Have you hugged an anarchist today?
After reading Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy, by Chris Crass, I’m inclined to seek out my anarchist friends to acknowledge them for their courage and principled commitment to, and the long history of their tradition’s, organizing for people’s power and freedom.
The book’s first essay, “A New World in Our Hearts: Anarchism and the Need for Dynamic and Visionary Left Politics” clarifies the core of anarchism – rooted in the “principles of mutual aid, grassroots democracy, and equality” (23); underscoring how the political tradition has been vilified by the ruling class which emphasizes the call for revolution as violent and destructive. The oversimplification of anarchism as “creating chaos” serves to erase the history of radical organizing and the deeper values of cooperation and peace.
Chris highlights leaders like Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, who worked in the US in the 1880s for reproductive freedom, against the draft during WWI, and for worker organizing. Both were sent to prison and deported. During that same period, the International Workers of the World (IWW) were vocal opponents of the Chinese Exclusion Act – a sole voice within the left and labor movements.
Anarcho-pacifists of the 1940s and 1950s organized workers, spoke out against the incarceration of Japanese Americans families, like mine, the holocaust, and protested the atomic bombing of Japan.
In the more recent history, the collection lifts up the important role anarchists have played in the environmental movement, WTO protests in Seattle and globally, and the Occupy movement. Chris shares his personal story of work with San Francisco Food Not Bombs and interviews with anti-racist, feminist organizers across the country, highlights the radical contributions of the Groundwork Collective, the Rural Organizing Project and Catalyst Project, of which Chris was a founding member.
Through the stories, interviews and history, Chris invites radical activists and organizers, to engage in liberation praxis. “We can be radical, relevant, strategic and visionary as we participate in the reality of everyday life to build the new world in the shell of the old.” (34-35) Whether we identify as anarchists or not, we need to be willing to be flexible and open given the complex and contradictory conditions we are organizing in. In reflecting on his own experiences as well as including interviews with other white anti-racist, feminist organizers he lifts up the ways radical organizing is changing our communities.
As a woman of color, who has experienced working with white activists who are struggling to figure out their role as an ally, I was struck by Chris’ sharing of his personal praxis, his willingness to describe the challenges he faced and continues to engage with in his own development as an organizer to be aware of and understand his privilege as a white man. This is something that many other white activists have a hard time acknowledging out of shame or fear – as if admitting the challenge will somehow delegitimize their commitment. Chris’ vulnerability and honesty models how our commitment to social justice movement building can and needs to be drawn from an “ethic of love.”
Towards Collective Liberation is a thoughtful and generous invitation to organizers to build off the history of radical movement building with creativity, authenticity, and love.