An anarchist's perspective on leaving the city


By appropriate cycles

Cynical about the city

It seems infighting has become a staple of radical urban organizing. Through constant internal criticism and shaming we have effectively disarmed parts of the movement. Although we should, as an activist community, be motivated to support and teach each other, we instead have bred communities who demonize and scrutinize each other.. Potential revolutionaries are discouraged back into the safety of the status quo and we continue to lose more and more meaningful projects and people to “drama.” All the while the police are policing and the capitalists capitalizing unabated. Why? A theory:

Though often ignored, subconsciously we understand that the cities in which we live would collapse very quickly without the global exploitation that sustains them. To live in a city is to vitally depend on the very thing we say we want to destroy. And this destruction would mean no more food in the stores (or dumpsters), no more electricity, which in most cities means no water, no gas. So we ‘half-ass it,” preferring drama to revolution, or intellectual critique over action.

Thus, without an alternate infrastructure (or at least a plan) to provide food and resources during a revolutionary moment, even the most radical city dweller would hesitate, knowing such an immediate halt to oppression would be suicide. This is not to say the only way to be revolutionary is to move to the country; but investment in systems of self-sufficiency is an essential part of making change possible. It is truly ignorant for urban movements to think clean soil, water and food are not crucial aspects of what we’re fighting for. No one will smash the platform they are standing on without a safety net.

Rural towns are in a unique position to reject the status quo, self-manage themselves, and create an example, hopefully something worth defending. They are often already geared toward self-sustainability, autonomy and are, at times, blatantly anti-state (though usually still pro-private property). With economies driven by agriculture and ranching food production is localized and when not industrialized relatively sustainable. This food independence is further supplemented by a culture strong with gardening, hunting and interacting with nature.

Compared to the near anonymity of the city, in a small town one can very quickly build a personal connection with nearly everyone in the area. This continuous contact with the same people builds an affinity based on who you live near and who you interact with. Of course this means you can say goodbye to local mass demos (the Utah Tar Sand Resistance is a possible exception) and house shows for that matter, but more rare to see, a few people CAN have a big effect when they act on a smaller stage. In short, smaller community systems are better scaled to efforts for social change, thus utilizing “people energy” efficiently, and building autonomous structures for the future.

Appropriate Cycles

A couple years ago Appropriate Cycles was formed by a few people who decided to put some of this theory into practice. We each had many different experiences that led us here. One influential experience was a month spent with an indigenous community in Central America, blocking the construction of a mega dam. Another was a bike trip to a rural anarchist collective near the Bay Area, organized as a cultural rehab and retreat from the stresses of urban radical life. Reading Bolo’bolo was a radicalizing influence for one of our collective members that pointed to the country.

For years we poured our hearts into urban squats only to find as they were quashed, that many allies were more forthcoming with critique then solidarity. With this in mind we decided to try legally occupied land as a long term approach to building a culture of resistance capable of defending (not just critiquing) liberated spaces.

We worked, saved, borrowed, and found an acre in a small, predominantly working class, town on the west slope of the Rocky Mountains with pay-as-we-go terms we could afford, thus avoiding a bank loan. We are very aware of the role our white privilege has lent us in acquiring this space. Only revolution is truly capable of ridding us of our privilege, so instead of focusing on minimizing it we decided to use the privilege we have to work toward long term radical infrastructure that supports revolutionary potential. There is no one correct way to do this. Below are some of our current projects and ideas, but we could easily end up with some of yours.

Healthy, sustainable, and accessible food production is a central focus. One goal is to produce enough food to help sustain not only ourselves but other regional endeavors, for example the Utah Tar Sands resistance. We want to educate and empower others to be more autonomous from oppressive and unsustainable food systems.

With only a few people working the land we have started with a few modest gardens. Irrigation is provided by a pedal pump which lifts water from a hand dug micro-well up to an elevated tank. We have built two green houses, one with a fire heated bathtub inside; the other well insulated and with a loft, making it winter habitable for plants and possibly an adventurous human. Many plums, apricots, apples, and currants have been planted as well as various other perennials. We also built an elevated two chamber composting toilet with a wonderful view.

We care for a few goats, many chickens, two dogs and two cats. They provide us with milk, eggs, cuddles, and camaraderie. We love them and would defend them from oppression as we would a close friend.

On the land is a small warehouse divided into storage units. Some of the space is used as a community workshop with a variety of tools for bikes, welding, carpentry and hacking. Community access to these resources creates an alternative to consumerism and provides a social environment of cooperation and skill sharing. Building bicycle machines, helping people fix their bikes and creating a basic mesh network with old routers are just a few things we have been working on, but we need more people with a diversity of skills to support the project and expand its scope.

Another unit, partially set up as a community audio recording studio, has stalled since its bottom-liner moved out a while back; but with a little bit of gumption it could be just that, or anything else. Ideas for other units are a free store, meeting space or free school but most likely it will be whatever the next person to show up is excited about. We are also excited to build more habitation with possibilities for tree houses and cabins.

Outside of our property, we helped create a local food co-op in town that prioritizes supporting small scale farmers and bringing affordable, regionally produced food to our community. The co-op plans to offer eduction around self sufficiency, permaculture and food systems working to connect our most basic needs to larger structures of oppression and environmental degradation. One long term plan is a cooperative farm for the town. We actively support the community garden and an arts and theater group which have a big influence on people and the way they view community. Implying again that within community organizing bonds and connection are vital to create a lasting impact.

We do not see these projects as revolutionary in and of themselves but necessary infrastructure to support more revolutionary models of resistance such as a town general assembly or anti-fascist militia. We also don’t want to imply organizing is easy here and that we don’t run into similar issues of apathy that we see in urban zones. But we have experienced the ability to influence our soundings at a faster speed, making actual models for resistance more tangible. Furthermore the isolation, intense climate, and smaller population create a stronger culture of self-sufficiency and a community more willing to share skills, trade and teach.

We know there are all kinds of aspects, contradictions and dreams that did not make it into this article. If you made it this far and want to continue the conversation or visit the land email us:

* We, a collective of three, co-produced this article.An anarchist perspective on leaving the city