Category Archives: Spring, 2009 (1/30/2009)

Infoshops sprouting up . . . around the world

If you want to talk about real hope and change, check out the growing decentralized network of anti-profit community spaces around the world. Just since we printed the 2009 organizer, we’ve heard about a whole bunch of new spaces. Each of these spaces is the culmination of community, engagement, and a vision of a different way for people to relate to each other — pursuing cooperation and mutual aid, not just profit. Let us know if you have suggestions of other spaces and check-out updates to our radical contact list on-line at slingshot.tao.ca.

SubRosa Infoshop – Santa Cruz, CA

Folks have opened an all-volunteer, collectively operated community space for art and radical projects next to the bike church in Santa Cruz. It features a lending library, zine and book shop, cafe with cheap coffee, art gallery, gardens and performance space. They transformed their parking lot into a garden courtyard with seating. The space hosts monthly art shows, Free Skool classes and a weekly Open Mic on Thursdays at 8pm. Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. M-F and 10 – 8 Sat/Sun. 703 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, CA 95060 831-426-5242, subrosaproject.org

Treasure City Thrift – Austin, TX

They are a volunteer/collectively run extra-cheap, anti-capitalist thrift store, infoshop, free store and reuse center. They direct money to a long and exciting list of grassroots organizations. They also host a community bike shop and various experiments in alternative economics. Open Mon- Sat, 11 – 6. Visit them at 1720 E 12th St. Austin, TX 78702 (512)524-2820 www.treasurecitythrift.org

The Real School (A.K.A. Dragon Valley) – Houston, TX

A school run by a collective of anarchists and other de-schoolers. 1525 East 32nd 1/2 St, Houston Texas 77022 832-767-0404 www.therealschoolhouston.org

Blast-O-Mat – Denver, CO

They are a collective show space, art gallery, and record store that hosts sliding scale shows and other events. Check them out at 2935 W 7th Ave Denver, CO 80204 (831)-331-1272

Biko Co-op – Isla Vista, CA

An activist house with some free literature. 6612 Sueno Road, Isla Vista, CA 93117 858-722-8768

Lichen Spiritual Archives – Chicago, IL

They have a lending library, zine distro and archive, wireless internet and radical community space for hosting meetings and workshops. They currently have weekly meals Sunday and Monday and free food pick up at other times. They have Spanish as a second language, a study group and meetings on radical mental health and police accountability. Open Fri- Sun 11-7, Mon 6-10 and Tues 11 – 7. 1921 S Blue Island, Chicago (mailing address PO BOX 08378, Chicago, IL, 60608.) pilsenradicalspace@riseup.net

George Street Co-op – New Brunswick, NJ

They are a vegetarian natural food co-op with a small free literature section. They saw the cover art on the 2009 organizer and thought it was funny because they have a carrot on the front of their store and are across the street from a library, just like the food coop in the drawing. Open 10-8 Mon-Fri, 8-7 Sat and 10-6 Sun. 89 Morris Street New Brunswick, NJ 08901 732.247.8280

Mississippi Market – St. Paul, MN

A food co-op with two locations that you can check out: 1810 Randolph Ave. Saint Paul, MN 55105 651-690-0507 and 622 Selby Ave. Saint Paul, MN 55104

Peace Action and Education Center of Eastern Iowa – Iowa City, IA

They have meeting, office and event space for peace groups. 26 E. Market Street, Iowa City, IA 52245 319 354-1925 peaceiowa.org

Birdhouse Collective – Buffalo, NY

A house that hosts shows and do-it-yourself activities. No regular hours. 92 Bird St. Buffalo, NY 14202 716-884-2797

ReBelle – Lexington, KY

A boutique store with some eco products, etc. 371 S. Limestone St. Lexington, KY 40508 859-389-9750 www.ReBelleGirls.com

Gulf of Maine Books – Brunswick, Maine

They are a 30 year old independent alternative bookstore. 134 Maine Street, Brunswick, Maine 04011

Casa T.I.A.O. – Valparaiso, Chile

Which stands for Trabajadores Independientes de Artes y Oficios (Independent Art and Trade Workers). It is a casa okupa (occupied house) i.e. squat with a rehearsal/training space for various classes: trapeze, acrobatics, capoeira, African dance, screenprinting, wood-block printing, etc. 30 people live there and they host performances: circus, punk, traditional theatre, hip-hop, etc. Visit at Yungay 1772, Valparaiso, Chile, tiaocasa.blogspot.com

Kulturhuset Underjorden/SPATT – Gothenburg, Sweden

A social center that hosts shows, do-it-yourself activities and an infoshop. (Mail: Box 30, 40120 Gothenburg, Sweden.) www.spatt.info

CSA La Torre – Rome Italy

A squatted radical community center. Visit at: via Bertero 13 Roma, Italy, www.inventati.org/latorre/

Katipo Books – Christchurch/Otautahi, New Zealand

They are a worker coop publishing group with a bookstore. 15 Winchfield Street, Aranui, Christchurch, New Zealand 8061 www.katipo.net.nz (mailing: PO Box 377, Christchurch Mail Centre Christchurch 8140)

India Däck Bookcafe – Lund, Sweden

A coffee shop/book exchange. Stora Algatan 3, 224 51 Lund, Sweden www.indiadack.net, idc@indiadack.net

Smålands Nation – Lund, Sweden

A student community center. Kastanjegatan 7, 223 59 Lund, Sweden, 046-12 06 80, www.smalands.org

Brian MacKenzie Center closes after 9 years

We are saddened to learn of the demise of the BMC infoshop. Keeping a volunteer collective together over a span of years requires constantly renewing the core group with new members. This is a challenge every similar project faces — we still have a lot to learn about solving this problem as a typically youthful scene. They are seeking donations to help them pay off debts. Check out: www.dcinfoshop.org. Until a planned radical library project gets going, Ryan suggests visiting some of these spots if you’re in DC:

• The People’s Media Center – an Independent media lab and event space for workshops, punk shows and all sorts of radical activist stuff. 4132 Georgia Ave NW, Washington DC, 20011 www.dcspeakout.com

• Sankofa books and cafe – a radical and black liberation book and video store with a coffee shop and cafe attached. 2714 Georgia Avenue NW Washington, DC 202-234-4755

• Emergence – a community center that does a lot of theater type stuff, dance classes, herbal and other health workshops, arts and film screenings. Less of a drop-in space and more of a specific event space. 733 Euclid St. NW Washington, DC 20001 (202) 462-2285

Mistakes in the 2009 organizer

• The Fargo-Moorhead Community Bicycle Workshop in Fargo, ND recent moved. Their new address is 1418 1st Ave N #1 Fargo, ND 58102, 701-478-4021, info@fmbikeworkshop.org

• The OKC Infoshop is at 29 (not 33) NE 27th St. in Oklahoma City, OK 73105.

• The In Our Hearts Infoshop in Brooklyn NY is now called the 123 Space. Same address.

• Spartacus Books in Vancouver, BC, Canada is on the ground floor, not the second floor. The street address listed is otherwise correct.

• It looks like we mis-spelled the name of the city in the Philippines in which Sadee’s Kitchen is located — it is Davao, not “Davae” as printed in the organizer.

Rest In Peace

• Broad Vocabulary, a long-standing feminist bookstore in Milwaukee, WI, closed at the end of 2008. They say that perhaps a co-op will re-open the store at a new location.

• We heard that Crow’s Place in Brooklyn, NY no longer exists.

• Someone told us the GLBT Center in Mishawaka, IN no longer exists.

• It looks like Feed Your Head books in Salem, MA is gone.

• We heard that the Pitchpipe Infoshop in Tacoma, WA closed.

• We got a letter saying that Southmore House in Houston no longer exists.

• Someone tried to visit the Tallahassee Infoshop at 825 Railroad — it wasn’t at that address anymore. Not sure if it moved or expired.

• We got packages returned from the following places — if you know whether they moved or died, let us know:

* Sweet Bee Infoshop at 513 E. St. Des Moines, IA 50309

* Rocktown Infoshop 85 E. Elizabeth St. Harrisonburg, VA 22802

* Sin Reading Room 918 Ward St. Nashville, TN 37207

* Rosetta News Collective 212 W. Freeman Carbondale, IL 62901

Bike Collective Network

For an impressive listing of community bike shops that encourage a do-it-yourself relationship with your bike on a non-profit, low-cost, sometimes volunteer-run, basis, check out www.bikecollectives.org. Many have classes, space where you can work on your bike, and recycled parts. At the moment, Slingshot has been listing some of these spaces in our organizer and our radical contact list when they ask us to or when that is the only alternative group that has a physical space in a particular town. Let us know if you think we should include the entire list in our contact list.

Earth First! Roadshow

Earth First! road show

Earth First! has been organizing a cross-country road show that is slated to hit the road in February. The road show will be traveling with a variety of topics, skills and resources, including (but not limited to): forming affinity groups and planning direct action, blockading, climbing and occupations, bioregional news from campaigns and projects around the country, tools for challenging oppression, up-to-date news on resisting the Greenscare, independent and corporate media work, community organizing strategies and more.

For more info on setting up shows or if you want to share your thoughts and insights, visit http://earthfirstroadshow.wordpress.com/ or earthfirstroadshow@gmail.com

Tentative Schedule

Phoenix/Flagstaff/Prescott, AZ 2/24

Austin/San Antonio, TX 3/3

New Orleans, LA 3/10

Gainesville, FL 3/17

Athens/Atlanta, GA 3/24

Appalachia/Blue Ridge area 3/31

Maine/Vermont 4/14

NYC/Hudson Valley 4/27

Michigan/Indiana/Ohio 5/5

Wisconsin/Minnesota 5/12

Great Plains 5/19

Colorado/Utah/Tetons 6/2

Bay Area 6/9

Humboldt/Ashland 6/16

Olympia/Seattle/Bellingham 6/23

Organizer update -

Thanks to everyone who got a 2009 Slingshot organizer — selling them enables us to publish and distribute this paper. Perhaps in part because of the economic collapse, we have a ton of extra organizers hanging around looking for a home. If you want to order some or know of someone who might want some, please let us know. We’re about 60 percent of the way to paying the printing bill, so if you have an outstanding invoice, please pay us anything you can even if you can’t afford to pay the whole bill. We realize many projects are on the verge of collapsing financially — hopefully we can all pull through this together. If you are an infoshop or bookstore with extra organizers that you want to return, please contact us before you physically return them since we’re so overstocked.

We tried a few new things in the 2009 organizer and we would love to get feedback on whether we should try them again in 2010 (assuming a revolution or famine prior to 2010 doesn’t make next year’s organizer a moot point.) If you noticed, liked, or didn’t like these changes, drop us a card or email to let us know:

• Laminated cover for pocket organizer: good, bad or didn’t notice

• Month-at-a-glance calendars in pocket organizer: good, bad or didn’t notice

• Lay flat binding in pocket organizer: good, bad or didn’t notice

Each of these features costs extra money and uses additional natural resources. The lamination uses plastic, which we don’t like, but if it keeps the organizer from falling apart it may be worth it. This year we did half laminated and half non-laminated so people could decide which they liked better. Should we make both kinds again next year or just make them all either laminated or non-laminated? The month-at-a-glance calendar makes the organizer 16 pages longer which increases the printing bill by about 10%. We could add it to the spiral calendar in 2010 but we might have to raise the price because the spiral calendar is already expensive to print and bind. Do you think it is worth it?

We’ve noticed a few mistakes in the 2009 organizer and we’re sorry about them:

• We got the wrong address for a zine listed in our zine reading list: Cracks in the Concrete is really at PO Box 2748 Tucson, AZ 85702.

• We mistakenly described the subject matter of POZ magazine — it is about people living with HIV/AIDS.

• The wrong date was given for Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s birthday, his real birthday is March 24. He turns “90.”

Let us know if you spot any other errors.

Work on the 2010 organizer will start in June. We send it to the printer in mid-August. Please send us cover art, corrections, additions, historical dates, ideas for features, doodles, radical contacts, and/or move to the Bay Area to join our collective by July 31. If you think the organizer is hard to use, you can make some pages next year that address the problems. The 2010 organizer will be available October 1, 2009.

Finally, because we have so many extra organizers hanging around, we would like to figure out ways to give some extra organizers away to projects that could get them out to people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to the organizer or who could not afford to pay for it — think inmates, oppressed high school students, homeless, etc. Contact us if you have any ideas.

DIY root beer

Long before Coke, Pepsi, or any other soft drink, people were brewing their own small, (less alcoholic), beers for the “Pause that refreshes.” Shakespeare was noted to have drunk small beer and a recipe for it is found in George Washington’s notebooks. In Colonial America these small beers were generally brewed from herbs, berries and bark, with each individual having their own recipe. They were originally brewed for celebrations and family reunions. They were never intended to be stored away in casks or bottles. Early American industrialists, ever greedy for new products to sell, substituted forced carbonation for natural fermentation, longer shelf life, and marketed these beers as Birch Beer, Sarsaparilla, Ginger Beer and Root Beer. This article will show you how to brew an original simple root beer using roots, herbs, spices, and/or using a commercial extract. I’ve fucked up these recipes a few times (as well as exploding a few bottles), so I’ll list any mishaps I’ve had in each step, so that you can avoid repeating my mistakes.

To create 5 gallons of Root Beer:

Before starting, I can’t emphasize the importance of having all of your equipment clean. Bacteria can easily contaminate your root beer and make it really nasty. Scrupulously wash all of your bottles, pots and other equipment and rinse with hot water, unless you want your root beer to taste like old socks.

If you’re using commercial root beer extract, (obtained from your local brewing supply store or off of the internet), proceed to step #4, substituting lukewarm water for the root-beer tea. Be sure to add the commercial extract to the sugars before dissolving them into the water.

One of the primary ingredients in all of the following recipes is sassafras root bark, which contains safrole. Safrole is listed as a carcinogenic by the Food and Drug Administration because it causes cancer in laboratory rats. However, those of you who view the FDA’s pronouncements with a bit of skepticism might note that Sassafras root bark was commonly used by the Native Americans and is still brewed as a tea and tonic in the Southern United States. The fact that Safrole can be used as precursor to synthesize several Hallucinogenic drugs might have also have something to do with the continuing ban.

Step #1 Start by gathering the roots, herbs and spices for brewing a root beer tea. You can buy these from your local herbal supply and/or health food store, but a better way is to harvest most of them yourself.

Sassafras root-bark in particular should be foraged. The brew tastes much more flavorful and less woody than that made using the dried root bark sold in stores. Sassafras has a wide distribution range throughout the eastern United States and is commonly found in scrub woods, abandoned playing fields, and along roadsides. In fact, you can even find it Central Park in New York City. But you shouldn’t forage the roots from road-sides because of lead contamination. Also avoid harvesting any root bark in the late spring, unless you like the taste of brewed tree sap.

I’ve made a tasty brew using just Sassafras, Sarsaparilla Wintergreen, and a little bit of allspice.

Sassafras root-bark, 5 oz / 5 Gallon

Sarsaparilla, 5 oz / 5 Gallon

Wintergreen 5 oz / 5 Gallon

Whole Allspice 1 1/4 oz / 5 Gallon

Below is a list of common flavoring ingredients I’ve compiled from a number of different recipes. The final root/herb mixture should be about 3 ~ 4 oz / Gallon. The spices should be adjusted to taste.

Burdock root

Dandelion root

Ginger root

Hops (go light on the hops it’s pretty strong and can easily overwhelm the other flavors)

Juniper berries

Prickly Ash bark

Spicewood

Spikenard root

Wild Cherry bark

Yellow Dock, Yellow Dock root

Stick Cinnamon

Licorice root

Star Anise

Vanilla bean

Coriander seed

Step #2 Add a few handfuls of raisins to 5 gallons of cold water and bring to a boil. Add the herbs, roots and spices, just like making a tea. Then immediately reduce the heat and simmer for the next twenty minutes or so.

I find it a lot easier to wrap the herbs and roots in a pre-boiled large undyed cotton bag rather than placing them directly to the boiling water. This makes the next step, (filtration), much easier.

Do not continue to boil the water after you’ve added the root/herb mixture or it’ll taste like tree bark!!!!

Step #3 Filter the mixture into a second container. You can accomplish this by pouring the mixture through a several layers of boiled cheese cloth or boiled flannel placed in the bottom a large sieve. As an alternate method, you can just use a standard coffee filter and a lot of patience.

Do not skip this step. If you have particulate matter in your root beer, the finished product will erupt from the bottle. When I opened a bottle once, the resulting geyser splashed against a twelve-foot high ceiling.

Step #4 Dissolve 4 pounds of cane sugar into the tea. Substitute brown sugar, molasses, malt and/or honey for part or all of the cane sugar.

Be sure NOT to use honey as only sweetener. Honey ferments very slowly and you probably don’t want to wait the months it will take to drink your finished product (See the “Drink Mead” article in Slingshot issue #69).

Step #5 Wait until the tea has become lukewarm, (about the temperature of a nice but not too hot bath). Dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup of lukewarm water, then stir and let sit for a few minutes. Add this yeast mixture to your root beer tea and mix thoroughly. You can use bread yeast, but the yeast greatly effects the final flavor so my suggestion is that you experiment with the many different brewing yeasts available.

Most ale yeasts ferment fairly quickly and become inactive once your root beer is refrigerated (no exploding bottles). Champagne yeast works slower, but the bubbles are also smaller and produces a fizzier brew . However, champagne yeast, (as well as bread and lager yeasts), continue to work even after refrigeration. So you don’t want to leave the bottles in the refrigerator for three months if you’re using these yeasts.

Step #6 Cover the container and wait for at least a day. The yeast will start eating the sugar and huge amounts of carbonation and foam will result and then subside. After the foaming subsides, is time to bottle.

The resulting beverage will contain between 2% and 5% alcohol. If you don’t want to consume alcohol or are just in hurry to drink this, you can skip this initial fermentation and proceed directly to bottling. While there will still be alcohol in the finished product, it will be a very minimal amount (less than 1%). Most people’s bodies metabolize alcohol so quickly that you’d have to drink a gallon at once in order to feel any affect..

Step #7 Bottle it. You can buy a bottle-capper and caps from your local brew supply store and recycled glass bottles that don’t have twist-off tops. As an alternative, you can use plastic screw-top bottles. Plastic screw top bottles are an increasingly popular choice because they minimize the potential of exploding bottles. However, recycled plastic bottles will always retain some of the flavor of their original contents, they don’t get as clean as glass, and there are limited number of times you can reuse the plastic bottles.

If you’re one of those non-alcoholic folks that skipped step #6, I suggest you bottle your brew with the plastic instead of glass bottles. Your brew will ferment in the bottles much faster than the alcoholic stuff and give the nasty bacteria less time to to reproduce and dominate your brew and there will be a much higher possibility of exploding bottles. (Once, I forgot that the root beer I was brewing was supposed to be non-alcoholic and left the brew outside for three weeks. Almost all of the glass bottles and the top of the picnic cooler they were stored in exploded. An incredibly sticky mess and I’m still finding shards of glass.)

Whether you using glass or plastic bottles, fill each bottle to within about 1 ½ to 2 inches from the top.

If you are planning to serve your root beer at a large party you might try fermenting your root beer into one of those stainless steel beer kegs instead of bottling it. I’ve never tried this method, but it should work.

Step #8 Place the bottles on their side in a cool dry place. This should take approximately two to three weeks for the standard root beer and two to four days for the N/A, (if you’re using the plastic bottles, the sides of the bottle should feel hard after a forceful squeeze), and refrigerate for twelve hours. If the drink is not bubbly enough, simply let the remaining brew stay outside until it is.

Step #9 Now, you can’t drink all 5 gallons of root beer by yourself. So, throw a big party!

Seeking nominations for the 2009 Golden Wingnut Award!

Slingshot will award its fourth annual Award for Lifetime Achievement (the Golden Wingnut) at its 21th birthday party on Friday, March 13 at 3124 Shattuck in Berkeley (8 pm). The winner will have their biography featured in our next issue, and will receive a wingnut trophy and wingnut super-hero outfit. Slingshot created the Wingnut prize to recognize direct action radicals who have dedicated their lives to the struggle for alternatives to the current self-destructing system. Wingnut is the term some of us use to refer to folks who walk on the wild side of reality — rejecting social, political and economic norms while fighting for a different world. A wingnut is more than just another boring radical, and more than just a nutcase — he or she is a blend of the best parts of both.

We’re looking for nominations for the 2009 prize. An individual has to be currently alive and must have at least 25 years of service to get the award. Please send your nominations by 5 p.m. on March 1 along with why a particular person should be awarded the wingnut title for 2009 to 3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA 94705 or slingshot@tao.ca.

Rabble Calendar

FEBRUARY

February 21 • 7:30

Justice for the SF8! Black Panthers Fight Government Persecution . . . . Again. Panel & Video. 625 Larkin Street, Suite 202, SF $3

February 21 • 11 am

Know Your Rights Training by Copwatch 2022 Blake Street Berkeley

MARCH

March 7

4th Annual Anarchists Bookfair Liberty Hall Dublin, Ireland

March 8

International Women’s Day

March 8 • 4 pm

Slingshot new volunteer meeting – 3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley

March 13 • 8 pm

Slingshot’s 21st birthday party – music, food, free. 3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley

March 13 • 7 – 10

Anarchist Café Open Mic Martin de Porres, 225 Potrero Ave. (Between 15th and 16th Street) San Francisco donation $0-$20 (Close to 9,22, and 33 bus lines, closest BART 16th/Mission, followed by 15 min.

walk or 22 bus down 16th St.)

March 14 – 15

San Francisco Anarchist Book Faire – San Francisco County Fair Building, 9th & Lincoln

March 15 • 10 am – 6 pm

Berkeley Anarchist Students of Theory and Research & Development (BASTARD) conference. UC Berkeley sfbay-anarchists.org

March 27 • 6 pm

San Francisco Critical Mass bike ride (last Friday each month) Justin Herman Plaza

March 27 – 29

City from Below conference. Baltimore, MD illvox.org (See page 19)

APRIL

April 1

Fossil Fool’s Day – organize an action in your area or check wwww.fossilfoolsday.org

April 3

Zagreb Anarchist book fair

April 11 • 3 pm

Article deadline for Slingshot issue #100

April 11 -12

New York anarchist Book faire –55 Washington Square South, Manhattan

April 24-26

Finding our Roots Anarchist conference – Loyolla University, Chicago, IL

April 18-26

People’s park 40th anniversary weeklong events culminating in a concert on the 26th

MAY

May 1

International Worker’s day – Chicago Anarchist Film Festival around this date

May 2-3

Anarchist Movement Conference London

May 16 -17

Montreal Anarchist Bookfair – CEDA center Montreal, Canada www.anarchistbookfair.ca

AND SO ON

June 11-14

Reuniting, Recreating & Relocalizing 2009 healthcare justice conference Renick, West Virginia www.peacecommunities.org/reuniting

June 24-28

Anarchist Ideas in Russia Conference St. Petersburg (Birth place of Mikhail Bakunin)

June 10-15

Idapalooza Queer Music Festival Tennessee

June 11-13

Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, Penn. Convention Center

July

Protest the 35th annual G8 summit Maddelena, Italy

ON-LINE EDITION ONLY: Reappropriate the Imagination!

NOTE: this article not published in our paper edition due to space limitations – it is referenced on page 19.

(Note: This essay originally appeared in Realizing the Impossible: Art against Authority, edited by Josh MacPhee and Erik Reuland (AK Press, 2007). I’ve been meaning to republish it for months now, but finally found the perfect excuse: the “City from Below” conference in Baltimore (http://illvox.org/2008/11/30/the-city-from-below-a-call-for-participation/). One of the “City from Below” organizers is CampBaltimore, which was used as a promising example in this essay, and this new project underscores the interplay between “reappropriating the imagination” and potentially reappropriating the material world of our lives and communities. So in hopes of encouraging creative thinking that’s also, in turn, a creative praxis of social transformation, now seems like a good time to circulate this piece and point people toward the “City from Below” call for participation–against the backdrop of a world that’s more than ever in need of repossessing from below.)

***

An art exhibit, albeit a small one, is always housed in the bathroom of a coffeehouse in my town. A recent display featured cardboard and paper haphazardly glued together, and adorned with the stenciled or hand-lettered words of classical anarchists such as Mikhail Bakunin and Errico Malatesta. The artist’s statement proclaimed, “I am not an artist”; the show offered only “cheap art,” with pieces priced at a few dollars. Undoubtedly the materials came from recycling bins or trash cans, and perhaps this artist-who-is-not-an-artist choose to look the quotes up in “low-tech” zines.

There is something heartwarming about finding anarchist slogans in the most unexpected of places. So much of the time, the principles that we anarchists hold dear are contradicted at every turn, never discussed, or just plain invisible. And thus seeing some antiquated anarchist writings scribbled on makeshift palettes in a public place, even a restroom, raised a smile of recognition.

But only for a moment; then despair set in. Why is anarchist art so often a parody of itself, predictable and uninteresting? Sure, everyone is capable of doing art, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is an artist. And yet it is generally perceived as wrong in anarchist circles that some people are or want to be artists, and others of us aren’t or don’t want to be. Beyond the issue of who makes works of art, why can’t art made by antiauthoritarians be provocative, thoughtful, innovative–and even composed of materials that can’t be found in a dumpster? More to the point, why do or should anarchists make art at all today, and what would we want art to be in the more egalitarian, nonhierarchical societies we dream of?

This I know: an anarchist aesthetic should never be boxed in by a cardboard imagination.

Pointing beyond the Present

The name of one radical puppetry collective, “Art and Revolution,” aptly captures the dilemma faced by contemporary anarchist artists. It simultaneously affirms that art can be political and that revolution should include beauty. Yet it also underscores the fine line between art as social critique and art as propaganda tool. Moreover, it obscures the question of an anarchist aesthetic outside various acts of rebellion. It is perhaps no coincidence at all, then, that Art and Revolution’s logo design echoes the oft-quoted Bertolt Brecht contention that “art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it”–with “ART,” in this collective’s case, literally depicted as the hammerhead.

Certainly, an art that self-reflectively engages with and thus illuminates today’s many crushing injustices is more necessary than ever. An art that also manages to engender beauty against the ugliness of the current social order is one of the few ways to point beyond the present, toward something that approximates a joyful existence for all.

But as capitalism intensifies its hold on social organization, not to mention our imaginations, efforts to turn art into an instrument of social change leave it all that much more open to simply mirroring reality rather than contesting or offering alternatives to it. And short of achieving even the imperfect horizontal experiments of places like Buenos Aires and Chiapas, much less replacing statecraft with confederated self-governments, attempts to make art into a community-supported public good remain trapped in the private sphere, however collectively we structure our efforts. Artistic expression is fettered by the present, from commodification to insidious new forms of hierarchy, and hence creativity is as estranged from itself as we are from each other.

Such alienation isn’t limited to the aesthetic arena, of course. But precisely because creative “freedom” appears to defy any logic of control–in “doing it yourself” (DIY), one is supposedly crafting a culture that seems to be utterly of, for, and by us–it is especially seductive as a space of resistance. Our aesthetic tools should be able to help us build new societies just as much as demolish the old, but our renovations will likely be forever askew when set on an already-damaged foundation. And no matter how shoddily constructed, they will always be sold out from under us to the highest bidder. Still, we have to be able to nail down something of the possibilities ahead.

Art at its best, then, should maintain the dual character of social critic and social visionary. For the role of the critic is to judge, to discern, not simply beauty but also truth, and the role of the utopian is to strive to implement such possible impossibilities. As Sadakichi Hartmann put it in a 1916 Blast article, radical artists should “carry the torn flag of beauty and liberty through the firing lines to summits far beyond the fighting crowds.”[1]

This is perhaps art’s greatest power, even when distorted by the present-day social order: the ability to envision the “not yet existent.”

The Temporary and the Trashed

Since the 1970s, a series of interconnected phenomena loosely drawn together by the term globalization have transformed the world. One of these changes is the rise of “global cities” as nodes of control, and over time, this has become embodied in the designed/built aesthetic environment.[2] In City of Quartz, Mike Davis wrote of the “fortress effect” behind a free-market maneuver in the aftermath of the 1960s to reoccupy abandoned (read: poor because abandoned by capital, whites, and so on) downtowns. New megastructure complexes of reflective glass rose up in city centers, hiding elite decision-makers and their “upscale, pseudo-public spaces” inside.[3] Several decades later, with global capitalism seemingly triumphant, brazenly transparent architecture is replacing secretive one-way windows. Just take a peek at the revitalized Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, Germany. Corporate office-apartment buildings of see-through glass reveal lavish interior designs, and are ringed by airy public plazas featuring cheerful sculptures, artsy ecological waterways, and multimedia installations.[4]

Since anarchists today are by and large neither city planners nor architects, nor those commissioned to produce public art, we’ve had to make do with temporary festivals of resistance decrying the environment that’s been built to constrain the majority of humanity. Such carnivals against capitalism have succeeded in fleetingly reclaiming everything from facades to landscapes to outdoor art. And in those moments, libertarian leftists have become impromptu designers of place. The preferred artistic medium here is flexibility, with a dab of anonymity. A large stick of chalk, a homemade stencil, or strips of cloth are easily concealed, and just as easily used to transform a sidewalk, wall, or fence into a canvas. In these and many other ways, anarchist artists set up the circus tent of a playful urban renewal, bringing glimpses of the pleasure in reworking social spaces together, of integrating form and content into the everyday-made-extraordinary by creative cultural expressions.

On the other hand, when we’ve actually expropriated or “freed” spaces, we seem to re-create an aesthetic of deterioration in those places already destroyed by state and capital, racism and fear, almost reveling in the rubble. The degradation foisted on the poor, the marginal, and the forgotten is gleefully picked up as some sort of pirate sensibility. All too often, capitalism’s trash is the blueprint for own trashed creations, as if artistic expressions modeled on a better, more visually pleasing world might just make us too comfortable to swashbuckle our way to revolution. Garbage, along with the shoplifted and the plagiarized, are all romanticized as somehow existing outside domination by anarchist artists who thoroughly inhabit a social structure (as does everyone) where the best of peoples’ cultures are tossed aside, stolen, or plagiarized for profit and power.[5]

Whether conceived as circus or chaos (or both), however, these types of civic artworks are as evanescent as the latest iPod updates; they merely frolic on built environments instead of collectively shaping them. Such artistic strategies are ultimately hollow, replicating the feeling of life under capitalism, whether one has material plenty or not. Instead of offering a challenge or a vision, both our joyful and joyless DIY art ends up parroting the bipolar “choices” that most people struggle against daily: the lure of the ephemeral, unattainable spectacle, or utter rejection in the debris of its excess. And yet this reopening of social space via creativity brings with it a sense of inclusiveness, of democratic places remade and consented to by all–or at least the potentiality thereof.

Art as social critic/visionary, when doggedly and imaginatively placed in the commodified (non)commons of today, just might play its part in moving us toward a noncommodified commons: what we share and enjoy together, in the open, always subject to use by all, subject only to directly democratic structures, and always the vigilant sentry of a better and better society.

It’s not that everyone needs to make art, nor should artists offer an aesthetic of revolt or a revolting aesthetic–that is, mere negation or else nihilism. That’s not what makes art revolutionary. It’s that everyone needs to routinely experience critical-utopian art as commons, commons as a critical-utopian art.

The Art of Value

To some degree, whether self-consciously or not, anarchists’ artistic impulses get to the heart of what makes capitalism so deplorable. “Value” is determined by how much one has and can continually exchange as well as accumulate, whether in the form of money, property, or especially control over others. We anarchists, and billions of non-anarchists, know that value can never be measured by piling quantity on top of more quantity; that how we live our lives, and especially how we treat each other and the nonhuman world, is what matters.

As a political philosophy, anarchism thus aspires to the ongoing project of balancing individual subjectivity and social freedom–the qualitative dimensions of life–knowing that both are essential to the potentiality of the other. As a practice, anarchism engages in prefigurative politics, from forms of cooperation to institutions of direct democracy. This is what makes and keeps us human, in the most generous sense. And such a project will be forever necessary, whether within, against, or beyond capitalism.[6]

One way that anarchists attempt to reclaim value is by carving out a cultural realm that allows everyone to participate, to be valued for what they can envision and/or create, and by redistributing the possibility of producing works of art through the use of affordable, accessible, indigenous materials. We use what’s at hand, often lend a hand to whoever wants to make art, and attempt to do this in ways that are multicultural and inclusive. In isolation from the other realms of life–economics and politics, the social and the personal–and embedded within structures of domination and forms of oppression, however, the cultural effort to revalue value frequently reproduces the social system we oppose.

Examples abound here, sad to say. Puppets are among the easiest of targets, primarily because they became the poster kids for anticapitalist mobilizations. Devising a cheap and collective manner to produce artistic expressions of resistance isn’t problematic per se; such creations have allowed us to prefigure a better life even as we protest present-day horrors. But when puppets all start looking alike, whether filling the streets of Seattle or Hong Kong; when they are mass produced from the same materials, in the same manner; when they are something eco-entrepreneurs can fund to both create the appearance of grassroots protest and turn radical notions into the most liberal of demands[7]–then we are developing our own factory forms of creativity. Those we mean to empower–the everyone-as-artist–become near-assembly-line workers. So even when the production is fun or done in an edgy warehouse space, the profound recognition (of self and society) that comes from the creative act is lost. Art and the artists become unthinking, cranking out copycat rip-offs of the latest political art trend.

The distribution and consumption of such works can become equally debased. At a convergence in Windsor, Canada, to challenge free trade agreements several years ago, a prominent puppetista angrily insisted that thousands of anticapitalists should pause their direct actions to watch her collective’s street theater. “We’re here to entertain you, and you need to stop and be entertained!”

It certainly isn’t enough to make sure that more and more people are cultural producers (or consumers of free art)–the anarchist version of DIY quantity piled on top of more DIY quantity, somehow adding up to a new society. Indeed, “the people” making art might mean that there is no art at all, for quantity can actually destroy quality. And without the qualitative dimension, there can be no appreciation of beauty or craft, or the self who crafted that beauty.

This Wal-Martization of resistance art–cheap, accessible, homogeneous, and everywhere–isn’t the only conundrum we face. It is as hard for us, “even” as anarchists, as it is for “ordinary” people to resist the hegemonic forces at work: those dominant types of organization and ways of thinking that become naturalized, and hence almost unquestioned in a given time period. Perhaps the only bulwark against internalizing and thereby reproducing the current hegemonies we rebel against is our ability to simultaneously think critically and act imaginatively. Indeed, this is where anarchism as a political philosophy excels: in its ongoing suspicion of all phenomena as possible forms of domination, and its concurrent belief in nonhierarchical social relations and organization. This ethical impulse–to live every day as a social critic and social visionary–certainly infuses anarchist rhetoric. It also underscores all those values that anarchists generally share: mutual aid, solidarity, voluntary association, and so on. But for even the most diligent among us, acting on these ethics is much trickier than holding them in our hearts or jotting them down in a mission statement.

A British anarchist historian recently asked me for a tour of Hope Cemetery in Barre, Vermont. In Barre’s heyday, at the turn of the twentieth century, socialists and anarchists worked in the granite industry, living and dying (often and too young) as those who made tombstones. These Italian immigrants built an anarchist library and later a labor hall, established a food co-op and art school, published newspapers such as Cronaca Sovversiva and hosted speakers like Big Bill Haywood, and rabble-roused. Yet more than anything, they sculpted their communal aesthetics into the hard gray stones dotting the cemetery, a lasting commons to the good works of these radicals. “Look at the artisanal quality of each and every gravestone,” to paraphrase my visitor. “This exemplifies the difference between the appeal of marxism and anarchism then. Factory workers could never see themselves in their work, but these stone carvers could recognize themselves in their designs; they could see their own potentiality.”

Such recognition is the first step toward valuing our world, toward knowing we can self-manage the whole of our lives. But it can only come when our artisanal efforts are part of crafting a social beauty. This, in turn, can only be defined in the process of doing-it-ourselves (DIO), where we don’t necessarily all produce art but we do all substantially participate in engaging with, debating, judging, and determining the place(s) of creative expression.[8] The qualitative would be that realm of social criticism and pleasure that comes in the full recognition of free selves within a free society.

Working at Cross-Purposes

The creative act–the arduous task of seeing something other than the space of capitalism, statism, the gender binary, racism, and other rooms without a view–is the hope we can offer to the world. Such aesthetic expressions must also aim to denaturalize the present, though. And this dual “gesturing at and beyond” will only be possible if we continually interrogate this historical moment, and whether our artworks are working against the grain within that context.

For the pull of the cultural industry is strong. No matter how subversive and cutting edge we might remain in our creative works, global capitalism is always ready to recuperate our every innovation. Our rebellious ad busting has become indistinguishable from advertisements employing rebellion-as-sales-pitch. For instance, just after Seattle 1999, an ad featured protesters running in their Nike sneakers from tear gas and police, with the familiar “just do it” tagline; yet it was unclear whether this image was the brainchild of Nike or activists–and either way, it didn’t matter. It sold a lifestyle; it mocked a movement.

Creative work and/or processes of collective art-making without an explicit politics that integrally and forever vigilantly incorporates critical thinking into its practice will almost necessarily, especially under the current conditions, become part of the problem. Some of this will be clear, as when our freely traded handmade patches become the inspiration for prefabricated “made-in-China” clothing in pricey boutiques. The less-obvious manifestations are more troubling: when the DIY sensibility itself, so key to anarchist artistic creations, slowly but surely ingratiates itself into multiple mainstream commodities, from Home Depot’s “You Can Do It” to the new Oreo kits that allow the consumer to “make” their own, with cookie tops and cream separated.

The flow, of course, doesn’t simply go in one direction. As “products” of the dominant culture, we also are influenced before we ever cut a stencil or edit a video. Without constant awareness, we almost unwittingly take up the project of this society of control, with its fragmentation, insecurity, and shallow infotainment. Social isolation is mirrored by an anarchist art that asserts its anonymity, where we willingly erase our own subjectivity, and its temporariness and flexibility, where we willingly give up accountability and connectedness. The contemporary state’s evisceration of human and civil rights, with its move from “the rule of law” toward “the rule of lawlessness,” is reflected in an aesthetic that exalts in its own outlaw status. The art of cartography allows radicals to map out the constant fear of being watched by, in turn, surveilling others. And much of what antiauthoritarian artists produce replicates the culture of distraction that keeps people from acting and thinking for themselves–such as documentaries without a narrative, or screen prints that reduce social conflict to “us” versus “them.”

The artist-as-social-visionary has to peer hard to separate potentiality from peril right now. As autonomist Marxist Harry Cleaver commented in 1992 in relation to anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin’s method, “He had to seek out and identify, at every level, from the local workshop and industry to the global organization of the economy, signs of the forces of cooperation and mutual aid working at cross-purposes to the capitalist tendencies to divide all against all.” Then and now, such cross-purposes are what gesture at “the future in the present,” to again cite Cleaver, but discerning them isn’t easy.[9]

Providing the Keys to Closed Doors

The artist-as-social-critic doesn’t have to search far for subject matter these days, and yet many people seem to be “pushing against an open door,” to borrow from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s formulation in Empire. That is, the social ills we’re contesting have long since been superseded by even more horrific phenomena. As Hardt and Negri argue, we’ve been “outflanked by strategies of power.”[10] Our countermove, then, must be based on imminent critique, working through the internal logic of what we’re scrutinizing toward its own undoing and alternative potentialities. It must be a critique of the “real by the possible,” as philosopher Henri Lefebvre asserted in 1958.[11]

One theme picked up and challenged by radical artists over a century ago was fragmentation, an emergent concern in their day. Now, social atomization is a fact of everyday life, and more frighteningly, is accepted and even celebrated. Contemporary artwork that portrays fragmentation only serves to mimic rather than decry our societal “breaking apart,” precisely because the damage has already been done. So here comes one task for art: to depict resistance not to fragmentation per se, for mere description has lost all power of critique, but to illustrate how social acquiescence to it has become a valued commodity.

This ties into a related issue: alienation. Building on Karl Marx’s work, avant-garde artists and intellectuals long ago moved the critique of alienation from (only) the realm of production to that of consumption, culminating most famously in the Situationist International’s critique of everyday life and assertion of “all power to the imagination.” Life had become a spectacle, with us as its passive spectators.[12] Today, this estrangement has gone one step further in a globalizing cyber-society, where people eagerly join the spectacle as active actors in the vain hope of feeling life again–through such things as reality television, hot dog-eating contests, and pieing prominent individuals–only to participate more thoroughly in their own removal from the world. And thus here’s another aim for art: to capture the new forms of alienation that appear as active engagement, but that ultimately sap the very life out of us all.

A third area worthy of artistic scrutiny is what geographer David Harvey has called “time-space compression,” pointing to “processes that so revolutionize the objective qualities of space and time that we are forced to alter, sometimes in quite radical ways, how we represent the world to ourselves.”[13] Under globalization, temporality has become an ever-accelerating, just-in-time, simultaneous phenomenon, and spatial barriers have shrunk or even been overcome altogether. Yet anarchist art often still harkens back to a nostalgic time-space of “before,” clinging to archaic forms and/or content–the pastoral black-and-white woodcut, say. Here’s an additional artistic aspiration, then: to interrogate the dizzying “no-time” and displacing “no-place” of our present virtual reality and real virtuality.

This dovetails with the dilemmas raised by high technologies and excessive consumption/waste. During the industrial era, artists such as filmmaker Charlie Chaplin showed the “little guy” being dragged through the gears of Modern Times, yet in our informational age, the computer now bypasses the cog as emblematic, and the “programmer guy” is pulled into The Matrix. Moreover, the new forms of production made possible by digital technologies have filled houses with kitsch, dumpsters with food, and big-box stores with clerks. One anarchist answer to technological/production shifts has frequently been to use garbage as art material–a decades-old artistic choice that has lost any bite (especially since most commodities are now junk to begin with), but more crucially is unfeeling in light of the millions who are forced to use garbage as architectural (and often eatable) material. Or else to supposedly avoid high tech–conveniently forgetting that nearly all commodities involve communications technologies in their design, production, distribution, and/or disposal. The task for artists here is to separate the wheat from the chaff: to critique the ways in which new types of technologies/production help facilitate, versus potentially diminishing, pointless excess or new methods of exploitation as well as time-space compression, alienation, fragmentation, and of course top-down power.[14]

Which brings us to the question of maintaining power, or sovereignty: the possession of supreme authority. Wars, revolutions, and “peacetime” are all essentially waged in the name of seizing this ultimate power (with anarchists hoping to redistribute it horizontally), but the ongoing consolidation of sovereignty is where much of the terror is often done. An increasingly uneven balance of power is held in place today by nation-states inculcating a particular blend of fear, despair, paranoia, and hate, and if all else fails, returning once again to “improved” forms of torture as a last resort. Anarchist art frequently just pokes fun at anxieties, depicts its own hatreds and paranoia, or worse, lapses into portraying the ways that states retained control in the past–say, via a monopoly on violence (something that suicide bombings, 9-11, and other nonstatist acts of violence have shown to be false). Contemporary art should instead scrutinize and expose present-day mechanisms of power: how the mundane as well as the lovely–the bus to work, the toothpaste tube, or the nice new neighbor–are made into objects of anxiety-as-control; how explainable events become paranoiac fantasies of hate-as-control (the Muslim, the Jew, or the Mexican “is responsible”); and how one’s private spirituality, sexuality, or diet (indeed, one’s very personhood) become fair game as physical and psychological abuse in the faceless, nameless, hopeless Gitmoization of torture-as-control.

This list of aesthetic concerns could stretch out further, but let me wrap up with an area that art, from the start, has always tried to capture: remembrance. From bison hunts to biblical stories, from victories in battles or revolutions, from socialist realist to fascist art, artists have attempted to memorialize the past as a means to sustain or shape the present. At its best, such creative recollections have attempted to make sense of the past and the present in order to contemplate a better future–especially in the face of hegemonic representations. Strikingly, however, the current moment is marked by a reversal of aeons of art history: forgetting. Call it the postmodern condition, or blame it on the speed of daily life or efforts to escape harsh realities, but history seems to get lost almost before it’s been made, and we’re left with a hodgepodge art of immediatism. Such ahistoricism erases the developmental logic of domination and hence our ability to contest it, but also that of the revolutionary tradition and hence our capacity to nurture it, thereby helping to “disappear” hope. The artistic imperative here is simple: struggle against memory loss, including our own.

The above themes may seem amorphous; worse, they may appear to be completely removed from the many pressing, often life-and-death issues people face–the numerous “isms” that most of us battle, from racism to heterosexism to anti-Semitism, and sadly on and on. But it is through such concerns that, for instance, racism operates in specific ways right now, and can therefore be illustrated and potentially fought. Today’s form of fragmentation, for example, has turned many toward fundamentalisms–Islam, Judaism, or Christianity–as a means to regain community, often at the expense of women, queers, and indeed anyone dubbed as the transgressive other. Fear has an object, and in the contemporary United States that is frequently the young black male and the bearded Middle Eastern man. Spatial displacement brutally creates refugees, who then become targets of hate. You get the picture. Rather, you can paint, print, or perform the picture.

Lest I seem to be blaming artists for an inegalitarian world, or minimally for not doing enough to challenge it through their work, let me reiterate: I desire to encourage shifts in cultural production and cultural producers in order that both can contribute to the project of ever-freer societies. There are valid reasons for artistic choices–say, whether to sign a work or not–but all too often such choices seem already circumscribed or shaped by today’s social ills. Art should instead aim to turn the tables: this miserable historical moment could be the raw material for artists to give shape to choices of our own construction–ones that might circumscribe domination.

As an anarchist whose creativity comes through the act of writing, I know all too well that penning words or printing a poster both become damaged in the context of a damaged world. And the world seems increasingly damaged at present. A lithographer friend recently told me, “I’m not making art right now, because I don’t want to produce work that’s nihilistic, and that’s all I can feel these days.” Despite these counterrevolutionary times, though, we must all try to work through our own fears and despair, in ways that allow our imaginations to run utopian. My hope is to instill hope in others by claiming that it is through our continual ability, together and alone, to understand and resist the emergent global order with clear eyes, and envision and prefigure humane alternatives with even clearer eyes, that we might just win.

Collectively Gesturing toward Utopia

So how might we begin to clamber out of our boxed-in existence, precisely in order to “win,” knowing that there will never be a final victory but simply better approximations of fundamentally transformed social relations?

One starting point might come from Emma Goldman, who in 1914 observed that modern art should be “the dynamite which undermines superstition, shakes the social pillars, and prepares men and women [sic] for the reconstruction.”[15] Another might be found with anarchist artist Clifford Harper, who noted of his 1974 “utopian images” posters: “they depict an existence that is immediately approachable.”[16] And yet another is hinted at by libertarian left social theorist Murray Bookchin, who in 2004, reflecting on his imminent death, wrote, “To live without a social romance is to see without color. Imagine what life would be like in black and white, without being able to hear–to be deaf to music. Step by step our potentialities like hearing became organized sound, and the Marseillaise was born.”[17]

Other points of departure come from on-the-ground experimentation by contemporary artists, some anarchists and others not, that grapple with some of the concerns mentioned above. Such as provocateur street artist Banksy, who despite his growing fame and fortune, still manages to question how present-day sovereigns maintain their control. Whether painting giant windows to a better world on the separation wall being erected by the Israel government, or placing a life-size figure dressed in Guantanamo Bay orange within the scenery of a Disneyland ride, Banksy serves to startle, to act as a vigilant public eye. Moreover, he asks people to “imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal. . . . A city that felt like a living breathing thing which belonged to everybody, not just the real estate agents and the barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall–it’s wet.”[18]

Another example comes from installation artists Esther Shalev-Gerz and Jochen Gerz’s attempt to deal with “‘forgetting’ in a place of ‘remembering,’ and thus establish, through the act of public participation, each person’s memory.” In 1986, they erected a twelve-meter-high lead column in a town square in Hamburg, Germany, and “invited passers-by to write their name on its surface.” It became a “community board without restriction,” and “mimicked the process of an ideal democracy–a public space open to unrestricted thought . . . and all-encompassing dialogue.” Over seven years, which included the fall of the Berlin wall, the column was slowly lowered into the ground as sections filled up. A debate ensued during that time over public space/art, and especially the Nazi past and neo-Nazi present. But as this disappearing “countermonument” was also meant to illustrate, “in the long run,” according to Shalev-Gerz, “it is only we ourselves who can stand up against injustice.”[19]

To my mind, the best efforts are the ones that focus as much on horizontal social organization as on aesthetic questions, thereby highlighting the DIO art-as-commons dimension of anarchism that, again to my mind, really does distinguish an antiauthoritarian art. Novelist Ursula Le Guin, for one, imagined a utopia where museums might function like libraries. The Internet now facilitates open-source, interactive electronic museums. Other inklings of this can be found in those creative projects that play with, and work at, the notion of communal control of our now-privatized spaces and prefigure directly democratic, confederated social structures.

One compelling case study is the United Victorian Workers, Local 518, organized in late November 2005 by an artist/activist collective as a counterpoint to the Victorian Stroll in Troy, New York. The “official” stroll is a privately funded annual event designed to lure holiday shoppers to the “historic streets of downtown” by creating a “magical stage” peopled by the Victorian upper crust; the “unofficial” version “gave a presence to those whose labor built the city by dressing in Victorian-era working-class apparel and performing a period-inspired strike during the event.”[20] Many of the bystanders as well as the participants, though, couldn’t tell the difference, and the full history of nineteenth-century Troy was reinserted into the public imagination. As one of the artists involved with this project remarked, “It was a collective intervention into public memory and Christmas shopping.”[21] Certainly, “by making visible the class and labor struggles of the era,” this interventionist art piece “obliquely points out the city’s motives to present a selective history conducive to consumption,” as Shopdropping observed.[22] But it also cleverly and clearly transforms the “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” of protest moments into a tangible lesson played out in the actual historical space–potentially sparking civic dialogue and action around contemporary injustice.

In a much more expansive effort in April 2001, the three-day Department of Space and Land Reclamation campaign involved sixty mostly illegal reclaimings of public space in Chicago, thereby explicitly linking artistic expression to vibrant conversations and decentralized self-management in the city’s many distinct neighborhoods. As the weekend’s catalog noted, “Artists/activists/radical citizens have once again found common ground” in multiple practices that “all resist the encroachment of top-down centralized control and private capital. Projects of reclamation situate the producer at a critical intersection of power.” A central headquarters, open around-the-clock during the campaign, was designed “to connect various practitioners of reclamation as well as initiate a critical dialogue about the building of a radical aesthetic/arts movement in Chicago and beyond.”[23]

And in one final example, in summer 2006, CampBaltimore, in a surprising collaboration with the Contemporary Museum of Baltimore, encouraged people to debate urban design through the lens of social justice while building a network to transform art and society.[24] According to anarchist Mike McGuire, who participated in the project, CampBaltimore built “a trailer that could serve as a mobile convergence center,” which included “a small infoshop, a place from which to serve meals, a mobile sewing workshop, and a place to do film screenings” within neighborhoods. Another part involved “Headquarters: Investigating the Creation of the Ghetto and the Prison-Industrial Complex,” housed in the museum. Here, “blurring the lines between the practices of artists and activists,” the museum also became “an infoshop and center of operations: a platform for activities that investigate Baltimore’s program of uneven urbanism and a site to mobilize for local and global struggles.”[25] “It’s not like a traditional model of political activism or artistic models of political activism. It’s both–and [it's] trying to offer an alternative way, seeing other ways, . . . grappling with the evaporation of public spaces in the city and the privatization of everything,” explained museum artist-in-residence Gabri.[26] Rather than art on the walls, then, “Headquarters” featured short videos documenting grassroots struggles in Baltimore, a dry-erase map of the city that people could write on, a flowchart outlining socioeconomic interconnections, a mini library, and a meeting space, among other things. The trailer and museum became platforms for people to think and converse about their city–and hopefully change it.

In these instances and others, there is a sense of attempting to engage with the complexities of the present, and via a process of art-as-dialogue, working together to both critique and reconstruct our lived public places. Such imaginative projects indicate that centrally planned forms–whether capitalist, fascist, or socialist–cannot build a dailyscape that speaks to who we are and want to be. And that there also needs to be an integration–or reintegration in many cases–of what is now seen as art into those things now viewed as either material necessities, functional, or infrastructure. Mostly, though, they gesture, hopefully and often joyfully, at a time-space of “after.”

What would such a time-space beyond hierarchy, domination, and exploitation look like, and what of an anarchist art then? That is something we need to dream up together, through our various acts of imagining, debating, fighting for, and deciding on that ever-dynamic time-space.

In the meantime, in this present awful time-space, I dream of art that agitates even as it unmasks injustices; that educates even as it inspires; that organizes even as it models self-governance. That surprises and provokes, sometimes upsetting a few carts in the process, and that isn’t identifiable as anarchist art by its look but instead by its sensibility. I long for a nonhierarchical aesthetic that isn’t afraid of instituting imagination as a public good, which can also stand up to public involvement and interrogation as well as directly democratic decision-making. That has an unending commitment to the notion that through creative expression, humans achieve a qualitative self- and social recognition that can, by breaking through the alienation we experience today, point toward self-determined social relations–not wealth or fame, but knowing that we are fully seen by and see others, “warts and all,” as we shape a world of beauty together, all the while defining “beauty” by what upholds values such as cooperation, dignity, love, freedom, and other anarchistic ethics.

To hell with cardboard! Let’s utilize whatever artistic mediums are necessary, toward endless, plastic possibilities in societies of our own, ongoing collective creation. That would be beautiful, indeed.

Cindy is an Institute for Anarchist Studies board member, co-organizer of the annual Renewing the Anarchist Tradition conference, and a collective member of Black Sheep Books in Montpelier, VT. She’s also currently involved in helping to organize the Celebrate People’s History and Build Popular Power bloc for January 20, 2009 (http://www.hopefrompeople.com) and is attempting to write again, though happy to be distracted by invites to do public speaking. Cindy can be reached at cbmilstein@yahoo.com.

Notes

[1] Sadakichi Hartmann, “Art and Revolt,” Blast 1, no. 22 (December 1, 1916), 3; repr., The Blast, ed. Alexander Berkman, intro. Barry Pateman (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2005), 181.

[2] The term “global city” was first coined in Saskia Sassen, The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991).

[3] Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (London: Verso, 1990), 226, 229.

[4] Of course, this may all change again, given the global economic crises of 2008 and likely beyond.

[5] Obviously, many artists use free or discarded materials because they don’t have the financial resources to buy art supplies, and hence their aesthetic can simply be chalked up to a lack of means. But also prevalent among anarchist artists is the notion that trash is valueless from the standpoint of capitalism, and so by utilizing such material, one is creating something of noncapitalist value. Or at least throwing capitalism’s excess in its face as some sort of incriminating evidence. This reduces capitalism to economics, though, and ignores Karl Marx’s great insight: that capital is first and foremost a social relation. Whether one uses expensive or free art supplies, the social organization behind them both remains the same. But of course, even on the level of economics, waste management is a multi-trillion dollar industry, utterly dependent on recycling and garbage. So whether you take a materialist or social theory perspective, a “cheap art” aesthetic is perfectly compatible with present-day forms of domination. Today’s junk can easily become (and has) tomorrow’s boutique item; society’s rejects (from punks to urban black youth) can become (and have) tomorrow’s formula for hipster culture.

[6] Contrast this to the project of anarchy qua primitivism, which is to somehow “forget” that we are imaginative, qualitative beings marked by our capacity for dialogue and hence reasoned actions, and instead “return” to passive receptacles foraging for our most basic needs, which seems to me exactly what capitalism and statecraft as forms of social organization strive to reduce us to. This is no digression: when we deny our very ability to think symbolically, the notion of art disappears too, not to mention us as humans along with it.

[7] As one example, some Vermont puppeteers, who certainly needed the money for their many unpaid political projects, were commissioned to produce a puppet show for the 2005 Montreal Climate Control Conference. Yet there were strings attached. The eco-capitalist who financed these puppets had his own agenda in mind: make the art look like a self-initiated activist protest, but keep the theme in line with his own reformist political point. (This isn’t to say that these particular artists, and others like them, aren’t also able to subvert the eco-capitalist’s goal to some degree.)

[8] As Erik Reuland noted in editing this essay, “Many people would also argue that the whole definition of art should be exploded, and many things traditionally considered crafts or trades could be viewed–and invested with the same value–as artistic practices. They’re not necessarily asserting that everyone can and should draw, write songs, and so on.” Such a debate is complex, but at the risk of overgeneralizing for my present purposes, the notion that art’s definition should encompass much more, and many more people could thus be considered artists, seems often to water down what we mean by art and artists as to make both unrecognizable. Why does this matter? Precisely because of the concern articulated here about the recognition of ourselves and each other as profoundly individuated humans, with wonderfully differing artistic and nonartistic things we might choose to excel in, embedded in a profoundly articulated community of our own ongoing self-determination.

[9] Harry Cleaver, “Post-Marxist Anarchism: Kropotkin, Self-Valorization, and the Crisis of Marxism,” 1997 extended essay (available from AK Press), 5, 8 (emphasis added).

[10] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 138.

[11] Henri Lefebvre, foreword to Critique de la vie quotidienne, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1958), 16; cited in Richard Gombin, The Origins of Modern Leftism (1975; repr., Baltimore, MD: Insubordinate Editions), 47.

[12] See, for example, Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (1967; repr., Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2006); Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967; repr., London: Rebel Press, 2001). For more on the Situationist International along with some downloadable texts, see http://www.bopsecrets.org/index.shtml.

[13] David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1990), 240.

[14] Josh MacPhee offered the following comment while editing this essay: “The trouble is that Modern Times is a better movie than The Matrix!” I agree. And given that it’s perhaps harder than ever to make artwork that isn’t degraded from the start, Josh asks, “What is an artist to do, simply accept that degradation? Is not the woodcut a harkening to a time when craft mattered, and therefore a rejection of the made-in-China [or made-in-the-USA] aesthetics?” Sure. But what Josh and I are both getting at is this, to quote him again: It is “no longer about what we do (with capitalist globalization, everyone has access to everything, so skateboarding, noise music, tall bikes, and silk screening become fodder for Coke ads) but how we do it. This is a deceptively simple idea, but it can be easily misunderstood. It does not mean that there is a ‘correct’ way to do things (that is, a way to move into a neighborhood and not gentrify); we are still beholden to the larger systems we exist in. But it does mean that the ethics of how we do things matters, for the very reason that they are at the core of the new world we are trying to build.” I appreciate the dialogue Josh and Erik added to this essay in the editing process–a good example of “how we do it.”

[15] Emma Goldman, foreword to The Social Significance of the Modern Drama

(Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1914), available at http://sunsite3.berkeley.edu/Goldman/Writings/Drama/foreword.html.

[16] See http://www.infoshop.org/wiki/index.php/Clifford_Harper.

[17] Murray Bookchin, “The Twilight Comes Early,” November 2004, available at http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bookchin/twilight.html.

[18] See http://www.banksy.co.uk/outdoors/tramp.html.

[19] See http://www.shalev-gerz.net/ENG/index_eng.html; http://www.thephotographyinstitute.org/journals/1998/shalev_gerz.html.

[20] For more on the official Troy Victorian Stroll, see http://www.troyvictorianstroll.com/about/index.cfm. For the unofficial version, see the “Action” section under the “Projects” header at http://www.daragreenwald.com/.

[21] E-mail to the author, October 19, 2006.

[22] See http://www.rpi.edu/~scarfa/portfolio/project-pages/victorian-stroll.htm.

[23] See http://www.counterproductiveindustries.com/dslr/dslrIdeas.html.

[24] See http://www.campbaltimore.org.

[25] See http://www.contemporary.org/past_2006_04.html.

[26] Quoted in Bret McCabe, “Unite and Conquer,” City Paper, July 12, 2006, available at http://www.citypaper.com/news/story.asp?id=12015.

ON-LINE EDITION ONLY: “The Good Gazelle”

A great achievement! A small group of gazelle in central Africa became self aware and began passing the trait to their offspring. A method was developed that allowed for the “awakening” of other gazelle, the phenomenon swept across the plain. The method was not perfect; some gazelle did not take to the awakening. After becoming self aware some Gazelle experienced what was called “awakening sickness” the predominate symptoms of the sickness included depression and a sometimes violent resistance to the new life style. Typically the symptoms did not extend beyond the first generation.

It wasn’t long before the Gazelle discovered the knowledge of good and evil through the depth of emotion that accompanies awareness. The pain of losing loved ones was overwhelming and undoubtedly evil, the joy of new life, exhilarating and surely good. As self aware creatures the Gazelle knew it was their calling to destroy evil so Good could be allowed to grow. A method was developed to eliminate the evil predatory animals of the African plains for they caused much pain and suffering. The bravest and strongest Gazelle were enlisted into the Service of Good. Many Gazelle lost there lives in what came to be called the Forty Year War Against Evil. The method for coaxing the alligators out of the rivers was particularly costly, but the wise council members deemed a Greater Good necessary to continue the annual migration to ungrazed pasture. The war was won and the celebration was enormous. Those who gave their lives in the line of duty were honored on an annual basis. Gazelle were free to roam wherever they pleased and Good was able to thrive. For decades Gazelle continued to increase in numbers along with all grazing animals. The annual mass migration was a yearly success, losing only small numbers of Gazelle to old age and minor accidents.

After decades of exponential population increase and success it was noticed that less and less grassland was available for grazing and the growth of Good was beginning to plateau. After some research it was the council discovered the grasslands to the north and south did not have enough time for regrowth between migrations. For the time being the Gazelle could not see the source of this new evil. Each year less and less grassland was available to the Gazelle. It wasn’t long before the Gazelle started to die from starvation and evil once again reigned in the prairie. A meeting was held with all council members. After long deliberation the source of the evil was unveiled. Gazelle were dieing because the other grazing animals were eating too much of the Gazelle’s grass. It was understood by the council that all “unaware” grazing animals were evil, for it was they who were consuming the grass and causing Good Gazelle to starve. The methods of the 40 Year War Against Evil were once again implemented and their unprecedented success was surely validation of the Good they were doing. It became known as the One Year War of Good. The Gazelle were amazed at how ignorant they had been in the past. They had allowed evil to grow and thrive in their very presence, surely that mistake would never again be allowed to happen. Now that all evil had been eliminated the grass began to grow once again and a seemingly unlimited supply of grassland was available to the Gazelle. At first the annual migration was not even necessary. The Gazelle once again began to multiply and Good was able to grow. Peace and harmony ruled the plains.

After a few years the Gazelle had grazed off the plain to the south and were forced to continue their annual migration to the north in order to allow the grassland to the south time to regrow. Over the next many years Good reigned and the Gazelle population continued to grow. The annual migration line extended as far as the eye could see.

At first only the keenly observant noticed upon return from the north that the grassland in the south was thinner with each year’s passing, but it wasn’t long before the bellies of the less than observant began to grumble. The Gazelle demanded answers. Had evil returned’ From what source’ The council met regularly but could not discover the source of evil. It was decided that to discuss such matters might strengthen evil and was itself evil; from that point no Gazelle could speak of the thinning grasslands without being deemed a source of evil and removed. The annual migration continued and the grassland to the north began to thin equally, but it was not discussed. Gazelle began to starve and die. The migration continued and the situation became desperate. Like always, when the land to the south began to thin the migration began. It had been the shortest grazing in the south yet and the migration began early.

The council members who were elected to lead the group set off. The line of Gazelle extended for 100s of miles. It was quickly noticed that the grass along the northern route was the thinnest it had ever been. When they arrived in the northern grassland they were only allowed to stay for a short time before the thinning grass forced them to begin on the southern route. Bellies were growling but had they eaten their fill the Gazelle at the end of the line would get nothing. Everyone was hungry. The leading group made the journey south eating as little grass a possible knowing that Good would provide a full plain of grass once they returned to the southern pasture.

Their bellies empty and their legs weak the leading Gazelle struggled to climb the final hill anxious to see the miles of green on the other side. When they reached the top of the hill they fully understood the source of evil. A large group of ghastly looking Gazelle, surely evil, had grazed off the southern pasture. Not a single blade of grass was anywhere in sight. Before they were seen the Gazelle who led the migration devised a plan very similar to the methods used in the 40 Year War Against Evil and the One Year War of Good. With what strength was left in them the leading members lashed out at the evil creatures and cut them down without mercy. The evil Gazelle were destroyed in one fell swoop. But there were more Gazelle, in fact, many more. The slaughter continued. Good would surely triumph for the evil Gazelle were putting up little to no resistance, many falling with a single blow, some with feeble attempts at self defense. Suddenly the sobering shriek of a fawn stayed the hand of the attack and a blanket of silence covered the scene like a still morning fog. Out of breath and sobbing the fawn’s shriek became words “the end of the line has not yet left on the annual migration, we have grazed off the southern pasture and are starving. You have come back to take our place in line. You are the EVIL!”

ON-LINE EDITION ONLY: Good fences make for bad neighborhoods

When I was growing up in the 1970s, my family knew our neighbors on both sides of us. I grew up in an older urban neighborhood where the houses were so close you could almost touch them when standing in between. An elderly woman, Mrs. Maxwell, lived on one side. She stands out in my mind for her blue and pink hyacinths and her infinite patience in returning the ball we seemed to constantly hit into her yard. On the other side were the Carlsons, a kindly older couple who became my adopted grandparents because my own grandparents lived so far away. I got to know them from playing in the back yard and talking with them when they came outside. Working in their garden while I was on the swing set might lead to a conversation about the curiosity of daffodils or bumblebees. If I was lucky, Grandmother Carlson would see me playing in the back yard and invite me over for a cookie or to keep her company while she sewed.

Most back yards were separated by 4′ tall wire fences. They were see-through and easily leaned over. Occasionally, a wealthy neighbor might install a wooden picket fence, but they were still never more than 4′ tall. The purpose of the fence in those days seemed to be merely to define boundaries. The fence told us where to plant our flower beds, but it didn’t prevent us from passing the time with our neighbors or exchanging the latest local or family news. We could see over the fences, notice when our neighbors were out working and visit with them, offer to help them on whatever project they were engaged in, or get into a conversation that might lead to trading flower bulbs or tomatoes. Some back yards weren’t even separated by fences. A row of scattered honeysuckle bushes or a berm was often enough to distinguish property boundaries. Everyone knew how far over to plant their gardens, but these vegetative boundaries were porous enough to easily allow kids to pass through for a game of chase or adults to borrow a ladder or for a quick chat.

In the 1980s, I started to notice a disturbing trend: the 6′ tall wooden fence. These urban barricades were the new status symbol. First appearing in wealthy neighborhoods, the fences sent a definite message: Stay away and leave me alone. No longer was it possible to exchange a casual greeting when both neighbors were working in their yards at the same time. Interaction had to be intentional or planned, and took the extra effort that some people weren’t willing or weren’t confident enough to make. At first, only wealthy people could afford these expensive fences, and let’s face it, many wealthy folks’ houses were so far from their neighbors’ houses that they had to go out of their way to pass the time with them anyway. But as the 1990s stock market and real estate boom produced expendable incomes, the 6′ tall wooden fence became more and more common. Sensationalized media stories of children kidnapped while playing in their front yards prompted parents to keep children hidden in back yards away from roving eyes. Our society became more mobile; people were less likely to stay in one spot and make an emotional and social investment in their neighborhoods. Tall fences became a convenient way to avoid the extra effort it would take to form relationships. Folks also started working longer hours, coming home more tired with less energy to invest in their communities. A tall fence ensured treasured privacy and tranquility.

These days, the 6′ fence seems the norm rather than the exception. I moved into a house in the Bay Area a few years ago, eager to start a garden and get to know my new neighbors. While the front yard has a short picket fence, the back yard has- you guessed it- the 6′ tall impenetrable wall. My next door neighbor, Doug, is a carpenter with a workshop in his back yard. He and his wife are perfectly pleasant, and we have occasionally exchanged greetings when we happen to see one another out front. Doug and I often work in our back yards at the same time. I can hear him whistling or listening to music while I prune or weed, but we are separated by a wooden barrier. Were the fence low enough that we could see one another, I would naturally call out, exchange a greeting, and engage him in conversation. But I don’t. The tall fence means I would have to stand on a stool or bench to see him over the fence, and it feels silly to teeter to see someone I barely know in order to exchange a casual greeting. On the other side of my house is the sidewalk. When I am in my yard, I sometimes hear people passing just a few feet away. They are so close that I can hear their dogs’ tags jingle as they walk. But they might as well be on another street for all the communication we have with one another. The wooden wall of separation is narrow but very real, for what am I going to do, hollar out from behind the wooden fence, “Hello there! How are you today? Having a nice walk?” It’s just not going to happen.

Before I moved to the Bay Area, I bought a house in my hometown. The back yard had a 4′tall fence on one side and a 6′ tall fence on the other. Guess which neighbors I got to know better? Two families lived on the short-fence side in the years I lived there, and I knew both of them ten times better than the older gentleman and his family on the tall-fence side whose faces I could never see. The payoff from my relationship with the short-fence neighbors was help moving a chest freezer out of my house- offered over the fence when my neighbor was out working at the same time; help cutting up a fallen limb- again, offered over the fence; and the occasional but treasured conversations with their children, who were lovely and worth knowing, and with whom I wouldn’t have had a relationship had there been a 6′ wooden barrier there.

The old saying goes, good fences make good neighbors, but I take issue with that. Perhaps when fences were shorter and served as more of a symbolic gesture of privacy and boundary they made good neighbors, but you have to KNOW your neighbors in order to call them “good”. The 6′ tall wooden fence has become a symbol of the state of too many of our neighborhoods and communities: cold, impersonal, and isolated. In an age when too many people suffer from loneliness and isolation in their lives, when too many kids are barricaded inside instead of outside playing with other kids, when we can’t even turn to our next door neighbors for help because we haven’t bothered to learn their names, the 6′ tall fence is an impediment to building the type of community that will transport us to a better quality of life.