I tried to avoid it for a while, but if I wanted to find and meet other anarchists in the east bay, I needed to go to the Long Haul, an anarchist infoshop in berkeley. So I took a deep breath, opened the door and entered, trying to free myself of my previous feelings, my stereotypes, my love and hate for the anarchist community; and yes I know it ain’t one homogeneous thing, but regardless, my experiences with it have been fraught with good ol’ revolutionary angst.
Let me explain
I have never been into the punk scene, I am not white, I became a father at 20 and had to think about changing diapers, not just about changing social structures. I remember being chastised by someone trying to get us to go up one summer to the logging protests and when I reminded him of my responsibilities, he snapped back: ‘what was more important?’ I wanted to punch him, to make him see his ignorance, the elitism of privilege, the typical dismissal of people with children, with jobs to pay for food and rent. Yet, this has happened over and over. Meetings at 6pm or reading my child a bed time story? How to choose? It felt as if I could never fully commit, never be as dedicated as the people I met — mostly younger, white, students, who were mobile, who could survive on a fluctuating income. Now there is nothing wrong with this, but this was not me, not my experience, not my culture. But I knew that the anarchist views more closely resembled my views about how life could be lived than anything else, so I tried as much as I could to find that community. brought my kids to meetings; I swapped childcare with other parents on my block (a nice way of realizing it truly does take a neighborhood to raise a child). I tried to figure out how to balance riding bikes with my kids around the block versus riding in critical mass, which is right at dinner time. I realized I needed the anarchist community after years of trying to compartmentalize the seemingly disparate aspects of my life — the non-monogamist, the self-schooling parent, the activist, the Chicano academic, the fuck-the-police poet. But how I got to this point is another story. It is in fact many stories.
Starting at the beginning
I began noticing the glaring discrepancies in my life; I grew up on hip hop and could see it being co-opted into cheap fronting and frivolity. This was not the community I was a part of, dressed in hand-me-downs and learning to break on ripped up sections of linoleum. I simply couldn’t handle the growing consumerism, the value placed on objects, after having lived in poverty, after scoffing at and detesting the symbols of wealth for so long (yes out of envy and jealousy at the time perhaps). Yet, I desperately needed to believe in the anti-authoritarian politics of NWA, Public Enemy, Freestyle Fellowship, and others, for I was not hearing it from anyone else nor in any other way that spoke to me.
It continued in undergraduate classrooms in which I was appalled at the refusal to engage in anything but what was deemed ‘practical and possible realties.’ After being told that republicans and democrats held the only legitimate and viable worldviews, I wondered how the hometowns I grew up in – Las Vegas, New Mexico, Kailua, Hawaii, Ventura, California — were included in anything we discussed. How did these ‘viable’ political choices account for the poverty, the single mothers, the drugs, and the lack of choices available? There had to be another way. And when I did make my way to an anarchist study group, I seethed at people’s unwillingness to even attempt to connect anarchy with issues of race and privilege. There had to be other ways. Other places.
So I retreated for a while into my own experiences, creating and nurturing a lifestyle that embodied the values I couldn’t find elsewhere. I found connections with my imprisoned father and prison issues that introduced me to Attica, to my father’s penitentiary, to political prisoners. I reveled in becoming a father and was soon horrified as disciplined behavior became the primary learning objective in my son’s school. What could I do, where to turn? I refused to participate in the privilege of private schooling so that was out. And then I found The Teenage Liberation Handbook, and we created our autonomy, but struggled to connect with others who chose to homeschool for reasons of liberation rather than christian bullshit and racist, classist fears about public education. Where were the other parents? People fuck, so I know people reproduce.
Moving to the east bay from the city did help me meet more people with similar values. While attempting to create a relationship based on free choice rather than social coercion, my partner and I met another young parent questioning the rigid social definitions of what relationships could be. With the inspiration from Emma Goldman and the practical advice from The Ethical Slut, we began to embrace non-monogamist freedom to explore our own sexuality, our growing identities, our interests. But even here we felt out of place: we weren’t 50 year old hippies reminiscing about free love, nor were we new age converts trying to fuck while rubbing crystals and engaging in tantric poses. We were in our late twenties, we were looking for others more like us.
All these interests and choices of my life culminated in the tear gas of Seattle. Studying globalism as an advisor to student clubs on the campus I taught at, we decided to participate in the WTO protests, not realizing the dramatic and liberating events that we would be a part of. So after the smoke cleared from Seattle and then DC and then Quebec, I realized that I could no longer chase the revolution, that I could no longer compartmentalize the different aspects of my life. I needed a way to synthesize them all. After ten years of making half-hearted attempts to connect with people who seemed to look and live so differently than me, I decided to toss aside my ego, my attitude, and my fears to find and help create the community I wanted.
In the three years since I have made this commitment to be involved in the anarchist community, I have met some powerful and inspirational people; I have learned to see that resisting the oppressive and seemingly undefeatable social world we live in can be practiced in so many minute, marvelous and meaningful ways – in fucking, in gardening, in punk, in slumming it, in cooking. Perhaps even in crystals. I’ve been a part of RACE (revolutionary anarchists of color), been to and participated in the anarchist conference, started a zine, boxcutter, with a few others to explore aspects of personal liberation. I even staff a shift now at the Long Haul. With each step I try to bring my stories and my experiences with me. I want to be a part of something that combines theory and praxis, that can talk the talk and walk the walk. I want to work with people that I can learn from, that inspire me in my own efforts of teaching, parenting, and living my daily life. I want to try and fail rather than remain safe in stasis. And yet, at times I still feel like an outsider to the radical/anarchist community. But now I know that I am a part of it, and so I have a responsibility to help shape it. I am writing to engage myself in this process that will force me to embrace more of it, to be more involved in it, and welcome other people like me – marginalized from the mainstream, yet not quite the typical anarchist – to join this discussion. I know many more people are out there, many more stories, and I hope we can start sharing them.
Let me tell you a story
I’m sitting at a park bench in south berkeley as my kids are running around waiting for me to play shark attack with them. I’m talking to a young man of color with a child in the 1st grade about schooling versus home school, about the waste of money and the recall, about how things could be. He’s talking about how he wishes there were other places to get information about all this shit going on. I tell him about the info shop; I tell him that there are others thinking the same thing.
The kids tell me they’re tired of waiting and want me to attack. “That’s the place across from la pena. I always wondered what that place was.” he says. We say good bye and he thanks me for the suggestion. I get up, but look back and say, “Come in there some time, I’m there Thursday nights.” “I think I might just do that.”