Table of Contents: Issue #116

Issue #117: Table of Contents

Existential Compost: Staying inspired in spite of pain

By Finn

A few years ago, I was helping a friend with an understaffed bike cooperative that provided composting services in a city that lacked a municipal green waste system. The co-op, which was based out of an anarchist community center, was run by a small handful of self-identified radicals. While showing me my bike route, one of the co-op’s founding members explained to me why he was quitting. He had very strong feelings about insurrectionary anarchism and had decided that more structural projects — such as worker-owned cooperatives — were pointless if we weren’t actively engaged in armed revolution. His views had become so strong in this respect that he had decided to “wash his hands” not only of activism, but of composting, bicycling, and the other “trappings of radical lifestyles”.

More recently, Slingshot received a letter from a person who was struggling with feelings of self-hatred and inadequacy around being an anarchist. The writer was grappling with what it meant to engage in radical politics — if it was arrogant to fight for something so massive and complex as a stateless society, and if there was a way to let go of worrying whether The Revolution was ever going to happen. Notably, they were wondering if it was possible to detach oneself from the concept of a “final goal” in radical activism without losing passion.

These two anecdotes speak to a type of burnout that has less to do with overcommitment and more to do with existential pain. Unlike others I know who have taken extended breaks from activism because they exhausted themselves with over extension, these are examples of folks who got so caught up in anger, hopelessness, and a desire for immediate large-scale change that they began to question the value of their efforts.

I hit the existential wall 10 years ago, when I was cutting my teeth at an anti-Monsanto protest. Temperatures were nearing triple digits, a cop who’d dropped to the ground after beating a preteen with a billy club lay dying from a heart attack, several of my friends were bleeding and being dragged off to the Philadelphia Roundhouse, and the living cops were beating folks at random with (maybe this is ironic?) bicycles. While debriefing with what remained of my affinity group and preparing to do jail support, I felt pretty shaken by the amount of violence that had gone down so quickly and was wondering whether we’d accomplished anything positive. I got pretty bitter and jaded about direct action when the protest barely showed up on the news. Awareness hadn’t been raised, other actions hadn’t followed, and whatever sense of temporary autonomy we’d felt had been rapidly beaten down.

Engaging in radical politics means being aware of intensely pervasive structures of hierarchy and oppression. It means having dreams of a better world that are complex and idealistic, and it is easy to feel that those dreams may never come to fruition. As activists, we often hold ourselves to unrealistic standards of being the Perfect Revolutionary, a person who feels confident in their knowledge of how to dismantle hierarchy and restructure a new world, who speaks in the right lexicon and groks the right theories. Faced with such standards and an immense sense of powerful opposition, feelings of despair, alienation, and burnout are common.

There are numerous schools of thought within anarchism. Some — such as anarcho-syndicalism — place great emphasis on coherent theory and organized collective effort. Others, especially those influenced by situationism, are more focused on deconstructing organization and engaging in acts of social disruption — these schools of thought are often called “post-left” anarchism. Regardless of the details of theory and preferred tools for enacting change, the idea of a functional stateless society is very broad and complex. Getting to a point where such a world is feasible requires massive change in social infrastructure, and while I’m certainly not in opposition to idealistic end goals, I do support framing one’s personal politics in a way that encourages practical action without leading to “I want The Revolution or no change at all” burnout. Because we as anarchists advocate for dismantling structures that are mind blowingly powerful and pervasive, what can we do to stay inspired when we feel unsure if the world we want will ever exist?

There is no single correct answer to this question, but I can speak to my own experiences. I dropped out of radicalism for a few years — not because I was tired or didn’t have enough time, but because I felt powerless. I came back into the scene after joining up with some anti-prison organizers at a transgender health conference. They were part of a collective that believed in the eventual abolition of the prison industrial complex, but in the meanwhile, had concrete ideas for improving the lives of incarcerated folks. I realized it was possible to hold to ideals I believed in but had little hope of seeing – like the abolition of prisons — without falling into an existential rut. That sense of hopelessness was tempered by a sense of empowerment at being able to do something — like hooking up reentering prisoners with healthcare, or running copy scams, or sneaking AIDS resource guides into prisons where they were banned. Tangible work that felt effective and meaningful, especially within the context of a tight-knit collective, is what brought me back into the fold.

Housing co-ops, worker owned collectives, and community gardens may not be The Revolution, but they’re valuable in that they create alternatives that make tangibly positive differences in people’s lives. I’ve heard people dismiss these kinds of projects — “Why spend so much time on gardens when we ought to be rioting?” — but this sort of work builds the foundation of the world we want (and you know, it isn’t mutually exclusive with rioting anyway). Endeavors such as free clinics, infoshops, and community gardens are radical in that they aim to transform the way basic human needs are met. Each project is a tiny pocket of transformation that may one day swell and synthesize with others to form a new world. Even if they don’t, those projects make concrete improvements in our lives in the present moment, giving us the hope and energy to move forward.

Rise up, Speak Out, Fight Back: Stop sexual violence

By Alexa

All but one of my closest friends is a survivor of sexual assault. My mother and my best friend, the two women on this earth who are most important to me, are survivors. Some of these people experienced these atrocities before I knew them, and others confided in me shortly after their escape. Their stories came out slowly and sometimes shamefully, through a fog of confusion about what too many people will never mention. All of these people whom I hold closest to my heart have cried over a bodily invasion, a choice stolen, and a betrayal.

Subsequently, they have been forced to fight a culture which not only condones rape, but will not let them mourn. They have been exploited and abused by their perpetrators and by a society that invalidates and silences their experiences. FUCK THAT.

I have tipped past the point of sadness and into a realm of rage and indignation. No, this is not blind rage — it is a rage well educated and experienced — one which I know I do not bear alone. It is a rage towards the patriarchal culture which we all live in, a culture whose media and values accept rape. Once a pacifist, I no longer feel the staunch aversion to violent intervention. I would never raise a fist without a survivor’s consent, but as my knowledge and growth builds, so does my vehement thirst for retaliation.

In writing this, I am not trying to convince anyone of the validity of my words, of the truth. Fuck that. Here is not the place to fight that uphill battle. Rather, I am clutching to my rage and passion to urge survivors and allies: RISE UP, SPEAK OUT & FIGHT BACK

Fight back:

We need to fight back against anyone under notion that another’s body is their property. We are taught this myth that our partners are entitled to our bodies, and that sexual accommodation is part of the relationship experience. No matter how long folks have been in a relationship, or how positive an experience it has been, under no circumstances are their bodies each other’s property.

If you see this gross expectation in someone’s actions or language, you can take that opportunity to educate that person, or point them in the direction of an awesome zine (like Cindy Crabb’s Learning Good Consent Zine or Support Zine), if you feel comfortable doing so. We need to fight back against the co­worker/peer/acquaintance/friend whose daily interactions clearly show their disregard for other’s boundaries. “Sexual Harassment” workshops in the workplace and in schools are not enough. Folks who are sexually harassing others and not respecting their spaces need to promptly and earnestly check themselves, or folks with privilege who witness these acts need to call them out! Calling someone out may look like a holding a forum for community discussion, telling the aggressor what is on your mind in a confrontational way, giving them a rad zine on boundaries, also forms of retaliation with direct action can be a fun alternative. One instance of boundary violation in our social spaces is one too much and perpetuates a culture that condones sexual violence.

We need to fight back against anyone who attempts to invalidate and negate another’s experience of sexual assault. If someone says they have been sexually assaulted, they have been sexually assaulted–only they can name their experience and no one else. If you hear someone negating or minimizing the experience of sexual assault, it is totally appropriate (if you feel comfortable) to call them out. As aforementioned, community discussions, offering educational resources, individually confronting their ignorance, or engaging in forms of direct action, can all be tools in effectively calling someone on their bullshit.

We need to fight back against an education that teaches people how to avoid rape rather than teaching others not to rape. It is ineffective and victim-blaming to teach people that they need to carry whistles and pepper spray, and that they should not wear certain clothing. When society asserts that attitudes of fear and oppression will lead to safety, it invalidates a survivor’s experience AND does not hold aggressors accountable. This type of “safety” education is unacceptable and cries out for reform. It would be awesome if consent workshops could be regularly held in community spaces and in schools. These consent workshops could focus on offering tools to explore and talk about boundaries, and on educating people about rape culture and how to resist the manifestations against this cultural norm!

Speak out:

We need to speak out against the myth of stranger danger. 2/3 of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the survivors, not an anonymous stranger hiding in the bushes. Someone can be sexually assaulted by their friend, acquaintance, or their partner.

It is time that this reality is asserted into community consciousness, and that people question their oppressive assumptions. We need to speak out against slut shaming and victim blaming. No matter the multitude of sexual encounters someones experiences, each one deserves to be consensual. Also, folks should wear what the fuck they want and go where the fuck they want– sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault, no one is ever “asking for it”. There is NO behavior or appearance that conveys a desire to be violated.

We need to speak out against imposed gender roles and their intersection with sexual violence.

No sex assignment is indicative of sexual expectations and obligations. Alongside this concept, it’s important to combat the myth that men do not experience sexual violence. Men of all ages can experience sexual violence and it is asinine and invalidating that sexual violence has been labeled as strictly a “women’s issue.”

Rise up:

We need to rise up and form community support groups. These can look like safe spaces where boundaries, experiences, education, and healing are discussed. Holding a space of support and validation creates a stronger community, sheds light on the prevalence of sexual violence, and can be powerfully validating for a survivor. Explore spaces in your community that you can reserve for a day! Invite members of the community to create and attend consent workshops, or facilitate a community discussion about sexual violence and survivorship. A note of caution, sometimes it is helpful to conceal the location of the event until someone contacts you with an interest to attend, it is ultimately important to work towards creating a safe space for this event

We need to rise up and get together to discuss what community perpetrator accountability looks like. There are a million reasons why a survivor may not want to get the cops involved in their experience. Unfortunately, there is not enough discussion of what aggressor accountability looks like as an alternative to law enforcement. Restorative justice, which focuses on the needs of the survivor and their community instead of satisfying punitive avenues of “justice”, is not a common enough word in the current paradigm of aggressor accountability. Organize community forums to discuss what aggressor accountability and restoration looks like in your community! Our current culture uses patriarchal tools of oppression to condone sexual violence. Destroy what destroys you.