Bridging the Gap

Radical activists with family in the military

My brother is twenty-one years old. Since October of 2002, he has been in the US Army, a decision which I, as an anti-imperialist, have naturally had a really hard time with. This decision inevitably found him fighting in Iraq for a year and a half, just like the tens of thousands of other US soldiers being used to wage this obscene war. It was not until I was talking to a friend of mine who also has a younger brother in Iraq did it really hit me that there are bound to be thousands of others like us- anarchist/ anti-capitalist activists with family and other loved ones serving in the military. This is not an easy position to be in; I personally have struggled with trying to balance my feelings of loyalty and love for my brother (and cousin, and all the others in my family for that matter) with my absolute horror and disgust with the job he is currently performing. Talking to others in my situation, I realize that our position also poses problems not only in how we relate to our families (who are often conservative or have a hard time understanding our beliefs), but also within our various activist communities.

Because this topic is so closely interwoven with issues of class, I feel that it’s important to address this first. Many of us are finally starting to understand that for a lot of soldiers, their decision to enlist has a lot more to do with a lack of other viable options than a desire to go and hold citizens at gunpoint in 120-degree weather. Combine that with what is often the working-class family expectations of military service, social expectations around masculinity and contrived notions of “honor” and “courage,” and it’s not hard for most people to see why military enlistment can seem okay to an average, middle-America kid without a lot else on the horizon. The mainstream (and often even leftist) media, however, would never dare open a discussion around this, and is also quite adept at overlooking those of us from these same backgrounds who have chosen to dissent.

One of the reasons I’m writing this article is because there seems to be a belief in this country that there are two kinds of people: “liberals” and “conservatives,” both replete with their own sets of stereotypes; i.e. you believe the government should pay for everything, or you want to sit back and count your money while waging war on anyone who isn’t American. The reality of the situation, of course, is that nobody actually fits into these crazy stereotypes completely. My Mormon, Republican mother, for instance, could give a lot clearer analysis of why people are boycotting Wal-Mart than most of the anarchists I know, and I am aware that it continually surprises conservative adults when they realize that I do not support banning gun use and ownership (although as an anarchist, I don’t exactly believe in banning anything)…But I digress.

The point is, the right wing of Amerikkka has painted our myriad movements of anti-oppression as being the whining of a few disenchanted white, upper middle class college kids with too much time on their hands. This makes it incredibly easy for the rest of the country to brush off what we’re saying by declaring us elitists or by assuming that what we are fighting for and against has nothing to do with their lives. While it is true that many with the time, access to information, and privilege to actively participate in radical politics do fit the stereotypes, there are also many, many people who do not- those of us who are working class, and/or people of color, and/or queer, and/or disabled, and/or…the list goes on and on. Allowing outside forces to put a specific face and label on our movements completely denies visibility to all of us “others,” and if we don’t rail against the assertions thrown our way, our movements will continue to alienate, rather than empower those people who would benefit the most from the world we are trying to build. The fact that the working class of this country is increasingly embracing right-wing values is, to me, an indication that we are doing something wrong; and one of those things is believing the hype of “us” vs. “them.

All of these thoughts have made me wonder where I can start to find some common ground with those who I personally often feel so different from. It is clear to me that there can be no real discussion of the ramifications of war and our families who are fighting it without looking at the reasons why we live this way in the first place. When my friend and I first began having this discussion, I realized that although I was aware of several friends in the same situation (siblings or close relatives in Iraq), none of us had ever really talked to each other about it. It has been really strange and challenging for me to navigate my feelings around wanting to support my little brother while he’s in this incredibly intense situation, and yet still trying to help him understand why I think that the whole idea of this war, and even this country as it stands, is disgusting. It is odd to me that this is not something that is really being discussed in radical circles, at least not the ones that I inhabit.

One of the first ideas my friend and I came up with was to try to put together an anthology of stories from other radicals who are dealing with this same situation. There is a lot to be said here- about upbringing, about class, about race, racism, our internalized issues with all of these things and most of all how we each handle the nuances of dealing with our families (each of which, of course, comes with its own set of beliefs and experiences). I want to know how each person is handling this, what their unique experiences have been, and I think that having this insight can help a lot of other people, too. I am hoping that this project can help both activists who are not experiencing this type of situation and people who would generally have a hard time accepting radical viewpoints to see that we are all humans, after all, each of us with our own complex ways of seeing the world and moving in it. I want to help break down these invisible barriers and bring people together around the things they can agree on: namely, we love our families and want them to be safe and do the “right” thing.

Even more than putting together the book, though, what we are hoping is to help start a dialogue that will eventually lead to more understanding between both ourselves and the communities we come from, as well as the new communities we have created for ourselves. Bridging this gap is often perilous and many of us have experienced the alienation of feeling like we don’t fully belong to “either” world, but that we are still undeniably a part of “both.” We want to help inspire conversations among friends and loved ones about this, and we are even planning a forum here in San Francisco where people can come together to share their stories and build a tangible system of support around this.

So! Write us your story, come to the forum, or if you’re not in the Bay Area we hope you will start your own networks. Solidarity begins with understanding and building real alliances- as friends, family, and fellow human beings. Hope to hear from you soon! Pike On A Bike.

To write or submit a story for the book, you can email:, or snail mail to PO Box 460-412, San Francisco, CA 94146.