Dear Søren is Slingshot’s new advice column. Living in an existential hell? Seeking transformative justice? Poly drama? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject header: DEAR SØREN, or write to:
Dear Søren c/o The Long Haul
3124 Shattuch Ave. Berkeley, CA 94705
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A while ago I moved to a small town in an effort to explore the possibilities of anarchist organizing in smaller-scale, rural communities. One of the projects I have been working on is a bike kitchen, a place to access tools, bike parts, and help to get or fix a bike. The vast majority of the parts we get are pulled from the dump, which they kindly let us do for free. It’s a great resource, but the variety and quality of stuff can be lacking at times.
Every year in a nearby town they auction off all the abandoned bikes removed by the Marshal’s Department, and donate the money to scholarships for local students. A few of us went and checked it out. I asked around about where all the bikes that were not worth selling went. Before I knew it there was a cop in front of me giving me his card and telling me that they throw them away and we were welcome to grab as many as we want whenever they are around. I felt a little bit dirty in that moment holding that card. That was a few months ago and I have yet to do anything. The few people I consider “radical,” that have anything to do with the project, don’t think it’s much of a big deal.
Is it on par with dumpstering food from a fucked up corporation? Or is it collaboration with the state, punishable by death? Would it have been okay if we had risked taking them without asking? But now that we have permission, it’s wrong?
Sincerely, Cyclist Going in Circles
One of the major pitfalls of anarchist or collective organizing that I have seen is over thinking and over processing. Often, when we try to recreate how we live, work and interact, we find ourselves second guessing and triple checking ourselves or one another. This questioning is an important part of the anarchist project, but not when it gets in the way of getting shit done.
This sounds like a wonderful endeavor and having access to free bikes that you can save from the landfill is nothing to spurn. I can understand feeling uncomfortable and disgusted interacting with the cops, but you don’t have to shake their hands gushing “Gee thanks, Mr. Officer Sir!” Yes, you are encountering the enemy, but we encounter the enemy every day. You are not aiding them by taking their garbage and turning it into something useful. You are aiding everybody in your area who needs a bike. I see no difference between taking it without asking or taking it with permission, except that “theft” will bring unnecessary risks that may harm you, your comrades and your project. Of course it’s “okay” to take them without asking, but is it worth it? I’d save taking those risks for strategic times when you can confront the enemy for clear, intentional reasons, or for when you have no other choice.
Another thing that I can’t help but address is how you’ve mentioned that collaboration with the state is punishable by death. I hope you’re joking!
You said that you’ve been mulling this over for a few months now and nobody else in your circle of affinity has raised any objections to getting the bikes via the Marshal. I think you should go ahead and get moving before the bikes get thrown away. If it still doesn’t sit well with you once you clean, fix up and finish the bikes or any usable pieces, why not discreetly stencil or engrave FTP on them? Sometimes we can get playful instead of just getting uncomfortable.
You are doing important work. Don’t let having to brush a cold shoulder with the state stop you.