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.

1 comment:

Dandelion said...

You and Tolstoy said:
"There can be only one permanent revolution - a moral one: the regeneration of the inner man."

Nice sentiment, but I honestly don't think that it is possible for humanity on a mass scale to change drastically enough, fast enough to make this change before we kill ourselves off and destroy large parts of the biosphere. This is the only rational conclusion to draw from the history of anarchism, morality, religion and civilization. To think otherwise would just be another manifestation of the insanity of thinking that if you do the same thing over and over and over, that the one millionth (or quadrillionth) time you do it, it will suddenly have a different result.

On another note, in the most recent issues of THE NATION, Naomi Klein has a brief piece called "Copenhagen: Seattle Grow Up" about the climate justice protest movement and how, unlike anti-globalization protests, climate change protests are more focused on expressing practical solutions rather than just rage and rejection about a wide variety of socioeconomic-ecological problems/inequalities. And there very well may be much larger than Seattle demos during the Copenhagen Climate Summit this coming Dec. 6-18th.

Much love,