What I would do with $55,000: Our need for accountability and our failure to realize opportunities and build movements

Instead of bail money for what the author sees as unwise actions, a look at what the North American anarchist movement could use $55,000 for.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 8, 2012

On May 2nd 2010, I received an email in my inbox calling for “solidarity” and “emergency donations” to pay the bail of 11 self-identified anarchists in Asheville, North Carolina. They were alleged to have smashed ATMs, bank windows and small shops in celebration of May 1, International Workers’ Day. The price to bail out each of the 11 who were arrested? $5,000. As predictable as the paper-hawking of countless Communist factions at street demonstrations – anarchists locally and nationally got to work planning benefit events. Arrestee benefits are something we are always able to pull together. Yet our inability to create effective momentum, organization, and lasting impact, especially during economic and ecological crisis, is exacerbated by the fact that our “movement” allows anyone to identify as an anarchist, go on “the attack,” and turn months of potential movement-building efforts into benefit shows and talks about their actions.

I became an anarchist in the late 1990s. Since then, I’ve seen countless projects and groups fall apart due to lacking the resources and organization. Rarely do groups continue moving forward in a productive way. I started to ask myself how anarchists here in Chicago could use $55,000 to build and strengthen our movement. The numbers I use are obviously not exact. However, they point to the possibility of creating mass base movements instead of acting as an isolated political sect.

To strengthen our current movement, I would attempt to pay the rent of several existing anarchist and related projects for the year. To strengthen formal organizations and social centers I would pay Biblioteca Popular $9,600 and Locked Out $12,000; the I.W.W and Lucy Parsons Worker’s Center would get $4,300. That would leave $29,100. To strengthen community projects I would give Cop Watch $5,000 to buy new cameras, recorders, vests, and supplies for the communities that they organize in.

That would leave $24,100. I would use this money to address weaknesses in our movement, including our inability to effectively outreach and expand anarchist ideas outside of our circles. I would buy one industrial CD-R/DVD read and write drive for $1,000; a printing press for $5,000; and a screenprinting press for $8,000. This leaves a remainder of $16,100.

Opportunities that would exist outside of this budget would include buying land or buildings instead of renting. We could afford to operate a worker-managed bus program to combat the Chicago Transit Authority’s cuts and layoffs. We could fund, for an entire year, direct action worker centers throughout the Midwest. Most importantly, we could use the funds to build our capacity as organizers. We would finally have a chance to break out of being isolated militants.

This is all hypothetical, but remember that there is still $16,100 left. How would you use it to build models of anarchist resistance?

Chicago has made international headlines as being the most violent city in the United States. Not only are we the most violent, we also have 70,000-75,000 foreclosed homes in Metro Chicago. We also have the highest rates of foreclosure amongst small apartment owners, with Englewood ranking first, followed by Austin, West Englewood and then New City. Chicago’s unemployment rate hit 11.6% (which doesn’t include those who have given up looking for work). For African-American youth, the unemployment rate is the same as the unemployment rate for the general populace during the Great Depression. Do we even need to talk about the skyrocketing incarceration rate? It’s increased from 1.8 million in 2000 to 2.3 million in 2008. Furthermore, the immigrant deportation rate has doubled over a ten year period and continues to increase.

As anarchists, members of our movement are the first to cry out to build barricades, occupy buildings or even pick up arms. And yet, through labor organizing, I’ve seen workers who live in fear of writing their name on a petition for a list of demands. Clearly, we have a ways to go. To believe that we can reach a system without bosses through isolated window-smashing and “attacks” against the state is foolish. To believe that this system could defend itself against capitalists and fascists is absurd. While street fights in Greece have been very inspirational, they mainly appeal to our American love of good action movies and prime-time TV. But the insurrection isn’t the only part of their movement. We should not overlook the massive successes of Greek anarchists with organizing immigrants (particularly Afghani immigrants) in labor and social struggles.

The common person works 20 to 50 hours a week and, with limited time, spreads the remainder between family, bill-paying and personal time. Having the capacity to revolt against bosses, developers and landlords requires that we build our ability to organize and fight through continual work and dialogue with time- and money-stressed individuals. Dialogue and continual work, whether formally or informally, has the capacity to build a culture of resistance. But this method is only a revolutionary means, not an end. Take the Republic Windows occupation. During the struggle, Mexican-American workers stated that in Mexico, their union would occupy the factory when machinery was being moved. Here in the U.S, when the equipment was being removed and production relocated, they stuck with methods that they knew would solve the problem. This is important because it indicates that if you build a person’s capacity to self-organize, even using militant methods, that individual can defend their coworkers or community members – even in a new situation. We see from this example that it can not only happen across neighborhoods or industries, but also across borders.

We have to be critical of our movement and how it relates to the working class in which people of color face the most obvious blow from capitalists. Anarchists who put on ninja jammies and go on the attack in the “Berkeley” liberal town of Asheville demonstrate how cut off they are from working-class people. At a time when families are being evicted and lack work or healthcare, we have to ask: Was it really advantageous for the alleged attack against small businesses in a liberal Southern city? Thousands of families are being evicted from their homes and our response was to break an ATM? VIVA! Really? This is what we call a militant movement?

What we lack is continuous organization and participation in social struggle. This would allow us to analyze current political and economic conditions, learn from our mistakes, and build on past victories. How does informality and disorganization limit our opportunities to grow? Many of us have been involved in some sort of grassroots activity as anarchists – from food programs to prisoner support; from anti-police work to labor activity. Yet we’ve created no real “pull” or “mass” in society. During the 1960s, all of these activities were necessary for the growth of the Black Panther Party. But what we lack – and what they had — is a uniting theoretical message. We must foster unity while working together to build a popular movement. This unity must come with accountability to each other.

To counter the email that I received, I’m putting a call out for “solidarity” with working class people and asking for “emergency funds” to build an anarchist movement. This it to defend and aid those harmed most during this recession and by the state. It’s time to be serious about anarchism.

While I understand that one of the anarchists arrested in Asheville lived in Chicago for three years, and that many recognize him as a comrade, we have to be critical of our actions and theories. We must strive to be reflective in our practice. No matter how close those people are to us, their actions as individuals are not necessarily in our interests as a movement. I hope that this article challenges anarchists to think about their approach (or lack of it) to movement-building, and to create productive ideas for new directions.

Originally posted: June 1, 2010 at Four Star Anarchist Organization

Comments

tastybrain

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by tastybrain on April 11, 2012

This article makes some OK points, but publicly defaming imprisoned anarchists, however pointless their actions and however much we might disagree with them politically, is a pretty fucked up thing to do.

Redwinged Blackbird

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Redwinged Blackbird on April 11, 2012

was going to post pretty much the same sentiments, tastybrain.

Steven.

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on April 11, 2012

I read it pretty quickly, but where did it defame them?

Juan Conatz

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on April 11, 2012

Some people were mad about this because it called into question supporting the Asheville 11 who were facing charges and needed bail money.

Knowing both some people in the Asheville 11 and FSAO, I remember commenting on this on ABC, but them forums have been down for weeks because of a virus.

Steven.

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on April 11, 2012

Yeah, I see it questions that, but I didn't see any defaming…

It was always surprised me how much money American radicals seem to spend on bail money. And do you get bail money back if people show up to court? If so, what happens to it then?

Only knowing what is in this article about the case, it seems fair enough to say that however well-intentioned, this is a big waste of money (basically as the action in the first place was pretty pointless)

Juan Conatz

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on April 11, 2012

Yeah, if you show up to court, the money comes back. If you don't show, the state swallows it.

I agree that what they are alleged to have done is not something I'm really into, but some of the people involved had been involved in other stuff that the author probably would have liked, but probably didn't know about or have any ties with, despite both being in the Midwest at the time. Some of the Asheville 11 had been involved in a whole bunch of stuff in Kansas, including a infoshop/lending library, an office they ran a prisoner support solidarity program out of, a free/low priced food market, etc and was part of a group that had a yearly budget of $30,000-40,000. They did a lot to be a pole for anarchism in the wastelands of the Midwest, so although my views and theirs differ, I will always respect what they did and this is why I wasn't a big fan of the article. I mean, I doubt the author even contributed money when this group in Kansas lost some wealthy liberal donors and needed support to keep some of their projects running.

Steven.

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on April 11, 2012

Right, so what do people do with the bail money when it gets given back? Do they give it back to the donors? If so, then it's not exactly free money they can do whatever they want with anyway!

OliverTwister

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by OliverTwister on April 11, 2012

Bail money is usually pretty high, but is given back.

Most people, not being wealthy, can't afford to pay it. So there's a special sub-industry of usurers that huddle around prisons with cynical names like "Aladdin Bail Bonds." Basically the arrangement is that you pay them 10 percent and put up some security, such as a car or a house (depending on what you got and the amount you're in for). Then they front the money to the court. You never see the ten percent again, but if you show up then the bondsman gets the money back so they don't take the security.

I think a pretty standard bail amount might be around 10k, meaning it will cost a thou to get out. So I'm guessing that five thousand for each anarchist was to pay the bonds, supposing that they are in on multiple charges including probably some felonies. So its 55k into the black hole of the bail racket.

tastybrain

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by tastybrain on April 11, 2012

Four Star

Anarchists who put on ninja jammies and go on the attack in the “Berkeley” liberal town of Asheville demonstrate how cut off they are from working-class people

"Ninja jammies" is quite clearly derogatory,

Four Star

To counter the email that I received, I’m putting a call out for “solidarity” with working class people and asking for “emergency funds” to build an anarchist movement.

Wanting to "counter" an appeal for donations?

Four Star

On May 2nd 2010, I received an email in my inbox calling for “solidarity” and “emergency donations” to pay the bail of 11 self-identified anarchists in Asheville, North Carolina.

Putting "solidarity" in scare quotes...

The overall message of the piece is incredibly defaming. It is basically an attempt to delegitimize and undermine support for some arrested comrades.

I certainly agree that smashing windows and other "attacks" are not effective actions in and of themselves, and that the anarchist movement should avoid getting bogged down in endless prisoner support for questionable actions. But to write an article publicly stating you don't think a particular group of anarchist prisoners is worth supporting at the same time they need the most support is disgusting. Four Star could have just ignored the email and not donated money. Instead, this person chose to write an article attacking these specific people and saying they were unworthy of support.

Shit, the person could have written the exact same article making the exact same points without mentioning the Ashville 11 at all. I would consider this kind of public smear to be awful even if it was directed at the shittiest insurrectionoid imaginable, but the fact that its directed against a group whose activities were worthwhile (Thanks Juan for giving more background)...its disgusting. Sure, criticize other anarchists all you want, but to smear a specific incarcerated group and undermine an attempt to bail them out is just fucking unconscionable. I met some of the Four Star people when I was in Chicago, they seemed like nice people, but Jesus. This type of shit is just beyond the pale.

Steven.

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on April 11, 2012

Oliver, thanks for the clarifying information about bail money

jef costello

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by jef costello on April 12, 2012

Juan Conatz

Yeah, if you show up to court, the money comes back. If you don't show, the state swallows it.

I agree that what they are alleged to have done is not something I'm really into, but some of the people involved had been involved in other stuff that the author probably would have liked, but probably didn't know about or have any ties with, despite both being in the Midwest at the time. Some of the Asheville 11 had been involved in a whole bunch of stuff in Kansas, including a infoshop/lending library, an office they ran a prisoner support solidarity program out of, a free/low priced food market, etc and was part of a group that had a yearly budget of $30,000-40,000. They did a lot to be a pole for anarchism in the wastelands of the Midwest, so although my views and theirs differ, I will always respect what they did and this is why I wasn't a big fan of the article. I mean, I doubt the author even contributed money when this group in Kansas lost some wealthy liberal donors and needed support to keep some of their projects running.

I can agree with some of what you've said here, but isn't that part of the problem? If they're doing other more effective community work that is actually (hopefully) going somewhere then why are they so frustrated or angry that they'd do something so unwise and unlikely to make any kind of difference and by sucking that much money from the community is that going to help towards creating a vicious circle?
That said in the UK we don't have bondsmen and bail isn't always set so high.
Although I remember a discussion with a comrade who told us that paying fines was a bad idea as the fines would just be upped and we'd end up in a situation where we were raising the stakes in a game we could not win.

Juan Conatz

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on April 12, 2012

What was going on in Kansas ended up falling apart for a number of different reasons, one of which (as a sort of outsider looking in) was an issue of abuse/assault between two heavy hitters in the 'scene' and others who had been in the city for 5-10 years moving. But their difficulties in maintaining their budget when the economy tanked preceded this and there was a callout sent out to help them financially. But in the end, I believe nearly all those things folded. I believe what happened in Asheville and the people that were arrested had just left Kansas as it had fallen apart at that point.

The reason I mentioned this was because it was someone from one group in the Midwest advocating that money could be used for different things and contrasting that to the Asheville 11, some of who had also been in the Midwest doing different things and needed money but I doubt the writers had given any money, most likely due to the fact that Chicago is a bubble being the third largest city in the U.S. and also the writers were a part of a more pro-organizational model of anarchism that has varying amount of ties to other models and tendencies.

Should probably be also mentioned that these folks were arrested as being a part of a large bloc on May Day in which some people smashed windows and engaged in property destruction. Merely being arrested doesn't mean anything, and anarchists should know better than insinuate the guilt of people based on a bourgeois court system, much less prior to even entering that system. Didn't Emma Goldman refuse to publicly condemn the killer of the President, even though she disagreed with the action? How is it that we can't refrain from condemning something with far less consequences?

Really this piece is a perspective of 'class struggle pro-organization anarchism' condemning what they see as 'informal insurrectionary/primitivist anarchy'. Thankfully, there's a lot less of this happening now, probably because people are busy doing stuff, and also, I think, quoting from a comrade of mine:

Maybe this is me getting older but bunches of years ago I felt that crimethink and primmie stuff along with class struggle oriented operated in the same big pot of ‘anarchism’ and there was a lot more focus on turf wars to protect or defend everyone’s piece of it. Maybe its because the former just got irrelevant, but I felt there was a gradual split at some point where now we operate in different places and there’s no longer a feeling that we’re competing in any way for the same audiences or operation as part of the same milieu.

That said, my criticism of this piece shouldn't be interpreted as saying Four Star is a bad group or bad people. Most of their membership I've met I consider pleasant acquaintances, if not actual friends. And one of their members in particular was one of a group of anarchists I met online that I consider responsible for me even getting involved in things, back in 2007-08.

communal_pie

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by communal_pie on April 13, 2012

I think the best use of money is quite clearly collective group donations to struggling workers who are on strike.