The Politics of Impatience:
An open letter from anarchists to the anarchist movement
As anarchists from a variety of different projects and political perspectives, mostly in the U.S., we are inspired by the courage of students fighting for access to public universities in New York, California, and everywhere. At a time when politicians take money out of schools and build prisons to fill with young people of color and poor people – while giving away trillions to the banks, health insurance companies, and war profiteers – any movement that takes back space and resources for public use wins our hearts. Many of us are not students, but we will continue to demonstrate our solidarity in whatever ways we can when students are beaten and arrested, and colleges themselves start to look like jails because administrations are afraid of the power of student organizing.
We are shocked that on March 4th at Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY), some anarchists harmfully disrupted a protest against tuition hikes, budget cuts, and childcare cuts. Some of the facts of what happened are in dispute. Some are not, including the following: A faculty member and longtime media activist was injured in the head, sectarian graffiti was spray-painted, and a parent from Defend Hunter Childcare was targeted with a sexist epithet that was heard by some as a rape threat. Some of the individuals involved have apologized for their actions. But we still need to ask why this happened, how anarchists could be responsible for these things. And how to make sure it never happens again.
At the root of the incident was an impatience by some anarchists with a rally and walkout that they decided should have been an occupation. This letter will talk about the politics of impatience and offer some ideas for action.
A movement that stands for childcare, healthcare, and education for everyone means more to most people than slogans shouted by those who are “pushed by the violence of our desires” to act as individuals. A statement with that phrase as its title, written by some folks involved in the altercation at Hunter, claims, “We do not need the ‘consent of the people.’” But militant direct action needs to take place within the context of a movement, not outside of it. To single-handedly declare that a protest is not radical enough without participating in the democratic processes of the movement is vanguardist. It’s ironic–and tragic–when it comes from anarchists. When we want to occupy, let’s reach out to those who might want to occupy too, so there’s a chance they might occupy with us.
Peace to the villages, war to the palaces
We are deeply frustrated with the lack of militant resistance across the U.S. while the powers that be are murdering millions of people with impunity, transferring our wealth to the richest, and destroying the planet. In many areas, the only options being offered are lobbying, actions pre-determined by media-savvy advocacy nonprofit staff, and grassroots campaigns that only demand what they believe to be immediately “winnable” from local, state, or federal governments.
We’ve all felt the transformation and possibility that resonates in the air at more spontaneous mass protests where, however briefly, the streets or the schools are truly ours. If that moment of freedom can also feed the bellies and minds of people’s children, people will do it again, and more will be inspired to try it on their own terms.
Learning our movements’ histories can give us a few ideas. CUNY, for example, has a tremendous militant history of student occupations, which were organized very carefully with massive popular support — not just from the students, but from the Black and Latino neighborhoods most of them came from. In 1969, when the police started arresting students occupying CUNY campuses across the city, community members brought food for the protesters, standing between them and police. This is because the students were part of those communities, and their tactics, strategy, and message were connected to so many people’s lives.
Those lengthy occupations, which involved the burning of an auditorium, won Open Admissions – meaning that by 1976, the student body was majority working-class people of color from New York City public high schools. Many of these students took the opportunity to spend years studying their communities’ revolutionary histories and putting those lessons into action. At CUNY, occupations as a winning tactic continued through the 70s and 80s.
These occupations’ strategic use of demands has been a defining feature of successful revolutionary movements, in this country and around the world, for centuries. It is no less vital in these days of crisis. Picture the Homeless, a current New York City grassroots organization founded and led by homeless people, write collectively in the January/February 2009 issue of Left Turn magazine, “If we spend all of our time on a campaign to fix the shelter system, we’ll never get around to fighting the tyranny of the housing market. Reforms can be steps on the road to revolution when we use them that way. Also revolution is a process itself, which isn’t over when the smoke dies down. In the best of all worlds, reform can help us figure out what the revolution will look like – if we use the process of winning reform to illuminate what it is that we want and what it is going to take to get it.” [Click here for a pdf of this article.]
For Sparks to Fly
Militancy and dramatic tactics require trust, and trust is built by humbly listening to people who have their own ideas and plans for their liberation. It is now more than ever, exactly because of the urgency of the crisis created by capitalism, that we need to be careful that our actions are as respectful, strategic, and collectively discussed and agreed-on as possible. “Confrontational approaches are bound to encounter opposition at some point, but if the opposition is coming from potential comrades, it’s a warning sign that one is on the wrong path,” CrimethInc. Ex-Workers’ Collective write in “Say You Want an Insurrection.”
We’ve heard about a few events in the past few years where anarchist groups have disrupted other groups’ events. There are times when the only way to get a vital message across is to do things that people will say are disruptive. We value a diversity of tactics and ideas, and we don’t want this statement to be used to stifle dissent. But collective liberation is going to be a long struggle, and we will need to get along with people of different backgrounds and ideas. Hunter College in particular has a long history of anarchists, communists, socialists, Black and Puerto Rican nationalists and other radicals working together. This is never easy, but it is something to be proud of. The urgency of crisis will not make these challenges go away. If we are serious about revolutionary social change, then we need to have more open conversations with those we disagree with, instead of blasting each other on the internet. Conflict is a part of life that we can often learn a lot from, but only when we are open to hearing criticism and learning from our mistakes.
A Vision that Beckons
As anarchist Ashanti Omowali Alston said in a speech at Hunter College in 2003, “How can we nurture every act of freedom? Whether it is with people on the job or the folks that hang out on the corner, how can we plan and work together?”
Toni Cade Bambara, a Black feminist (and CUNY activist) said that “the job of the writer is to make revolution irresistible.” That’s our job too. Our movements need to offer what the system never can: dignity, solidarity, freedom, and honesty.
We sign this letter to say that as anarchists:
We want a free world.
We respect the human dignity of other people fighting for freedom, even when we disagree.
We take militant action rooted in collective, voluntary, democratic participation. We make time for open discussion and decision-making.
We respect the self-determination of oppressed groups and learn from these struggles.
We reject attacks by anarchists on movements they decide are not “militant” enough.
We imagine new ways to build the loving, liberatory communities we want to live in while we resist and attack the forms of domination we live under now.
[Note: Projects and organizations are listed along with people’s names for identification only and don’t imply endorsement by that group. Groups that sign on collectively are marked with an asterisk.]
Suzy Subways, SLAM Herstory Project, Prison Health News writing collective, Philadelphia
Joel Olson, Bring the Ruckus and Repeal Coalition
Zachary Hershman, Coalition for Essential Services Philadelphia, former SDS member
Jasper Conner, IWW, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachia VA
Chris Dixon, Sudbury Against War and Occupation & Upping the Anti, Sudbury, Ontario
cindy, doris ’zine
Sara R. Galindo, Los Angeles (A) Bookfair Collective, UCLA Graduate Student
Jamie McCallum, the CUNY Graduate center
Mitchell Verter, author, Dreams of Freedom: A Ricardo Flores Magon Reader (AK Press)
laurel smith, POWER: Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights. Olympia, WA
Samantha Sitrin, ACT UP Philadelphia
Arthur J. Miller, Tacoma GMB-Industrial Workers of the World, Co-Editor: Bayou La Rose, anarchist for over 40 years, Tacoma, WA
Ruth Sheridan, Alaskans for Peace and Justice, Anchorage
*Team Colors Collective
Nicole Davis, DC IWW, DC SDS
Lydia Pelot-Hobbs, North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO), New Orleans, LA
Chris Borte, creating democracy, Portland, OR
Steven Araujo, (Graduate) Student Organizing Committee at UC Santa Cruz, United Auto Workers local 2865 Santa Cruz
Alexis Shotwell, Sudbury Against War and Occupation
Paul Messersmith-Glavin, Institute for Anarchist Studies, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory journal collective, IWW-Portland, Parasol Climate Collective, Red and Black Cafe, Portland
Walter Hergt, Black Sheep Books
Luis Fernandez, Bring the Ruckus and Repeal Coalition
Colin Cascia, a member of the defenestrator collective
Andrew Willis Garcés
James Generic, part of the Wooden Shoe collective
Crescenzo Scipione, Rochester SDS, IWW
Marina Sitrin, San Francisco Bay Area, author of Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina
Dan Berger, author of Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity, cofounder of Onward newspaper (2000-2003)
David Stein, Critical Resistance-Los Angeles
Jon Berger, College Park SDS & the Civilian-Soldier Alliance
Alex Knight, endofcapitalism.com
Dana Barnett, Philadelphia PA
scott p, the defenestrator collective
Roy San Filippo, Editor, A New World in Our Hearts: 8 Years of Writings from the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation
Joseph Lapp, IWW, Alaskans Together for Equalitity
Tara Lindsey, educator, Denver
Stephen Polk, student and community activist, Denver
Mary Witlacil, Denver Food Not Bombs
Clare Bayard, Catalyst Project
Chris Crass, Catalyst Project
germ ross, Marginal Notes Collective and former member of Philly SDS
Sarah Small, Marginal Notes Collective, Coalition to Save the Libraries, political prisoner support work
Jade Gleaner, Co-director The Mill Creek Farm
For more information and views on what happened at Hunter:
• “Open Letter to the Student Movement,” signed by a named list of Hunter student, faculty, and alumni activists. The many letters in solidarity with the Hunter activists’ Open Letter, including one by anarchists at Hunter who helped organize the walkout, are not publicly available, except for this one by CUNY activist lawyer Ron McGuire.
• Video from the rally (first posted by Take the City)
Some ideas and histories to check out:
• SLAM Herstory Project http://slamherstory.wordpress.com/
Some history of radical CUNY student organizing
• “Between Infoshops and Insurrection: U.S. Anarchism, Movement Building, and the Racial Order” by Joel Olson http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jo52/pubs/Anarchism and Race-public.pdf
• “Smack Bad Politics, Abolish the White Race” by Sam Emm
• “Black Fighting Formations” by Russell Maroon Shoats
A short history and analysis of armed Black groups, 1960–94, from the imprisoned Black Panther
• “Promissory Notes: from Crises to Commons” by Midnight Notes Collective and Friends http://www.midnightnotes.org/Promissory%20Notes.pdf
• Upping the Anti – a radical journal of theory and action http://www.uppingtheanti.org/
• Turbulence newspaper – ideas for movement http://turbulence.org.uk/