Anarchist Interview Project – Exerpts and Artwork

Below is the first group of excerpts from the interviews conducted at the last NYC Anarchist Book Fair. While we’re figuring out the next steps, we thought you all might find this interesting, insightful, funny, or whatever. Enjoy

WP_20130720_017pa: what does anarchism mean to you today?

for me anarchism basically is a form of organization that requires little to no leadership and conversely lots of leadership because it involves you taking responsibility for your own actions.

pa: How is anarchism manifested in your daily practice?

I generally look at things differently. When I look at an abandoned building, I see a home, I see a squat. When I look at – take any

object, anything, take a car – I imagine welding it into a stove; take a street and I imagine it being torn up into a garden. I’m a much more optimistic person as a result . . .


pa: can you speak about your path to anarchism?

. . . the importance and the very possibility of decentralization, of society being too big, of people learning a different way to live together, a different way for people to relate to each other, spoke to my neurotic unhappiness at the time, in adolescence.

. . . at a certain point we stopped trying to square the circle and stopped trying to give trotsky or lenin or marx the benefit of the doubt under all circumstances and came back to anarchism, including me, of a revolutionary class struggle sort. I came to see that it was necessary for workers, for students, for revolutionaries to organize themselves, but you didn’t need to believe in a revolutionary party . . .

. . . becoming a revolutionary socialist and then a revolutionary anarchist socialist combined two things: on the one hand I was able to continue the humanistic values that I learned from my parents while at the same time rebelling against their liberal and status quo politics and way of life. I was able to express both my rebelliousness and unhappiness on the one hand while maintaining a tie to them in terms of the values of a decent cooperative society that they had always believed in.


pa: what does anarchism mean to you today?

today it means making a decision that instead of trying to change things by working your way into the established order, into the centers of power, into the ideological, influential, places of authority, that one stands outside of the authorities and establishment and tries to move things from the outside by opposition, by rebellion, by rejecting what almost everybody takes for granted and pushing for something better from outside of what is regarded as acceptable and common sense politics.


pa: what does anarchism mean to you today?

for some reason whenever I think of anarchism, I think of a sense of joy. . . . I guess it means making your own decisions having the freedom to do that, having the ability to say what you want and what you need. And a sense of joy, of again realizing the connections that we have. It’s realizing the connections we have with ourselves and also non-human things. Connections, relationships, joy.


pa: Can you describe your path to anarchism?

. . . for me my path to anarchism has always just been about really talking to people and that spurred me to do some of my own reading.

. . . I think for me the impetus was definitely talking to people and hearing why it was important to them.


pa: what does anarchism mean to you today?

I definitely identify it as a flexible project that challenges people who identify as anarchists to make the world a better place by changing the way humans organize with each other. So that can be more egalitarian and more open.

WP_20130720_041pa: what does anarchism mean to you today?

to me . . . it is just very intellectual. We don’t have anymore this living actual oppositional space [like the squats]. . . After giuliani, there’s just all encompassing control so we just get stuck in theoretical issues. Anarchism is so theoretical here or just about opposition

[A]narchism to me is something that feel is really important to live and embody, and it’s really hard to live it in a metropolis, in new york, right now. It sad to me.


pa: is there a particular image or act that evokes anarchism for you?

people sitting in a circle talking in a way that – any conversation in a circle where people are constituting some kind of – I don’t want to say polity – where people are constituting a power, where the act of them speaking together is constituting a power, constituting autonomy.

pa: Can you describe your path to anarchism?

I wouldn’t say I called myself an anarchist at that point. I wasn’t particularly concerned with what I labeled myself and in fact just saw myself as very much part of the anti-capitalist movement or the movement of movements of the time and I’m still a little wary of labels as such. I think labels can be useful, but I also think they can be limiting too.

WP_20130720_019pa: what would you say was the most important step on your path to embracing that label or accepting that label, anarchism?

There were many steps. I remember once there was a protest, I’m from the UK, [about] what was called the criminal justice bill. We were on a march there, and it was a peaceful march, with many hundreds of thousands of people on the march there. And people gathered in hyde park and we listened to various speeches but on the way out hundreds of people were just fairly randomly viciously attacked by the police. And I remember talking to people at the time, saying this was outrageous, this will never stand, this is a big deal in media terms. And when I got home I switched on the bbc and what did I hear, I heard that young people had attacked the police and the police had responded to provocation in order to quell disturbances. It was I think a moment when I realized that something about the nature of the state.

WP_20130720_044pa: how does being an anarchist impact your daily life?

[T]aking a step back in relation to authority and thinking ‘is an authority justified’ in any given situation and questioning it. But also, probably more importantly for me, not using my own authority, of being aware of my own authority in certain situations as a teacher and a parent. Trying to be aware of it.


pa: is there a particular image or act that evokes anarchism for you?

Sometimes I like colin ward’s playground image of anarchism, especially the way he talks about kids who will naturally move towards mutual aid. . . . I think about when authority is removed that people do find a way for the most part to get on with each other and to make things work.


pa: what does anarchism mean to you today?

autonomy, cooperation, mutual aid, direct action. These are themes that stick with me. But I’m much less interested these days in activist anarchism than I am in the philosophical parts of it and rethinking our movements . . . . But anarchy for me is just a set of, a political reference for things that people do in their lives regularly: taking control of their lives, taking control of their communities.

WP_20130720_024pa: what particular act or image evokes anarchism for you?

communities taking control around something like food security, disaster response like common ground collective after hurricane katrina or occupy sandy after hurricane sandy. People looking for alternatives to policing. Anywhere that people are taking control of, not just their individual lives, but collectively with each other, those are symbols of anarchy to me – again, whether they call it that or not, that’s what I would call it.

pa: how does being an anarchist now change the way that you look at the past?

i was involved in the antiwar movement when i was a teenager and i think that being an anarchist now makes me see almost the futility of that in a way, if that makes sense, like the idea that when i was fifteen i was just like furious – i see hundreds of thousands of people on the street. why are we still going to war? and why is this still happening? but having the anarchist critique makes me understand that loving the government to stop going to war is not going to be effective.


pa: is there a particular image or act that evokes anarchism for you?

i think a lot about radical democracy . . . and the idea that real democracy is not about necessarily coming to agreement but about creating spaces for people to differ and challenge power. . . . i’ve also been to meetings in which it’s really invigorating even if we don’t come to a conclusion, even if we don’t come to something that everyone in the house feels good about because the act of being able to stand up and name power and knowing that you can challenge it and being able to come to this very productive relationship of agonism where you’re contesting power that is constantly shifting and flowing but nobody is at blows is really what i think of when i think of anarchism.

pa: do you think that it’s important to approach those issues as an anarchist – using the label anarchist or is that a hindrance to solving those problems?

we can’t forget too that the ruling class is organized as a class. . . and in order for us to oppose them we can’t be organized as anarchists. anarchists aren’t a class. we have to organize in a much broader way.


pa: how does being an anarchist impact your daily life?

i try to behave in a very ethical way. because i understand that for an anarchist society to be able to function – which is what i consider an ideal society – people must treat each other with respect and kindness, be fair in their dealings . . . if i expect anyone else to behave in a way that’s conducive to a society that’s fair and equal for everyone, i have to take the first step for myself.

pa: how does being an anarchist change how you think about your past?

i always felt that way and just overall about society i felt that there were definitely things that were wrong. from a very young age i could see that there were people who were poor and suffering: why is that? what did they do to deserve that? anarchism just gave me a coherent way to look at what i already knew in my heart.

pa: is there anything that stands out as a key or important step on that path?

I would say it’s a dead heat between the soviet cartoons of my childhood, particularly cheburashka  and reading mutual aid by peter kropotkin.

WP_20130720_035pa: how does being an anarchist change the way you think about your past?

I think that, as sad as it is, at first, [anarchism] made me feel empowered. But I think as the years passed it actually might be making me feel more powerless than I otherwise would have. Isn’t that awful! You just caught me on a bad day . . . I shouldn’t blame too much on anarchism; it’s probably more chemical than political. Just one more thing: the chemical is political!

pa: how were you first introduced to anarchism?

i didn’t learn it from any big book, i didn’t read a lot of big books, i just talked to people. i liked to engage in debates and discuss with people what they were thinking and what anarchism was and all these questions. so it was a lot of essays and blogs and stuff, but i never really read the big thinkers and i never really was much of a doctrinaire.

pa: how does being an anarchist affect the way you view your past?

i see myself [in the past] as very naïve. i still think of myself as naïve in a way. i’m very optimistic about humanity and i think there’s a lot of good in a lot of people. maybe that is silly. i know many people who are cynical, even anarchists. but i just don’t think that cynicism really goes well with anarchism. i think that it’s better to view human, well, human nature – i’m skeptical of that concept, but – view it in a more positive light. because i just done see anarchy is gonna work if people are all just assholes.

pa: is there a particular issue or issues that you’re working on that you’d like to share with us?

because my experience and my expertise is in education, in higher ed, that’s where i’m focusing. that’s my little section of the wall of oppression and the state that i’m chipping away at with the understanding that we all have to find, where’s the section of the wall that’s nearest to us and how big of a sledgehammer can we bring to it.

pa: anything else you’d like to add?

smash the state. and free mumia.


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