Some years back political cartoonist Stephanie McMillian did a visitor period at Twin Oaks and I had fantasies of one of the communities new industries being radical humor. She is a clever, quirky, cartoonist with an impossible message to deliver and just the right tool to do it. Her latest salvo in this on-going public education and activation campaign is on target and at exactly the right price.
I discovered Stephanie’s work while I was staying at an amazing squat in Barcelona called Can Masdeu. The squats library had a copy of the book she illustrated, As the Word Burns: 50 simple things you can do to stay in denial. Which is a quick read, if it does not cause your brain to explode.
Her impossible message is that all of the individual efforts to make things better (recycling, getting off grid, even sharing with your friends) don’t make any difference if you don’t take on the structural problems of capitalism. This is the acid test for radicalism. Either you believe that you need to step out of your comfort zone and fight for systemic change against quite impressive monsters or you think personal positive actions are enough. [If you think things are just fine as they are, you have somehow stumbled onto this blog by mistake.]
Stephanie is hardly a one trick pony. Using satire and the powerfully accessible format of cartoons, she lures you into a critique of the status quo which is inescapably tight in it’s reasoning while still amusing.
Like most good propagandists, Stephanie is prolific. With an impressive list of books and serialized cartoons. Above are a couple from her Code Green series which focuses on the ecological issues and how corporate media twist perceptions. Below is an image from her upbeat activist daily affirmations cartoon series.
And because I am confident that you have read to here, because the cartoons keep drawing you farther down this post. Here is the link so that you can get Stephanie’s latest coloring book for kids, priced at what ever you can afford – I paid $25. Or if you are looking for the longer, more adult version of the story (without coloring), you can order the full length hold-in-your-hands physical book here. Or for those who are fully digital these days, you can get the adult version of the eBook here, again at the price you choose.
I want my son Willow to understand this stuff, and the only thing more important than that, is that we adults act on this knowledge now.
Because it is states which create legal holidays, there are not many which celibrate anarchists. I only know of one, which is May Day, International Workers Day.
What is curious about this holiday is that it is very widely recognized around the world, often officially, but it is not recognized in the US, which is it’s country of origin. According to the Industrial Workers of the World (aka the IWW and “the wobbilies”) it is a commemoration of a labor protest which happened in 1886 in Haymarket Square in Chicago.
On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public’s eye.
The city was braced for violence, but the strikers did not bring it on. And so it was peacefully for two more days and the crowd in Chicago swelled to 100K protesters. After the last firey speech two detectives encouraged the police to rush the podium which they did thru a thining crowd.
Someone threw a bomb at the police and not surprisingly the police opened fire on the protesters. No one knows who threw the bomb, it was almost certainly not one of the eight arrested anarchists. We know his because five of them were not even at the event and the other three were in plain sight. None the less, five were sentenced to death by a jury that was composed exclusively of business leaders. Three others would serve 6 years in prison before the governor pardoned them all and went on to publicly lambasted the judge on a travesty of justice.
The fight for the 8 hour day and 40 hour week were won. Child labor was banned. But as these pictures clearly show, there is much to do around the world for workers everywhere.
It is one of my oft told life stories.
In the late fall of 1989, i was in Hawaii and i got a call from Rabbit, who said
They have just had revolutions throughout Eastern Europe. We need to go, as soon as possible, we need to talk with the revolutionaries and find out what really happened. Because soon they will write the history books, and once they are written, the truth will be lost forever.
So, in the summer of 1990, Rabbit and i went to Eastern Europe and talked to revolutionaries and discovered some precious pieces which would never make it to the history books.
I tell this story often when introducing myself. It is one of my life stories which helps move the characters along. Gets me from being an affluent ocean engineer living in a condo on Oahu to an oft homeless anti-nuclear activist in then Czechoslovakia. Just one problem, the story’s not true.
Oh, parts of it are true; Rabbit and i did go to Europe. We talked a bunch about the political changes in the world and the fall of communism, especially. But we went to Southern Europe, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, which we had planned for months before the revolutions of 1989. We had a wonderful thought-provoking adventure, it just was not to the east. The urgent invitation conversation never happened, but it should have. And thus the story.
Rabbit would spin off and head home to San Francisco, and i would do Eastern Europe by myself, because i was just figuring out what to do with my life. And i would soon fall in love with Czechoslovakia.
I arrived in Prague on a hot August night. I slept in Hlavni Nadrazi (the main railroad station) which is normally not possible, but because it was the day before the big Rolling Stones concert, the station was packed all night and the police had bigger fish to fry.
The next day i walked around the city where i knew no one. Had you told me at the time i would spend most of the next eight years in orbit of this place i would have been curiously surprised and delighted. When i walked through the central city, i found a curious thing. It was a pink tank.
It was on its side, having been flipped by the locals when the Russians had tried to maintain control eight months earlier. Once the protesters had uprighted the tank, the artists came in and had at it.
I timed my visit to see the inexpensive Rolling Stones concert. It was being held in Strahov Stadium, which was (and technically still is) the highest capacity stadium in the world, seating between 220K and 250K people. When it was an active sports arena it could house seven simultaneous soccer games. Trouble is there are not many times you want the capacity to hold seven parallel soccer games or 220K people.
The first Rolling Stones concert in a recently liberated country, however, is exactly one of the times you need a stadium that size.
The posters for the concert read “The Tanks are Rolling Out, the Stones are Rolling In.”
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
Talk on Anarchism
University of Hawaii, April 26, 1990
George Bush, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi are all stranded on a desert island – who would survive? [Pause] We would, a bit of Anarchist humor.
When people here the word anarchy, the vision which jumps to mind is chaos. When someone says they are an anarchist, you picture a scruffy person, dressed in black, with a maniacal grin on their face, holding a bomb [Mess up hair, grin and pull mock bomb out of bag].
I’m going to try to shatter some of these illusions.
The word anarchy comes from the Greek “without rule“
Anarchists generally believe that governments are fundamentally coercive organizations, drawing there power from violence and that man made laws are a restriction of freedom and therefore both governments and laws should be abolished. Or if you want to look at it in a more affirmative sense, Anarchists seek to:
1) Maximize freedom 2) Minimize coercion
You are probably thinking “Laudable goals, but impossible to obtain without some type of hierarchy to maintain order.”
Let me share with you the experience which first convinced me that there were non-hierarchical solutions to problems.
We were choosing teams for an ultimate Frisbee game, someone said “Find someone of approximately your ability and pair up with them.” after about half a minute we were in pairs “now everyone on the left is on one team and everyone on the right is on the other”. Now normally, captains are selected choices are alternated, w/ ego invested first picks and embarrassing last pick and the whole operation takes much longer. Why do we stick with this hierarchical system, which takes responsibility away from the individual, when it is inferior in so many ways – because it is what we know, what we are taught.
Now you are thinking “Nice trick, but life is not a frisbee game, what about more complex social organizations”
If the structure or “topology”, if you will, of the hierarchy is a pyramid. Then what is the large scale model for anarchist organizations? Why it is the buzz word of the 80’s – networks.
I’ve been involved in three different types of network each sheds a bit of light on how anarchists structure things.
First is collective businesses. Workers make the decisions. Frequently, they will choose to give authority to a manager or project leader. But these are fundamentally different from normal corporate managers, they serve a specific project or until the group replaces them, the workers give them the power to lead and volunteer to follow their instructions. Most collectives use a consensus decision model, borrowed from the feminists, in which problems are worked on until everyone agrees on the solution – this is a very different than a voting model. Typically business collectives don’t grow to be huge, but in my experience they are much nicer places to work.
Secondly are collective houses. I want to focus on a single aspect of a collective house i lived in called Paradox to illustrate a point. Big houses w/ a lot of people (10 in this case) perpetually have problems keeping the place clean. At Paradox we developed a system where post-it notes with cleaning tasks were placed on a big calendar on the date they were last done. When you felt like doing housework, you went to the calendar, found what had not been done in a while, did that task and moved the post-it. Nowhere in this process is your name listed next to your fine work, it is a self policing system. The group having taken responsibility, when things slipped, as they always do occasionally, someone would bring it up in a house meeting and people would generally admit to not having done enuf – this worked better than rigid job wheels in my experience.
The third and last type of network is the political collective. These are important because they deal with the problems of bringing large groups of people together, frequently in short periods to solve specific problems. An affinity group structure is used, usually friends who make decisions using consensus. Often specific tasks are handled by an affinity group, media outreach, writing a handbook, transportation coordination, first aid, food preparation, etc. But the “spokesperson council” will make a decision for the entire group using consensus. Your thinking “It can’t work for a group over a hundred”, I’ve seen it work for several thousand. Not easy but doable.
And you end up with a better quality of decisions.
Now you are thinking “Okay, maybe this stuff works in special cases, but no government, means no police, no military – civilization will collapse!”
My contention is that these institutions do more to foster collapse than prevent it. Consider the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima after the Japanese petitioned for conditional surrender. Consider that 90% of the 2 million killed in Vietnam were civilians. Consider the Reagan-Bush escapades in Libya, Granada, Nicaragua and Panama. Or if you find these uncompelling, consider the Orwellian double think of nuclear weapons “Build more of these world destroying devices and the world will be safer” Sounds like civilization is quite sick to me.
“But we need the police!” you call. I want to do a survey, how many people in this room have been robbed in the last 20 years [about 80% raise hands] and how many of these crimes were solved with the criminal caught and punished [about 5% raise hands]. So what is the solution here, more police? No, the solution is to change the way society looks at property.
The point is that government is a responsibility dodge, we put it there to deal with the things we don’t want to deal with, and once in place it does things we don’t want it to do. Now you are thinking “This guy is dreaming of places which can’t exist”.
I want tell you about a place called Twin Oaks, it is an intentional community of 70 adults and about a dozen kids in rural Virginia – they don’t bill themselves as anarchists, but rather they use words like egalitarian, feminist and “embracing diversity” it amounts to the same thing. It is directly democratic (rather than a representative one), workers control everything (similar to the collective business i mentioned before), they don’t use money internally (tho they generate over a million dollars in exports a year), they contract with each other to work the same number of hours a week (writing software is worth the same as doing the dishes or childcare), they have some personal property but almost anything large is owned collectively. From the large list of possible jobs they are free to choose the which ones they like and when they will do them. And guess what, no crime. Probably $10 million in physical plant, equipment, and tools and no locks inthe whole place. Fourteen cars and trucks with the keys in them and only one has been stolen in the last 20 years – doing a lot better than this audience. “Well, they must be very restrictive about who they let in.” you are thinking. Nope, a significant majority of people who apply are accepted.
Now maybe you are thinking “I’m not quite sure what to make of all this stuff, but i don’t think these anarchist ideas will ever affect my life.”
I contend that everyone in this room has been effected by a relatively recent anarchist revolution, the sexual revolution. Not long ago, the church, state and nuclear family had incredible power over our sexual relationships. “Living in sin” was not a joke, adultery was a serious punishable crime. People said “this is fundamentally my choice” and whole scale rejected the external authority. The laws stayed on the books, people just ignored them and they became unenforced and unenforceable. They decided to form a network of lovers, if you will, mostly quite small, but the hierarchy lost it’s control over this issue.
So next time someone tells you they are an anarchist, don’t think about bombs, think about freedom [throw mock bomb to Rez in the audience]
I hope i have shattered some illusions.
[Total time 5 minutes 30 seconds]
From Point A to…
An audacious proposal to form Urban Income Sharing Egalitarian Democratic Ambitious Engaged Communes in the cities of the American East Coast.
The Short Version
We know that a more humane, satisfying, sustainable world is possible. There are any number of theories and plans for transforming society, many of which would likely be better than what we’re doing now. With 7 billion humans and counting and thousands of years of inherited culture and trillions of acres of intensely varied world any plan we dream up will inevitably encounter vast realms of complexity in its implementation no matter how elegant it is in theory. The wait for a cataclysmic revolution might exceed our window of opportunity for saving ourselves and, given the complexity of the project, is ripe for failure (a lesson history teaches us well).
So why wait? If the revolution isn’t coming fast enough then let’s make it where we can (TAZ)! If the solutions we propose are complicated let’s start testing them and working out the kinks (propositional politics). If the status quo is corrosive then let us form membranes around our communities to protect us from it so that we can have the strength and robustness necessary to challenge it (counter-institutions).
The Point A project proposes a network of urban income-sharing egalitarian democratic ambitious and engaged communes as a starting point on the road to a more humane, satisfying, and sustainable world for all. Our goal is social transformation and our actions and forms are aimed at maximizing our effectiveness at achieving that goal as quickly, robustly, and widely as possible.
Unpacking the Adjectives
Urban: Our project is social transformation and that means changing people and how they relate to each other. Currently and increasingly the people and their relations are mostly in the city. Also, the rural commune is a model that is pretty thoroughly explored and proven.
Income Sharing: Pooling the products of our labor, including money income, is how we form the membrane around our community that insulates us from the corrosive and isolating effects of capitalism. Although scary to get into, once established, income sharing makes everything else we are trying to do easier. From each according to their ability, to each according to their need!
Egalitarian: Let go of the idea of justice and deserving. We’re making it all up anyway. What matters is that we’re being taken care of and that so is everyone else. Liberty, equality, community. By basing our economy on equal access to resources rather than equal distribution of resources we celebrate and support differences and eliminate a lot of paperwork on our way to our post-scarcity utopia.
Democratic: No one is better equipped to make decisions about our lives than we are. If we’re trying to meet our needs then we should be in control of the resources and organizations that meet them. Electing your boss or master is better than not electing them, but we can do a lot more.
Ambitious: We’re taking on a big project not only in training ourselves to cooperate well and in maintaining this protective bubble, but in transforming all of society to more cooperative, democratic, egalitarian forms. We need a crack team to establish the first beachheads and we need to acknowledge the scale and daring of our aim.
Engaged: The problems we are identifying and confronting are social and often global in nature and therefore demand social and often global responses. To retreat into our fortress and build a good life for ourselves in isolation is to admit defeat and to abandon our fellow humans and the whole living world. It is a failure of compassion, and then what sort of Bodhisattva would we be?
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]