In Memoriam

Memorial Day calls us to remember those who have died. I remember those brutally murdered by the state and those who serve the state in uniform and behind a badge.

August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Joe Hill, Ferdinando Nicola Sacco, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Robbie Tolan, Adolph Grimes III

Wounded Knee, Trail of Tears, Manifest Destiny, Kent State, School of the Americas, Mai Lai Massacre, Memorial Day Massacre of 1937, Bay View Massacre

100,000 Iraqi Civilians

I remember you. I cannot list you all. I cannot hold you all in my mind at once for fear of my heart breaking beyond repair. But I remember you and the violence you suffered in the name of freedom, law and country. I remember those who justified their brutality with a flag.

Today I mourn you all and rage against those who stole your lives.

Living Antimilitarism in the Kink Community

I wrote this for FetLife a few months ago, but I thought it would fit just as well here.


I’ve been wondering lately how to best respond to the assumption that I support and respect the police and military. Messages of support for the troops are seen by so many as apolitical, when I experience them as anything but. As an anarchist and pacifist, the insinuation that others act on the myth of redemptive violence on my behalf is not simply insulting, it turns my stomach. Being in the kink scene offers its own unique difficulties in dealing with this.

So much of the current BDSM culture has its roots in leather culture, which in turn has roots in the military and military culture. Despite not being leather myself, I recognize that it does make up a large part of and inform the BDSM culture as a whole. Beyond that, the BDSM scene is a microcosm of the larger culture it’s in, and so the prevalence of veneration of soldiers and police in the subculture is going to be seen in proportion to that in the rest of the culture. However, given the smallness of the kink scene, one runs a much greater risk by vocally opposing that veneration. Given the intimacy of what we do and what we talk about, a difference this stark could easily stand in the way of that intimacy.

So when I’m confronted with things like a celebration of a warship on my local group’s listserv (as one example), I see it has highly political, while most others see it as transcending political boundaries. It would be like if I were to send something celebrating members of the Animal Liberation Front‘s evasion of capture. How then do I remain authentically engaged while pointing out that my own foundational stories put such a celebration on par with celebrations of gang warfare and mafia extortion? Is this a situation where it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie? I don’t think so, as it only encourages the assumption that everyone buys into the myth of redemptive violence. But with such a charged topic, to simply say that I oppose state violence and am offended by it means that I’ll likely end up either enduring a string of invective meant to show me how very wrong I am or have to explain a hundred different points that lead up to my own pacifism before we’re even able to find common ground from which to dialogue.

It’s tough. And since I do value individuals who have been in the military, explaining the line between respecting them as individuals and not respecting the institution they gave themselves over to is very tricky and fraught with pitfalls. To refrain from doing so, however, feels as though I’m being inauthentic, and not giving my real, full self to the relationship and the dialogue, and to do that feels like a worse fate than risking offense.

Hope

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

~ Howard Zinn

Thank you, Howard.

Making Room

I mentioned this on Twitter, but I think it bears further exploration. More and more my expression of my faith and my politics (Christianity and Anarchism) is in gracious hospitality. I’m not always good at it (either the grace, the hospitality or both), but making space for others seems to be the most true way that my beliefs take shape.

Even from the start of Jesus’ narrative, making space is important. No one made space for his parents just before his birth, so they made space for him where they could find it. I often seem to reference Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” when talking about my ideal of working in the world, and I’m going to do so again. In it he sings “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

We live in an inhospitable world. We live in a world of rigidity, of yours and mine, of control and institution. But in that world, there are always little places where the control is broken. Those are the cracks. When Mary and Joseph and whoever else may have been involved go and find a feed trough for the kid, they’re moving in those cracks. Maybe making new ones, holding old ones open or even making existing cracks bigger. They’re making space.

In my world making space means several things. One is the conventional idea of hospitality. I offer physical space to people. They have a place to stay, food to eat, etc. Even that, though, is bigger than it sounds. Making room for people means making sure that they have a place in which they feel comfortable being themselves. It’s only with actually doing that for people that it’s become so important for me. Being in my home is, I hope, a place where people can relax into themselves, not have to be on guard, and feel safe. Especially emotionally. I’ve done that more over the last year or so than I ever have before. I didn’t realize how nourishing it is to me until I started doing it. But whatever I may do to offer, I get back the joy of having real connections with other people, and knowing that I facilitated their connections with others. Hospitality is not a cross to bear. It’s a joy that I share with people. More of our political, ethical and religious practices need to come from joy.

But there’s something more than opening my home in making room for others. It means cultivating an openness to and grace when dealing with other points of view. This part is harder for me, but no less important. Making room for people in the conversation is as important as making physical space for them. Being open to receiving others is at the heart of hospitality. It is non-authoritarian at its root, as I’m not even imposing my reality on them. That’s a lot harder than cooking supper. But the source is still joy, as making room for others in the conversation is where you find those cracks that allow you to really commune with another.

When Jesus said “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” he wasn’t speaking in metaphor. The people we open ourselves to are not acting as substitutes for God. It’s in those real, true connections that are only found in gracious opening that you experience God directly. That’s how the light gets in.

Going beyond opening my home and being open to the other, even when there are significant differences, there is the creation of the space to do this work. The blogs, books and conferences of the emerging church are doing this. I think Kink for All is doing this. And what I’m trying to do right now in starting a poly meetup is doing this. I have a need, and I think others have a need as well, to find connections over this common point, to offer and receive support. In creating a space for this, I am acting out my hospitality.

So, other than the non-imposition of worldview, what has this to do with anarchism? Making space is direct action. It is not relying on any power structure or institution to meet people’s needs. It’s saying “I see this need. I will meet it.” It is also mutual aid. The more we make room for each other, the more we offer to each other, the more we thrive without the need for coercion and force.

I’ve been worrying lately about how on earth I can live my faith and live my politics in a world in which I have material wealth (comparatively) and am privileged by society because of my race, gender and education. And everywhere I looked I found joylessness and asceticism as the solution. I found anger and self-hate over being born into a sin filled world. Kate Bornstein wrote in the preface to Pomosexuals, “it’s too scary to look at without some promise of laughter at the end of the read, some playfulness as a reward to all the painful self-inquisition.” That’s how a felt as I looked for ways to bring my beliefs into practice. All I found were indictments of myself for being born in a fucked up world, and no one seemed to want to work from the joy of existence to fix it.

It came to being in church yesterday, hearing a sermon with so much focus on sin, and being confronted with the sheer absurdity of letting a 4000 year old moral code dictate my ethics. I wasn’t there to hear about adultery, I was there looking for God. And then it came time for communion, and I prayed, “Please, just give me something physical, something tangible in the body and blood.” At this church trays are passed with the bread and “wine” and as I reached to pull the small cup from the tray I found it stuck. This is the second time recently that this has happened. I felt frustrated and thwarted in my search for that tangible connection, but just as the woman with the tray started to whisper “Try another one,” I gave the cup a slight twist and it broke free. As I pulled it toward me Elizabeth whispered, “You always seem to find the stuck ones.”

I laughed. It made sense. I don’t have to break down an oppressive world. I just need to make sure I make enough cracks to keep people from getting stuck in that oppression and hopelessness. I tried not to laugh as the bread dissolved on my tongue. When I want a tangible reminder of God, I only have to make room for that of Her in the people around me. If God is the light, I just need to keep living in the cracks, and inviting others into them. That is disregard for authoritarianism. That is faith in Christ. That is hospitality.

My Anarchism-in-the-Moment

I think often that my anarchism is too mystical for most other anarchists to find much in common with. Hell, it’s been seen as too impractical by liberals who insisted that I needed a plan to make my version of the ideal world come into existence, and that if I wasn’t advocating the overthrow of the government then I wasn’t much of an anarchist. Given the criticisms of “Lifestyle” anarchism from many camps I feel certain that I could get the same kind of responses from anarchists, particularly those who are more dogmatic. Yet for me it is completely practical. It’s not pie-in-the-sky, after the revolution anarchism. My anarchism asks how we can manifest the spirit in everyday life. It asks how we can increase autonomy covertly or overtly. It’s anarchism-in-the-moment.

It seems to come down to the belief (and my lack thereof) that the world is perfectible. No, we’re an imperfect mess. But anarchism, far from being utopian, recognizes that mess and works with it openly. In a conversation with a coworker recently I was asked “Doesn’t anarchism require a lot of faith in other people?” That’s a fair question, and my answer is “No more than any other system, and possibly less.” People ask this because they assume that without the threat of violence keeping them in line, people will be reduced to murdering, thieving, raping hordes. And there are lots of answers to this concern.

1) We have laws now, and people still commit horrible acts. Laws don’t prevent bad behavior.
2) Is using violence against people okay if they’re judged to be bad people? Who do we trust to make that judgment?
3) We already have murdering, thieving, raping hordes. We just call them governments.
4) Is the only reason you don’t steal or kill because you might get caught and punished, or because it’s wrong?

And so on and so forth. In my estimation, removing the institutionalization of violence is a much greater good (and more sensible) than retaining it for fear of violence.

But all that said, I don’t expect there to be an anarchist society or territory, not for any long term at least. So then why do I call myself an anarchist? Because I still think anarchism is the best option, and that the systematizing of violence on which government is dependent is wrong. And I let those ideas drive me to strive for something better. I’m willing to take small victories.

My anarchism is tied up with my faith, and my faith is an outgrowth of my experience of Christ. Jesus himself said the poor will always be with us (Matt 26:11, John 12:8). I think that if that is true then Empire will always be with us as well, as it is the uneven distribution and use of power that causes poverty. That doesn’t excuse anyone from struggling against Empire and its effects. James wrote later that true religion is caring for the suffering, so Jesus’ statement can be taken as an ongoing challenge. If the poor are always with us, and we are to stand with them, then we are to stand against Empire. (There are those who would argue against my interpretations, citing other scriptures they believe to be in support of government. My only response is that I understand sacred scripture through my experience of the Divine.)

My problem with anarchism as it’s often put forth is that, just like liberalism and conservatism (assuming those words carry any content at all), it seems to want to create the world in its image. The syndicalists think the world should be run one way, the primitivists another. Often forgotten is the room for localization. Bakunin wrote:

[W]e neither intend nor desire to thrust upon our own or any other people any scheme of social organization taken from books or concocted by ourselves. We are convinced that the masses of the people carry in themselves, in their instincts (more or less developed by history), in their daily necessities, and. in their conscious or unconscious aspirations, all the elements of the future social organization. We seek this ideal in the people themselves.

So perhaps this means that my anarchism does require a lot of faith in people to manage themselves, while at the same time having little faith in their ability to manage others.

But for those of us who are not revolutionary anarchists, we wonder how we can manifest anarchy in our own lives and our immediate surroundings. I recently quoted Emma Goldman, from her Anarchism: What it really stands for:

“Anarchism is not, as some may suppose, a theory of the future to be realized through divine inspiration. It is a living force in the affairs of our life, constantly creating new conditions… Anarchism does not stand for military drill and uniformity; it does, however, stand for the spirit of revolt, in whatever form, against everything that hinders human growth.”

This makes sense to me, and thus my anarchism is in the moment. It is doing what I can to make things better (making more room for human growth) with no attachment to the actions being systematized. It is a declaration of self. It is not asking permission. And for a lot of folks this takes the forms of Food Not Bombs, dumpster diving, Critical Mass, intentional communities, flash mobs, things that are sometimes written off by revolutionary or social anarchists as “useless”.

After writing the first draft of this I came across a passage in the book I’m reading, Tearing Down The Streets, that speaks to the usefulness of this small victory, anarchism-in-the-moment:

As seen in the ongoing direct action of Critical Mass, Reclaim the Streets, and other anarchist groups, in their talk of “the bicycle revolution” and “the ghosts of past revolutions,” revolution for anarchists suggests not so much a single, historical moment of insurgence as an insurrectionary process that is already and always underway, never to be completed or resolved, only to be embraced and enjoyed. In fact, a century before Critical Mass and Reclaim the Streets, Bakunin invoked this same sort of endlessly disorderly process, defining anarchy in terms of an emergent “unfettered popular life,” and arguing that “what we understand by revolution is unleashing what are known as dangerous passions and destroying what the same jargon refers to as ‘public order.'”

I’m still figuring out what forms my anarchism can and will take, but it’s these things, these small victories, that matter. Leonard Cohen sang in “Anthem” that “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Occupying and adding to those cracks is my micro-revolution. Whose cracks are where I can relate to people as equals. They make room for human growth and take away the room in which the Empire operates. Anarchism-in-the-moment is life in the cracks.