majority of people’s well being at heart, let alone a governing body comprised of everyday people; a government OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people.

Our government, and those authoritative bodies such as police, military, and the judicial branch, sits above those it represents, and that has to change. I can hear the choral echoes of outrage at such a concept – “But the chaos! We need authority to keep people from committing crimes!” If a government’s job is to stop crime, does it succeed?  Goldman says,

The most absurd apology for authority and law is that they serve to diminish crime. Aside from the fact that the State is itself the greatest criminal, breaking every written and natural law, stealing in the form of war and capital punishment, it has come to an absolute standstill in coping with crime. It has failed utterly to destroy or even minimize the scourge of its own creation… So long as every institution today, economic, political, social, and moral, conspires to misdirect human energy into wrong channels; so long as most people are out of place doing the things they hate to do, living a life they loathe to live, crime will be inevitable[14]

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration at 726 prisoners per 100,000 people, while the second highest are Russia, Belarus, and Bermuda, all with a rate of 532 prisoners per 100,000 people – we have become the world leader of prisoners.[15] If we truly are the Land of the Free, why is it that “The United States has less than five percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners”? [16] And how much of this has to do with the reality that we flow through the psychological trenches dug for us right into jobs we find no true value in? Anarchism as Goldman describes it “aims to strip labor of its deadening aspect of gloom and compulsion. It aims to make work an instrument of joy, of strength, of color, of real harmony, so that the poorest sort of man should find in work both recreation and hope… to achieve such an arrangement of life, government with its unjust, arbitrary, repressive measures, must be done away with. At best it has imposed on single mode of life upon all, without regard to individual and social variation and needs” (83). Women and queers have long understood the single mode of life which has been imposed upon us with regard to gender roles and expression and compulsory heterosexuality, and have fought against those prescriptive lives. But merely being able to express our individual selves within a the larger systems of exploitation and profit is not enough. Instead of fighting for their piece of the power pie, branded as “equal access”, in an imperialistic nation whose foundation and success is reliant on the domination of people in other countries, extraction and privatization of natural resources globally, and the subjugation and assimilation of people domestically, western feminists could be questioning what they are trying to become equal with.

It would also serve us well to question our methods of achieving “equality”. Too many women’s and LGBT movements solely rely on our political apparatus to achieve gains for their movements, believing “their” candidates promises, putting faith in petitions and legislative action and single-issue campaigns. What has it won us, besides avoiding worse conditions under “the other guy” or blocking truly reprehensible measures going through state and federal legislatures? Our collective faith in the political system remains strong: “The political supserstition is still holding sway over the hearts and minds of the masses, but the true overs of liberty will have no more to do with it. Instead they believe with Stirner that man has as much liberty as he is willing to take. Anarchism therefore stands for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, al laws and restrictions, economic, social, and moral. But defiance and resistance are illegal. Therein lies the salvation of man. Everything illegal necessitates integrity, self reliance, and courage” (88). Playing by the rules of a game designed for the house to always come out ahead will not further goals of liberation. Politics is like theatre, or advertising. It can be a way to plant seeds of information, get information out, and spark dialogue. Sometimes small gains can be made. But it will not free us.

With the increase of laws targeting activism over the last decade, it makes sense that people are afraid to revolt for a life more worth living. But suffragettes did not gain ballot access by asking politely. Queers did not gain the ability to live authentic lives openly by playing nice. People of color did not put a stop to the Jim Crowe era by asking for permission. In many ways, the battles we face today are less clearly articulated and more diffuse, but one thing is clear: we cannot put our fate in the hands of political representatives who have a track record of party politics and the almighty bottom line of profit. The current feminist and LGBT mainstream movements are located within the system as nonprofits, advocacy groups and campaigns, and it’s not working. Just last year the Equal Pay Act was voted down – it’s nearly 2014 and women are still not guaranteed by federal law to receive equal pay for equal work. It is time that feminists take action into our own hands, resisting that which we know is immoral and unjust, which perpetuates the suffering of others. Even if it means we are persecuted. Even if it means we are stereotyped as “angry feminists.” The history of the struggle for liberation shows it is not neat or tidy, nor for the faint of heart. It necessitates risk, putting ourselves on the line and keeping our egos in check. It takes listening to others, honestly taking inventory of not only our larger-scale political acts, but also the every day, seemingly-mundane activities that are not in line with feminist ideals.

Liberation of all people necessitates the return of power, of direct action, and of governance into the hands of the people.