Monday, November 30, 2009

Ten years after the day that changed everything

Ten years ago today were the Seattle WTO protests, a real turning-point for the anarchist scene, and as a result a turning-point for my life as well. Before that point most people outside of radical and counter-culture circles had never heard of "anarchism", after it, all kinds of folks were talking about it. Suddenly mainstream media venues were talking about "anarchists", as were my relatives (totally unprovoked by me!). More important than that, within the anarchist scene in general a new sense of hope, optimism and possibility emerged that we can and are going about changing the world.

After November 30th 1999 the momentum from that carried on to other big protests and events as the "anti-globalization movement". Summit protest after summit protest around the world the excitement continued on until September 11th 2001 when suddenly everything changed and the ground we were standing on shifted. The "anti-globalization movement" then lost steam and in it's place arose the "anti-war movement", which simply was not as much fun. It was a long dark night of the soul living under and protesting against the second Bush administration and it's blatantly militaristic and authoritarian approach. That all continued on until essentially last year, 2008, when Obama and his rhetoric of "hope" and "change" took many activists who were simply worn-out by the years of Bush.

From the anarchist perspective, specifically, by the time that Obama emerged from when the Seattle WTO protests happened it was by and large an entirely different crowd of people who were around. Most of the people who were actively involved as "anarchists" then had essentially moved on, and an entirely different, younger generation, came in to take their place. The new generation of anarchists had known of the Seattle WTO protests as recent history, much like how my generation of anarchists had known of the anti-nuclear and Autonomen movements of the 80's.

From my perspective, by the time last year came around I had largely burned myself out on "anarchism". I had for a long time had a critique of protests as being an effective strategy/tactic for social change, while despite all of the similar critiques out there protests remained the main thing that seemed to inspire and mobilize anarchists out there. When the Republican National Convention protests happened in September of last year, the combined effect of police repression against activists, lack of a coherent public message on the part of the anarchists, failure to inspire people outside of anarchist-activist circles towards radical action, and the fact that this protest event was so anticipated, planned for, and worked-towards for so long - my final reserve supply of enthusiasm for what is called "anarchism" had run empty.

Another aspect of the whole thing was that I had always seen anarchism as being equally positive as well as negative in it's focus. "Positive" in the sense of presenting an inspiring and moving picture of a beautiful new world that we can create afresh, as well as pointing to the power that each of has individually as well as collectively to radically transform our lives for the better. "Negative" in the sense of openly critiquing and rejecting the existing structure of the world today, it's historical precedents, and the various mainstream movements to change it, from a comprehensive and fundamental stand-point. For a long time I have seen most people identified as "anarchist" as focusing very heavily on the "negative" aspects, that is on the critiques and denouncing, while focusing very lightly or even not at all on the "positive" side of things. Having such a lop-sided perspective eventually leaves very little emotional/spiritual "fuel" for people to keep going, I believe.

Over time I have come to adopt more of what could be considered to be a Buddhist Tolstoyan perspective (although I don't identify as such), part of which could be summarized with this quote from him:

"The Anarchists are right in everything; in the negation of the existing order, and in the assertion that, without Authority, there could not be worse violence than that of Authority under existing conditions. They are mistaken only in thinking that Anarchy can be instituted by a revolution. But it will be instituted only by there being more and more people who do not require the protection of governmental power ... There can be only one permanent revolution - a moral one: the regeneration of the inner man."

It's an evolving ever-changing work-in-progress, I admit - my beliefs, the various movements for social change, as well as the world in general. Ten years after the anarchist scene was so radically catalyzed by the Seattle WTO protests we all seem to be at some very different places than we were before. I wonder where we will be after the next ten years.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

(I) is for identity

About ten years ago at Twin Oaks Community I wrote on a 3 x 5 notecard announcing to the world that my new name is henceforth "(I)An-ok", which is pronounced "Yan-ock". Since then I have traveled all over the country meeting all kinds of different people, introducing myself to them as "(I)An-ok".

Nowadays, after all that time, I commonly introduce myself to others using my original and legal name, which is "Ian". Increasingly those who know me by "(I)An-ok" are making the switch back as well. "(I)An-ok" is dying.

I adopted "(I)An-ok" for a very important reason - I was creating my own new identity for myself. I objected to how others saw me previously, as well as to how I saw myself. I saw "Ian" as representing passiveness, acceptance of the status quo, and bland un-original conformity. I began at that point a decade-long quest to re-create and re-define myself in opposition to how my parents molded me as well as in opposition to how the world-at-large constructed me. I wanted to be a new person and to live a life that is radically different from everything that I had ever known before. I wanted to live outside of what most folks even considered possible.

The name in itself signified something of a unity and identification taking place between myself with the philosophy of anarchism. I didn't think about it this way explicitly as such, but on a very core & fundamental level that was the case. The name is a combination & synthesis of my original name "Ian" together with the word "anok", which is a little-known punk rock abbreviation for "anarchist", "anarchy", things of that nature. My name did not explicitly "mean" that, I usually told others that "(I)An-ok" did not actually "mean anything" per se. But on a deep level, it did.

That all feels over, or mostly-over, for me now. One reason is that increasingly I find very little to gain of value by holding onto "anarchist" as an identity for myself. A friend once told me that he essentially had anarchist views but that he never refers to himself as one. He said that to introduce oneself to a stranger by identifying yourself as an "anarchist" is for many folks the equivalent of meeting a stranger and saying, "hello, I am a violent asshole". It simply is just way too much work to clear up that kind of initial misunderstanding, so it's best to start out some other way.

I feel as if I am entering a new phase of my life now in terms of how I see myself, how I would like others to see me, and more importantly in terms of the general underlying sense or feeling that is moving through me in what I do. For most of the last ten years of life I have felt a general underlying sense of opposition or desire to destroy all that is around me (in terms of social institutions, life-styles, standard operating procedures) and now - I yearn for more peace, acceptance, and stability throughout all that I do.

That all being said, I really do not feel the drive to identify myself with any particular group, belief system, cause, ideology or movement. There are many different things that I like, many different things that I have identified myself with in the past. But now, the whole thing seems like a receipe for disaster. I say this because every belief system is limited, every person is fallible, and everything is impermanent. To identify with something like this is to set oneself up for needless suffering - something which I have put myself through again and again repeatedly these past ten plus years.

So there are many different things taking place all at once here:

For one I no longer feel the great burning desire for myself to stand out, to be unique, "to make a name for myself" so-to-speak.

At the same time I do not feel a particular affinity for that which falls under the name of "anarchist" above or beyond other labels, belief-systems, and ideology-based social scenes that I also have affinity with.

And I do not feel a particular desire to identify myself with any particular belief system for I see that as a way in which one creates unnecessary suffering for oneself.

As a result of all of this, "Ian" emerges once again. I've been around a bit, through a bunch, with a few others, and here I am again.

Now I'm back to where I started.

But not really.