Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

What Anarchism Is and Isn’t


Today I experimented yet again, all the while battling my inner push-me, pull-me dialogue of whether it was a sensible decision or not, in doing a mainstream media show — on livestreaming Al-Jazeera English’s The Stream TV program — that purported to want to introduce people to anarchism (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9P98WrdREs). The producers said that whenever they do episodes of late on major global uprisings, the word anarchism always comes up, and I’m a sucker for hoping-against-hope that such curiosity will be the start of serious exploration for those listening in — and in this case, engaging around the world via (anti)social media.

On the one hand, I was awestruck as well as humbled by the tapestry of sublime portraits of anarchism, and especially the kinds of people, practices, and society that the ethical impulse of anarchism points toward, that people shared, in far more congenial ways than usual, via the social media stream created by this TV show.

On the other hand, I’m tired to the marrow of a society in which homelessness, solitary confinement, domestic assault and rape, cops and citizen vigilantes’ murdering young men of color, deportations, and a gruelingly long litany of institutionalized violence against people (and we could easily add nonhuman life) are seen as normal — oops, I meant NOT seen, or invisibilized, whether by ill or unintended intent — while tired stereotypes of anarchism are fodder for and accomplice to ignoring the truths of this hierarchical, murderous social order.

People throughout history have known how to feed, clothe, house, and caretake each other and themselves; kings, priests, dictators, presidents, and their ilk keep trying to take not only that knowledge away but also any capacity to exercise it, as the means to make us helpless and servile.

There’s nothing so mysterious about anarchism; it’s the open secret that we can do-it-ourselves, if we care to listen. But time and again, mainstream media, and far worse, -isms like militarism, statism, and capitalism, create so much background noise that we forget our own, simple, collective power.

I forgot my own, simple, individual power to resist my inner impulse to want to encourage folks to see the everyday “anarchism” in the world all around us, and thus likely should have declined this TV invite. Anarchism appears not through talking heads, or certain ones of us speaking for and about anarchism. It manifests in everyday heroic acts, done without heroics and outside the limelight, because it’s the right thing to do. Such as the young women tenant in a near-empty SF apartment building who is helping to care for her 98-year-old neighbor who is suffering from dementia, has no family, and after a long lifetime in this city, is about to be evicted (to some warehouse nursing home?) two days after her birthday in early April, along with her young friend — the two resistant tenants in a building targeted for evictions and then mega-profit.

That’s one tiny instance of anarchism in action, among millions, and it in no way translates into the mega-profit-oriented sphere of mainstream media. Or at least, I feel the worse for trying to do so.

I’m tired of the world, right outside my front door in San Francisco’s Mission, that thinks nothing of people covered in open sores from being forced to sleep on the streets, or why police seem to arrest only drunk Latinos, never the more plentiful and unruly drunk white-male techies on the same plaza. That is the violence — not anarchism.

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If you’ve run across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com. Share, enjoy, and repost — as long as it’s free as in “free beer” and “freedom.”

(Photo by Cindy Milstein, SF, March 2014)

One comment on “What Anarchism Is and Isn’t

  1. kdnavrat
    March 20, 2014

    I haven’t watched it yet, but regardless, I look forward to seeing it. You must engage with the world on your terms and you are doing just that. I admire you and your worldview – thanks for sharing it and for standing for it.

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This entry was posted on March 17, 2014 by in Dispatches from Life, Dispatches from Rebellious Spaces.
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