Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Networks of Solidarity and/for the Freedom of Movement


Here in Thessaloniki, Greece (October 13-15), the second of three cities hosting a ten-day Mediterranean anarchist meeting, we concentrated for some 9 hours — at a highly dialogic assembly for 5 hours, and later, about 4 hours of talks by some dozen comrades from Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Macedonia — on recent experiences in self-organized solidarity (not statist or charitable) for, with, and by refugees and migrants. In between, some of us toured a 1-year-old anarchist printing collective, Druck, hosted in an 11-year-old squat. Pictured here is one of their posters. And exactly like this gathering, despite language and cultural differences, the shared sensibility is completely transparent.

But yesterday further made obvious that these meetings are not about creating an anarchist space for its own sake, for our sake, so that we can feel good about our politics, though that is a beautiful side effect. As one comrade from Macedonia told me — a queer female who, with two other female friends, constitutes the entire active Antifa crew in a conservative town that also has many active fascists — she usually feels so depressed. This gathering lifted her sense of isolation and despair.

These meetings are about building trust among people who are doing some of the most thoughtful and revolutionary on-the-ground organizing imaginable in the rapidly changing real time of the most massive displacement of people in human history. That trust is meant as the social and politic glue for doing even more impactful self-organizing — organizing that continually retains a nonhierarchical ethic not in theory but in practice. The conversations hang onto a generous warmth and respect toward each other, across our differences, and an astonishing seriousness about the imperatives of this moment and what’s at stake: human life; offering a counterweight to hos capital, state, NGOs, police, mafia, citizenry, and others are treating those millions being forcibly excluded from their homes, from social life, and often simply from life itself.

There’s so much I want to share about all the examples I heard about yesterday, but that will have to wait until I’ve more time, more wifi, and more sleep. Yet at heart, all the many efforts I heard about yesterday showed how anarchists across this big region are experimenting with what it means to not talk about solidarity but live it; not to talk about antistatism, but stand by the principle in flexible, dynamic solidarity work in the face of dilemmas that make it hard to know what to do — and just try, try again, when they start to feel that their work is playing into the hands of political parties or NGOs, say. And perhaps most inspiring of all were the hours of discussion yesterday on how to self-organize an actual real-time, real mutual aid “network of solidarity” to ensure the freedom of movement from, for instance, Syria to Germany or wherever refugee/migrants need/want to go — an under- and above-ground “railroad” that lets anyone take self-organized control of their lives, as much as they can under the worst of conditions of displacement.

Stay tuned for a report back in the near future on the many stories of “solidarity not charity” experiments I feel grateful to have listened to here in Salonica. And stay tuned for my related plea/push that we in North America (re)turn to such honest, steadfast yet nondogmatic antihierarchical politics in lived practices, without need for slogans, walk side by side on the road of displacement and disposability that most of humanity is being brutually, coercively forced to travel. What would it mean, for example, for us to forge a network of solidarity to actually, materially and emotionally, aid all those millions of humans — including many of us — who are being forcibly displaced due to the “eviction crisis” in the gentrifying cities of North America? To not simply fight in our own neighborhoods and cities, which we must, but know that we’re doing that in a confederated network, so we’re not “displacing” our “eviction refugees” on to other embattled neighborhoods and cities, so we know that people have communities and solidarity spaces to go to in many places when they are not allowed to stay put?

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And here are some thoughts (more coherent than mine!) from my friend Pavlos Stavropoulos, who is here in Salonica, too, about yesterday:

“Going into the 5th hour of a balkan anarchist assembly. Five+ hour long meetings sound exhausting but this has been exhilarating. There are none of the usual trappings of such meetings in the USA. No group agreements (well, we did agree to not smoke since there was a kid in the room), no endless discussions as to how we should make decisions, or how to ensure “balanced” participation, etc. etc. Just conversations about how we collectively respond to this massive, and historically unprecedented, human migration that is going on, and will only increase, in our region. Sharing experiences from different groups across the region, from the border of Turkey and Syria to Germany, understanding the different state reactions, figuring out the point where there is need to provide human solidarity and where are the points where we can politically intervene. There is a palpable understanding of the immensity of the issue and of what is at stake, and how this is just one manifestation of globalized capitalism and statist repression and maybe that is why there isn’t the tension or acrimony that is not atypical of large gatherings with very diverse groups.

“There are of course significant differences and disagreements but also very clear respect for each other and an understanding that we have no time or space for silly arguments or posturing. It is not simply a figure of speech to say that (our) lives are at stake. While we meet, comrades in Turkey are being buried, people drown while trying to cross the sea to Europe, people die from lack of access to healthcare, people kill themselves because they see their lives as pointless and worthless. Yet, the gathering is not fueled by despair or by feelings of being overwhelmed but by a sense of commitment and necessity, of hope and possibility. This is not about talking about making another world, it is about claiming this world as our own. And during a brief break when we stopped to get something to eat Cindy Milstein approached me about how amazing it would be to have something like that in North America and talking about what it would take to make it happen there.”

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(Photo by Cindy Milstein, what should be a universal language: “refugees welcome,” Thessaloniki, Greece, October 2015.)

One comment on “Networks of Solidarity and/for the Freedom of Movement

  1. Ernie Larsen
    November 7, 2015

    thanks for this heartfelt report–much appreciated. I am a long-time NYC anarchist/writer/filmmaker who has spent much time in Thessaloniki in the past 5 years (including this year in February and March and then again during the summer)….My partner and I hope to be back in Greece soon–but I wish we were there now, I have to say–Ernie Larsen

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This entry was posted on October 21, 2015 by in Dispatches from Rebellious Spaces.
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